It's high time to head back to Square One

Kamloops Daily News
January 19, 2013 01:00 AM

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation figures the only way to put an end to the ongoing conflict with First Nations is to scrap the Indian Act and start again.

The idea has some merit.

Central to the federation's prescription for perennial problems plaguing the love-hate relationship between government and Canada's native population is the idea that it's time First Nations people were treated like the rest of Canadians.

The group argues that we should do away with special treatment for natives in the courts and scrap restrictions on what band members can and can't do with reserve lands.

"We need a new approach," observed the federation's Prairie director, Colin Craig, "one that treats all Canadians the same and connects aboriginal people with jobs and opportunities."

New approach.

Fresh start.

Back to Square One.

Whatever you want to call it, something has to change because, clearly, what we've been doing for generations doesn't work.

While some claim the Indian Act is archaic and merely serves to hold First Nations people back, others cling to the comfort it offers and say it affords natives protections that otherwise might have been lost over the years.

But without a modern framework that addresses today's legitimate issues surrounding consultation, self-government, revenue-sharing and environmental concerns, the relationship between government and First Nations is doomed to fester from wounds inflicted by past injustices and patriarchal attitudes.
Witness Idle No More.

While protests by First Nations succeed in getting the public's attention, they also lead to more uncertainty for people, for business and tend to cultivate an us-versus-them atmosphere that runs contrary to the promise of a prosperous future for either side.

Clearly what's needed is a fresh start with a long-term goal of revisiting the Indian Act, which was enacted in 1876 and governs the relationship between the government and Canada's First Nations.

The Gong-Show nature of last week's meeting between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and First Nations chiefs and how it came to be - or how it almost wasn't - pretty much mirrors the dysfunctional relationship the federal government has had with First Nations for decades.

The government, through the department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, pours hundreds of millions of dollars a year into First Nations reserves, where the money is presumably spent to improve conditions and prospects for band members.

But almost without fail, native leaders say it's not enough.

Apparently, it's never enough.

Then there are scathing audits such as the one done on the Attawapiskat, which showed an alarming lack of accountability for tens of millions of dollars spent on the reserve. Indeed, about 25 per cent of First Nations bands are under financial supervision ordered by the federal government.

Add to that the sky-high salaries some chiefs and band administrators award themselves and you can begin to understand why so many Canadians are skeptical about First Nations accountability and their demands for self-government.

Aboriginal Canadians must find a way to unite behind a leader - whether that's Assembly of First Nations Chief Shawn Atleo or somebody else - and present a clear set of objectives. Together with negotiators for the federal and provincial governments, they can begin to draw a road map on how to get there.

Canadians - not to mention aboriginals - are frustrated by the lack of progress on the First Nations file.

It does nobody any good to drag out a process that should be resolved over a negotiating table with the best interests of all Canadians at heart.

For that to happen, however, firm targets must be set and a way devised to measure the progress toward attaining them.

© Copyright 2015 Kamloops Daily News

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