1960 Yukon Nuggets
Nielsen fights for Indian rights to make them equal citizens
Yukon MP Erik Nielsen received a letter June 2 from John Melling, executive director of Indian-Eskimo Association of Canada, commending Nielsen's speech delivered to give Indians the right to vote in federal elections. He described the speech as the best speech of the decade on Indian Affairs. A portion of MP Nielsen's speech appears below.
I would draw a very definite line, as many hon. members have done in debates on the subject in the past, between the integration of the Indian people. This is why it is so important that the amendment now before the house should be couched in its present terms, giving a choice to the Indian people so that if they do not wish to vote they need not vote, and whether they vote or do not vote they lose none of their rights.
The federal government alone cannot fully discharge the whole of the responsibility. Each level of government, each voluntary association, each individual citizen must play a part if success is to be expected. The aim of the government would, in my view, fail regrettably if the Indian people of Canada were not brought to the point at which they could, if they whished, take their place in the community as citizens in all respects, to the same extent as any hon. member of this house, having the same rights and assuming the same responsibilities as all other citizens without discrimination or distinction of any kind.
Here I disagree with the hon. member for Bonavista-Twillingate as to the acceptance of the Indian people by other Canadians as fully fledged citizen: I do not think there is that acceptance, or that there has been such acceptance for many years. We may pay lip service to the idea of accepting Indians as fellow citizens equal in all respects to their white counterparts.
Under the treaties themselves the Indians obtaines a legal status inferior to our own. Under the Indian Act as it existed in the past the legal status of Indians was in my view reduced even further. The Indian Act which was passed in 1868 has not been improved to any great extent. While I do not propose to review the terms of the act, even if it were in order to do so, I wish to consider some aspects of the present act in so far as they relate to the bill under discussion.
Undoubtedly, in the past some special legislation was required in order to protect the Indian. Nowadays, however, thousands of Indians are able to take advantage of the experience gained while they were in Europe during the last world war. They can read, they can write, and the have radios. In short, they now know that they live in a democracy, and they would like some of the benefits of that democracy themselves.
I am speaking now of the Indian people I know best, those people who live in the Yukon and in the north.
The Whitehorse Star, August 25, 1960