Natives in no hurry
- Natives in no hurry
30 years to adjust to human rights legislation not enough time
By MINDELLE JACOBS
Aboriginal leaders have had 30 years to prepare for the day when human rights legislation would apply to reserves, giving natives the same protections as other Canadians.
But our aboriginal citizens still aren't ready to drag themselves out of the 19th century, never mind into the 21st.
Last week, the House of Commons aboriginal affairs committee torpedoed Tory hopes to move along a bill that would apply human rights law to the antiquated and racist Indian Act.
The opposition-driven committee voted 7-4 to delay Bill C-44 for 10 months so "proper consultations" can take place.
"Human rights rammed down a community's throats are not human rights," Liberal aboriginal affairs critic Anita Neville declared at the Thursday hearing.
I'm sure that will comfort the scores of natives -- mostly women, I'd guess -- who have been discriminated against by native bands over the decades and have, practically speaking, no recourse in getting a fair hearing.
They can go to court. But that's expensive. The affordable route -- a human rights grievance -- is legally out of reach.
Unlike other Canadians, treaty Indians can't file human rights complaints because the Indian Act was exempted from the Canadian Human Rights Act when the latter was adopted in 1977.
The exemption was supposed to be temporary, to give native bands a chance to get ready for a flood of discrimination complaints.
Apparently three decades wasn't long enough for aboriginal leaders to wrap their heads around the concept of human rights. They're still in a flap over how to balance individual rights with traditional collective rights.
Oddly, the Native Women's Association of Canada pleaded for a delay in the passage of Bill C-44. The only way to resolve the debate over collective versus individual rights is through "various forms of indigenous legal traditions," NWA president Beverley Jacobs told the committee in April.
It sounds great on Parliament Hill, but is it accomplishing anything concrete for native women who've been unfairly turfed off their reserves?
Chief Lynda Price, of the Ulkatcho First Nation in B.C., came to the commission hearing armed with an even longer wish list. She wants a joint Canada-First Nations "operational review" to identify the work that needs to be done to prepare native communities for Bill C-44.
And she'd like a clause in the bill to ensure bodies interpreting the act "will be guided by an awareness of our unique collective, inherent rights, interests and values."
And, of course, Ottawa needs to shower more money on reserves so they can defend claims of discrimination, Price said. That's not all. The Canadian Human Rights Commission is apparently not good enough for natives. They need a First Nations Human Rights Commission, she added.
Worryingly, the Assembly of First Nations seems to be already dreaming up ways to circumvent the modern concept of human rights.
It's lobbying for a clause that would allow First Nations to act in accordance with their own values.
"It's a complete defence to any allegation of discrimination," an AFN lawyer told the committee earlier this year.
Patrick Brazeau, head of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, appears to be the only one pressing for early passage of Bill C-44 and speedy justice for natives who don't have friends or relatives in band offices.
"Human rights are not negotiable ... and must not be deferred in 21st-century Canada," he told the committee.
The defenders of deferral have won out, however. So ordinary natives continue to suffer while lawyers get rich and aboriginal leaders sleep soundly in their beds.
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