Unconditional III – Northern leaders find issues with MP’s bill
by Derek Cornet
Four months before Desnethé–Missinippi–Churchill River MP Rob Clarke introduced Bill C-428 in the House of Commons, Prime Minister Stephen Harper told those gathered at a special Crown-First Nations meeting in Ottawa there could be room for modernization of the Indian Act. Eleven months later, Idle No More erupted across the nation reminding the federal government its actions were under scrutiny.
When MP Rob Clarke unveiled Bill C-428 in 2012, many chiefs in the Desnethé–Missinippi–Churchill River constituency were surprised by the move.
“He provided us with no details about what he plans to propose,” Meadow Lake Tribal Council (MLTC) chief Eric Sylvestre told Northern Pride two months before the bill was introduced in the House of Commons. “He hasn’t consulted anyone, hasn’t talked to First Nations leaders. We would like to know what the bill encompasses.”
The riding Clarke represents includes more than half of Saskatchewan’s First Nations population. As of February 2015, 61,410 people were registered under the Indian Act in one off 22 bands. Statistics Canada believes there are 103,205 First Nation individuals residing in the province.
With a membership of 10,293 people, Lac La Ronge Indian Band chief Tammy Cook-Searson is the leader of the largest First Nation and has been in the position for close to a decade. She first learned of Bill C-428 through the news media and said afterwards she asked the MP to repeal it.
“The bill was pushed through, but the Harper government did announce it would put it’s full weight behind the bill,” Cook-Searson said. “It wasn’t a surprise the minister of aboriginal affairs stated he welcomed the passage of the bill and it was consistent with his government’s approach to First Nations issues.”
She went on to say Clarke didn’t follow the guidance of the Supreme Court of Canada to seek First Nations consultation and to accommodate when necessary. Cook-Searson called Bill C-428 part of a disturbing trend to bypass First Nations input and cited Conservative MP Kelly Block’s First Nations Financial Transparency Act as another example.
She recommends First Nations and the federal government move together with a nation-to-nation governance model. One where representatives of the Crown negotiate with First Nation governments with respect and without unilateralism.
“So, 138 years after the Indian Act was created without First Nations involvement, MP Rob Clarke proceeded with a private member’s bill – Bill C-428 – without proper consultation,” Cook-Searson said. “It’s modern day colonialism.”
Meanwhile, chiefs from all nine MLTC bands declined to provide comment for this article. Although some MLTC chiefs couldn’t be contacted directly, others did request time to educate themselves on the bill.
However,statements made by them or their respective councillors in the past sheds light onto their thoughts of Bill C-428 before it became law. Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation chief Richard Ben and Waterhen Lake First Nation councillor Richard Fiddler have both publicly stated they opposed the bill citing lack of consultation among other issues.
“Clarke addressed the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations in Nipawin and told us what he was doing, but he never gave us chance to ask questions or provide input,” Ben said. “Many of the chiefs were offended by his actions. How would he like it if we passed legislation affecting MPs without his input?”
Fiddler felt the chances of Clarke’s bill receiving Royal Ascent weren’t high. He said if Clarke had approached the chiefs about the bill before formally introducing it, some of them could have assisted in its formation. Fiddler remarked First Nations need to be involved from the start and on equal ground.
“Rob Clarke would have been better off if he had informed the councils about it,” he noted. “People would have sat down with him to come up with something different.”