Ottawa rejects First Nation's strict anti-drug bylaw
The federal government has shot down a Manitoba First Nation's bylaw intended to curb drug abuse on the reserve, but aboriginal leaders say the reserve should ignore Ottawa's directive on the matter.
The Peguis First Nation, home to about 3,400 people in Manitoba's Interlake region, brought in a bylaw last fall that imposes strict penalties on people caught using or dealing drugs, and that requires drug testing for all band employees.
But in a recent letter, the Department of Indian Affairs rejected the new rules, saying the band is only allowed to write bylaws for minor concerns, such as animal control or smoking. The band can't regulate drug use — only Ottawa can.
"We really do encourage them to work with local police to enforce those existing federal laws," said INAC spokesman Jeff Solmundson.
Carry on with anti-drug rules: Southern Chiefs
Ottawa's decision on Peguis puts other anti-drug bylaws, such as one brought in on the Fisher River Cree Nation four years ago, in question. Lawyers say it's unlikely the bylaws would hold up in court.
Fisher River, also located in Manitoba's Interlake area, has thrown eight drug dealers off the reserve since its bylaw came into effect, and all band employees are tested for drug use.
"It's just a known fact in the community that, you know, I'm going to work for the Cree Nation, it's now a requirement that I have to be drug-free," said Chief David Crate, who is now working on making the bylaw even more strict.
But Crate didn't seek Ottawa's approval for his reserve's bylaw. The chief of Peguis did submit his, and it was rejected. Morris Swan-Shannacappo, head of the Southern Chiefs Organization, said INAC's decision sends a bad message to all First Nations struggling to deal with drug problems.
"It just irks me, it just riles me at times, when communities do their own community development plans and then the people in the ivory towers at INAC say no," he said.
Swan-Shannacappo said more and more First Nations are eyeing anti-drug laws. He suggested they follow Fisher River's example by not asking for approval.
Peguis Chief Glenn Hudson says he'll try getting around the federal government's decision; he's brought in a new employment "policy" on the reserve, and is writing a new policy also aimed at driving out drug dealers.