Natives oppose Human Rights Act changes

Natives oppose Human Rights Act changes

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December 16, 2006

By SUE BAILEY, CP — A wave of native discrimination complaints is expected if a bill introduced yesterday by the Conservatives is passed.

Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice wants to repeal a 30-year-old section of the Human Rights Act that has blocked complaints against Ottawa and band councils acting under the archaic Indian Act.

“First Nations citizens don’t have the same rights and remedies as other Canadians,” Prentice said. “We think that’s unacceptable and we’re prepared to move on it.”

National native leaders rejected the bill, however, saying they can’t support what they called a rushed and unilateral move that would sow dissent and tension on reserves.

Already cash-strapped band councils could be peppered with claims. Allegations of unfair treatment would likely range from housing disputes to fights over how higher education funds are shared.

Ottawa is also expected to be targeted for various despised policies. Those include Indian Act rules governing status.

For years, the Indian Act stripped thousands of native women of their Indian status along with rights and benefits when they married non-native men.

Remedial legislation, Bill C-31, restored status to those women in 1985. But it did so with a catch: a new Indian Act section stipulated their children could only pass on Indian status if they married another status Indian.

Those who wed non-native spouses have been denied that ability — an exclusion decried by native groups as arbitrary and unjust.

The Native Women’s Association of Canada and the Assembly of First Nations issued a rare joint press release denouncing the bill.

Both groups stress that human rights must be protected, but they dispute the extent to which Prentice sought the input of First Nations people.

“We are still dealing with the aftermath of Bill C-31, which was a result of not having meaningful consultation with First Nations, including aboriginal women,” said Beverley Jacobs, president of the women’s association.

Assembly national chief Phil Fontaine called the bill “a recipe for ineffectiveness” that will add new costs for under-funded bands.

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