Our ancestors wanted this land Canada so damned bad that they crossed the ocean, crossed the country in wagon trains, fought each other, fought the indigenous peoples, and cleared forest for pasture and crop land. Subsequent waves of immigrants saved up for steerage passage to the New World.
Now we, descendants of these migrants, stand idle and leave it to the First Nations peoples to fight to save the land. Idle No More is not just about protecting existing First Nations and treaty rights. It’s about protecting all of us, and our shared homeland, from legislative changes that may have serious repercussions down the road.
Bill C-45 was a catalyst for Idle No More. Now passed, it is a 443 page omnibus Bill consisting of changes to over 40 diverse pieces of legislation. Its amendments to two Acts in particular are of concern to Idle No More. They are changes to Canada’s Navigable Waters Protection Act and to the Indian Act regarding reserve land.
Reserve land is owned by the Crown, held for use by the resident First Nation. The band can “surrender” land to the Crown (federal government) for sale or lease in order to have developments not possible under the strictures of Indian Act land title. Until now, doing so required approval by a majority of a majority. Over half of those eligible must vote and, of those, over half must vote in favour in order for it to pass. Bill C-45 has changed this to simply a majority of those who vote. So if 100 of 1000 eligible voters vote, a yes vote by 51 means it passes. The potential for skewed results is mindboggling.
‘Speed things up’
Also, before Bill C-45, the entire federal cabinet had to approve the vote result before it took effect. Now only the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs must approve it. The federal government says the new rules will speed things up. The old system, government says, took months and even years for change to take effect. But why not speed up the implementation instead of changing the ground rules of democracy?
Land surrender might be used for a shopping mall or something wanted by a reserve’s residents and affecting only them. But it also might be used for negotiating agreements between industry and governments. Maybe for plans that only a very small minority of band members, and Canadians in general, want.
Protection of waterways is another biggie in Bill C-45 with potential for huge destruction of Canada’s environment. Although this is not an aboriginal-specific issue, it seems it’s primarily First Nations that are upset about it. By removing most of the country’s lakes and rivers from federal protection, management and development can occur at the provincial, municipal and private levels without consultation with the federal government.
That can be a good thing when you’re talking about small streams and local management that can do quite nicely without federal red tape. The downside is it also lessens the ‘red tape’ of environmental assessment. So large-scale inter-provincial developments can go ahead more easily.
See something similar in both these cases? Less consultation and assessment making an easier process for development. And current large-scale projects like the Enbridge pipeline from Alberta to British Columbia, just wishing First Nations, environmentalists and environmental impact studies would go away.
Idle or Action
If we think that our immigrant ancestors’ efforts in settling Canada were worthwhile, we should remember that, by and large, they used their new homeland carefully and respectfully. We all have reasons to protest changes wrought by Bill C-45.
See also a legal discussion of First Nations and environmental impact of the bill.