Serpent River First Nation --- March 21, 2011 --- The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is observed annually on 21 March. Canada exercises authority over a people with the only raced-based legislation in this country. First Nations have a connection to this day that is a shameful reminder to Canada that change is needed.
First Nation Chief and Councils across this country deal with the sad reality that segregation of a race of people is the governance that they perpetuate on behalf of the Canadian government; unless of course they have self-government agreements in place. There are very few of these types of agreements across the country today.
Chief Isadore Day, Wiindawtegowinini of Serpent River First Nation is hosting the Federal Green Party’s Elizabeth May in his community today and has a message that he would like her to carry forward in her efforts to affect Canadian politics in the next upcoming election. “The Indian Act is not only archaic and damaging to our people on reserves, it wasting away generations of precious human resources that could be collaborating with Canada in a 21st century economy.”
The living standard of First Nation peoples in Canada falls far short of those of non- Aboriginals, and they, along with other racial minorities, continue to encounter barriers in gaining equality. First Nation life expectancy is lower; they have fewer high school graduates, higher unemployment, almost twice as many infant deaths and spend more time in jail. They have lower incomes, enjoy fewer promotions in the workplace and remain, as a group, the poorest in Canada. In Canada, says Day, “poverty, drug addiction and a host of complex social ills clearly continue to be related to the politics of race. These are the glaring consequences and systemic impacts of the Indian Act.”
The Assembly of First Nations met in in Vancouver earlier this month to discuss a plan moving beyond the antiquated Indian Act and empowering bands to rule themselves without the paternalistic arm of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. Chiefs across this country say that a key part of that plan is improving transparency so that band members themselves know how the band’s resources are being expended.
The Indian Act was first created in 1876 and placed “Indians’ in a colonized state on reserves. As the late Harold Cardinal, a visionary and leading authority on First Nation issues; said, "Instead of implementing the treaties and offering much needed protection to Indian rights the Indian Act subjugated to colonial rule the very people whose rights it was supposed to protect.”
“Investing in real self-government is the way to go,” says Chief Day. “The Canadian government must clearly recognize that the conveyor belt of imposed legislation is a counter-productive and non-democratic approach. Our people are ready for taking on governance in a comprehensive manner. The idea of creating governance tools lateral to the Federal government is the most pragmatic and ethical approach for Canada and First Nation governments; furthermore from the business model perspective its more practical and cost effective to remove the barrier of meaningless debate and political impasse and get on with true government-to-government arrangements.”