There was a lot of talk Tuesday at a meeting between the Crown and First Nations peoples in Ottawa about whether Canada should change the Indian Act or even get rid of it entirely. Here is some of what people were saying:
1. Prime Minister Stephen Harper: "Our government has no grand scheme to repeal or to unilaterally rewrite the Indian Act: After 136 years, that tree has deep roots; blowing up the stump would just leave a big hole. However, there are ways, creative ways, collaborative ways, ways that involve consultation between our government, the provinces and First Nations leadership and communities, ways that provide options within the act, or outside of it, for practical, incremental and real change."
2. Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo: "Like a rock that sits in the middle of that road ... a boulder that blocks the path of collaboration — remains, as we've been saying here, the Indian Act — along with the age-old structures and policies that administer it and steadfastly resist change."
3. Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Derek Nepinak: "I welcome [Harper's] comment because I believe we do have to spend a lot of time thinking about if we're going to take the Indian Act out of the picture, what is going to go in its place? ... It's not to say the Indian Act should survive, because it shouldn't in the long run. We're here to say that we want to be willing participants in the extinction of the Indian Act."
4. AFN B.C. Regional Chief Jody Wilson-Raybould: "With all due respect, Mr. Prime Minister, on this point we must ask that you please rethink your government's approach set out in a number of recent bills, introduced or proposed, affecting our peoples, which seeks to tinker around the edges of the Indian Act in a piecemeal way.... Unfortunately, this attempt to legislate aspects of self-governance for us, to put it bluntly and again with all due respect, is an exercise in neo-colonialism. And as history has shown, will not work, however well-intentioned. The approach is fraught with legal and political problems at many levels."
5. Former AFN national chief Ovide Mercredi: "When you become a chief, you sure learn that even though you want to remain an Indian, the Indian Act is in the way. It stands in the way of economic progress, it stands in the way of our own self-determination as a people. It stands in the way of even defining who we are as a people and who can belong to our nations. It’s not just a big hole. It’s an obstacle."