Saskatchewan chiefs says Clarke's bill differs from Harper message

February 2, 2012 - 3:42pm Updated: February 2, 2012 - 8:19pm
Indian Act.
Indian Act.

More than one Saskatchewan First Nations chief is frustrated Saskatchewan MP Rob Clarke did not consult chiefs before drafting a bill to repeal the Indian Act.

Clarke, who represents Desnethé–Missinippi–Churchill River, has drafted a bill to repeal the Indian Act. It was placed on order papers last week. He is a member of the Muskeg Lake First Nation.

Shoal Lake Chief Marcel Head said Clarke's move is not in step with what he heard from Prime Minister Stephen Harper. That is why many within the First Nations community have expressed surprise at Clarke's actions.

“This to me and to many of us is coming out of nowhere,” said FSIN vice-chief Morley Watson. He says such a move breeds a lack of trust.

Watson says trust and confidence only comes with discussion and he doesn’t think this private member's bill has seen any of it.

Head would suggest a different approach than the one Clarke has taken.

"Leadership have to be on site if there is going to be any repeals to the Indian Act. I think that would be a more appropriate process to go with," said Head.

Head, however, said he was not entirely caught off guard.

"I've heard that there was some discussion regarding repealing of the Indian Act. To me, there has to be someone that would take a lead role, even starting a debate on it," said Head.

However, Head said Clarke’s bill sends a different message than the one received by chiefs from the prime minister recently.

Head was part of the group of Saskatchewan chiefs who went to Ottawa last week for the First Nations gathering. He and the other chiefs heard the Harper say that the government had no plans to unilaterally repeal the Indian Act.

During the gathering, the prime minister compared the elimination of the Indian Act to the ripping of a tree out of the ground. It would leave a huge hole.

Head said the Indian Act is a big hole in itself because they are losing too much of their funding. He added that there is too much control by the minister and local programs have suffered.

"I would prefer to call some of the MPs that are discussing the repeal of the Indian Act and see what sort of ideas they have. Maybe we can come up with a plan that is pretty consistent with our First Nations concept," said Head.

The chief of the Lac La Ronge Indian band, which is located within Clarke's riding, has been fielding a lot of calls from the media.

Chief Tammy Cook - Searson is reserving comment for the time being. She said she is preparing a statement today and will have more to say on Friday.

With files from paNOW and CKOM.

Edited by News Talk Radio's Karen Brownlee.