Harper government bills that enraged First Nations, Theresa Spence, and birthed #IdleNoMore

By Obert Madondo The Canadian Progressive, Jan. 6, 2013:

Idle No More protest on Parliament Hill, Ottawa. Dec 21 2012

Idle No More protest on Parliament Hill, Ottawa. Dec 21 2012

Yesterday, Idle No More, the grassroots movement for Aboriginal justice, flexed its muscle with peaceful blockages of bridges and border crossings across Canada. Dr. Pamela Palmater, an indigenous activist and chair in Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University,  says #IdleNoMore is pushing back at the aggressive assimilation agenda of the right-wing Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. This insidious and racist agenda finds expression in two omnibus “budget” bills, C-38 and C-45, which the Conservatives recently rammed through Parliament with very little consultation and debate.

The movement’s key inspiration, Attawapiskat First Nation Chief Theresa Spence, is in Day 27 of her hunger strike in sub-zero temperatures on Victoria Island, a short distance from Parliament Hill.

Jenny Uechi, a Managing Editor at the Vancouver Observer, explains the Harper government bills that enraged First Nations, Theresa Spence and birthed #IdleNoMore:

One of the first questions that people ask about the Idle No More movement is what the movement is all about. While the historical injustices experienced by First Nations are too many to list, activists say the current government is pushing through a range of new bills that violate treaty rights.

“Never in history has there been so many bills regarding and impacting First Nations been pushed through the House of Commons at one time,” Idle No More Bill Breakdowna document released by activists, reads. Below is an excerpt adapted from the document, outlining the eight bills and amendments which have sparked protests across the country.

Bill C-45: Jobs and Growth Act (Omnibus Bill)

I. Land Surrenders

• This process prevents any debate or Grand Chiefs to present views of amendments

• The Indian Act changes with zero consultation of communities

• Lowers threshold for the surrender of reserve lands

• It is no longer the majority of the band list that determines such a surrender of such reserve lands, but just a handful of people (e.g. five representatives in attendance, with three voting “yes”)

II. Navigable Waters Act

• The federal government vacates jurisdiction over waters, parks, fisheries, etc. and the responsibility and duty to consult, honour treaty rights

• Allows Provinces to have more powerful expropriation powers

• The current federal government has expressed wishes to “unlock” First Nations’ lands for the maximized benefit of Canadians

Bill S-2: Family Homes of Reserve Matrimonial Interests of Rights Act

• Does not recognize any First Nation by-laws that already set out matrimonial property laws

• For the first-time in history, legal rights can be given to non-Indians over holds on lands on-reserve

• Land, protected under treaties, exclusively for First Nations, can be given and transferred to non-First Nation people through this bill

First Nation Education Act

• Incorporates and imposes provincial laws into First Nation education on reserves

• The bill violates treaty right to education

• The federal government wishes to nationalize, control and legislate the treaty right to education

• Federal authorities with hand jurisdiction to the Province – not just stepping away from treaty obligations, but also funding obligations

Bill S-212: An Act to Amend the Interpretation Act

• Non-Derogation of Aboriginal and Treaty rights

Bill S-212: First Nations Self-Government Recognition Bill and FNPOA

• The 1887 Dawes Act (United States) in Canadian form (privatization of reserve land: will take community-held reserve lands and divide up into individual parcels)

• This land can be sold to non-Indians and corporations, like any provincial lands, under provincial laws and registries, with no Aboriginal or Treaty rights associated anymore

• In the US, the biggest land grabs of indigenous land were not from treaties, but from the Dawes Act

• After the Dawes Act, more amendments were set to go and over half of the privatized lands were given to government, military, and corporations for resource extraction

• To put a pipeline (e.g. proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline) through a community, the community’s consent is no longer needed:  just the individual people whose property the pipeline would go beneath

Bill S-8: Safe Drinking Water for First Nations

• Will give the federal government the power to set up rules and regulations around water and sanitation and will be able to force Chief and Councils to do whatever federal authorities see as necessary on water

• They can demand that Chief and Councils fix water systems, but if there is no money to do so, it is taken from band operating funding formulas (that pays for housing, social assistance, etc.)

• If the federal government’s contractors mismanage a project, the federal government is not liable and they indemnify themselves from getting sued

• Transfers jurisdiction and pushes provincial laws on reserve lands

Bill C-428: Indian Act Amendment and Replacement Act

• Rob Clark’s Bill to Repeal the Indian Act altogether

• Gets rid of old provisions with zero consultation or with the consent of First Nations people

• Doesn’t acknowledge a band’s abilities to pass band by-laws

• Takes away the power of bands to pass by-laws to prohibit alcohol on reserves – by taking power away to create by-laws and govern

• As paternalistic and colonial as the Indian Act is, it currently protects a reserve from Provincial Laws, protects reserve Treaty Rights, prevents taking reserve land, prevents mining and development and pipelines

Bill C-27: First Nations Financial Transparency Act

• This bill will force First Nations to open up all the books, source revenue, and business revenue (for the public)

• Failure to make business information public can result in being taken to court and having funds to the community cut off • Currently, if leaders speak up, they risk having budgets slashed

• The average salary for a First Nation leader is $36,845, while the salary of the average Canadian is $46,345 SOURCE