Thursday, 14 February 2013

Message Lost in Translation: The Indian Act & No Way Forward

This is an interview in french only that (Oct 22, 2012) I did with Radio-Canada about the Indian Act and the motions presented by liberal leader Bob Rae and the conservative Tory MP Rob Clarke in late 2012. Both Parties had presented very opposing points of view about how they see the need for changes to the Indian Act and how these changes should be implemented.

The Conservative point of view is to have a slow incremental changes while the liberal point of view is that the Indian Act should have massive change after consultations with First Nations. The problem is neither is really an adequate solution because the conservative view will modify an imperfect system and make it only more functional, but still imperfect while the liberals are not likely to get much consensus from politicians and First Nations. The proverbial Rock and a Hard place. perhaps we should all move to England and start a fresh.

I think the need for a major overhaul of the Indian Act is long overdue, but as we know the Conservative have no mandate (example Senator Brazeau) and have little chance to bring about consensus. The excuse that consensus will never come so we must impose a solution is also wrong. It is time we spent some long hard hours talking between Canadians about these issues. The issues though must be worded in terms that the average Canadian can understand, Human Rights. If First Nations people continue to use the term Treaty Rights, we will be talking to ourselves. We need to allow the average Canadian the ability to have a reference point something they can grasp.

For most Canadians they see treaty rights as being special rights that they do not have, wrongly or rightly this is the impression. While attending the American Indian Studies Conference in Phoenix Arizona on Feb 7-8 2013 I was in a hot tub with three Canadians and a couple of Americans. there were two parts to our debate the first part was after we each talked I realised we were not sharing the same common language about the issues. I changed my language and we finished the very constructive debate of 2 hours about the idea of human rights to education, housing, food security. The Canadians got it and understood when it was done in these term. Paul Nadasdy wrote a book Hunters and Bureaucrats: Power Knowledge and Aboriginal State Relations in the Southwest Yukon where he talks about how Aboriginal peoples must translate our concepts and understanding into term that average people can understand.

Interview with Radio-Canada about the Indian Act

A friend of mine Leo Baskatawang, who walked across Canada to change and abolish the Indian Act also talks about this issue: March4Justice


  1. Yes, it is the majority of Canadians who do not understand how "we are all accomplices." This is the issue I try to address in my "Dancing With Ghosts: A Cross-Cultural Education."
    jmb (UofM grad)

    1. this is great blog you have done which address many issues in great depth.

  2. I am personally intrigued by the notion that “If First Nations people continue to use the term Treaty Rights, we will be talking to ourselves”. I have never looked at it that way but it is true that the word treaty has become somewhat of a trigger word which creates mixed reactions among the public. Some immediately tune out thinking it does not involve them, some immediately get upset thinking, as mentioned, that it involves giving extra, undeserved rights to Aboriginal people over others, some listen with an open and warm heart while still others simply feel confused. I assume that the recent advertising using the phrase “we are all treaty people” is in hopes to alter some of these reactions.
    The term ‘human rights’ has become so important in our society. Human rights are inherently a good thing to just about everyone and anyone would be able to describe, at least at a basic level, what is meant by it. Therefore I tend to agree that perhaps a change in terminology might aid in the efforts for change. Instead of putting money and effort into helping people see the true meaning of “treaty rights”, the money and effort could be going towards more productive tasks. I question who is making the decision to push the term treaty so far and why that is occurring. After all, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” (Shakespeare).
    In terms of overhauling the Indian Act, my knowledge on the topic is limited. However, forcing an unwelcome change on a large number of people is never going to work. As stated, this is not the answer. I also agree that “consensus will never come”. Perhaps if the terminology was altered to remove the stigma attached to the phrase “treaty rights”, then communication would improve and an agreement would be more likely.