Mr. Speaker, all the proposed changes within this bill have been derived from direct feedback from first nations members.
As a first nation citizen living under the Indian Act and as a former RCMP officer enforcing the act, I know first-hand the racist and debilitating nature of the laws contained within it.
Initially, when I first brought forward this legislation, not everyone fully understood the intention behind this bill. However, when people actually saw the changes that I am proposing, these misconceptions were swiftly erased.
Despite only having limited resources available to me as a private member, I am delighted to have had the opportunity to discuss the finer points of the bill with many prominent members, both leaders and community members, of first nations across Canada.
The fact remains that everyone agrees the Indian Act is an archaic and fundamentally bigoted piece of legislation that governs the day-to-day lives of first nations and that it must go. No other Canadian is subject to such an offensive piece of legislation that interferes in their day-to-day lives.
Any concerns that this bill is an attempt to totally eliminate the Indian Act and leave nothing in its stead have long since been laid to rest. However, I believe that the practical and incremental changes proposed in the bill can lead to further meaningful conversation about how the Indian Act could be dismantled and replaced.
It is important to highlight that Bill C-428 includes a mandate to ensure ongoing consultations between first nations and the crown, working together to ultimately repeal and replace the entire Indian Act. Though this piece of legislation does not represent a complete replacement of the Indian Act, I believe it is the first step of meaningful change.
The fact that my private member's bill has generated so much attention is indicative of the ongoing sensitivity of the issues which surround the Indian Act.
During the course of the formulation of this private member's bill I wrote on six separate occasions to more than 600 first nations communities across Canada asking them to share information about my bill with their membership and to provide me with their feedback. The input generated by these letters has been integral to the continuing development of my private member's bill.
Additionally, I have had the pleasure of holding discussions with numerous first nations leaders and activist organizations and groups about the nature of the Indian Act and the changes I am proposing.
It has been my honour to hold information sessions with first nations bands and major organizations in Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec. I have given presentations to student groups, aboriginal professionals, and interested non-aboriginals on the nature of Bill C-428. A YouTube video explaining the bill has been made available to all members of the public. I did two national tele town halls with first nations on this legislation just last spring. Since August 2012 I have been advertising widely on aboriginal radio across the west and also in my riding asking for input on my bill. My Parliament of Canada website hosts a section devoted to the bill and contains a survey seeking input.
All of those actions and initiatives provide a wealth of information sharing, with knowledge and appreciation of viewpoints travelling in both directions.
I am proud to say that I have the support of many first nations members and bands within and outside of my own riding.
I would like to take this opportunity to briefly summarize some areas of this legislation.
The Indian Act has created barriers between first nations and the rest of Canada. These barriers are economic, cultural and societal.
Our government is committed to supporting first nations and to creating the conditions for them to become healthier and more self-sufficient while breaking down these barriers.
One of my goals in the creation of this bill was to remove unused archaic, irrelevant, and offensive sections of the Indian Act, for instance, the section requiring first nations to gain the approval of the minister before enacting bylaws on their own first nations lands.
Bill C-428 would remove this requirement, allowing first nations councils to create and publish their own laws, in much the same way and manner that any other local government is allowed to enact a local law. No other community or level of government in Canada requires the permission of the minister to enact such laws.
These sections are part of a complex legal underbrush that makes the Indian Act an irrelevant and antiquated piece of legislation. Although incremental, the changes I am proposing are concrete actions which would create enduring changes in the lives of first nations citizens. Bill C-428 would also remove references to residential schools from the Indian Act. As a grandson of two residential school survivors, I have seen first-hand the devastating effects that residential schools have had on our people. There is no place in Canadian law in the year 2013 for residential schools. I cannot wait for the references of this shameful period of our nation's history to be erased from the books.
This bill would also ensure consultation on the eventual repeal and replacement of the Indian Act with a more modern and respectful document that would treat first nations governments with mutual respect. By legislating the requirement of the annual report from the minister on the progress made toward repealing and replacing the Indian Act, we would ensure the process is kept on track. This process acknowledges that parts of the Indian Act as it stands have served and can continue to serve well for first nations communities.
To quote the Prime Minister:
The Indian Act cannot be replaced overnight, but through the use of existing tools and the development of new mechanisms, both parties can create the conditions to enable sustainable and successful First Nations.
That is what is at the heart of this private member's bill. We, as parliamentarians and Canadians, simply need to have the courage and political will to take these first incremental steps toward a better relationship between our federal government and Canada's first nations.
As my colleagues should be aware, a number of further improvements to my private member's bill were made at the committee stage. For example, due to the change in the sections of the Indian Act dealing with bylaws, we are adjusting the wording of the bill to ensure that first nations communities maintain their right to control alcohol on reserve. In addition, we have made another change that would provide flexibility in the publication of bylaws so that first nations could choose the manner in which they wish to inform their membership and visitors to their communities of the laws they have passed.
In conclusion, I can find no one who would support the continuation of the failed colonial, and fundamentally racist, Indian Act that served as a template for South African apartheid. Apartheid was abolished in South Africa in 1994, and yet the Indian Act, the parent legislation, is still part of Canadian law in 2013.
Bill C-428 would kick-start the process by which we could bring our government's relationship with Canada's first nations out of the 19th century and into the modern era. I would be proud to have a hand in the creation of a better world for first nations through the repeal of this bigoted Indian Act and its replacement with a more modern and respectful document.