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FNGA: High and low drama on C-PAC

NASIVVIK By Zebedee Nungak,

Windspeaker Columnist; Archives 2003

Nasivvik is an Inuktitut word that means vantage point. It can be a height of land, a hummock of ice, or any place of elevation that affords observers a clear view of their surroundings to make good observations.

Once every generation, Canadian lawmakers tackle matters of great importance affecting Indigenous people in Canada. We in Nunavik have had our share of such events, most notable for the fact that we had no say whatsoever in the most important ones.

The 1912 Quebec Boundaries Extension Acts transferred our ancestral lands to the Province of Quebec. The Supreme Court decision of 1939 In Re: Eskimo determined that Inuit of Quebec were 'Indians' for the purposes of law.

On the lawmaker's agenda now is the First Nations Governance Act, which the federal government is intent on pushing through in this session of Parliament. Thanks to the Parliamentary channel, C-PAC, one can watch as Bill C-7, the proposed act, is examined by the Aboriginal Affairs committee of Parliament.

This is democracy in action, but what it looks more like is this: A piece of legislation is written in stone, and rammed through the democratic process like an armor-plated bulldozer over the objections of the people who will be most affected by its consequences. Opening the legislative process to benefit Indigenous people is a rare event.

Consider this, Bill C-7's transit through Parliament should be high drama. Instead, it shuffles and jerks through the process in low drama. It takes great restraint not to call the exercise modern colonialism!

Whoever drafted the bill made the elementary mistake of not having its basic intent widely accepted by First Nations in Canada. Out of 201 presentations made before the Parliamentary committee to express opinions on the matter, 191 objected to the bill, while only 10 expressed support for it. Mathematically, it is very plain that there is hard and firm opposition to what the government is attempting to do.

Indian Affairs Minister Robert Nault has determined that the contents of the bill will fix what ails the way First Nations are governed on Canada's 633 reserves. Mr. Nault's original objective of enabling reserves to run their affairs with "transparency and accountability" may have been laudable when he set out to tinker with the Indian Act of 1876. Unfortunately, he is going about this in a way that can be characterized as smothering the baby he's trying to save in the 127-year-old bath-water of the Indian Act.

One doesn't have to be an expert to discern that the bill suffers from terminal Bad Draft Syndrome. Proposed amendments to the bill are thicker than the bill itself. The blizzard of amendments brought forth by Opposition members merely 'ping' off the armor of the political party line, faithfully toed by the Liberal members of the committee.

The voting procedure on each failed amendment ends with the utterance of the word 'defeated,' said in a way that reminds one of a mouse scurrying into its hole. There is no righteous passion detectable when "de-FEATED" is said.

Brilliant oratory is wasted by Opposition MPs, as they try without success to read the handwriting on the wall to government members about how this bill is doomed. At least these MPs hone their speaking skills while using their allotted time to the maximum. They are also gaining a lot of on-the-job training in how not to be intimidated by a powerful governing party determined to shove this act down the throats of a lot of unwilling people.

First Nations chiefs and national leaders express vivid and reasoned opposition to the whole exercise. Thousands protest against the bill, but Minister Nault casually dismisses these as having no significance whatsoever. This minister is determined to be a benefactor, over the genuine objections of those who would be his beneficiaries.

When an Opposition member dares to suggest that the Minister of Indian Affairs and the government are behind the legislative railroading being rifled through, the chairman of the Aboriginal Affairs committee becomes the picture of indignation. He states that it is the Speaker of the House of Commons who has assigned the committee its task. One cannot imagine the Speaker being the tyrant giving 'toe-the-line' instructions to government members, but he is a convenient scapegoat.

It's awesome to watch the spectacle of Parliament exercising its power to do whatever it wants to whomever it pleases whenever it pleases. As I watch, I've got to remind myself: This is democracy in action. It is not a ruthless dictatorship. These are our MPs doing their work, not members of a totalitarian politburo dictating a party line. This is freedom, not tyranny.

This is just legislation that got started off on the wrong foot, and is being taken to a destination well known to be desolate. Fortunately, prime minister-in-waiting Paul Martin might yet save the day, if he can be held to his publicly stated intention not to implement this Bill, even if it gets passed by Parliament.

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