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Can You Tell this First Nations Act From The '60s Version?

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If you hang around native people long enough, you'll probably hear references to white paper, and it might have you scratching your head. The trick is to capitalize the words. They're talking about the 1969 White Paper officially titled, "Statement of the Government on Indian Policy." It was put out by then-Minister of Indian Affairs, Jean Chrétien.

Okay, so why the grim faces when anyone mentions the White Paper?

Well look. There are a lot of places you can go to read a quick synopsis of what the White Paper was suggesting. I don't intend to rewrite all that, though I will excerpt its main points from the UBC page (good links in there too!):

...the white paper proposed to:

• Eliminate Indian status

• Dissolve the Department of Indian Affairs within five years

• Abolish the Indian Act

Convert reserve land to private property that can be sold by the band or its members, etc.

It causes grim looks, because it was grim business. Couched in terms of "equality" and "dignity," it proposed to pave over the colonial history of Canada and pretend none of it happened, or mattered. It would be the final assimilationist move of a government intent on doing away once and for all what Duncan Campbell Scott called the "Indian Problem."

In response, Harold Cardinal and the Indian Chiefs of Alberta published what was dubbed the Red Paper (ha, get it?) in opposition, also known as "Citizens Plus." Again, I don't want to go into exhaustive details as to what it had to say, when there are excellent summaries and even classroom worksheets to explore these two Papers. The White Paper was scrapped.

The reason I don't want to get into it further than this, is that it's ancient history, right? That was 1969, and this is now. Let bygones be bygones.

Wait a minute, that doesn't sound like you at all...

You're right, and I'm sorry. Sometimes I let my sarcasm get the better of me.

Okay, I'll be up front about this. The reason I'm talking about the White Paper right now, is because of the proposed First Nations Property Ownership Act (FNPOA) analysed recently by Pam Palmater. I think that people need to take another look at the 1969 White Paper and ask themselves if anything really has changed.

Take a look at this stirring speech used to introduce the FNPOA:

To be a First Nations person is to be a human, with all a human's needs and abilities. To be a First Nations person is also to be different. It is to speak different languages...rely on a set of values developed in a different world...

...But to be a First Nations person today is to be someone different in another way. It is to be someone apart -- apart in law, apart in the provision of government services...

To be a First Nations person is to lack power -- the power to act as owner of your lands, the power to spend your own money and, too often, the power to change your own condition.

Not always, but too often, to be a First Nations person is to be without -- without a job, a good house, or running water; without knowledge, training or technical skill and, above all, without those feelings of dignity and self-confidence that a man must have if he is to walk with his head held high...

Now wait a damn minute, I actually clicked on the link to the 1969 White Paper, and that quote is from the introduction to it!

Oops, caught me. You're right, that's the opening statement from the White Paper, with some changes from "Indian" to more politically accepted terms like "First Nations" and "Aboriginal." I admit it.

Now that you've read it though, does it sound terribly different from present-day rhetoric? What you should really do is compare the "Indian Lands" portion of the White Paper with what the FNPO Initiative has to say. The two proposals are essentially the same.

It's true that just because the wording is very similar in 2012 as it was in 1969, this does not mean that the FNPOA is about full on assimilation the way that the White Paper was. On the other hand, what lends credibility to the idea assimilation is the goal, is the fact that it is being championed and promoted by people who support exactly that.

Tom Flanagan in Chapter 1 of, "First Nations? Second Thoughts" has this to say:

• indigenous peoples are just prior immigrants with no real rights (to the land or otherwise);

• European colonisation was inevitable and justifiable because of the "tremendous gap in civilization" between aboriginal peoples and Europeans;

• aboriginal government in practice "produces wasteful, destructive, familistic factions";

• aboriginal title as currently defined is impossible to use in a modern economy;

• aboriginal people can only find prosperity by integrating into the economy "which means, among other things, a willingness to move."

Why am I harping on Flanagan? Well this fine fellow co-authored another book called, "Beyond the Indian Act: Restoring Aboriginal Property Rights" with a forward by Manny Jules (Chief Commissioner of the FNPO Initiative). Both men are great supporters of the FNPOA. Just like the White Paper and the FNPOA, this book basically asserts that the only rights indigenous people should have are private property rights.

So pardon me if I'm skeptical in the extreme of a plan that was virulently opposed by First Nations when it was first proposed in 1969, a plan couched in western liberal notions of human dignity and freedom of choice just like it is today, 43 years later. Just because they found a native face to slap on top of the FNPOA makes no difference when the attitudes are exactly the same.

So let's call this property rights-specific proposal what it really is: The White Paper Lite.

A longer version of this article can be found on the author's blog, âpihtawikosisân.