Desnethé–Missinippi–Churchill River MP has defended his government’s recent efforts to improve relations with First Nations communities amidst the recent ‘Idle No More’ movement.
He also questioned some aspects of the movement, which arose in response to the federal government’s omnibus budget bill, which makes several changes to environmental legislation many First Nations communities perceive to be detrimental to their way of life.
It also makes amendments to legislation affecting the control First Nations chiefs have in leasing their own land to commercial interests.
“I’m happy to see engagement of individuals to demonstrate that they’re unhappy with all governments, but I’m hoping to see some direction,” Clarke said.
“What we’re seeing are individuals out there in the ‘Idle No More’ movement, not giving real concrete criteria,” he added.
He said the movement’s priorities are “vague and all over the map” which makes it hard for the government to respond with concrete action.
Clarke also defended the federal government’s track record on dealing with Aboriginal issues. According to Clarke, the federal government has settled 82,000 specific land claims, has renovated 200 schools and built 30 new ones in First Nations communities, and has done more than 5,000 consultations with First Nations individuals.
“That’s a lot of consultations — and there’s only 240 working days in a year,” Clarke said.
Clarke’s numbers could not be verified by the time of publication.
Clarke has been accused by First Nations chiefs as well as at a rally outside his own office (which he was not able to attend due to being in Ottawa) of not properly consulting First Nations groups on his private member’s bill to amend the Indian Act.
But he disputes the accusations, saying he’s sat down with numerous communities in his riding and is currently in the process of setting up a meeting with his own community of Muskeg Lake First Nation.
“I’ve talked to local chiefs in the riding, but I’m afraid to mention their names, because you see how the Idle No More movement is, they may have some reprisals,” he said.
Clarke said he’s also sent out more than 630 invitations to First Nations communities, on five separate occasions, and has received some input back.
“I have a small office,” he said. “I don’t have the financial resources to go out to each community across Canada and sit down with each First Nations community.”
He also pointed out that since his bill is not a government bill, there is a specific parliamentary process he must follow for consultations.
“I’m going to be utilizing parliamentary resources in parliament to do a formal consultation,” he said. “It will be two-fold: one with the House of Commons committee, and then an opportunity for the senate committee if it gets that far.”
Clarke said his bill would give First Nations more autonomy. For example, it includes amendments to let First Nations communities create their own bylaws without ministerial approval, and to have more freedom in who they sell locally-grown produce to.
The bill would also remove references to residential schools and allow First Nation people to have a will without ministerial approval.
“I want to legislate a process to look at the Indian Act and get rid of outdated sections,” Clarke said. “And hopefully one day, probably not in my lifetime, to see the Indian Act gone and (replaced) with a more modern and respectful legislative act.”
As for the ‘Idle No More’ protestors who have accused Clarke of not properly consulting First Nations communities on legislation that affects them, he said he welcomes discussion, but needs an invitation.
“I don’t mind meeting with the ‘Idle No More’ people, but just give me a heads up,” he said. “Make arrangements for a meeting and I’ll sit down, listen and talk to you.”