By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, January 8, 2013 - 0 Comments
Paul Adams proposes seats for aboriginals in the House of Commons.
Having their own MPs would give Canada’s first peoples an opportunity to vote for representatives who hold their concerns as a priority and who could speak for them with a degree of independence and authority that no one now has. None of us thinks it is remarkable that Albertans or Québécois have their voices directly heard in Parliament: we have even had parties such as Reform and the Bloc which ran for election as voices for regional concerns. Is there something fundamentally wrong with aboriginal Canadians having a similar voice?
Aboriginal seats would hardly be a panacea. They would not displace protest or moral suasion. They would not end the need for negotiations over land and they would not remove the need for organizations such as the AFN. But they would ensure that aboriginal concerns were raised in the process of legislation, and not just in anguished howls afterward.
By Nancy Macdonald - Wednesday, March 17, 2010 at 9:00 AM - 11 Comments
Are First Nations groups in B.C. ready for independence?
When you pull into the Tsawwassen First Nation in suburban Vancouver, the ﬁrst thing you notice is a brand-new TransLink bus stop serving Metro Vancouver. It’s the first, tangible benefit of a treaty that came into effect last spring, says Chief Kim Baird, a 38-year-old mother of three. Even a year ago, you’d never have seen Vancouver’s blue and white city buses plowing through here; there was no public transit at all. Another change: Tsawwassen was the only First Nation to receive federal stimulus funds last fall. The $6-million cheque went to kick-start a new industrial park. It’s another opportunity the band would have missed were it still under the Indian Act, says Baird, who has a quick laugh and a shock of curly brown hair. But with the treaty, the Tsawwassen acquired the legal standing of a municipality, making them eligible for funding.
Soon, the reserve itself will effectively disappear. Members will begin paying income tax and GST. And from here on, Tsawwassen—not Indian and Northern Affairs—will control its development. Sure, Baird admits to beginner’s jitters. “If anything goes wrong, there’s nobody to bail them out like before—a huge risk,” explains treaty expert Doug McArthur, who teaches public policy at Simon Fraser University. But fear can be a good motivator. Tsawwassen had a draft budget finalized by fall—months ahead of the February deadline. An arm’s-length economic development corporation is already up and running (the former head of the Vancouver Port Authority was hired as chair). It’s exploring opportunities ranging from a waste-to-energy trash incinerator, a retirement community, and a massive warehousing facility for shipping containers, linked to the expansion of the nearby Roberts Bank Superport.
In a matter of months, the Tsawwassen have managed to deep-six the Indian Act, which made natives wards of the state, and has frozen Aboriginal institutional development in time at 1876. They’re not alone. B.C.’s Gitxsan, going a step further, are petitioning Ottawa to drop their “Indian” status altogether. They’re willing, they say, to hand over reserves, tax exemptions, free housing and, yes, the ambition of a separate order of government in return for a bigger prize: a share of resources on ancestral land. “We seek no special status or parallel society,” the coastal tribe announced in half-page ads that ran last summer in the Vancouver Sun and Globe and Mail. “We wish to live as ordinary Canadians in our own way in a multicultural society. Further, we wish to pay our own way.” This they’ll do through joint ventures in oil and gas, logging, eco-tourism and run-of-river power projects, they say. Simply, the status quo is not working, says chief negotiator Elmer Derrick; his people have been brought to their hands and knees.