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Indian Act Revision Hindered By Complicated Consultations

Michael Krauss

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      SEPTEMBER 1977      v07 n09 p08  
OTTAWA (CNNS) - The 1978 deadline for the revision of the Indian Act may be "a bit unrealistic", at least as far as the National Indian Brotherhood (NIB) can tell now.

Bob DeBassige, coordinator for the Indian Act revision at NIB, said the revisions will be presented to Cabinet "a little later than was first thought because of the education program we find ourselves in".

"The Indian Act is not well understood on reserves and we find ourselves having to educate the chief and council on some reserves," he said.

The education programs are carried out in each province by liaison people whose job is to explain the present Indian Act to the chief and council on each reserve and to explain what the NIB wants revised and why. They also serve as conduits for feedback to the NIB.

The liaison people, in turn, have the Indian Act interpreted by seven policy analysts-six of whom are Indian lawyers-who also translate the final decisions back into legal jargon for presentation to the government.

The process is further slowed by a flow-of-information-chain that involves four levels of federal government before the final draft reaches Parliament.

The proposed revisions flow back-and-forth from the NIB to the bands. When the proposals satisfy the bands, they are taken to a joint working group, composed of both NIB and government members - from the departments of justice, and Indian Affairs and the Privy Council - who work out tentative agreements which must then be taken back to the bands.

When the bands approve the revisions, a joint sub-committee composed of three NIB executive council members and three federal ministers presents them to a joint NIB-cabinet committee. The joint committee works with the full cabinet in collaboration with Justice Department officials to prepare the revisions presentation and passage in the House of Commons.

"It isn't a case of us not doing our jobs," said DeBassige; "it's the government not responding to our recommendations."

"We'd like to go a little bit quicker but we're dealing with government bureaucracy and Indian bureaucrats."

The program to revise the Indian Act started in June, 1976 after a period of negotiations between the brotherhood and the government. However, because of "administration problems", the liaison people did not start conversations with the bands on reserves until November, said DeBassige.

The original mandate from the 1973 NIB general assembly was for the NIB committee to look at the Indian Act as a whole. The committee discovered that it covered "too large a scope" and found itself unable to fulfil its mandate, he said.

The new mandate, to look at the Act in a piecemeal fashion, emphasized local government areas, increasing local powers of the chief and council on reserves and doing away with the discretionary powers of the Minister of Indian Affairs.