Government progress raises grade

By John BeaucageJust recently I met with the Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs and described to him our vision of self-government negotiations, based on a comprehensive process of moving away from the Indian Act. 
Minister Prentice provided very positive feedback to us and I believe a new era of comprehensive negotiations could be at hand. But to date, the federal government seems only to want to speak about self-government in terms of independence, and not jurisdiction.

In order to be truly self-governed, to break the cycle of dependency on the federal Crown, we must be economically independent.  That entails moving forward on selfgovernment, jurisdiction, and justice issues, as well as in establishing regimes of resourcesharing, which Canada is required to do to honour the treaties they signed with our ancestors.
But we can never hope to seriously tackle the overwhelming poverty and negative socio-economic factors that plague First Nations without resolution of over 800 outstanding land claims. 

On June 12, Minister Prentice followed through on his promise to reform the existing cumbersome process that gives Canada unilateral authority to review, approve, or reject land claims. Although First Nations are heartened by the establishment of an independent claims body, we will be scrutinizing the legislation to ensure that the concept is not negated by the imposition of settlement caps.  Ottawa must rid itself of the habit of erecting such systemic barriers to the legitimate creation of First Nations wealth. 

The recent report of the Ipperwash Inquiry into the death of Dudley George recognized the barriers to First Nation dignity and prosperity posed by the current land-claim logjam, and recommended establishing a Treaty Commission in Ontario to contribute to fair and faster resolution.
Once Canada meets its legally-binding treaty and land obligations, we can develop long-term plans to make us more independent of government. This concept will allow us to move away from the Indian Act and into our own self-government process. 

I am hopeful, but I want to see words turn into action. Good words and handshakes only go so far
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My grade for the Harper government on First Nation fiscal issues has risen from an F to a B with the announcement of an independent land claims regime. Prompt enactment of a claims process seen as fair by First Nations could earn the Conservatives even higher marks.
John Beaucage is Grand Council Chief of the Anishinabek Nation, a confederacy of 42 First Nations represented by the Union of Ontario Indians.

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