It’s time to treat aboriginals as the equals they are and scrap not only the Indian Act but also the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo told the organization’s annual gathering.
He would have it replaced with two agencies, one that maintains relationships between First Nations and the Crown, and the other providing services to the aboriginal population.
“First Nations are all on a journey advancing their rights,” Atleo said in his speech opening the three-day meeting in Moncton, New Brunswick. “There are different approaches, circumstances and realities, but it is a journey with a clear destination—a destination that affirms our rightful place in our lands and territories, that cherishes our children and creates a better future for them.”
A new First Nation–Crown relationship is key, one that “respects the spirit and intent of the Treaties with new mechanisms and processes to implement and maintain the relationship,” he said in a later statement.
He called for eliminating the funding disparities between aboriginals and the rest of Canadians by creating new fiscal relationships that ensure sustainability, fairness and accountability. It’s also important to stabilize and strengthen First Nation governments and beef up community planning, he said. Lastly, structural change is needed in government that emphasizes First Nations’ control over their own affairs “as well as potential changes to the federal bureaucracy that support the First Nation–Crown relationship and ensure fair provision of services.”
Much research has been done over the past several years to determine how best to move First Nations forward, Atleo pointed out in the AFN’s position paper, “Pursuing First Nation Self-Determination: Realizing Our Rights and Responsibilities.” The studies have generated various ideas and recommendations for reforms, new institutions and other changes.
“However, all point to ultimately replacing or phasing out the Department of Indian Affairs and establishing new contact points that properly reflect the nation-to-nation relationship and financing arrangements appropriate to a nation-to-nation relationship and reflective of the Crown’s fiduciary duties to support the implementation of First Nations Governments,” the AFN report said. “There is considerable consensus on the need to establish independent monitoring bodies for claims and self-government issues including the oversight of negotiation and implementation processes.”
More than 200 communities are negotiating treaty terms and moving beyond the Indian Act, he told the Globe and Mail, pointing out that the bureaucracy related to the Indian Act is expanding, without improving anything. First Nations need the freedom to assume responsibility and create accountability between their governments and citizens, he said. “The bureaucracy is growing while conditions get worse.”