The Westbank First Nation has evolved further and faster than many of the 400 Indian bands across Canada, but it shares many of their concerns as echoed by the growing Idle No More movement.
That grassroots protest means different things to different First Nations people, acknowledged WFN Chief Robert Louie during an in-depth interview on Wednesday.
"For us, it means addressing important things like the aboriginal lands question, settling the resource revenue-sharing issues and getting on with implementation of our inherent right to manage our own affairs."
A major concern of his members and aboriginals across Canada is the lack of consultation despite numerous courts ruling governments must consult with natives and accommodate aboriginal rights.
The most recent glaring example is the approval of omnibus Bill C-45, which combined the federal budget with 14 other pieces of legislation. One of those streamlined the public consultation process for approving new pipelines, for example, said Louie, a West Kelowna lawyer.
"That consultation spills over into the rights of First Nations to be consulted and accommodated. I think our people throughout the country felt that they weren't listened to. Those are big concerns."
The federal government should establish a well-thought-out framework - in consultation with First Nations - to work with First Nations directly or indirectly impacted in a number of federal jurisdictions, he said.
"If they could do that, then I think we could avoid a lot of the concerns that are coming out now in different ways across the country."
The WFN was one of the first bands "to move well beyond the Indian Act" with self-government. As a result, "we're not in the same ballpark as many of the other First Nations," said Louie.
"I would like to see the federal government really focus its attention on providing better decision-making, to create better
opportunities for First Nations across Canada, so they can do things like Westbank First Nation is doing, what we're achieving. If you had more direction in that regard, I think you'd have a lot happier contingency of aboriginal peoples."
He attributes the WFN's success to self-government, specifically "certain legislative powers that no other First Nation in Canada has," the result of an agreement that recognizes the WFN as "a government of our land."
"That allows us to better decide how we want to manage our lands, how we want to develop our lands. We're not tied up in the bureaucracy and red tape that other First Nations are tied up in. We can put thorough shopping centre deals or any development, and better manage those developments in a timely, efficient and, I think, an attractive fashion that will bring the investors to the table. That opportunity just doesn't exist with other First Nations in this country."
There are some positive aspects in those 14 pieces of legislation in the omnibus bill, he added. For a long time, First Nations across the country have sought changes to make it easier to sign leases on reserve land, for example.
However, "some of the First Nations are saying: 'We could have been better informed of this before you put it in legislation. Can you at least have the courtesy of saying this is how it is going to happen and what you intend to do?' First Nations may have different viewpoints on that, but that's how I see it."
Idle No More started at the grassroots level but soon spilled over to band leadership, said Louie, who discusses Idle No More issues at executive meetings of the eight chiefs in the Okanagan Nation Alliance. He has participated in the movement's Penticton rallies.
Different First Nations people across Canada are attaching different meanings to Idle No More, he reiterated.
However, the fact that Idle No More is bringing First Nations people together across the country is being recognized by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the federal government and the general public, he said.
"They are sitting up and saying: 'Hey, this is big. This is now affecting hundreds of thousands of people.' You get that momentum. I think it can be done in a positive way and it recognizes that the government must listen to the aboriginal peoples, must recognize their inherent rights and what Section 35 of the (Canadian) Constitution says: to recognize the special interests of aboriginal peoples. That's a very positive thing."