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First Nations Government Act

Changes to the Indian Act are in the works with new legislation called the First Nations Governance Act. The Canadian Government says the new Act will provide First Nations with more effective tools of governance until self-government arrangements with Canada can be negotiated and implemented. The idea is to modernize Bands’ law-making powers, allowing Bands to create their own codes for leadership, administration and finances.

Bands would have the ability to create laws ranging from the zoning and development of land and buildings, to the conservation and management of wildlife and fish on the reserve, to access to personal information under the control of the Band.

Bands would be responsible for enforcing their own laws. By changing the Indian Act, the new Act gives Bands the authority to create fines of up to $10,000 or terms of imprisonment of up to 3 months. Enforcement officers would have broad powers to give out tickets, to enter other people’s property (other than homes) without permission, and to search for and seize evidence.

The new Act has received severe criticism. The Federal Government says it is a temporary stage in moving toward self-government, but some First Nations say the Act is another example of modern colonialism at work.

In Saskatchewan, the FSIN has launched legal action against the Federal Government, claiming the Government’s duty to consult with First Nations was breached when Chiefs and Councils were not included in the drafting process. The FSIN also says the new Act would increase the Federal Government’s control over First Nations.

Likewise, the Chiefs of Ontario sponsored a study of the consultation process the Federal Government used to get the input of First Nations before the new Act was drafted. The study concludes that the consultation was seriously fl awed, because unscientific questioning methods were used, and because unreliable data formed the basis of the Government’s conclusions.

The AFN has also attacked the new Act, saying that all it does is create more bureaucracy for First Nations, and does nothing to improve living conditions, education, infrastructure, or other economic instruments of real self-governance.

The new Act was recently re-introduced in the House of Commons, and has so far passed first reading. It is now before the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs, Northern Development and Natural Resources for review.