Is it time for an aboriginal parliament?
The federal government has failed miserably in improving outcomes for our Aboriginal ancestors, which includes the First Nations, Metis, and Inuit peoples. Many First Nations living on reserves have lower health and education outcomes and higher rates of poverty and unemployment than the general Canadian population. The socio-economic crisis goes even deeper than that. There is significant issues around social exclusion and communities at risk. The Indian Act has turned many status Indians into wards of the state. The Inuit seemed to have done much better. They largely govern themselves with the creation of the federal territory of Nunavut.
The time has come for the rest of the Aboriginal people of this country to have control over their own political destiny. In 1996, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples recommended the creation of an Aboriginal Parliament or House of First Peoples. This is an idea worth further examination for several reasons:
- An Aboriginal Parliament will respect the inherent right of self-government and self-determination for the Aboriginal people of Canada.
- This Aboriginal Parliament can have all the existing powers of a province over Aboriginal lands, resources, and people. It can have the power to set national standards for matters such as the settlement of treaties, claims, and historical wrongs such as the residential school policy. An Aboriginal Parliament will provide a sense of real power and ownership over decisions which affect the lives of Aboriginal people.
- An Aboriginal Parliament can negotiate with the federal government on a nation-to-nation basis as promised in the Royal Proclamation of 1763. The Aboriginal people can be recognized as a “nation” by the federal government similar to how the French speaking people of Quebec were recognized as a “nation” by the Conservative government of Stephen Harper.
- An Aboriginal Parliament will finally provide sufficient political representation for Aboriginal people. One male and one female Member of the Aboriginal Parliament (MAP) can be elected to represent each First Nation or Aboriginal electoral district in Canada. This will guarantee gender equity in decision making. No point of re-creating a political patriarchy.
- The federal government can provide reserved seats for the Aboriginal people in the Senate, Supreme Court, and the House of Commons just like Quebec. Whatever political powers Quebec has, the Aboriginal Parliament should have as well. This may include representation at UNESCO, similar to Quebec, and other international bodies.
- The federal government can guarantee transfer payments to this new Aboriginal Parliament that is equivalent to per capita federal expenditures for all Canadians on average. For example if the federal government spends an average of $10,000 on each Canadian, it can transfer $10,000 to the Aboriginal Parliament for each Aboriginal person in the country. This is only fair and does not include any transitional, infrastructure, and final settlement treaty payments to individual First Nations.
- The Aboriginal Parliament would have the right to tax its own people and develop crown corporations to provide services. This would be for First Nation reserves and all Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people living on their lands throughout the country. The relationship of service delivery with non-Aboriginal people can be negotiated in partnership agreements with local, provincial, and territorial governments, and the federal government.
- The Aboriginal Parliament would scrap the powers and jurisdiction of the Indian Act over status Indians.
- Most importantly, any piece of legislation from any Canadian level of government that affects Aboriginal people as a major stakeholder would have to be approved by a majority vote of the Aboriginal Parliament. Real power is necessary for real change. No point of creating symbolic committees, commissions, and advisory bodies. The First Nations band councils could have the same power as cities and report directly to a Minister of local government in the Aboriginal Parliament.
The Aboriginal people have the capacity to govern themselves. They cannot do any worse of a job than what Canada has historically imposed on them. It is time to break the chains that bind their political decision making and freedom as equal partners in this federation.
The idea of an Aboriginal Parliament for Canada must be endorsed and embraced by the Aboriginal peoples themselves if it is to be successful. This is just a proposal which provides the Aboriginal people with the same powers as a province.
For more information on Aboriginal issues please check out the Assembly of First Nations or the federal Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada websites.