Thursday, December 27, 2012

C-428: A Bill #IdleNoMore and First Nations Should Support

The #IdleNoMore movement has drawn a lot of attention, but like the Occupy movement, is vague on its grievances and demands. The movement's supporters often reference various government bills which would modify some First Nations-related laws without looking closely at what those changes are and whether they would be a net benefit to First Nations people.

Bill C-428 is a private member's bill aimed at improving certain sections of Canada's racist Indian Act. The Indian Act restricts the rights and freedoms of people in Canada based on their race. Many of these restrictions were initially intended to protect Indians from being taken advantage of by non-Indians, for example, by preventing the sale of an Indian farmer's crops to a non-Indian who might swindle them. However, in trying to protect Indians, the Indian Act unfairly restricts Indians and limits their opportunity for prosperity.

Let's step through the major clauses of bill C-428 and outline the improvements each clause will bring to the Indian Act and to the lives of ordinary Indians living on reserves.

C-428 Section 5:

Repeals sections 32 and 33 of the Indian Act which makes it an offense to sell or barter any cattle, animals, grains, root crops, plants or their products which were grown on a reserve to any person who is not a member of that band. Why shouldn't people living on reserves be allowed to sell their crop? That doesn't make any sense. This change will allow bands to generate income from farming on reserves.

C-428 Section 7:

Repeals sections 42 to 47 of the Indian Act which allow the minister to interfere with the wills and estates of any deceased Indians as well as how property is passed on. Why should a federal minister be involved in personal family affairs just because it's a First Nations family? This change removes the minister's power to meddle in this area, allowing an Indian's will to be executed privately, just the same as anyone else in Canada.

C-428 Section 8 and 9:

Repeals section 82 and 85.1 of the Indian Act. These sections place restrictions on how band councils may pass laws. In particular, section 85.1 requires a referendum of all electors of a band in order to pass prohibition by-laws on the reserve. Although a minor change, this removes these restrictions and provides bands with more freedom to self-govern on their reserves.

C-428 Section 10:

Replaces section 86.1 of the Indian Act. This provides transparency for band members into the by-laws passed by their band councils. Any by-laws will have to be posted on the internet, circulated in the reserve's publication, and a copy provided to band members upon request, just as municipalities do today.

C-428 Section 11:

Repeals section 92 of the Indian Act which makes it an offense for commerce to be conducted on reserve between band members and missionaries on reserves, school teachers on reserves, or certain government employees. The original intent of section 92 was to protect Indians from being swindled by outsiders. I think bands are smart enough to conduct commerce freely and fairly, just like anyone else.

C-428 Section 18:

Replaces sections 117 to 121 of the Indian Act. These sections required children to attend school, prescribed which types of schools children must attend, how religious schools were chosen, imposed strict notification requirements if a child is to be absent and even empowered truant officers to not only find truant children, but even obtain warrants to enter homes to find truant students. It's all kind of creepy that such laws would exist in Canada at all.

All of these sections will be replaced with two simple, common sense clauses that allow children to be absent from school with reason if the school principal is notified, or if the child is being home schooled.

These are the main changes that bill C-428 would bring to the Indian Act. Since private members bills are limited in what they can change, it doesn't solve every problem, but these changes seem mostly positive and should benefit all band members.

Private members bill aren't sponsored by the government and MPs are traditionally allowed to "vote their conscience" when it comes to private members business  rather than being forced to vote the party line. This means bill C-428 will need support of MPs across all parties. If you support these changes, make sure you write or email your MP to tell them.