Lobby group pitches idea to end First Nations poverty
OTTAWA — An influential lobby group says Ottawa needs to ditch the Indian Act and give First Nations more control over their land to end aboriginal poverty.
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation has close ties with the federal Conservatives, and its campaign to open up chiefs’ books to the public was instrumental in recent legislation to publish salaries and benefits.
Now the group says the key to eliminating the cycle of poverty on reserves is for Ottawa to treat First Nations people like everyone else.
“For the sake of kids living in poverty on too many reserves, we don’t need another decade with more social programs and tinkering,” said Colin Craig, the group’s Prairie director.
“We need a new approach, one that treats all Canadians the same and connects aboriginal people with jobs and opportunities.”
That means Ottawa should get rid of legislation such as the Indian Act, parts of the Criminal Code that allow for reduced sentences, as well as arts grants for aboriginals — while respecting treaties and the Constitution, he said.
The federation also says band members should be able to own their homes, and develop, lease or sell their reserve land without Ottawa’s permission.
The group is also proposing a pilot project that would see funding go directly to band members, and then have the band council tax some of it back to pay for services.
“Whatever the Harper government decides to move ahead with, it should first discuss the changes with grassroots taxpayers and grassroots people living on reserves,” Craig said in a statement.
His proposals are bound to be controversial.
The federation made many enemies among First Nations leaders when it published a list of high salaries going to chiefs and pushed for legislative changes.
The Assembly of First Nations has also resisted some proposed changes to land and home ownership.
And while many chiefs say they want to get rid of the Indian Act, the assembly argues that it needs to be done methodically so that there is a better structure in place — based on treaty and aboriginal rights — by the time the old structure disappears.
Impatience among First Nations with the existing system is boiling over. Chiefs are squaring off against each other, aboriginal protesters are in the streets in growing numbers, and Wednesday is likely to bring demonstrations across the country.