POLITICS

Saskatchewan MP says Indian Act 'major barrier' to First Nations success

06/28/2012 05:09 EDT | Updated 08/28/2012 05:12 EDT
OTTAWA - An MP from northern Saskatchewan is calling the Indian Act a major barrier to success for First Nations.

Rob Clarke says his own experience growing up under the act and having to enforce it when he worked for the RCMP convinced him the law needs changing.

Clarke has a private member's bill before Parliament to amend the Indian Act and provide for its replacement.

He outlined his proposal to the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations this week and came under immediate criticism.

The federation says chiefs haven't been consulted and have — quote — "grave concerns" about Clarke's bill.

Clarke says he plans to spend a large part of his summer talking to First Nations communities and their leaders.

The MP, who represents the riding of Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill River, says he's already heard a lot.

"In my aboriginal affairs committee work since 2008, I have heard over and over again from First Nations leaders, grassroots band members and non-aboriginal Canadians that the Indian Act has to go," he said Thursday in a release out of Ottawa.

He takes issue with native leaders likening his bill to the 1969 White Paper proposed by Jean Chretien, who was the Liberal Indian Affairs minister at the time.

"Such comparisons are misleading,“ Clarke said. “The White Paper was a full repeal of the Indian Act. My bill is not. The White Paper proposed rejection of land claims. My bill does not. The White Paper called for complete assimilation of First Nations into Canadian society. My bill does not.”

Federation vice-chief Morley Watson said Wednesday the Conservative government is behind Bill C-428 and has sent a First Nations MP to front its agenda.

The House of Commons aboriginal affairs committee is to review Clarke's bill this fall.

He said there will be "ample opportunity for submissions and testimony" and his proposal builds in collaboration between First Nations and the government.

“The goal is to replace the Indian Act, but it will not be removed without being replaced with legislation that will be respectful and modern.”