Opposition to the First Nations Governance Act, also known as Bill C-7, remained high amongst many First Nations and their supporters as they prepared to march on Ottawa to protest the legislation.
The Western Canada contingent left Vancouver April 22 led by Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs. On April 26, the eastern caravan headed toward Shubenacadie in Nova Scotia, the site of a bitter lobster harvesting dispute with the federal fisheries ministry. Chief Roberta Jamieson of the Six Nations of the Grand River was at the head of the column of Natives from Southern Ontario that left for Ottawa on April 27.
The caravans met at Victoria Island before proceeding to Parliament Hill where the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs has been conducting a clause-by-clause éxamination of Bill C-7.
The Assembly of First Nations and other First Nations organizations have opposed the legislation as infringements on treaty rights.
Russell Diabo, advisor to the Algonquins of Barrier Lake, believes the process of setting up consultations about the First Nations Governance Act was flawed.
“They (the government) had workshops across the country, adjacent to reserves, but not on reserves, with Indian Affairs staff running them, and, in many cases, they didn’t even record who was present, so you can’t determine whether they were Native or not.”
A component of Bill C-7 will change the status of every Band to be that of a natural person, reducing the collective aspect of section 35 in terms of the recognition of Aboriginal treaty rights.
A few MP’s like Yvan Loubier (Bloc) and Pat Martin (NDP) have spoken against the bill but that doesn’t appear to be enough.
“Right now, the Liberals have a majority in the House of Commons, and they are trying to push this bill through, unopposed.”
Not all Native organizations oppose the bill.
Dwight Dorey, National Chief, representing the Congress of Aboriginal peoples, said “I’m in favor of it, primarily on the basis of accountability to our own people.”
Dorey thinks this Bill will go a long way towards better accountability of every dollar spent on every reserve in Canada. Knowing what’s being spent where, Dorey says, is a step in the right direction.
“I see some merit in the AFN’s argument in that what they would prefer to see is self-government as opposed to this (Bill C-7) or the Indian act.”
But Dorey claims the AFN had their chance ten years ago.
“Ron Irwin (Native Affairs Minister at the time) offered to dismantle the Indian act and get them involved and replace it. But the chiefs at the time totally rejected that, so we were stuck with the Indian Act.”
There are certain things that Dorey would like to see amended in Bill C-7, but he feels that the best way to go about it is through open dialogue, not outright rejection.
“I think this bill is better than what we have now.”