moved that Bill C-428, An Act to amend the Indian Act (publication of by-laws) and to provide for its replacement, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure today that I open the debate on my private member's bill, Bill C-428, Indian Act Amendment and Replacement Act. I am proud to be first nations and as a former member of the RCMP for over 18 years, just as proud to have achieved the rank of sergeant. During that time I was in charge of two detachments. All of my service involved policing on and off first nation reserves.
In 2008, I was elected to represent Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, a constituency containing over 23 first nation communities and the second largest first nation population in Canada.
Having had to enforce the Indian Act across Saskatchewan, I am keenly aware of the challenges posed by the outdated, racist, colonial statute referred to as the Indian Act. The problems created by this archaic piece of legislation are far-reaching, extending to every aspect of the lives of every first nations person and the root cause of the Attawapiskats of our country.
During the Assembly of First Nations election speeches in July of this year, all the candidates stated that the Indian Act must go. Clearly, everyone agrees that changes must be made to the Indian Act in order to start a process of consultation, in order to start a dialogue and in order to amend the Indian Act. I hope in my lifetime to see the complete repeal of the Indian Act and see it replaced by a more modern set of laws that reflect today's values, but also respect the past.
I hope one day the amendments proposed in my private member's bill will help lead us to build a more modern, respectful relationship between federal government and first nations, and finally kick-start this larger process to repeal and replace the entire Indian Act. These amendments to the Indian Act can be an important stepping stone on the path of achieving self-sufficiency and prosperity in first nation communities. The acronym for this path would be ARRC: amend, repeal, replace, and most importantly, consult.
The bill would amend the bylaw section of the act; repeal and replace several outdated, unused and patronizing sections of the act; and create a process that would enable collaborative consultation with first nations. The goal is to replace the Indian Act with laws which would both describe and enshrine a more respectful and modern relationship between first nations and the Crown.
I would like to expand on the content of Bill C-428. The bill would enable first nations and band councils to publish their own bylaws without having to seek the permission of the Aboriginal Affairs or the signature of the minister. Empowering first nation communities to take control of their lives and the environment in which they live is a crucial step toward autonomy and self-reliance.
Under this amendment, a band would also be required to publish bylaws created by their council on one of a variety of forms of media, such as the band website, the First Nations Gazette, or in local newspapers or newsletters that have general circulation in their first nation communities and to their band membership.
By making plain the bylaws of each first nation, we create greater transparency and accountability for first nation residents and for those enforcing the bylaws. This will take the minister out of the equation and put the responsibility for the bylaws squarely where it belongs: with the band council and band members. It will provide first nations with the same rights and responsibilities that rural and urban municipalities have today.
I would like to stop here for a moment and talk about the everyday challenges that are faced by first nation governments. We are all aware of the crisis of alcohol, drug and solvent abuse that has led to the high rate of suicide in many of these first nation communities. It is with this in mind that I want to see first nations able to act on these problems expediently and to create legislation that would reflect their culture and communal standards without having to seek the permission of the minister to act.
The bill would replace section 85.1, which prohibits the sale of alcohol on first nations land and will place that option back into the hands of the band council. In fact, the decision to allow the sale of alcohol on reserve has been in the hands of some bands for some time, but the Indian Act is not up-to-date with the current policy.
First nations people also do not have the same rights as other Canadians in regard to wills and estates. The Indian Act gives extraordinary powers to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, including the ability to appoint executors of wills for first nations people and to appoint administrators.
What most Canadians and first nations do not know is that the minister also holds the ability to declare the will of a first nations person not valid. No will pertaining to a first nations resident is valid unless approved by the minister as dictated by the Indian Act. I call this a paternalistic approach. This does not belong in a free and democratic society. My bill would repeal the sections of the Indian Act that grant the minister these exceptional powers in the administration of the wills of all first nations residents.
Bill C-428 would also remove impediments to trade in the form of the repeal of section 92, which restricts certain members of society from engaging in trade with first nations individuals.
It is important to note that the bill would at last remove the archaic educational element of the Indian Act, which led to the formation of residential schools, and remove the term “residential school” from the act.
I am proud of the accomplishments of this government in regard to recognizing the tragedy of and apologizing for residential schools. I am proud as a first nations man, whose grandparents attended residential schools in Duck Lake, Saskatchewan, to be privileged to be a member of the House of Commons and to repeal this particularly shameful section and wording of the Indian Act. I fear that having this remain in the Indian Act will enable future governments to create residential schools on first nations reserves.
I am proud that our Prime Minister has apologized for the travesty of the residential schools, for the pain and destruction they brought to all first nations and for the shame they have brought to Canada.
I sat only two seats from the Prime Minister as he delivered this apology and personally witnessed the emotion with which he delivered the speech. The Prime Minister deservedly received praise not only for the sentiment of the statement but also for the eloquence and sincerity with which he expressed his remarks.
However, for me the most important part of the bill is the mandate that would be given to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs to report annually on the progress being made toward the repeal and replacement of the Indian Act. This report would be specifically on the collaborative work being done by first nations and the Crown to get out of the Indian Act. This section of my bill requires a collaborative consultation process between first nations and the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs specifically on the Indian Act. A report must be published to the House of Commons committee on aboriginal affairs by January 31 of each year. This will ensure that first nations can hold the government accountable for moving forward toward the complete removal of the Indian Act in a meaningful and respectful way.
It should be clear to all that the substance of the bill provides no cause for alarm among first nations people. Nor is there any cause for false alarms to be raised by first nation leaders.
I have arrived at the current set of changes through consultation with other first nation members within my constituency as well as around the country. I have had four drafts in the past and I am open to the amendments that may come forward through this important dialogue.
There is no larger agenda at play. The repeal of sections of the Indian Act represent a step toward a modernized relationship between our government and the first nations of Canada, nothing more. It is plain for all to see that there is no suggestion that the Indian Act be repealed in its entirety with nothing left in its stead. Rather, my bill simply seeks to remove outdated concepts and language from the existing act.
I hope that individuals will be inspired to reflect upon and review the Indian Act and my private member's bill in this light. It is my hope that this debate will start a larger process to look at outdated language in the act.
When I started this journey four and a half years ago, I hoped this bill would open a discussion and meaningful dialogue and debate. I hoped that with the passage of this bill we could look forward to a better relationship and a true partnership between first nations and all Canadians, and I mean all Canadians.
Today as I stand here, I feel strong emotions about what I am doing. This is not a partisan effort. I am doing this as a proud Canadian who has served my country and also as a first nations man who wants to see a better life for first nations and all Canadians.
I am hoping that the opposition will support this bill because it is not a partisan issue. I encourage all members of the House to support my bill to modernize this outdated and colonial paternalistic legislation called the Indian Act.