Bob Joseph the bestselling author of ‘21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act’ has been an enabler for discourses about the Indian Act, since his 2015 blog post about the legislation went viral. (Courtesy of Vancouver Island Regional Library)

Bob Joseph the bestselling author of ‘21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act’ has been an enabler for discourses about the Indian Act, since his 2015 blog post about the legislation went viral. (Courtesy of Vancouver Island Regional Library)

Bob Joseph: Why the Indian Act must go and Canada will be better for it

B.C. author explores the paradox of why it’s so difficult to let the act go and why it has to happen

Last week in a virtual Q & A session, Indigenous author Bob Joseph was asked “How will people know that they’ve achieved reconciliation?”

Joseph answered, “When people are at peace with the past.”

The first step is moving away from the Indian Act, according to Joseph, who advocates for First Nations heading towards self-governance, self-reliance and self-determination.

The bestselling author of ‘21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act’ has been enabling discourse about the act, since his 2015 blog post about the legislation went viral. In Canada, many people are still oblivious to the Indian Act, says Joseph.

READ ALSO: ‘We’re still in it’: Wet’suwet’en push forward on rights recognition

Since it was first passed in 1876, the Indian Act has undergone numerous amendments but it still stands as law, governing matters pertaining to Indian status, bands and reserves, among other things.

The legislation – originally created to ‘assimilate’ Indigenous people into mainstream Canadian life and values – is a paradox in which both the rights of Indigenous people and their bondage co-exist.

And while some Indigenous groups have called for its dismissal due to what have been called its regressive and paternalistic excesses, others have resisted its abolition.

Joseph is a member of the Gwawa’enuxw Nation, Gayaxala (Thunderbird) clan, who grew up in Campbell River. He believes the Indian Act must go, simply because it was unsuccessful (and now outdated) in its original purpose of assimilating Indigenous people into the political and economic mainstream.

“If anything, it (the Indian Act) has kept Indigenous people separate under different laws and under different lands,” he said.

In a virtual seminar last week hosted by the Vancouver Island Regional Library, Joseph interacted with more than 500 viewers. He provided insights into the legislation’s history before discussing modern day solutions that could replace the Indian Act.

Through 21 points Joseph not only highlighted the obsolete nature of the legislation but also why it is relevant to understanding reconciliation going forward – especially at a time when Canada is undertaking a commitment to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

Before some of its amendments, the Indian Act denied Indigenous status to women, introduced residential schools, created reserves, renamed individuals with European names, restricted First Nations from leaving reserves without permission from Indian Agents, expropriated portions of reserves for roads, railways, etc, imposed the ‘band council’ system and created other personal and cultural tragedies on First Nations.

Despite that, it was legally significant for Indigenous peoples. For example, in 1969 when Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s white paper policies proposed to abolish it, Aboriginal leaders across Canada opposed the move. Since the Indian Act affirms the historical and constitutional relationship Aboriginal peoples have with Canada, they wanted it to legally maintain the Indian status and the rights that it afforded them.

This paradox, Joseph pointed out, has created a relationship wherein Indigenous people are dependent on the federal government. Even today, these concerns remain when discussions about breaking away from the Indian Act comes up.

“I hear people tell me ‘we need to make sure we protect our status’” He reminds them that thought is “in fact an objective of the Indian Act” which keeps them tied to it. The Indian act will never help them grow their nation and their people – “it’s not designed to do that.” That is why First Nations must find a better way, break the cycle of dependency and give way to self determination, self reliance, and self governance.

“A place to look for solutions already exists,” he says, pointing to modern day treaties in B.C. like the Nisga’a Treaty and the Westbank First Nation Self-government Agreement from the early 2000’s.

“The Nisga’a Treaty got rid of the Indian Act, they were able to get control and jurisdiction over lands and resources and the ability to make decisions about those lands and resources.”

But he also said that these treaties are not necessarily a one-size-fits-all framework that will work for all Nations. Each group must arrive at a model that works best for them through negotiations.

This is where knowledge of history comes in handy – for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people – as a powerful medium to achieve true reconciliation.

As people become aware about the history of Indigenous people in Canada through the ages, there is a wider scope of conversation that can be had in families, educational institutions, places of worship etc.

He urges people to learn about history and then make a personal pledge to reconciliation – which is going to take “political will, knowledge and understanding and empathy.”

“Reconciliation has to be a grassroots movement and not by politicians,” he says.

Because when it comes to something as important as reconciliation, politics “holds back” the process of moving away from the Indian Act as “politicians are all over the place,” with government agendas changing every four years.

“I would rather hang my hat on individuals in Canada to do reconciliation. That seems to have a lot more longevity.”

When political agendas come into the picture, conversations pivot to the “cost of change,” that First Nations are asking for.

To drive home the point, Joseph gives an example from the early ’90s when he had a conversation with a group of people who were worried after a front-page article in the Vancouver Sun stating Indian land claims could cost taxpayers $10 billion.

“I told them this was a great article. It talks to you about the cost of change, but it doesn’t talk to you about the cost of not changing it,” he said and added, cost of years-long legal battles, loss of direct investments and jobs etc, ultimately end up costing governments more than the estimated cost of change.

“So I try to tell taxpayers, look, if it’s money you’re worried about, if that’s what makes your world go round. I can tell you honestly, it will be cheaper to resolve land claims quicker than it is to let them fester.”

Such issues resurface at different intervals of history, he warns, referring to the ongoing Wet’suwet’an pipeline conflict in B.C. and it’s all because there’s no relationship with Indigenous people.

“We’re not listening to their concerns.”

Which is why in retrospect, Joseph says it would be cheaper to move away from the Indian Act and have mutually beneficial relationships.

“It will be better for the country.”

READ ALSO: Remembering the Potlatch, Part I

READ ALSO: Remembering the Potlatch, Part II

READ ALSO: Remembering the Potlatch, Part III



binny.paul@blackpress.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Indigenous reconcilliation

Just Posted

1914
It happened this week in 1914

May 9 - 15: Compiled by Dave Humphrey from the archived newspapers… Continue reading

Doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine are seen being prepared on Wednesday, May 12, 2021, in Decatur, Ga. Hundreds of children, ages 12 to 15, received the Pfizer vaccine at the DeKalb Pediatric Center, just days after it was approved for use within their age group. (AP Photo/Ron Harris)
One death, 60 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

The death is connected to the outbreak at Spring Valley long-term care in Kelowna

The Salmon Arm RCMP seize hundreds of grams of drugs in a raid in Sorrento on March 20, 2021. (Black Press file photo)
RCMP have suspect identified in rash of local thefts

Police have a suspect in a rash of recent thefts from local… Continue reading

Rotary Way is being repaved from 4th Street South to the second bridge, just past St. Mary’s School. (Barry Coulter photo)
Rotary Way being repaved along Joseph Creek

The Rotary Club is having a portion of its namesake trail repaved.… Continue reading

The Libby Dam on the Kootenai River in Montana. The dam created the Koocanusa Reservoir, which straddles the B.C./Montana border. (photo courtesy Wikipedia)
Outflow at Libby Dam to be increased

Volume increase to aid migration and spawning conditions for endangered white sturgeon in the Kootenai River

Prince Rupert was one of the first B.C. communities targeted for mass vaccination after a steep rise in infections. Grey area marks community-wide vaccine distribution. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C. tracks big drop in COVID-19 infections after vaccination

Prince Rupert, Indigenous communities show improvement

The bodies of Carlo and Erick Fryer were discovered by a local couple walking on a remote forest road in Naramata on May 10. (Submitted)
Kamloops brothers identified as pair found dead near Penticton

The bodies of Carlo and Erick Fryer were discovered by a local couple walking

Municipal governments around B.C. have emergency authority to conduct meetings online, use mail voting and spend reserve funds on operation expenses. (Penticton Western News)
Online council meetings, mail-in voting option to be extended in B.C.

Proposed law makes municipal COVID-19 exceptions permanent

A nurse prepares a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in Kelowna on Tuesday, March 16. (Phil McLachlan/Black Press)
British Columbians aged 20+ can book for vaccine Saturday, those 18+ on Sunday

‘We are also actively working to to incorporate the ages 12 to 17 into our immunization program’

The AstraZeneca-Oxford University vaccine. (AP/Eranga Jayawardena)
2nd person in B.C. diagnosed with rare blood clotting after AstraZeneca vaccine

The man, in his 40s, is currently receiving care at a hospital in the Fraser Health region

Brian Peach rescues ducklings from a storm drain in Smithers May 12. (Lauren L’Orsa video screen shot)
VIDEO: Smithers neighbours rescue ducklings from storm drain

Momma and babies made it safely back to the creek that runs behind Turner Way

Signage for ICBC, the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, is shown in Victoria, B.C., on February 6, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
$150 refunds issued to eligible customers following ICBC’s switch to ‘enhanced care’

Savings amassed from the insurance policy change will lead to one-time rebates for close to 4 million customers

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Most Read