Change Is Coming: Canada’s Move Away from the 141 Year Old Indian Act

Indian Country Today

For First Nations,the end of the Indian Act is an opportunity to return to tradition & empower indigenous female leaders

Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Jody Wilson-Raybould’s historic announcement of a move away from the 141 year old Indian Act had to have left some Assembly of First Nations (AFN), and provincial Indigenous leaders scratching their heads. Indigenous activist leaders (land protectors, water protectors, suicide watch groups), Native Women’s Association of Canada {NWAC}, Idle No More{INM}, Congress of Aboriginal Peoples (CAP), grassroots people and the average non-indigenous Canadian are also likely, wondering what a life beyond the Indian Act means and how the move will affect them in their day to day lives.

If all three levels (local, provincial and national) of First Nation governing bodies are part of legislating how treaty’s, territory boundaries and mandates are re-mapped and/or delineated more clearly to form the new (post, Indian Act) FN legislation, the three tiers of government need a more common sensed approach and must include in the foundation – matrilineal rights. Or perhaps the legislation of new constitutions needs to form by an ad-hoc matriarchal based government.

Historically matriarchal governance was a way of life and this is an opportunity to return to tradition and at the least, include indigenous female leaders as a primary part; either minor, major or of equal measure, for the new First Nation legislation post, Indian Act.

Change is extremely exhaustive and especially in this case as, it affects all people on Turtle Island and those who’re yet to come. Change needs to happen and the conversation need to begin. There is a template that First Nations could explore as a starting point and which could work (with modifications as per First Nation Treaty’s/Territories); and that’s the Treaty of Versailles.

The Treaty of Versailles is an agreement between France and Monaco similar to that of First Nations treaty’s with the Crown (Britain’s representative; Canada), is eerily similar in basic foundation.

Monaco is a sovereign state and measures in, at only 0.78 square miles (it entirety would fit into West Edmonton Mall comfortably) and has a population of less than 38,000. It is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea, on one side, and on the three remaining sides by the country of France.

France’s land mass measures in at 248,572 square miles and could fit comfortably into half the province of Ontario whose land mass equals 415, 600 square miles. Geographically First Nations land bases throughout Canada is similar.

The treaty’s (contracts, agreements, and unions), between First Nations and the British Monarchy are similar to the Treaty of Versailles as there are pockets of land throughout Canada’s borders.

Monaco is economically independent of France; has its own GDP (gross national product), tourism; Grand Prix motor race and world class casinos. Of particular attention is Monaco does NOT tax their citizens (excluding special circumstances). Monaco forms its own policy; Monaco issues own passport; similar to what some First Nation’s currently institute.

And Monaco’s day-to-day operations are carried out by three different levels of government. For a principality measuring only 0.78 square miles it seems that size doesn’t work against them. Most First Nation communities are larger than Monaco’s boundaries which were originally formed in 1492.

Hereditary Chiefs are similar to Monaco’s current reigning figure heads. Prince of Monaco’s current title holder is Prince Albert II and as the Prince he does hold power; the same way in which hereditary chiefs hold power. Traditionally the hereditary chief initiated laws for their territory; so too does the Prince of Monaco; the hereditary chief has veto power so too, does Prince Albert II. Prince Albert II’s title is neither empty nor ‘token’ – it is a working title.

Monaco has its own law enforcement similar to what is already implemented on most First Nation communities. And the near two mile sovereign state also has a Constitution of Monaco (adopted in 1962 and updated to reflect government power and legislative changes). Furthermore and somewhat, simplistically, Monaco’s agreement with France came in part by Monaco’s cessation of land to (similar as First Nation’s and the Crown’s agreement on land), France and in return, an agreement was reached wherein, a part of France’s obligation is a responsibility to militarily protect Monaco.

There are many more similarities however; the Treaty of Versailles could be a starting point in building First Nation, nation-to-nation legislation, with Canada.

First Nation government leaders, activists, FN women’s groups and all affected parties need to start the process.

The process could be as simple as surveying individual First Nation members on who they would like to see sit at the helm; in mediating the drafting of new legislation. This writer is of the belief that the process needs to be a bottom-up approach. Because if the AFN takes a lead role in developing legislation, it would be hypocritical since any new legislation would favour the western model of governance and whereas; the Assembly of First Nations was created by the colonist federal governments, of the day.

Perhaps the Attorney General of Canada could appoint a group of people to survey each indigenous person and determine what their hopes for new legislation are; NOT the same ole’ same ole’, i.e. have the ‘indian act’ Chief and council of local communities speak on behalf of all members, NOT have provincial/territorial leadership be a mouthpiece claiming to speak for all provincial indigenous groups and definitely NOT previous AFN Chiefs.

Every First Nation person; status, non-status, rural, urban needs to have their voices heard. It could be as simple as posting concerns on a social media page, emailing concerns directly to Justice Minister’s office, initializing a 1-800 number, snail mail, send letter to a central a post-office box; any and all ways need to be made available. Grassroots voices need to be the basis of new legislation for all generations to come. Perhaps an unknown, with no personal, political history or agenda could administer (compile), the findings of the survey. And a name that comes to mind is of a young 17 year old youth I read about in 2013, David Kawapitt.

Mr. Kawapitt, five other Cree youths and their guide walked 1,600 km to oppose Bill C-45 (which affected protected waters; lessened the authority of First Nations land management…negatively affected drinking water). David came to be known as the spokesperson for the group of five (06 including guide), which came to be known as the Nishiyuu Walkers. The Walkers found national attention when the only political party leader that would meet with them was then Liberal leader, Justin Trudeau.

And it seems to have come full circle as it is the young adults such as David & company whose voice need to be heard as this soon to be, new legislation comes on the horizon. This is a significant milestone in indigenous history and needs to be treated as such. It will be written about in history books and taught to the coming generations. It’s important.

As Attorney General, Wilson-Raybould adamantly stated, “…drive for the change…fight for the change and advance the change.” Change is coming – for better or worse.

Sandra Lafleur began writing professionally at the age of 40. Her educational history includes the human sciences; social work and advocacy for women and children and marketing. Sandra is currently finishing her first novel, due out in the fall and she resides in Toronto, Ontario.