The Honourable Gerry St. Germain is member of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs. He has introduced a private members bill that has Canada recognizing self-government for First nations. It is a bill for land based First Nations that allows for voluntary participation. St Germain said he was inspired by the late Senator Walter Twinn who attempted a similar bill in the past St. germain said this bill is based and builds on the work done by the Federal Government since 1982.
St. Germain considers Bill S-28 to be an alternative route to self-government that bypasses the protracted negotiation process and costly court cases. He said the money saved could be better used to meet such First Nation needs as education, housing, health poverty and clean water among other things.
St. Germain knows First Nations are ready for a bill of this type. “As I travel across this country meetin with Indian groups, and especially as I travel throughout my home province of British Columbia, I am told of the fustrations faced by them with the present method of achieving self-government,” St. Germain told the Senate on February 19, 2002.
St. Germain said that the Aboriginal right of self-government exists because Aboriginal people were living in self-governing communities before European contact. Bill highlights are include at the end of the interview.
The Nation:You are a senator with the Progressive Conservative Party?
Gerry St. Germain: No, I’m Canadian Alliance. I am a conservative senator though. (Joking) This is a non-partisan bill?
“Yes, and it is totally voluntary.
Is it a private members bill?
It is a private members bill. The total nuclious of this bill started years back with the chief of the Cree savage band in Albert Band with Treaty 8 with a man by the name of Senator Twinn. A close friend of mine. He seen a need to minimize the time and money spent on negotiating self-government agreements. He started a bill years back presented by another Senator Pkachuk from Saskatchen.
How did you get involved?
I’m Metis and part Cree Indian and we used to talk a lot. I knew what he was trying to do. He felt their was too much self interest involved with a lot of roadblocks. The bill did get to cabinet in the Mulroney era but died. Pkachuk passed away and some of his people asked us to keep the spirit of his bill alive. It’s in that light I got involved with this. What we have tried to do is draft a piece of enabling legistlation that is totally voluntary but encompasses all the good aspects of the self-government treaties that have been negotiated to date. This includes the parts of the Constitution that governs Aboriginal Peoples. In a nutshell, what we are trying to do is get the lawyers out of this process as much as possible. Any Native band that has a land base with which to work out of, whether it’s treaty lands or reserve lands, negotiated lands or something that puts them into a position to enter into a self-government process that would greatly reduce the cost sand save a lot of time. It would allow these respective groups of people to get on with their lives and get away from DIAND.
For you part of the problem is DIAND?
It’s so paternalistic. They give you continue to give more money despite the plight of people from the inner cities and the Natives on reserves. The difference is for the amount spent and the little effect it is having on our people is ilrelevent as far as I am concerned. The sooner sooner we get our bands on their own and they can establish their dignity and honour they once had as nations the quicker the better. Everything the White community has tried has failed to date. The only way is to get away from the paternalistic attitude. You have too allow them to govern themselves and establish a level of pride that the young people can see a reason to get educated. The reason to get on with their lives and DIAND fosters a paternalistic welfare state and it just goes on and on. Nothing is happening.
Have you talked about this with any Native bands?
Yes, definately. In all fairness most bands are hesitant to jump into anything because of the history and the way they have been dealt with. The response in Treaty one and treaty six in sask., treaty six and eight in Alberta and BC is positive because they are saying is can’t do any harm. It’s not mandatory. No ones shoving it down their throats. We’re saying here it is, there’s a template. Here’s a process to go through, if you want it do it if it applies to you. If it doesn’t, don’t worry about it For once in our lives nothing is being forced down the Natives throats.
So this has nothing to do with Indian Affoirs Min ter Naults Goverence Act?
No, No. Nault won’t even talk to me about this thing. I had a conference set up with him. I flew all the way from B.C. and he canceled an hour before the meeting. He hasn’t responded since.
Do you think he saw it as some sort of compitition with this process?
I hope not. The thing is a non-partisan bill. The Native community has become so suspect. There is a group that is attached to the Ottawa scene and then there are others that are suspect of anything coming out of Ottawa. When they realy look at this they’ll find it’s something they can use, a tool. I honestly believe people will respond quite well to it.
The thing is it is not perfect. It’s in the second reading and hopefully we’ll get it to committee. If anyone can improve upon it god bless them.
We’re looking for solutions. We’re not looking for problems. We’re not looking for glory. We’re not looking for recognition or praise.
I spent twenty years in Ottawa and I’m totally disgusted with what I see in the progress we’ve made in dealing with our Native people. You have people running all over the world trying to save the rest of the world and we can’t even handle the problems at home.
You are in the second reading now What’s the process for this bill to go through?
After the second reading, we’ll hopefully get it into the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs. Then it would come back to the Senate House for the third and final reading. After this it would go to the House of Commons.
How long would this take?
That depends on the will of the government. It could be a few weeks to a few months. It all depends. If we do nothing then nothing will happen. My view is that this is an excellent idea. It’s one of the few times that we’re trying to something. We’re not trying to tell anybody what they should do. We’re just trying to provide them with a vehicle they can climb on to make life easier, better and more efficient for them.
Bill S-38 Highlights -The First Nation has perpetual succession and the capacity of a natural person.
-The First Nation is recognized as having the power to make laws in relation to the autonomy, protection and stewardship of the First Nation and its territory -Under this bill, absolute ownership of reserve land would pass to the First Nation.
-The newly installed governing body of the First Nation may ask the federal government for a full accounting of all land transactions involving the First Nation and all monetary transactions with the First Nation.
-Also, all moneys within the First Nation are to be accounted for by the governing group to the people of the First Nation. The tax-exempt status is preserved and extended to Indian corporations.
-Any transactions to pass title to property that is on the lands of the First Nation, or any interest in this property, is void unless consent of the First Nation is obtained or there is an arrangement between the citizens of the First Nation.
-The bill has a draft constitution attached to it that can be used as a template for First Nations.