The Reform Party doesn’t have the greatest reputation among aboriginal peoples. Reformers recognize our right to self-determination, but then again, for them native communities have as many national rights as a city like Hull.

In an interview with The Nation. Reform MP Dave Chatters denied his party is racist and said it’s just broaching “what used to be untouchable topics.”

“When one stands up and makes some of the comments I’ve made making in the last 15 minutes, you get severely criticized as being racist and a lot of other titles that aren’t particularly pleasant,” said Chatters, the party’s spokesman on First Nations questions. “But I think we have to face the reality of today’s economy.”

Does the Reform Party have a position on Natives?

I think we have a fairly solid position. We support the concept of aboriginal self-government or self-determination. We support the abolition of the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development with those responsibilities being transferred to the bands themselves. In a nutshell, that’s where we’re at.

If Quebec holds a referendum to separate, do you think aboriginal people have the right to decide whether they’ll stay in Canada, Quebec or go it alone?

Yeah, I think they [natives] should have the right to self-determination. We don’t support the right to aboriginal sovereignty any more than we support Quebec sovereignty. But people have the right to self-determination within the context of one sovereign nation.

Certainly, the aboriginals within Quebec should have that right. Particularly, they should have the right to demand that outstanding land claims be settled before Quebec has the right to have their referendum and decide whether they are going to stay within Canada or not.

If Quebec did decide to separate, would they have the right to leave Confederation with the aboriginal peoples?

Our position is that they shouldn’t. Each identifiable municipality should have the right to self-determination, to determine where they would go. That not only applies to identifiable natives. The problem is that the ones without an identifiable set of land claims haven’t really got that identifiable area yet. So that becomes even more confusing.

They should have that area, that right. We have also heard a lot of discussion since this Quebec sovereignty thing came up about the right of the municipality of Hull to choose to secede from Quebec and remain in Canada. I don’t see that it should be any different for aboriginal communities if you have an identifiable municipality, as long as you don’t become some tiny enclave in the centre of Quebec. I think that would be unworkable and unrealistic.

But if your particular identifiable area can fit with Canada, I think you should have the right to stay with Canada should Quebec decide to go.

You’ve said the Reform Party recognizes the right of aboriginal people to self-determination. For you what does this mean?

Well, as I talk to different native people across the country, not everyone is all that excited about total self-government. There’s real concern in many of the aboriginal communities about the type of government they would receive and where they would stand as to receiving social benefits and housing from the band that they now receive from the federal government.

So there is some real fear that native government would be autocratic and dictatorial, that if you weren’t in a position of favour with the particular families or leaders of that community you would be in a poor position. I think each band would have to sit down and determine how their self-government would work and be democratic so they would respect the rights of individuals in the band. When that’s cleared up, then each band has the right through a referendum to decide whether they want that model of self-government or not.

On the territory that would be claimed by natives, for example the James Bay Crees, do you think self-government includes our own criminal code?

No, I would envision a municipal-style government with the power to pass local laws, just the same as our municipal groups do. I wouldn’t see how a municipal-style government on a reserve would have the right to exempt themselves from the Canadian criminal code or be able to have their own justice system and courts at that level. Certainly they have by-laws and enforcement facilities that allow them to enforce their laws and regulations.

Do you think native peoples should have jurisdiction over resources located on their land or have some kind of co-management system?

I would envision a co-management system that would function much like any other municipality system in Canada—the right to allow access to the property and the right to compensation for entry. Of course, in many jurisdictions, the Indians traditionally have the right to royalties for resources removed from under the property, so I would see that as part of it.

But certainly, it wouldn’t be that the particular Indian band has total control and ownership of the resources on that land, any more than other municipalities do. But they should have a say over access, entry, compensation for that and a share of the royalties for the resources extracted.

What about existing treaties? What are the role of those in today’s society?

There are disputed ideas about treaty rights and how they apply. My constituency covers almost the entire area of Treaty 8. Some experts tell us each treaty stands on its own and stands for what’s written in that treaty. Some aboriginals in fact claim that the treaty rights are collective and any treaty right granted to a particular Indian band, say a Micmac band in Nova Scotia, would also apply to bands in the Treaty 8 area.

When I read Treaty 8, it’s not terribly relevant in today’s society. The provisions that are laid out in the treaty for bullets and oxen and $4 a month or whatever it was aren’t terribly relevant.

Of course, over the years, those rights have been expanded and embellished and it’s before the courts all the time over its interpretation. The meaning of much of this—like the medicine chest—has been held up often as a right to absolute free universal health care. When you read what’s in the treaty, it’s hard to interpret that.

Of course how could the people of that time ever envision the type of society we are living in today?

That’s where I think how could it possibly mean that it’s free health care, free transportation and the things that make up modern medical services in remote northern areas? It says it’s a medicine chest which is a sort of glorified first-aid kit at the time.

But really, in modern-day society, there’s not a lot of relevant things in such treaties like Treaty 8. I’m not saying natives don’t have the same rights to the same quality of medical care or social services than any other Canadian. They certainly do and I think that’s what we have to look at—whether they’re being discriminated against by poor-quality medical service. They deserve the same rights, the same level of care and services as any other Canadian and that has nothing to do with the treaties.

Would you like to add anything?

I think that about covers it, other than that I think this whole aboriginal question is going to be one of the big issues of this 35th Parliament. I think Canadians will have to face the Quebec problem in the next year or two, and we’re also going to face and deal with this aboriginal question—straighten this matter all out through negotiation and consultation.

It’s really important. It’s a very difficult area, a sensitive area. Because when one stands up and makes some of the comments I’ve been making in the last 15 minutes, you get severely criticized as being racist and a lot of other titles that aren’t particularly pleasant. But I think we have to face the reality of today’s economy.

We’re currently pouring by my best calculations somewhere around $10 billion yearly into aboriginal programs and services. Like all other areas of services in Canada, they are threatened because of the deficit. So we have to broach a lot of what used to be untouchable topics, we have to discuss them, we have to have a national discussion and we have to try and preserve the most important elements so we can continue to provide the standard of living that we enjoy.