Rob Clarke in hot water over Indian Act

by Phil Ambroziak

Rob Clarke

If First Nations leaders have their way, MP Rob Clarke’s efforts to repeal the Indian Act could be over before they even get started.

Recent reports revealed the Missinippi-Churchill River member plans to bring forth a private member’s bill in the near future entitled “An Act to Repeal the Indian Act.” Although designed as a means of opening the current act up for further discussion, aboriginal leaders believe any discussion should start with them and not in the House of Commons.

“It (news of Clarke’s proposed bill) came as a bit of a surprise,” remarked Meadow Lake Tribal Council Chief Eric Sylvestre. “I know the issue of repealing the act was brought to Clarke’s attention when he visited local communities during his last federal election campaign, and I also understand this is a private member’s bill and is not something coming from the government. But, he’s provided us with no details about what he plans to propose. He hasn’t consulted anyone, hasn’t talked to First Nations leaders. We would like to know what the bill encompasses.”

Although attempts to contact Clarke for an official statement on the matter were unsuccessful, in a related story appearing in the Jan. 31 edition of Northern Pride, Clarke confirmed the bill would allow for further discussion about the Indian Act.

“The prime minister said the Indian Act’s roots were deeply entrenched, but we also realize it is an outdated document that needs to be modernized, especially in terms of First Nations elections,” he said.

Sylvestre said he did speak with the MP early last week.

“He said he couldn’t disclose any details about the bill until it is presented in Parliament,” Sylvestre noted. “So, as it stands, how can the chiefs support it? There should be some form of consultation with the leaders in his constituency – there should be some discussions taking place beforehand.”

In addition to the bill’s details, Sylvestre said leaders want to know how these details would impact the future of First Nations.

Meanwhile, Clarke’s silence on the matter hasn’t gone unnoticed by the province’s Métis community.

“I’m calling for Rob Clarke to withdraw his proposed private member’s bill,” stated Métis Nation-Saskatchewan president Robert Doucette.

Doucette said Clarke has a duty to consult with all parties that would be impacted by any changes to the Indian Act.

“It seems to me, if he’s proposing any changes, he should be talking to First Nations and potentially to the Métis,” he said. “It also seems odd for Clarke to be doing this when Prime Minister Stephen
Harper announced this in January, around the same time news broke about Clarke’s private member’s bill.

“If Clarke’s bill does go forward, what would they plan to replace it with?” Doucette wondered. “Why would you create a vacuum in terms of the resources currently allocated through the Indian Act? Would
there be any changes to who is recognized as a status Indian? There are just too many questions that can only be answered through transparency and openness.”

Doucette furthered his opinion by stating any relationships based on equality are developed through discussion and agreement from all parties.

“MP Clarke just sprung this on everyone,” he added. “Maybe it’s time for Saskatchewan MPs to ask Harper to convene a meeting to discuss and build on the relationship that currently exists. The time is right to openly discuss all the issues. We all live in the same community and it takes more than one group to build a community – it takes everyone.”

Doucette said he would also like to see the federal government sit down with Métis leaders across Canada and look into developing a federal Métis Act similar to the provincial act currently in place in Saskatchewan.

“The model currently in place at the provincial level is a good one and it is my belief we can do the same federally,” he concluded. “There are many important issues that impact Métis people including poor housing, opportunities for employment and training and more. The Métis have made a grand contribution to this great country.”

Clarke’s private members bill is expected to come forward in the House of Commons in May or June.


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