The Canadian Press reports that Native bands across Canada will have to abide by minimum standards when they elect officials or spend money under proposed legislation to revamp the 126-year-old Indian Act.
The bill would require Native bands to develop codes to spell out how they choose their leaders, run their governments and spend their money. Bands would be allowed to develop their own laws in these three areas so long as they meet certain minimum standards set out by the federal government. And if they don’t develop their own codes within two years, the federal government could impose their own rules.
The bill also makes the Indian Act subject to the Canadian Human Rights Act for the first time, and gives off-reserve band members the right to vote in band elections. The proposed legislation is the first major overhaul of the Indian Act, which governs the way more than 600 native bands across the country are run.
Indian Affairs Minister Robert Nault said the legislation would remove the ministerial burden of dealing with day-to-day operations in aboriginal communities, making band leaders more accountable to their members rather than to the government.
But Matthew Coon Come, head of the Assembly of First Nations, said the legislation demonstrates the “utter contempt” of the government toward natives because of the lack of consultation.
Pam Paul, president of the National Aboriginal Women’s Association, said she wasn’t “100 per cent” in favour of the legislation, but praised it for its inclusion of human rights.
“A lot of times when a new chief comes in, all the employees are changed,” she said. “Well, it’s going to be a lot harder for them to do things like that.” One of the concerns she expects native groups will debate this summer is the inclusion of a non-derogation clause, which would ensure that aboriginal treaty rights aren’t affected by the act.
She said aboriginal groups opposing the act just don’t understand it because they refused to take part in the consultations.