The Assembly of First Nations is holding a summit in Moncton, New Brunswick. The are calling it a Peace meeting with some key areas to be addressed. I won't get into all the issues that Indians have to deal with and what the Chiefs are talking about at the summit. The issue that is key for Grand Chief of AFN Shawn Atleo, is the scrapping of the Indian Act.
I think everyone would agree that the Act is a paternalistic piece of old history and it should be scrapped. Thing is, what next? I think a fundamental shift in how Indians see themselves has to take place as well. The Chief and Councils of Reserves don't think of themselves as governments. They are more caretakers of the Reserve than anything else. Do they make laws? In theory they do, but in reality they do not.
People in the Reserve don't look at their own Chief and Councils as the leaders. There are many examples I could speak of to demonstrate that mindset.
Let say for example, if a Reserve Chief and Council made a law prohibiting people from hunting for a year, what do you think would happen? Would people in the community recognize the Chief and Council law? I don't believe that would happen. People would go out and hunt and the "federal laws" would support them. They would say it is their Treaty Right. The people would not see the Chief and Council as the authority. This problem is demonstrated over and over again. The "bannishment" of people from the community is something that a Band would do in certain cases. You can not banish people from the Reserve anymore. The Chief and Council do not have the authority.
In the Oka Crisis of 1990, the Provincial and Federal governments could not get a handle on who was in charge at the site. They were trying to get out of the situation and come to some kind of end to the situation of Oka. The government did not really know who was in charge. People (Peacekeepers of Kanehsatake) in the area discounted the Chief and Council, some recognized the Traditional Grandmothers and others spoke with the armed Indians. There was no clear idea of who had authority to speak for the people.
This is issue of not recognizing Chiefs as leaders can be linked to the Indian Act and the Indian Agent. No real power was ever in the hands of the Indians. All "laws" made by Chief and Council, (like dog by-laws and other important laws) had to get approval from the Federal Minister. It is now ingrained in the psyche of the Reserve Indian. Its now the way it is. The Chief and Councils are only care takers of the community situation.It is funny that the Federal government knows this fact but yet acts like all the shady deals made in the past by Indian Agents were made by the Chiefs and Councils. Yet is was the government that insured the Chiefs had no real power to make decisions. All decisions were made by the Indian Agent or the Ministry.
In order for the Reserves to start being effective in dealing with their own issues, they have to recognize their power. The power is in the people and it is loaned to the Chief and Council. If we don't recognize that power, how are we to lead ourselves, when we don't consider our own power?
For many the Indian Act does not allow Reserves to broker their own financial decisions. Borrowing on Land for development and other ventures. For all the woes of the Indian Act, it did one good thing; that is it kept the Lands in the hands of the community and not individuals. The whole essence of Indians is their collectivity and the Rights gained by Treaty from that Collectivity. The Indian Act, never meant to, but it keeps that collectivity first and foremost. So if the Indian Act could be scrapped without affecting the communal aspect of Reserves, I am all for it. I wouldn't want some Individual to lose the Land (in a failed business venture) that our Ancestors negotiated for us to keep. Some people want the Indian Act gone, just so they can access bank loans. Reserves mainly have two things, Land and People. You can't sell the people, but you can sell the Land.