[Witness speaks in Innu]
Madam Chair, vice-chairs, members of the committee, kuei.
I would like to begin by thanking the Anishinabe Nation for welcoming us on its vast unceded territory.
Quebec Native Women Inc., a member organization of the Native Women's Association of Canada, was founded in 1974 in response to the sex-based discrimination in the Indian Act. For over 40 years, the native women of Quebec have been joining forces to denounce this paternalistic, assimilatory and colonialist piece of legislation.
Our position has always been clear, and we remain firm in our demands. We want the Government of Canada to remove from the act any sex-based discrimination and any resulting types of discrimination. We are asking for our right to grow among our people, practice our culture and traditions, speak our languages and pass it all down to our children and future generations.
In 1982, Canada passed a so-called constitutional piece of legislation, including a Canadian charter of rights and freedoms. There is no higher law in the country than the Constitution, which provides all Canadian or aboriginal citizens with basic rights that must be respected and protected. Among them is the right not to be discriminated against based on sex and race.
When we know that such discriminatory principles in terms of sex and race are the foundation of the Indian Act, it is normal to wonder about the place of such legislation in Canada. The country is allegedly celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, but what is there really to celebrate?
Quebec Native Women Inc. attended the 16th meeting of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. We deplore Canada's speech at that event, according to which the country defends the rights of aboriginals, especially the rights of women, but how many aboriginal women have been uprooted, torn away from their families, their community and their identity because Canada implemented and is fighting to maintain one of the most violent laws in terms of discrimination based on sex and race.
We deplore the fact that we once again need to discuss it, in 2017, and fight against that same piece of legislation that belittles us and discriminate against us as women and as aboriginals. We are being discriminated against on two fronts. While our aboriginal communities traditionally see us as a gift of life, Canada has introduced into the imaginations of societies the idea that the life of an aboriginal woman is not as valuable as the life of a man. Our women are disappearing; they are killed, abused and sexually assaulted by state forces and the population, with complete impunity.
The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights both concluded that the sex-based discrimination in the Indian Act was one of the root causes of the violence against aboriginal women and girls today.
Therefore, Quebec Native Women Inc. demands that the House of Commons ensure the respect for the Constitution for every aboriginal citizen, especially every aboriginal woman and her descendants who have been disowned, repudiated, forgotten and buried by governments wishing to assimilate them and to be done once and for all with the Indian issue in Canada, until no Indians are left.
To do this, Quebec Native Women Inc. demands, first of all, that the government accept the amendment known as “6(1)(a) all the way”.
Quebec Native Women Inc. also demands en end to discrimination stemming from unstated or unknown paternity. Women have the right not to put the father's name on the birth certificate without penalizing their child. No so-called Canadian women have their child discriminated against when the father's name does not appear in the registries. The child is just as Canadian as the mother. Why would it be any different for first nations?
Quebec Native Women Inc. also demands that the government do away with the status categories defined in subsections 6(1) and 6(2) of the act. Since 1985, the categories have been giving rise to many discriminatory scenarios, including within the same family. Think about it. Would you want some of your children to be considered as Canadians and others as non-Canadians because they were born after April 17, 1985? That's completely ridiculous.
As many other representatives have said before us, it would be impossible to completely eliminate sex-based discrimination without those changes. Without the amendments suggested by the Senate and without eliminating the categories defined in subsection 6(1) and 6(2), Bill S-3 continues discrimination under the Indian Act against our women.
Quebec Native Women Inc. has heard the government repeatedly insist on a second phase, which would be broader and would allow for further discussion on those demands. We think it is absurd that the government has delayed amendments to the Indian Act by five months under the pretext of failing in its duty to hold consultations and that it is once again justifying its inaction by using the same pretext. Let us be clear: we are in favour of defending the government's duty to consult aboriginal peoples, but not under the circumstances established by the government surrounding Bill S-3.
Quebec Native Women Inc. feels strongly about reminding the government that it cannot use that obligation to justify keeping provisions that are discriminatory or unconstitutional. Quebec Native Women Inc. feels that the government does not need to consult communities to find out whether it must put an end to its discrimination against women.
Let's be honest: the government knows that the Indian Act is discriminatory. It knows exactly what the solutions to end that discrimination are. This is not ignorance on the government's part, but rather inertia and a lack of political will.
What did Jeannette Vivian Corbiere Lavell, Sandra Lovelace Nicholas, Mary Two-Axe Early, Sharon McIvor, Lynn Gehl and others do but tell you about the realities and discriminations women and their descendants face?
This April, a report on the information sessions provided by Quebec Native Women Inc. during the extension of sitting period related to Bill S-3 was submitted to the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. The report outlines the impressions of women on Bill S-3, and we are bringing their voices before you today. They have had enough and don't want to wait for a second phase for things to happen.
The government is planning to spend about two years on the second phase. Can you tell us what you will find out in two years that has not already been revealed to you over the past 30 years. Aboriginal women are patient and resilient, as they have told you many times, and continue to be so today, but it is your duty to listen to us and to act accordingly.
Quebec Native Women Inc. reminds you that the foundations of the act are paternalistic, patriarchal, colonialist and assimilatory. We want to share our concerns with you. We are seeing our people incorporate those legislatives principles and use them against their own. We cannot deny the effects of the Indian Act, residential schools and the 1960s scoop. They are still here today, sometimes even among our own people.
The history of colonization and assimilation has left its marks, and many wounds are still open and must heal within our own people and among our people. That healing of our people will be enabled by recognizing those of us whom governments have cast aside, so that we could together imagine a future for our people and our communities.
The native women of Quebec and Canada are bringing their voices together to demand that you put an end, once and for all, to sex-based discriminations, so that our young people and the next seven generations could heal from the assimilatory and enfranchising policies, from residential schools and from this cultural genocide.
We demand that you accept amendment “6(1)(a) all the way” beginning in the 1800s and that you eliminate the categories defined in subsection 6(2). You are constantly talking about reconciliation with our people. That reconciliation starts here, by giving back to the women and their descendants the place the government has taken away from them.
Quebec Native Women Inc. demands that you think about future generations and ensure that they don't have to fight for their identity and against discrimination. Let us rather fight for a world where our young people can reconnect with what it means to be Anishinabe, Eeyou, Innu, Abenaki, Atikamekw, Mohawk, Naskapi, Wendat, Malecite, Micmac or Inuit, rather than leaving them a world where they are losing the essence of their identity by losing a bit more of themselves in the fight against a system and a colonialist and assimilatory pieces of legislation like the Indian Act.
You are not responsible for what other governments did before you, or perhaps even what your ancestors did to our peoples, but you are responsible today should you decide to be complicit in the forced assimilation of our peoples by failing to accommodate the demands that have been put to you.
You have the power to decide for us. You took that power. We never gave it to you. Will you listen to us once and for all?
Thank you for making a decision you would make for your own women, your own children and your own future generations.