Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Everybody agrees Indian Act must go

Moves to repeal and replace it afoot in House

  • Print

OTTAWA -- If there is one thing First Nations and the federal political parties agree on, it's that the archaic, paternalistic and repressive legislation commonly known as the Indian Act has got to go.

First Nations have asked for the act to be replaced for decades.

The government last week backed a private member's bill from one of its own MPs, Saskatchewan's Rob Clarke, calling for the methodical abolition of the act.

Today, Liberal Leader Bob Rae will introduce a motion in the House of Commons also calling for the act to be replaced.

So one might think it should not be hard to actually do something about it.

As usual in politics, nothing is that simple.

The problem, as Prime Minister Stephen Harper put it so succinctly during the Crown-First Nations Gathering in Ottawa last January, is that the act has deep roots and cannot simply be blown up.

The Indian Act is more than 136 years old and touches every aspect of life on First Nations.

Created by a government determined to stamp out aboriginal culture, the act governs everything from education and housing to band governance and operations.

Under the act, First Nations cannot pass bylaws for their communities without the approval of the minister. The act limits how they can use and develop reserve land, often putting so much red tape around economic development it simply doesn't happen. It is so intrusive on the individual lives of First Nations people. A reserve resident cannot even write a will without getting it approved by the minister.

In other areas, it is vague and laden with loopholes. On education, for example, the act lays out the premise for First Nations education but includes no standards of education, not even a minimum number of school days or basic education requirements of teachers.

The poverty, addiction and violence that plague reserves today can be largely traced back to governance under the act. The residential schools the act created ruined lives and destroyed communities. The act now often prevents First Nations from having any chance of recovery.

Clarke's bill begins by deleting all references in the Indian Act to residential schools and repeals or amends sections addressing wills, education and band bylaws. It also requires the minister of aboriginal affairs to report every year what work has been done to replace the Indian Act with new legislation.

In his speech in defence of his bill last Thursday, Clarke referred to the Indian Act as an "outdated, racist, colonial statute."

"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," he said.

Today, Rae will propose a similar but not entirely identical approach. In his motion, Rae calls the act the "embodiment of failed colonial and paternalistic policies."

Rae's motion calls for a nation-to-nation process, to begin within three months of the motion passing, to replace the Indian Act with new agreements based on constitutional and treaty rights, the government's fiduciary responsibility to First Nations, United Nations standards and stability and safety of First Nations.

The Liberal leader's motion calls for a two-year time frame for the work to be completed.

Many First Nations leaders have balked at Clarke's bill because they feel it was introduced without consultation and isn't clear on how much consultation will take place.

Clarke said his bill is based on a principle he calls ARRC -- amend, repeal, replace and consult -- but it is a sign of just how much mistrust there is between First Nations and the federal government when there needs to be a specific consultation process spelled out in detail before many will believe consultation will actually take place.

Rae's motion appears to have the backing of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak.

It won't be easy to replace a piece of legislation that is so complex and diverse. It won't be easy to develop a consultation process that will appease all parties involved.

But perhaps now, more than at any previous time, all the parties at the very least have the same goal and are all on the playing field ready to start kicking the ball.

If they succeed, the impact on Canada and its First Nations will be almost immeasurable.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 22, 2012 A7

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Selinger addresses stadium lawsuit

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A pelican comes in for a landing Wednesday afternoon on the Red River at Lockport, Manitoba - Standup photo- June 27, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • A  young goose stuffed with bread from  St Vital park passers-by takes a nap in the shade Thursday near lunch  –see Bryksa’s 30 day goose challenge Day 29-June 28, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos


Are you concerned about the number of homicides so far this year?

View Results

Ads by Google