News  Prorogation slows changes to Indian Act

Federal recognition of First Nations could vanish in three generations

The Sheaf (CUP) – SASKATOON — A large contingent of First Nations people in Saskatoon protested the prorogation of Parliament, due to its impact on a planned revision of the Canadian Indian Act. The action was part of a national day of protest on January 23, when thousands of Canadians accross the country rallied against Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s decision to suspend Parliament until March 3.

Section six of the Indian Act, which deals with who is entitled to status, was judged by the B.C. Court of Appeals in 2009 to contravene the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Eldon Okanee of the Thunderchild First Nation spoke to the Saskatoon crowd about recent changes to the Indian Act and what they might mean for Canada’s aboriginal population.

Last Saturday in Saskatoon, amid signs of “Pierogies not Proroguing” and “King Stephen (The Last),” more ominous ones could be found, bearing the slogan, “Let’s stop genocide in our country.”

According to protester Albert Angus of Thunderchild First Nation, the signs were intended to refer to the Indian Act and the “cultural genocide” it currently facilitates by tying registered Indian status to blood quantum.

Blood quantum refers to whether or not someone is eligible for Indian status depending on racial inheritance. The child of one aboriginal and one non-aboriginal parent is eligible for “registered” Indian status. However, if that person has a child with another non-aboriginal, that child will not be eligible for status.

“Since it’s been found that 50 per cent of our young people have children with one non-Indian as a parent,” Angus said. He explained that this would be “analogous to genocide” because there will be next to no Indians under the current Indian Act within three generations.

It is this provision that led to many First Nations protesters carrying signs asking to end the “genocide” in Canada. It is also this provision that was ruled unconstitutional.

The B.C. court suspended this ruling for one year until April 6, 2010, to allow the federal government to amend the law.

The Indian and Northern Affairs Canada web site reads, “The government intends to introduce legislation in early 2010 with the goal of having the proposed amendments in place by April 6, 2010.” But because the prorogation will set all parliamentary business back until March, this is unlikely to happen that soon.

This has caused consternation among Canada’s indigenous population.

In a recent media release, Chief Guy Lonechild of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations said, “There are serious issues that need to be dealt with in Parliament, including citizenship.”

Shawn Atleo, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, shares Lonechild’s sentiment. In a January 15 statement, he called on parliamentarians “to form a special legislative committee to examine the fundamental barriers inherent in the current Indian Act framework rather than focusing on issues in isolation.”

While politicians continue to duke it out in the national media over the issue of prorogation, many of Canada’s First Nations population wait for a change in the Indian Act that could strongly affect their lives.

“It may affect funding because they count Indians’ social services according to the Indian Act and when that’s in suspension, like now, it may not legally be possible for them to fund on a status quo basis,” Angus said. “People who live hand to mouth on these poor Indian communities, what are they going to do then?”