Opinion: A courageous proposal from the Gitxsan
""Native tribe will petition Ottawa to remove its Indian status" - Globe and Mail headline

When I read this headline last Monday my jaw dropped. I was in complete shock.

The Gitxsan, a native band in northwestern British Columbia, will be lobbying Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl to put an end to 130 years of treaty tension by removing the tribe's Indian status. The Gitxsan hereditary chiefs claim that they want to bring down the "parallel society" that exists between them and Canada.

Giving up Indian status doesn't just involve losing a title. It means losing reserves, housing, tax exemptions, and other perks provided by the Federal Indian Act.

Why do the Gitxsan want to lose their Indian status? Reconciliation. They are seeking a way to preserve their culture and unique government while breaking down their "parallel" status.

The Gitxsan hereditary chiefs, not the elected band chiefs recognized by the government as the tribe's leaders, proposed the change in status. The Gitxsan use an intricate system of local government lorded over by here"ditary chiefs. Despite being unelected, the chiefs rule based on political consensus. The Indian Act demands a more Western style of democracy, but the Gitxsan argue that theirs is just as acceptable.

The chiefs' proposal is almost poetic: "We come to the table as committed Canadians, paying our taxes and contributing to the country … we want to live as ordinary Canadians in our own way in a multicultural society."

The Indian Act was intended to allow Native culture to thrive, to acknowledge their unique place in Canadian history. But it has failed. The reserves are disconnected and suffer from poverty and a host of social problems. In this atmosphere, culture can only shrivel, while the Aboriginal peoples of this country suffer from difficulties imposed on them by restrictive legislation."

Get the Story:
Brendan Steven: Brendan likes the Gitxsan's status update (The McGill Tribune 11/17)

Related Stories:
Editorial: Try a new solution for the First Nations (11/10)
Gitxsan treaty team calls for end of Indian status (11/9)