Indian Act changes in omnibus bill deserve attention

Blog, Aboriginal Futures, Joseph Quesnel

Much alarm is being expressed about proposed changes to the Indian Act in the omnibus budget bill. Much of this rhetoric is overdone or just plain wrong, but there are concerns about the changes, even if the changes respond to legitimate problems approving projects on reserves.

The bill affects Indian Act provisions allowing First Nations to surrender or partially surrender parts of reserve lands in order to enter into leasing agreements with outside companies.

Currently a band council needs a majority of band members to approve this. The proposed changes would mean only a simple majority of members from a vote would need to approve changes.

The alarmist rhetoric about violating historic treaties or surrendering lands is not true.

“It has nothing to do with selling off, surrendering lands. It has everything to do with allowing First Nations a much quicker and simpler process to designate lands they want to turn to economic development purposes, for leasing purposes. We have had multiple requests from across the country to expedite the process,” said Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan.

There is truth to that as in my experience as there are often problems on reserves getting enough people to meet a majority threshold for important votes on other issues.

Placing this in the massive omnibus bill probably doesn’t help in terms of assuring band members this is not something they should fear.

No doubt this move would be very good for economic development as projects could proceed quicker, but this does affect democratic and consultative processes on First Nations.

The minister needs to engage more with bands on this. Perhaps making these changes optional could help.