I am Francyne Joe, president of the Native Women's Association of Canada, and I'm a proud member of the Shackan first nation located in Merritt, British Columbia. While I worked for Canada Border Services for over five years, I'm also experienced in human resource management, economic development, entrepreneurship, and insurance, all in an effort to educate and encourage aboriginal people to pursue their aspirations.
I'm here today with Lynne Groulx, NWAC executive director, and Marilee Nowgesic, NWAC's special advisor and liaison.
First, I would like to acknowledge the Algonquin nation, whose traditional territory we are meeting on today. I bring with me the voices of my ancestors, the concerns of aboriginal women from across Canada, and the hopes of our future leaders, our youth.
Since 1974, the Native Women's Association of Canada has been the only national aboriginal organization in Canada that represents the voice, the interests, and the many concerns of aboriginal women. NWAC is made up of 12 provincial and territorial member associations from across the country. Our network of first nations and Métis women spans the north, south, east, and west into urban and rural on- and off-reserve communities. Our personal sense of identity is that we are part of nations, and NWAC needs to be part of any nation-to-nation discussion. It's crucial that our gender-specific perspectives be heard and acted upon. The Native Women's Association of Canada recognizes the Government of Canada's stated commitment to end all of the known sex-based discrimination that is embedded in the Indian Act. This is a long-standing priority issue. It could result in missed opportunities to build our collaborative relationship and to ensure that we deal with the complex layers and multiple forms of sex discrimination in the Indian Act.
There are three key messages I want to deliver today.
First is the current backlog on registration and membership at INAC. Bill S-3 leaves out indigenous women, and their basic rights are being denied. This is a fundamental breach of their rights to entitlements under the Indian Act, such as housing, education, health, and economic development. From a traditional understanding, indigenous women cannot be separated from the impacts of colonization, systemic issues, and the policies and laws that have reduced the stability of our environment, the practice of our spirituality, and the expression of our inherent right to self-determination. We want to caution the government about the timeline. Indigenous women have multiple priorities at this time of the year. Children are in school and have extracurricular activities. Women are preparing for the harvest, hunting, and traplines. They're preparing for Christmas holiday celebrations with family and friends.
Second is that engagement does not mean consultation, and consultation does not mean consent. Indigenous women need to lead these discussions. The two-part process, as described by the Government of Canada, is to be in reconciliation with indigenous peoples through a renewed nation-to-nation relationship, based on the recognition of rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership. As of September 28, we have had only one information session by department representatives. This does not constitute engagement, partnership, or respect.
The government has already announced that it will have a two-stage approach in response to the Superior Court of Quebec's decision in the case of Descheneaux, and this must be done by February 3, 2017.
NWAC is particularly looking forward to addressing not only the systemic issues but also the impact those issues have had on indigenous women. As I've said before, these include our personal sense of identity, since we are also part of the nation; the lack of belonging and recognition experienced in some communities when women want to return to their home community; the undermining of indigenous women's governance roles and the ability to coordinate collections of issues; and the financial under-resourcing of our organization. NWAC is the organization that has the expertise on indigenous and gender-specific perspectives.
Third is that indigenous women themselves have the right to determine their own identity. Articles 33.1 and 33.2 of UNDRIP regard indigenous peoples' rights to determine their own identity and the structures of their institutions in accordance with their own procedures; of course, this is paraphrased.
As a national aboriginal women's organization that has spent over 10 years being undermined and ignored, and having our funding cut by 60% by the federal government, NWAC is in the process of actively rebuilding our capacity to substantively respond and coordinate a national response within a short timeline. Our current rebuilding status needs to be factored into the engagement processes at this time and should not be used as a way to undermine our participation in these key discussions and decisions.
While we are currently working on addressing the procedures and processes that will drive the missing and murdered indigenous women and girls inquiry commission, we are the lead organization for indigenous women to bring their issues, their concerns, and sometimes their missing voices to effectively address the inequities.
NWAC will work with all levels within the Government of Canada to end the inequities and discrimination that have been part of the Indian Act since 1876.
Kukwstsétsemc. Meegwetch.. Thank you for your time.