The likely consequences of ‘Truth in Sentencing Act’ for Indigenous people

There are apx. 20,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit inmates housed within provincial jails at any given time in this country.

And according to StatsCan, while Indigenous people represent 4% of the population, they make up 24% of the general prison population. Incredibly, Aboriginal women are 28 times more likely to go to jail than non-Indigenous women.

One of the most significant statistics amid this disastrous data revolves around remand custody. That’s where people who can’t receive or afford bail are held in jail from the time of their initial arrest right up until their trial.

Data from the Correctional Investigator of Canada Howard Sapers shows that from 2001 to 2007, the number of remanded Indigenous people increased by 23%. In fact, that research suggested that First Nations, Métis and Inuit people “in pre-sentence custody are more likely to be denied bail, more likely to be held in higher security conditions and serve longer periods of time in remand custody.”

All of this would be exacerbated by the Conservative government’s new law and order legislation, the Truth in Sentencing Act. At least, that’s the implication of an internal Justice Canada report made public by the Canadian Press and the Globe and Mail last week.

Also known as Bill C-25, the proposed Act would, if passed, restrict the ability of a sentencing judge in how they assign credit-for-time-served in remand to an offender. As a result, because Indigenous people have been shown to spend disproportionate amounts of time in pre-trial custody, they would easily be among the hardest hit by this new legislation, say critics quoted by the Globe. In effect, they’ll serve even more time in jail than they already do now.

Critics believe Bill C-25 would also rapidly increase the prison population. So in addition to longer sentences, even more First Nations, Métis and Inuit men and women would find themselves incarcerated under this law.

Considering the mountain of research dating back thirty years on the estrangement of Indigenous peoples from any semblance of justice in Canada, this legislation is all the more maddening. Between 1984 and the present, there have been dozens of reports, inquires, and studies on this over-representation: from the 1999 Supreme Court Gladuedecision (which noted a “crushing failure” of the justice system) to Howard Sapers’ 2006 Report finding of “systematic discrimination.”

Not only is it impossible for the current government to be ignorant of this consensus, but, the Globe article noted, it was aware of the Justice Canada report before introducing the legislation. In fact, they kept it secret!

So considering all of this, it becomes clear that the ongoing reality for Indigenous people vis-a-vis the Canadian justice system continues to be one stubbornly characterized by injustice.

http://www.mediaindigena.com/hayden-king/issues-and-politics/the-likely-consequences-of-truth-in-sentencing-act-for-indigenous-people

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Support Indigenous People’s Rights

Joseph Quesnel recently argued on these (NP) pages (“Don’t give into UN group think,” Oct. 16) that the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is nothing more than a “superficially impressive sounding document,” a UN “shenanigan.” The article seems to respond to increasing indications that two of the three remaining countries still refusing to accept the declaration, New Zealand and the United States, are re-considering. That will leave Canada — the lone independent thinker in the international community, according to Quesnel.

Quesnel suggests that Canada should maintain its rejection of the declaration. It is “unnecessary” here because “Aboriginals already have entrenched constitutional and treaty rights under Section 35 of the Constitution.” Yet, despite the inclusion of “aboriginal rights” in Canadian legal discourse for nearly thirty years, little has changed. First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples are still the most marginalized groups in the country, perpetually at the bottom of every socio-economic indicator: health, education, housing, employment, etc.

Quesnel effectively argues for the status quo.

The declaration, on the other hand, represents change. It’s the turning point after four hundred years of excluding indigenous peoples from international law. This goes back to the “Doctrine of Discovery,” which stated that non-Christians could not own land (allowing for the “legal” theft of entire continents). In contemporary times, the UN’s Convention 107 defined indigenous peoples as “populations” (human rights protection was extended to “peoples” exclusively). Finally, around the same time “aboriginal rights” appeared in Canada, the UN reversed course and created the Working Group on Indigenous Peoples.

The group quickly became the most attended forum at the UN. It sought to protect against the unique threats faced by Indigenous peoples: cultural genocide through assimilation policies, illegal dispossession of lands and resources, erosion of self-determination and so on. Their work — three decades of research, debate, testimony and negotiation — culminated in the declaration: a series of non-binding, aspirational commitments that states could strive toward. In September 2007, it was adopted by 142 countries.

It includes rights to have previous poor treatment redressed and rights to lands and resources never surrendered; the right to revitalize traditions and cultures as well as the restoration of burial grounds; rights to control education systems; rights to determine membership and citizenship codes; rights to intellectual property; and rights to traditional economies.

Soon after the declaration’s ratification, the Minister of Indian Affairs, Chuck Strahl, fretted that the declaration “could be used to challenge and re-open historic and present-day treaties and to support claims that have already been dealt with.” Quesnel used similar language, stating that “provisions within the declaration could serve to re-open ratified land claims agreements.” Both apparently overlooked Article 37 of the UNDRIP which states that “nothing in this declaration may be interpreted as diminishing or eliminating… treaties, agreements and other constructive agreements.”

Canada’s alternate excuses for rejecting the declaration also fail to bear scrutiny. Strahl has claimed that the declaration “does not recognize Canada’s need to balance indigenous rights to lands and resources with the rights of others.” Yet, Article 46 allows limitations on the declaration to ensure the rights of others are respected. Indeed, the declaration accommodates states: “Nothing in this declaration… should be construed as authorizing or encouraging any action which would dismember or impair, totally or in part, the territorial integrity or political unity of sovereign and independent states.”

So, why do the federal government and Quesnel, really oppose the declaration? Perhaps because it would mean dropping appeals on court cases, such as McIvor, that encourage expanding the definition of “Indian.” It would mean protection for the Cowichan tribes when their sweater designs are stolen for the 2010 Olympics. It would mean First

Nations would be consulted, not incarcerated as the Kitchenumaykoosib Inninuwug and Ardoch Algonquins were, in cases where they oppose resource development on their land. It would mean the Lubicon Cree might survive amid the destruction of their livelihoods in the Alberta oil sands.

By refusing to sign the declaration, the federal government allows First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples to affirm their cynicism. Because the declaration is an articulation of their concerns and desires, because it represents their genuine participation in global governance for the first time and because it’s a rare source of hope, Canada’s continued opposition is a disappointing reflection of ongoing apathy and neglect.

National Post (archived)

Platform of change for First Nations

The Assembly of First Nations will elect a new national chief next week in Calgary. As Phil Fontaine retires after an eight-year tenure, five candidates are vying for his job, the top position in First Nations politics.

This style of politics is actually similar to that practised by non-native peoples in Canada. There are nominations, campaign fundraising, secret ballots and majority votes. Indeed, in much the same way MPs elect a party leader, band council chiefs elect the national chief.

While there’s a robust slate of committed candidates seeking the job, the population the organization purports to serve is increasingly divided.

For supporters, there’s been progress on a number of fronts: squeezing a residential school apology from the Harper government; helping to draft a new specific claims tribunal; and creating more space in the public square for discussion on policy issues.

For detractors, the AFN does a poor job of representing those living in cities (now a slim majority, according to Canadian government figures), and women have had difficulty gaining support from the organization at critical times.

In some quarters, there also is outright rejection of the AFN because it is comprised of band chiefs who derive their authority from the widely despised Indian Act. As such, the organization will always be subordinate to non-native governments that harbour few sincere commitments to First Nations peoples.

Amid this division, the five men running to become national chief of the organization are, perhaps not surprisingly, campaigning on a platform of change for “a new AFN.” From likely front-runners to long shots, the candidates are: John Beaucage, Shawn Atleo, Perry Bellegarde, Terry Nelson and Bill Wilson.

John Beaucage, a former economist and chief of Wasauksing First Nation, has been the grand chief of the 42-nation Union of Ontario Indians (otherwise known as the Anishinabek Nation) for the past five years and is fairly popular in Ontario, winning his last election by acclamation.

Beaucage expresses the desire to transform the AFN into a true confederation of nations – reducing the 600-odd bands to the 60 historic political/cultural entities. This would also include a move away from the Indian Act and toward entrenching self-government explicitly in the Canadian Constitution.

Beaucage is also focusing on First Nations youth – an exploding segment of the population – as well as education, adequate housing and economic development.

Shawn Atleo has been the regional chief of the AFN in British Columbia since 2003 and a hereditary chief of the Ahousaht First Nation since 1999. While there hasn’t been an AFN chief from the West Coast since the mid-’70s, B.C. has one-third of voting chiefs and Atleo appears popular among many of them.

In terms of policy, Atleo shares many of the views of Beaucage but is particularly vocal regarding education, with a focus on skills training and an adequate understanding of the legacy of residential schools in the hope of reconciliation.

Atleo also prioritizes economic development. He seeks to leverage treaty rights in addition to creating partnerships with private industry while maintaining traditional cultural values, including ecological stewardship.

Perry Bellegarde also has the potential to win. The former grand chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations and former regional vice-chief for the Assembly of First Nations is Cree from the Little Black Bear First Nation, where he is currently a band councillor.

Bellegarde advocates the creation of “First Nations Acts” in Canadian legislation to deal with varied issues from health to language preservation.

He also seeks the ratification of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and a renewed assessment of the First Nations fiscal arrangement with the federal government.

Diverging from these three candidates is Terry Nelson, chief of the Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation for 10 years and a supposed “firebrand.” But the moniker is undeserved as Nelson asks legitimate questions. For instance: Why, while Canada grows rich on resources obtained in First Nations territory, do the people dwell in poverty?

So he proposes the assumption of jurisdiction over those resources while creating international economic agreements, effectively sidestepping the Canadian government, which will lead to wealth creation in communities.

While Nelson won’t win, he provides a critical and necessary perspective.

Finally, there is Bill Wilson, also a long shot. Wilson is Kwakwaka’wakw hereditary chief from Cape Mudge in British Columbia. While Wilson has been in politics longer than any of the other candidates, he’s been less active in recent years, working instead as a treaty negotiator and consultant.

Like Nelson, Wilson’s patience with the federal government has waned and he promotes a more provocative approach focusing primarily on enforcing and upholding treaties. He also expresses a commitment to addressing poverty, violence against women and substance abuse.

The race will likely be a close one between Beaucage and Atleo, with Bellegarde the wild card. But since the front-runners’ platforms are similar, the supposed new direction of the AFN is predictable – a rights-based approach with a heavy emphasis on economic development and wrestling more jurisdiction from Canada regarding citizenship, social policy and lands and resources.

Whatever the outcome, the new national chief will face challenges. While he will push for treaty rights, the government will seek to undermine them; while education is more critical than ever, funding is being cut. Above all, the new national chief will have to work very hard to ensure that the new AFN is not the same as the old AFN.

http://www.thestar.com/opinion/article/666972–platform-of-change-for-first-nations

Book recycles paternalistic native stereotypes

A book that tonight could win the prestigious Donner Book Prize for Public Policy presents the troubling argument that First Nation, Métis and Inuit peoples must abandon their cultures to be successful in Canadian society.

While this position wouldn’t be tolerated if directed at Catholics, Buddhists, Kurds or any other group, Albert Howard and Frances Widdowson’s case for the cultural extinction of native peoples is regarded as respectable enough to be eligible for an award.

In their Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry: The Deception Behind Indigenous Cultural Preservation, Howard and Widdowson assert that a conspiratorial “aboriginal industry” has duped native peoples into pursuing unsurrendered lands, achieving a semblance of self-determination and revitalizing their cultures. Indeed, they argue that these aspirations will actually hinder First Nation, Métis and Inuit peoples.

This is nothing more than a restatement of century-old paternalism that ignored the desires of native peoples and treated them instead as childlike wards of the state.

The authors open with a pertinent question: Why has so much government funding had so little impact?

It’s a question common among Canadians as well, although they may not like the answer: It’s not enough.

To put the $10 billion in context, only half of the funds get to the community; the rest goes to the government bureaucracy. Actual spending on native people amounts to just 1.9 per cent of Canada’s 2009 budget. That’s not enough money to build schools in 45 communities or get clean water to more than a 100. Nor is it all lost to corruption, as the authors assert. According to a Canadian government report in 2003, only 3 per cent of all First Nations had financial accountability problems.

Regardless, the pair insists the “aboriginal industry” directs funds to misguided projects like traditional ecological knowledge (TEK).

Despite Howard and Widdowson’s impoverished experience with TEK, they claim that most native knowledge is essentially junk science. However, those who have actually investigated TEK can attest to examples among the Haudenosaunee in obstetrics/midwifery, the Menominee in forestry operations (they are the world’s only 100 per cent sustainable loggers), the Nisga’a in resource management with fishwheel technology, and so on.

But the duo is steadfast in their belief that “aspects of aboriginal culture are inhibiting aboriginal survival today” – a statement that contradicts the majority of research on the challenges facing native peoples. Nearly every report, study or inquiry done in the last 30 years cites cultural loss as the problem. Indeed, the common sense solution would be to restore those cultures and help to support the tools that native communities need to address many of these challenges. In terms of policy, this strategy is only infrequently employed and certainly not the hegemonic force the authors insist it is.

In a further attempt to prove their point, Howard and Widdowson focus on education, claiming that consistent failure among native peoples is the result of cultural elements in school curriculums. To demonstrate a cultureless success story, the authors point to Grandview/Uuquinak’uuh Elementary in Vancouver, where the school succeeds “not by instituting `culturally sensitive’ programs, but through a focus on literacy, academics and objective assessments.” Yet, according to the former principal who brought the changes to the school, she actually “honoured aboriginal culture and incorporated it into the curriculum and daily routines.”

Howard and Widdowson have only disdain for native cultures, generalizing and simplifying, calling them “superstitious” and suggesting that “no rational person believes that modern problems can be solved by reverting to the ways of our ancestors.” Here their hypocrisy is clear: every modern society builds its institutions on the work of previous generations.

Indeed, it appears the authors actually believe that culture among all peoples evolves in linear fashion through gradual stages toward an apex, which is Western civilization – classic ethnocentrism.

I don’t disagree a change is required in “aboriginal” policy by the Canadian government and native organizations. However, that change needs to trend in the opposite direction from the one prescribed by the authors.

In the areas of criminal justice, health care, education and suicide, it is not fewer cultural components that are required, but more. Just as other Canadians use cultural-specific solutions to cure social issues, native peoples should be granted that same right. This is not an argument for segregation or isolation, but rather inclusion.

I also agree that an “aboriginal industry” does exist, as do some exploitative lawyers and consultants within it who are taking advantage of First Nations.

But native peoples are not the naive victims of the industry cabal imagined by Howard and Widdowson; rather they have goals that often require help with legal issues, economic development and education. Most of the people in the so-called industry are working in genuine support of those desires.

The work of Howard and Widdowson is undermining their efforts, and tonight the Donner Canadian Foundation risks sharing that distinction.

http://www.thestar.com/opinion/article/626544–book-recycles-paternalistic-native-stereotypes

Indigenous cultures rivalled those of many other civilizations

Thomas Jefferson once remarked that those who don’t read newspapers are better informed than those who do, even as the former may know nothing, the latter only know falsehood and error. This brings to mind Margaret Wente’s recent column about Olympic official Dick Pound, who said, “400 years ago, Canada was a land of savages.” Ms. Wente’s Saturday column has likely set back the first nations’ campaign for an accurate representation of native peoples in the mainstream media by 10 years.

In fact, a brief survey of the original peoples of this continent illustrates an array of accomplishments that rival civilizations around the globe, including those in Western Europe. Yet today, in North America, the ancestors of those from both continents live side by side, separated by a canyon of misunderstanding. To gain insight, we need only turn to indigenous oral traditions, wampum belts, birchbark scrolls and Tsalagi and Aztec texts. In addition, scholars of all stripes from all corners of the globe have contributed to a greater knowledge of indigenous cultures.

Perhaps most impressive among their findings is that indigenous peoples were adept farmers, originally cultivating and harvesting two-thirds of the foodstuffs the world consumes today. These include the tomato, peanut, potato, chili peppers and corn. In fact, at the time of contact, and long before Gregor Mendel’s experiments with pea plants, the Huron in Ontario had genetically engineered 17 different varieties of corn. Not quite the Stone Age hunter-gatherers of Ms. Wente’s column.

But the achievements don’t end there. And because Ms. Wente uses European-inspired standards of success when measuring first nations “savagery,” a comparison is in order. At a time when the Anishinabek had societal codes forbidding incest, the crowned heads of France and England were as inbred as poodles. While Christians were burning “heretics” at the stake for suggesting the Earth wasn’t the centre of the universe, the Mayans were charting the movement of the stars, creating a calendar within seconds of modern-day atomic clocks. The Wet’suwet’en practised a matriarchal society, while on the other side of the Atlantic, women were the property of men.

In addition, and contrary to Ms. Wente’s assertion, the Haudenosaunee did influence the U.S. Constitution. American “founding fathers,” including Benjamin Franklin and Jefferson, explicitly recorded the first nation contribution. John Rutledge even articulated the structure of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and their “Great Law of Peace” to the drafting committee. (He spoke of a complex federalism whose leaders included executive, legislative and judicial branches – the latter of which were generally a group of elder women). The Haudenosaunee actually practise a 900-year-old democracy and the longest lasting peace between nations in recorded history.

Yet another disturbing aspect of Ms. Wente’s column was the dismissal of traditional ecological knowledge – this is the sum knowledge of a given first nation or Inuit community that has been accumulated and amended for thousands of years. Dismissing it reduces us to conclude, for instance, that the Inuit have survived in the world’s harshest climate by sheer luck. Of course, this is nonsensical. Sophisticated knowledge of ice flows, animal migrations, wind patterns and temperature fluctuations ensured their success in the past and educates scientists, the military and resource companies in the present.

In fact, such traditional ecological knowledge also significantly contributes to Western medicine: essiac is a cancer treatment, evanta cures leprosy, foxglove aids heart care, kava kava reduces stress, and quinine treats malaria. All of the above are indigenous inventions. Not only can such ecological knowledge save lives, it may also help save the world. First nations peoples have lived sustainably in North America for tens of thousands of years, respecting all life, however small, putting an emphasis on reciprocity and understanding that their relationship with ecosystems is one of life and death. At a time when first nations peoples can teach us so much, Ms. Wente would have us ignore them.

Indigenous cultures were and are diverse and vibrant.

They lived in cities larger than those in contemporary Europe, had greater populations, taller buildings, sophisticated governance structures, varied art forms, tested scientific knowledge and on, and on. What is truly savage is the perpetuation of a false representation of first nations, Métis and Inuit peoples, particularly when they’ve worked so hard to overcome racism and stereotypes.

But perhaps Jefferson was right all along, we shouldn’t expect much from newspapers anyway.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/commentary/indigenous-cultures-rivalled-those-of-many-other-civilizations/article716632/

When will there be real justice for First Nations people?

When speaking on the phone with friends who live on-reserve, it’s often amusing to begin the conversation with the customary caution that the line is tapped. In recent days though – having learned that Mohawk activist Shawn Brant, along with his friends and family members, had had their conversations recorded by the OPP without a court order – this amusement has turned to dread. And the dismal reality that is the relationship between First Nations people and the justice system has been illuminated as well.

In this particular case, the OPP and Commissioner Julian Fantino, sought to end a blockade of Highway 401 during last summer’s “National Day of Action” in late-night telephone negotiations with Mr. Brant. Fair enough. But it’s unclear why a wiretap was necessary. It certainly didn’t help bring the action to a close as Mr. Brant endured into the morning despite Mr. Fantino’s threats of “grave consequences.”

For First Nations people, injustice is nothing new. This example is only the latest in a disastrous history whereby the Canadian legal apparatus has been used or abused to persecute First Nation, Métis and Inuit peoples. For that reason, First Nations people represent a majority in our prisons (despite being a minority of the population). They are also more likely to be charged with a crime, sentenced for longer periods, and denied parole more often. Indigenous women are 28 times more likely to be sent to prison than non-indigenous women. Yet, when crimes are committed against them, rarely are they investigated or prosecuted. How else can we explain the hundreds of unsolved cases of missing or murdered First Nations women?

If there is such a thing as a two-tiered justice system, First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples are on the bottom tier. It was only a few weeks ago that the Chief and Council of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation were released from prison. They had been sentenced to six-month terms for refusing to allow mining on their territory, but an Ontario Court of Appeal reduced their six-month sentences to time served, saying imprisoning the protesters only magnified the “estrangement of aboriginal peoples from the Canadian justice system.” On the other side of the country, a commission of inquiry is investigating the death of Frank Paul. He was a heavily intoxicated aboriginal man left by Vancouver police in an alley where he froze to death in the middle of winter. Perhaps the inquiry should recall the findings of the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry of Manitoba of 1991, which determined that the legal system has institutionalized the oppression of First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples.

Of course, Canadian governments pay little attention to findings such as these. The Hawthorne Report in the late 1960s indicated that the past 100 years of Indian policies had done more harm than good, yet the government maintained course. The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples in the mid-1990s described challenges within the justice system and prescribed apt solutions; the government completely ignored them.

The Ipperwash Inquiry recommendations, released last spring, noted that policing confrontations with First Nations peoples must be handled with fairness and understanding, yet, the Commissioner of the OPP threatens Shawn Brant.

Canadians, First Nations or otherwise, should be concerned. The emergency wiretap power has recently been found by judges in British Columbia and Ontario to violate the Charter of Rights. Such “emergency” phone taps, which don’t need court approval, are only permissible in “in circumstances where there is a likelihood that an unlawful act will be committed and a likelihood that an unlawful act will cause serious harm to a person or to property,” according the Ontario judge. In the Brant case, where such an emergency wiretap was used, not a single person was hurt, nor was there serious potential. There are also reports the OPP posed as the media to get close to Mr. Brant, a tactic that undermines freedom of the press and only serves to enhance suspicion and distrust.

Most readers will likely react to the police antics with apathy. Natives are terrorists anyway and probably deserved it, as public sentiment generally goes. But at the least, this myth of special treatment for First Nations people under the law should be dispelled. For them, in the Canadian legal system, justice is relative. Indeed, the next time I call friends on-reserve, I’ll be wondering who else is listening.

The Globe and Mail (archived)

Native reserves aren’t the problem

Mould-infested homes, contaminated water, dirt roads: It’s hard to advocate for Canada’s native reserve system in light of the obvious dilapidation. Nevertheless, Jonathan Kay’s recent column advocating the dismantling of the system (“Off the Reservation,” Oct. 23) is woefully inaccurate, and fails to identify the real barriers to First Nations development.

The foundation of Kay’s column rests on two myths. First, that the federal government spends “over $8-billion on reserve-resident natives, or $80,000 per reserve-resident household.” In reality, 50% of that amount pays the salaries of bureaucrats and government lawyers. Moreover, federal funding is not keeping pace with the fact that indigenous peoples are the fastest-growing population in Canada. As such, the actual amount spent on First Nation families is less than half that spent on their counterparts in Canadian jails.

Kay’s assumption that self-government doesn’t work is also wrong. Self-governing First Nations actually have fewer health, education and substance-abuse challenges. The Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development even found that self-government is a key factor to establishing stable First Nation economies.

As for Kay’s “three well-observed empirical truths learned the hard way,” which are supposed to act as an indictment of the reserve model, they are equally untrue in relation to reserves.

First, Kay attacks rural Canada, suggesting that rural economies don’t generate wealth. Yet Canada’s economy is driven by resource exports. The oil, energy, forestry and mining industries are all based in rural Canada and in proximity to First Nations.

If Canada and the provinces fulfill their consultation obligations regarding development that affects First Nations, there is a real chance for prosperity. Attawapiskat is in the diamond business, Pikangikum in forestry, the Blood and Siksika in oil and the eastern Cree in electricity. Kay wants First Nations to move away from their homes and land at precisely the time when it’s becoming profitable to stay.

Next, Kay makes numerous references to the Iron Curtain and Karl Marx, as if First Nations were communists, even making the assertion that the reserve system persists as a “utopian experiment.” In fact, Canada designed reserves with the opposite in mind. The 195 sections of the Indian Act have handicapped reserves with malicious policies such as the criminalization of economic transactions without the permission of an Indian agent. How’s that for a free market?

True, many indigenous peoples do view the land as communal. More specifically, many view it as sacred, as their Grandmother. How do you parcel up and sell your Grandmother? In fact, privatizing reservation land was attempted once in the United States under the Dawes Act. It led to the wholesale pillaging of Indian lands by outside speculators.

Real barriers to economic development include the Indian Act, a lack of formal education, limited access to capital, and ineffective government co-ordination. Canada needs to immediately review the negative impacts of the Indian Act and find solutions to address the restrictions that limit economic development.

The federal and provincial governments must also draft large-scale and co-ordinated strategies for economic development. Currently, Canada operates under the 17-year-old 1989 Canadian Aboriginal Economic Development Strategy, which the Auditor-General eviscerated in 2003. Access to capital can be achieved with the settlement of land and treaty entitlement claims. Recently, Price Waterhouse calculated the cost of not settling treaties in British Columbia at $1-billion in lost investment and 1,500 jobs per year.

For the last 150 years, Canada has essentially legislated Indians out of the economy. However, this does not mean reserves should be abandoned in favour of more assimilation as Kay suggests. Instead, reserves need economic development that is integrated with traditional values and overseen by native leaders, something that is owed to First Nations and well overdue.

National Post (archived)