Rick Mercer and the Indian Act

August 10, 2012

By Bob Joseph

There has been a lot of discussion of late on whether or not the Prime Minister of Canada is going to revamp the Indian Act. All the discussion reminded me of a clip from the Rick Mercer show earlier this year, following the January Crown - First Nations Gathering. 

In this must-watch, 46-second video, Mercer talks about the Indian Act and the Crown-First Nations meeting. As always, Mercer is hilarious and at his sarcastic best in his summation of the Crown-First Nations meeting, especially in regard to the updating of the Indian Act.

Mercer leads off with Prime Minister Stephen Harper's pledge to enact “incremental change to improve the lives of First Nations Peoples.” Mercer goes on to say, “So, First Nations, that lightening fast change that you have gotten used to over the last century, now a thing of the past.”

I found this hilarious because the problem with incremental change is that sweeping change is needed now - how many more generations of our children will grow up struggling under the confines of the current Indian Act?

Mercer goes on to note that “Harper also says he will not change the Indian Act.” Mercer states, “Does it need updating? I don’t know. It’s called the Indian Act!”

Again with the LOL. The conundrum here is do we update the Indian Act with a policy of “Incremental Change” or do we move to something altogether different? So far the main incremental change has been to not increase funding for Indian Affairs, now called Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, which is sorely needed. Further, the message I heard from the chiefs in the past is that they did not want to “band-aid” the Indian Act into the future. They want to move away from the Indian Act once and for all and move towards self-government. I’d like to say we are taking one step forward and two back but it all seems to be steps back right now. The lightning-fast speed really is a thing of the past!

Mercer jokes, that in a gesture of goodwill as soon as the conference was over Harper ordered his men to “head them off at the pass”.

Here are 10 laws the Indian Act has imposed over the Indian People* in Canada since first enacted in 1876:

  1. denied women status;
  2. introduced residential schools;
  3. introduced reserves;
  4. forbade the First Nations People of Canada from forming political organizations;
  5. imposed the “band council” system;
  6. forbade the Indian People of Canada from speaking their native language;
  7. forbade the Indian People of Canada from practicing their traditional religion;
  8. declared potlatch ceremonies illegal;
  9. denied Indian People of Canada the right to vote;
  10. denied Indian People of Canada the right to sell products from farms.

*When referencing contents of the Indian Act, Indian is the correct terminology.

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