Unconditional IV – Bill C-428 seen as one for all, all for one

by Derek Cornet

Points of view clash in this final installment of a four-part series focusing on Desnethé–Missinippi–Churchill River MP Rob Clarke’s private member’s bill. Critics bring Clarke’s intent and motive for the bill to the foreground and question whether Bill C-428 serves the people or serves the MP.

“It was created even before we signed our treaty,” Lac La Ronge Indian Band chief Tammy Cook-Searson responded when asked if the Indian Act was a mistake. “It was detrimental to the health and well being of our people and it was colonialism. It was the taking over of a people.”

Her words were echoed by Desnethé–Missinippi–Churchill River MP Rob Clarke who also evoked the tragic history the legislation meant for First Nations people when asked the same question.

“If you wanted to do assimilation or really handcuff First Nations that was probably what did it,” he said. “It made First Nations dependent on government. You seen that happen with South Africa, which was the template for apartheid. They got rid of it back in 1990, but a lot of the legislation and wording mirrored the Indian Act.”

While both leaders agree a solution to the Indian Act has to be found to relieve modern day issues, the method in which to proceed isn’t as clear. Cook-Searson – who has chosen not to provide any submissions under Clarke’s private member’s bill to repeal the Indian Act – said First Nations people want real input into the laws that govern them.

She went on to say the enormity of the Indian Act’s history for First Nations people demands First Nations decide together how and in what way it should be changed. Cook-Searson added representatives of the Crown who signed treaties with her people should be willing to work with them in good faith.

“We hope Rob Clarke, as our representative in the federal government, will actually represent us,” she remarked. “We hope there will be an attempt to work with us on the issues we collectively agree upon as priorities. We want respect, negotiation and consultation.”

Meanwhile, Clarke feels his duty to consult First Nations people had been accomplished. He said letters were mailed across the country to chiefs requesting their input and noted radio advertisements were paid for in three provinces. Although he defends the level of consultations made don’t add up to what some chiefs expected, Clarke said he didn’t have millions of dollars to do so.

“All I did was use the parliamentary process by having a committee help start a process – you could deem it as consultation,” he said.

Despite cries from chiefs in the Northwest to abandon Bill C-428, the private member’s bill nevertheless became law. That had some people questioning Clarke’s reason for pursuing it when he was never asked to. Cook-Searson said Clarke refused to act on what he had been asked – to repeal the bill.

Native studies instructor April Chiefcalf also feels Clarke didn’t introduce his private member’s bill with the appropriate spirit. She said leaders need to be careful when changes affecting people are made and the reason for doing so needs to be acceptable.

“The motive he made clear for the changes was from personal experience, not by talking with First Nations people and asking what they want,” Chiefcalf noted. “Those changes can’t be made quickly and I don’t think they can be made without a lot of consultation.”

While Clarke can’t undo the past, he’s hoping to change the future. Clarke called the bill his greatest achievement since taking office and it will likely remain a milestone in his political legacy. Clarke wants to go down in history and, for better or for worse, he will.

“I’m afraid I’m going to die under the Indian Act, but hopefully one day we’ll see some changes,” he concluded. “Hopefully one day I’ll see some changes.”

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