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AUDIO: Pam Palmater explains the impacts of C-45 on Treaty rights, reserve lands and waterways

Pam Palmater

Pam Palmater

Pam Palmater, a spokesperson for Idle No More and Academic Director of the Centre for Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University, helps us understand the impacts of C-45 on Treaty rights, reserve lands and waterways in an interview on CBC Radio’s ‘Day Six’:

“In Bill C-45 there is one particular amendment to the Indian Act that would change the way in which reserve lands can be surrendered, and the surrender process is when the community votes to give up a piece of land to Her Majesty the Queen in right of Canada, so the federal government, for purposes like giving it up forever to be sold to another party or for leasing purposes so to build a mall or something like that. Under the Indian Act in order to surrender either absolutely for selling or conditionally for leasing, you have to have a majority of electors of that First Nation vote in what’s called a referendum. Of that majority who vote, a majority must vote in favour of the surrender. That’s how it’s under the Indian Act right now. What C-45 purports to do is reduce the threshold which means instead of requiring a majority of the Band members vote, now five people could vote, it’s a simple majority of whoever shows up to vote.”

“Think about it this way, say you had a First Nation of 5,000 Band members and there was a small contingency who wanted to make a deal with Enbridge to have a pipeline go across the community and the majority didn’t want to have that, well you could now set up a vote to surrender a piece of the reserve land to allow a pipeline to go through by those handful of people. And you might ask why wouldn’t everyone just vote against it? But what you have to understand is that many First Nations in this country resist the paternalistic control of Indian Affairs over their communities and they refuse to participate in referendums held by Indian Affairs on their territory for traditional and other reasons, so this could be extremely divisive and even destructive of the reserve lands. …It’s an undemocratic process because it’s whoever shows up, assuming that the Band members even got notice, assuming that they’re including their off-reserve Band members because keep in mind many of the off-reserve members don’t get any of those notices and Indian Affairs is very much a part of that non-informational type process.”

“Keep in mind that about two-thirds of the reserves in this country were set up via Treaties, those Treaties are constitutionally protected, those reserve lands are set up for the exclusive use and benefit of Band members only. So the concept of surrendering those lands, either conditionally or unconditionally, is something that takes away from the collective use and benefit of those reserve lands especially if the integrity is not maintained. It at a minimum requires the consent of First Nations to agree to this legislative change and that is a legal requirement by the Supreme Court of Canada, you cannot interfere with Aboriginal and Treaty rights without getting the consent of First Nations.”

“We’re talking about unilateral changes to major rivers, waterways, basins on traditional Indigenous territories without getting the consent of First Nations, because keep in mind even those Treaties that purportedly surrendered land, they never surrendered what was underneath the land or any of the waterways. So those things are all unceded resources that belong to Indigenous nations. The Supreme Court of Canada has said any decision or piece of legislation like that that has the potential to impact Aboriginal and Treaty rights that are claimed and they’ve been claimed requires the consent of First Nations.”

Listen to the interview at http://www.cbc.ca/day6/blog/2013/01/04/pam-palmater-treaty-rights-bill-c-45-and-idle-no-more/.