Good morning, and thanks for the opportunity to be here today. I have Erica with me, who will discuss the consultation process, but I'll deal with the other issues.
I'm Chief Day Walker-Pelletier from the Okanese First Nation in Saskatchewan Treaty Four area. I have been chief of my first nation for 26 consecutive years. During my tenure I have witnessed many changes and many challenges within our first nations community—within my own community and within other communities that I'm from and that I represent.
I'm here to discuss my perspective on Bill C-44 and the repeal of section 67. I also bring common themes from my colleague Chief Sarah Gopher from Saulteaux First Nation, who was unable to be with us here today because of pressing commitments in her community.
I first want to state that I support the ideology of the application of the Canadian Human Rights Act on first nations land. I believe and, further, act every day to support our first nations processes that carry out just decisions for everyone.
In fact, there is potential for me as a leader to have greater access to funding from the federal government. This act may enable me to provide opportunity for my members in a way that I cannot do right now with the resources that are available. In the event that the Canadian Human Rights Act becomes applicable, additional resources for drinkable water, more housing, sustainable schools, and health centres now seem a possibility.
Further, as a leader I'll be in a better position to lobby the government to fulfill their obligation to us as first nations, because they will have to follow their own laws.
I have several concerns about Bill C-44 as it is presented and communicated.
First, I feel that the government is using a negative perception of first nation women living on reserve. I hear their lives have few rights and, further, little opportunity. As a woman who has grown up and lived on reserve all my life, other than leaving for schooling, I know this is not the case. We have issues that do affect women differently; however, these are part of the greater social considerations on the reserve. As a woman chief, I am more concerned about the vulnerability of all my members and believe that every situation is unique and must be considered differently.
Further, I feel that Bill C-44 is a premature bill to go before the House for further approval. If the intent is to bring federally legislated fairness and equality to our first nations and our members, then the government must ensure proper diligence be given to a first nation process for community input and guidance, and additionally, that once first nations have spoken, the government will respect that voice and enact their own recommendations, protecting our inherent and treaty rights.
In Saskatchewan, apart from our inherent rights as first nations people, we also have six other treaty areas and the rights that were negotiated with them. In fact, it is our belief that our inherent rights and the rights of the land treaties and the promises the Crown made to our ancestors must be paramount. We as chiefs hold the responsibility of keeping these promises alive in our present-day lives.
We believe that any legislation that will impact our collective inherent and treaty rights must go through a thorough review and recommendation process with our elders. This must happen before we as leadership even entertain endorsement or rejection. It is with their teachings and memory and guidance that they will provide an understanding and world view that must be considered.
Further, we believe that the government must give serious consideration to and take action to support our governance processes in trying to accommodate new mainstream legislation, especially if it is not first nation contrived. This is one of our inherent rights.
Finally, any legislation that is meant to protect individual rights of first nations must include language that will protect our collective rights. This is our unique status that we, as first nations, hold in this country. This language right must include provisions to guide and support the adjudicators who are entrusted with the interpretation of the Canadian Human Rights Act for first nations and their communities.
As for consultation with first nations, we have several issues to reference that demonstrate the negative impacts on first nation people when legislation is passed that does not have first nation approval for process, analysis, and implementation. We only have to mention Bill C-31 to see the lasting impacts on communities and how communities are still torn apart by that legislation.
As the chief of my individual community, which is part of the File Hills Qu'Appelle Tribal Council and the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, I know that the consultation process from the community level to the provincial level has been next to nil. In fact, when I mentioned to my community members that I was going to Ottawa to sit before this committee, not one of my members had even heard about Bill C-44. However, 20 years later, if you ask my members about Bill C-31, they still have much to say about its many effects—mostly negative—on our community. It is the general consensus that Bill C-31 created more inequalities than any measure of equality for our first nations women and children, despite it being purported to eradicate these inequalities.
Apart from the promise of the government in 1997 to exempt the Canadian Human Rights Act from being applicable to the Indian Act, without full consultation with first nations, my fear as a chief is that if a proper public education and communication process is not done, the impact will create a misinformed membership that will be further confused about their rights as well as their responsibilities.
Currently, the transition period that is referenced in Bill C-44 is six months. If a conscious, cautious, and respectful process is to be carried out, including elders, women, and the disabled in the community, then the six-month process is not realistic. I would suggest that the transition period be extended by at least 30 months. It would also be prudent to say that the consultation process should be adequately funded to ensure a comprehensive community voice.
On the process of consultation, I will turn it over to Erica to describe the process to you.