Beyond the Indian Act: Restoring Aboriginal Property Rights by Tom Flanagan et al. (McGill-Queen’s, 2010)

Contrary to popular belief, the Indian Act isn’t really a helpful document. Not to Native people, anyway. The Indian Act basically prevented Native people from manifesting their own destinies. The Act prevented Aboriginal land ownership, which in turn stifled economic growth, partly due to the inability of a First Nations community to conduct any sort of taxation or private-sector economic development. This was obviously the plan, as Native people were (and are) considered “wards of Canada.” In other words, it was thought that Native people were largely incapable of developing socially and economically,  so Canadian Government decided to intercede. This meant that any sort of business transaction took far too long for it to be economically feasible, which meant that any sort of non-Native, non-Governmental economic development moved on to greener pastures.

Examples are given showing the disparity in time taken to get, say, an industrial district up and running. In regular Canada, the process may take a few weeks, but on Reservations, the same process of setting up a business would likely take months if not years!

What this book espouses is that for First Nations to reap the rewards of private-sector economic development, taxation, and the pride of home ownership (things taken for granted in the rest of Canada), First Nations have to “escape the Indian Act.”

Some communities have already done this, relatively recently. They are Nisga’a and Westbank First Nation. Others are in the process of escaping the Indian Act. But in some cases, like those in British Columbia, the process could take as long as 35 years!!

Pretty good book, and it shows that there is a way out of the institutionalized poverty of First Nations, an artifact of Canada’s antiquated, racist assimilationist policies.

Good times!


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