VANCOUVER, BC- Canada's current Indian policy is deeply
flawed and will be unable to change and progress until the
country moves away from the concept of Indians as a collective
and parallel society and embraces the idea of Indians as
individuals, argues Gordon Gibson in a new book published by
the Fraser Institute.
"Our current policy presumes and enforces a relationship
between the Indian individual and relevant collectives, a
relationship that is biased against individual freedom and
choice," says Gibson, a former B.C. MLA, noted author and
public policy expert, and Fraser Institute senior fellow.
"It costs a ton of money and yields disappointment in
return. This relationship has produced adverse social outcomes
in health, education, life span, incomes, employment, substance
abuse, violence, imprisonment, and so on, that are universally
The book, A New Look at Canadian Indian Policy, provides a dramatic new perspective on a continuing and seemingly insoluble problem. It goes to the very core of the
most important moral question in Canadian politics.
Gibson provides a comprehensive overview of the history and
applicable law relating to Indian policy.
"Mainstream law deals with the rest of us as individuals.
Indian laws deal with Indians as members of a collective and
have done since the "nation to nation" basis was established
after contact by the British," he says.
Gibson uses the word "Indian" rather that the more
politically correct "aboriginal," or "First Nation" because
legal Indians are a much smaller group than "aboriginals" and
have a different constitutional standing.
"We Canadians do not like to offend, but I would argue that
reform will come sooner if the words we use necessarily
confront us with the problems we would rather overlook," Gibson
A New Look at Canadian Indian Policy
, Gibson returns again and again to the notion of Indians as
individuals versus the existing policy treatment of Indians as
part of a "collective."
"The people our Constitutions calls 'Indians' are ordinary
human beings like the rest of us, with some additional rights.
The standard model for thinking about Indian policy is
fundamentally wrong, giving too much weight to the collective
and too little to the individual," he writes.
At the same time, Gibson points out that opposition to basic
change is immense, though he speaks respectfully of the many
people doing their best in a tangled system, with existing
incentives that can be perverse.
"For example, education poses a threat to the system because
that provides an incentive for Indian youth to leave the
reserve," Gibson says.
He suggests the current treaty process is designed to meet
the institutional needs of elites and collectives, and does not
necessarily accommodate the interests of individual
Gibson concludes that eliminating the poverty, despair and
lack of education and employment opportunities facing Indians
living on reserves will only come about by helping individual
Indians make the most out of their individual lives.
This will not mean eliminating the choice of the parallel
reserve system, but rather by adding new choices for
individuals such as:
- Providing a voucher system in education to be
administered by parents, not the collective, allowing
children to be educated at any school in the province chosen
by the parents;
- Making welfare funding available for income support
according to local provincial standards and free from local
politics, and administered by each province;
- Providing funding for complete health care service
delivery with on-reserve locations as negotiated with Band
governments or accessible external facilities;
- Reforming the current politically correct, parallel
child-care system; and
- Bringing accountability to Indian governments by sending
much of current federal government funding to individuals
instead, subject to a "tax back" by Chief and Council as
approved by the local on-reserve voters.
"The new approach is simple: the touchstone is the
individual, not the collective. The Indian tribe is not of
paramount importance; that status is reserved for the Indian
individual. The tribe is merely an instrument that individuals
may employ more, or less, or not at all," Gibson says.