The Misconceptions In Bill C45 That Sparked ‘Idle No More’ – Part One: Reserve Lands
Once again Canada is being subjected to protests that include blockades of roads, railways and entrances to various facilities; flash mobs and drum circles. Once again militant members of various First Nations are demonstrating, inspired by a movement started earlier this year by four women in Saskatchewan.
The movement is called Idle No More and whatever its original intent, it has quickly been overrun with those who have more militant agendas. It is also a movement that was started based on some serious misunderstandings and misinterpretations about recent government legislation that has been promulgated by the leaders of the First Nations, many politicians on the left and the mainstream media.
In a three-part series beginning today, Peggy Tupper, examines those misunderstandings and misconceptions that sparked the Idle No More Movement, Chief Theresa Spence’s hunger strike and the protests, blockades and demonstrations occurring in various parts of the country.
The Misconceptions That Sparked Idle No More – Part One: Reserve Lands
By Peggy Tupper
“The less you know, the more you believe” – Bono
The twitterverse and the media are full of stories, columns and editorials about the native movement called IDLE NO MORE. It was started by four women in Saskatchewan who were against the federal budget omnibus Bill C45 and its few amendments to the Indian Act. The women were all members of a First Nations (FN) band. (I use the term FN rather than, Indian, aboriginal or native since some but not all object to any other term.)
Bill C45 is a budget bill and the vast majority of it is financial stuff involving pooled pension funds, banks, trust companies, insurance companies and RCMP pensions; it is a long boring read. The bill was sponsored by the Honourable James Flaherty, Minister of Finance.
Tacked into the bill were several other housekeeping items that were not financially related. Personally, I consider this to be getting a little work done on the bathroom faucets while you have trades people in the house doing a reno on the kitchen. It is just an efficient method of getting things done although to hear the opposition and some in the media tell it, it is the end of democracy and the free world as we know it.
Given, however, that the NDP opposition will do anything to oppose and delay any legislation, it makes sense to do things as efficiently as possible. The conservatives have a majority so it does not matter whether things are done in one bill or with 5 separate pieces of legislation; they will pass even though the opposition would ……. I digress.
From its humble beginnings the IDLE NO MORE movement has grown and taken on a life of its own with protests all over Canada and now even some in the USA. Typically this includes the usual blockades and demonstrations including one on the CN line between Montreal and Ottawa last Sunday evening that delayed passengers by more than four hours.
The media, of course, covers these events and like too many who form an opinion based on an emotional reaction rather than informing themselves of the facts, jump up in support of one side of the issue or the other.
It is one thing to excuse laypeople of not knowing facts but journalists must be held to a higher standard. The misinformation being published is stunning; the rhetoric being repeated and encouraged by the media is shoddy journalism at best.
Much of the discontent that sparked Idle No More springs from two misconceptions about amendments to the Indian Act in Bill C45, primarily because they have been misreported and poorly understood. They can be summarized as:
Reserves will be sold off; Government not honouring treaty rights, government must consult with us.
Rather than believe all the hype, I chose to go to the open parliament website and read the legislation for myself. It seems that I might be one of the few people outside of legislators who have actually read Bill C45 and based on comments from some politicians, I’m not convinced all of them have read it either.
All Government of Canada legislation is readily available to the public despite claims by the opposition parties and many in the media that Omnibus bills are attempt to hide things from Canadians. This is the link to Bill C45 for those who are inclined to read the it for themselves.
Bill C45 contained a minor change to the Indian Act. The changes were requested – not unilaterally imposed by government – but requested by native bands in British Columbia. While some remote bands live in poverty for a variety of reasons, several bands in British Columbia have become quite entrepreneurial which has made them successful and self-sustainable. These bands have leased some of the reserve lands to third parties for retail and other purposes.
What a novel concept; they are using their land to provide jobs for their band members.
Under the Indian Act, every lease to a third party requires a referendum so that band members can vote on the proposal. The rules of majority were a problem. If a band has 1000 members of voting age, the referendum would require that 501 members were in favour. While that sounds logical in practice it’s a problem for most bands. If only 600 people in the band voted in a particular referendum, and 400 of the ballots were in favour, the referendum failed because 501 “yes” votes were required.
A second referendum would be required plus some other bureaucracy before a lease agreement could be signed. This delay meant that sometimes a deal would be lost.
The BC bands requested that the government, through the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, amend the Indian Act to allow a simple majority of votes cast on leasing referendums. Those changes were included in Bill C45 and that is what started all this kerfuffle!
Note that no band is forced to lease any land.
Any leasing must be initiated by the band, a referendum must be held as in the past and all other previous bureaucratic and administrative processes remain unchanged.
Perhaps the original four women who started Idle No More were mislead by the term “surrender”. The legislation does use the word. It is a legal term. A landlord renting an apartment surrenders its use to a tenant for the duration of a lease. Likewise, a band would surrender land to a lease holder for the duration of a lease.
For those who still do not understand, no lands on any reserve can be sold.
The media have failed to investigate before publishing misinformation and adding to the propaganda that is believed by many of poorly informed protesters. The Globe and Mail was one of the few that got it right in their article published December 29, 2012.
All the hyperbole and spin about reserve lands being sold off and the government trampling all over treaty rights is exactly that; a lot of uninformed sensationalist hyperbole that has done nothing but create more suspicion and mistrust.
No reserve lands will be sold off. The Conservative government is honouring treaty rights and actually providing bands with more control over their own lands. The accusation that the government should have consulted with First Nations before making any changes is simply absurd considering that the changes to the Indian Act were made at the request of a number of First Nations reserves and the government was merely responding to that request.
It has been said that no crises should be wasted.
The official opposition knows or should know about the changes since they voted on the bill. The sections were debated in the House of Commons. I know this because I read Hansard and there was ample discussion about the changes and the purpose of the legislation. In spite of this, the NDP members are adding fuel to the fire and perpetuating untruths. Undoubtedly they are looking for votes from the FN communities.
It seems that Shawn Atleo, the leader of the Association of First Nations is also using the IDLE NO MORE for his own political agenda. Chief Atleo is an educated man. He knows what the legislation means but he is not informing the FN communities of the truth. It is unconscionable for Atleo to promote and encourage protests in shopping malls and blockades of rail lines and highways for his political aggrandizement. It appears he is more interested in trying to force the federal government to only negotiate with him and the Assembly of First Nations than having it respond to the requests of individual First Nations’ bands, even when those requests might actually improve conditions on reserves.
I think it safe to say that once again native protesters are being manipulated and deliberately misinformed by their leadership in order to deflect criticism from their failed leadership and princely salaries.
All it would take is one meeting with the main stream press and Atleo could stop the anger of the protestors and the harassment of business owners and the public. One now must question everything Atleo says as it is obvious that his motives and ethics are self-serving and no more honourable than those of many progressive politicians and activists.
Tomorrow: The Misconceptions That Sparked Idle No More- Part 2: Navigable Waters Protection Act
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