The Honourable Robert Nault, RC. M.P.
Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development House Commons Ottawa ON K1A 0A6
Dear Minister Nault:
The front-runner in the Liberal leadership race, the Hon. Paul Martin, declared publicly on May 3, 2003, that if elected Prime Minister, he would not implement Bill C-7, the First Nations Governance Act. Mr. Martin also recommended that the Bill not be brought to a vote. It does not make sense to proceed with the Bill if it is unlikely to be implemented, either by the Government or by the First Nations.
You have an obligation as Minister of Indian Affairs to fulfill Canada’s fiduciary obligation toward the First Nations. It is a broad, legally enforceable obligation requiring you to always act in our best interests. C-7 will damage our rights and it is not in the First Nations’ best interests.
The First Nations are ready to work in partnership with Canada to help improve the lives of our citizens. Our recent history is rife with alternatives and blueprints for change. Help us ensure Canada does the right thing.
The First Nations demand that you withdraw Bill C-7.
The overwhelming majority of First Nations rejected Bill C-7 in testimony earlier this year before the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and through numerous resolutions at various Assembly of First Nations national meetings over the last two years.
You have tried to mislead the Government and Parliamentarians into believing C-7 will improve accountability and transparency of First Nations leaders. It will not accomplish those goals because many First Nations will neither respect nor implement Bill C-7. This does not mean the First Nations do not support accountability and transparency. According to the Auditor General, most First Nations over account for funds. The few problems in these areas can be remedied through community or Nation-specific solutions rather than unnecessary and broadly applicable legislation.
It is the height of irresponsibility to claim, as you have done repeatedly, that the First Nations leaders who object to the Bill C-7 are interested in maintaining the status quo.
The First Nations have been making proposal after proposal for a new relationship and implementation of Treaties over the last thirty years. The facts show that it is Federal Government that has resisted change. C-7 tries to delegate Federal authority to the First Nations. First Nations have an inherent right to govern ourselves and we do not need Parliament or the Federal Government dictating to us what we can or cannot do.
The approach should be one of negotiation, not litigation and demonstration.
We are nations of peoples. Canada must negotiate our relations not impose them.
We expected that the recognition of Aboriginal and Treaty rights in Canada’s Constitution in 1982 would launch us into a new era of implementation of our rights and jurisdiction. Instead, C-7 is another pathetic example that starts from the false premise that First Nations can only administer limited Federal powers under an amended and colonial Indian Act. C-7 is so fundamentally flawed that it cannot be amended to respect our rights. Canada, and indeed you, have a major problem. Parliament cannot legitimately pass C-7 into law in the face of such overwhelming opposition by the very people it claims to help. Yet some Members of Parliament continue to press ahead with the Bill in Committee despite the 191 groups and individuals that testified in opposition to the bill. The 10 witnesses that supported C-7 are either your creations or agencies of the Federal Government. If Parliament proceeds with Bill C-7, it will create a mess that will take years to clean up.
I am always ready to meet you to discuss this important matter. Please do not hesitate to contact my office at any time.
Matthew Coon Come
Assembly of First Nations