The Government of Canada recently passed legislation to make September 30 a federal statutory holiday called the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. This day is an important step in the reconciliation process. It provides an opportunity to recognize and commemorate the tragic history and ongoing legacy of residential schools, and to honour their survivors, their families and communities. Gus Polman writes reflections on the Indian Act and how we move forward.
Most First Nations in Canada aren’t self-governing but governed over—separate and excluded from other Canadians-- under the Indian Act, an apartheid-era instrument. The framers of colonial South Africa consulted that legislation when legally constructing apartheid. Canada’s still maintaining this indignity which has First Nations people as wards of the state, with non-Indigenous government being their trustee.
The Act’s various aggressive, destructive statutes and policies are basis for many stereotypes today and it’s shaped the socio-economic and political reality of untold generations Indigenous Peoples. It constrains opportunities both for First Nations and other Canadians.
Under the Act’s election system, elected chiefs [a European term] work for the federal government, not for the people who elect them. But control of many elements of the reserves – including land, resources and finances—passed into what was called Department of Indian Affairs. Since 1951, these elections have been held every two years, making for political instability and hampering economic and other development. (Imagine the ongoing divisiveness if BC made Surrey have elections every two years.) The Act also makes it difficult for nations to work together on longer initiatives as Council elections are all held at different times.
The Act’s dissolution of women’s stature, combined with the abuses of the residential “schools” system, continue --despite amendments-- to subject generations of Indigenous women and children to a legacy of discrimination, dishonour, and disrespect.
Under the Act, the houses for “status Indians,” are not owned by the people who live in them. Many First Nations communities don’t have taxpayer equity funds for programs –available to other taxpayers—for K-12 education or health care.
We might conclude that the Indian Act is seriously wrong, wicked. But that also means we’ve chosen to let our institutions do our sinning for us. Lord, in Your Mercy, renew us all.
We need, in an orderly manner, to remove the legislation that’s the cause of many challenges; this will make a better and stronger Canada for all. Previous Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould refers to it as the need to complete the project of Confederation. An evolution of co-operative federalism and distinct orders of government, each with operative capacity. It will require a federal legislative and fiscal framework of transition, to recognize Indigenous rights and mechanisms for their implementation -- the unfulfilled promise within Section 35 of Constitution Act, 1982.
I sometimes hear Canadians, including Christians, wondering, debating, even arguing about whether they, and newcomers have responsibility for what happened in the past. They may want to take good guidance from retired Senator Murray Sinclair who chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He says, "I really don't care if you feel responsible for the past. The real question is do you feel a sense of responsibility for the future because that's what this is all about." I’d say we do well to give it unreserved attention.
The world’s calling, “Listen up Canada, Canadians” and we can be active agents of reconciliation, encouraging community development for all.
While I’d learned some of this from early school age on, it was again sorrowfully underlined when a beloved member of our mostly Indigenous household community in Vancouver died young 45 years ago.
Not by any of her “choosing,” but as all too common, of the oppression and violence wrought by the Indian Act. Her name was Angel.
The Spirit beckons, moving among us all. Building new life from what was dead, let us be raising up activity. In love.