Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I first want to acknowledge the Algonquin people, whose territory we're in, and I also want to thank Mr. Lemay for convincing the committee that we need five more minutes.
Thank you, Mr. Lemay.
Six Nations of the Grand River has the largest population of any first nations community in Canada: 23,183 citizens, with approximately 12,000 residing on reserve, along with 5,000 other people, including non-status, non-member, and non-natives.
While it is the elected council of Six Nations presenting today, it is important to note that our traditional government, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy council of chiefs, still functions at Six Nations. We have preserved our traditions, customs, and practices, as well as our Iroquoian languages.
As the largest population of status Indians in Canada, we also have the greatest potential to have this bill impact us more profoundly. It is possible that, once registered, many of our people will want to return to our community, or already may be in the community, to establish themselves as part of their community, to know their culture and traditions, and maybe even learn their language. This will lead to an increased demand for our services, such as housing, education, and health. We already operate at maximum capacity in these areas due to INAC's 2% funding cap. We do not know the full potential impact of this bill because we do not have the resources to undertake such a study.
The title of Bill C-3, “an Act to promote gender equity in Indian registration”, makes it hard to believe that in this day and age, with all the legislation in place to protect all women from gender discrimination, we are still petitioning the Government of Canada about the unfair treatment of the women from our nations. I applaud Ms. Sharon McIvor for her persistence and dedication in ensuring that this inequality is not carried on to her grandchildren and future generations of our people.
Since the inception of the Indian Act registration sections, first nations women have been targeted as being less of a person than first nations males and have been punished and banished because of choices they made in marriage. The federal government has also waged a mental war on our people by legislating our identity to the point where many have labelled themselves as a status Indian, non-status Indian, Bill C-31 Indian, and I am sure some will refer to themselves as Bill C-3 Indians.
In fact, we of the Six Nations are, and always have been, citizens of our nations. This is our birthright. It is not your right to legislate our identity, yet somehow we continue to allow this. The time has come where we must take control of our own identities and move beyond seeking fairness and approvals from an outside government that has continually waged this mental war. As the elected chief of the largest first nation in Canada, I am putting the Government of Canada on notice that we intend to make this a reality in our community.
I would like to bring forward our concerns regarding the intent and potential impact of Bill C-3 in four specific areas: first, duty to consult; second, gender equality; third, financial impact; and fourth, first nations jurisdiction.
First, in terms of duty to consult, any new federal legislation that has the potential to affect our aboriginal and treaty rights triggers a duty to consult and accommodate, as reaffirmed in various decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada—for instance, Haida, Taku, and Mikisew Cree decisions. The federal government's duty to consult and accommodate has clearly not been met with Bill C-3. You have heard from sponsors of the bill that consultation is not necessary because it does not affect our rights. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is nothing more fundamental to our rights as indigenous nations than to determine who our citizens are and to protect their rights. The federal government should be prepared to move on this issue in a broader perspective than Indian registration.
Second, eliminate all gender inequality. I am in agreement with Ms. Sharon McIvor's recommendation that if the Indian Act is the standard that Canada uses to determine status and it is introducing this bill as a way to remove gender inequality, then Bill C-3 needs to go further than the court of appeal decision and remove gender inequality from the time it was introduced in history. It is not necessary for the federal government to adhere strictly to the court of appeal decision, as they had an opportunity to eliminate all gender discrimination with this bill but chose not to. We agree with Sharon McIvor that all people born before April 17, 1985, should be placed in the 6(1)(a) category. Bill C-3 will not accomplish full gender equality. It is just another quick-fix solution to keep the governments out of litigation in the interim.
Third, there is the financial impact of the increased population. In the 1985 amendment to the Indian Act, the federal government misjudged the number of our people wanting to return to their communities. It has never provided the promised adequate resources. To compound the problem, federal funding to first nations communities has been capped at 2% since 1996.
In the case of Six Nations, the impact on funding for returnees on Six Nations was dramatic. In 1985 we had approximately 11,000 people registered both on and off reserve. In 1987 we had 3,880 additional people added to our registration list, which represented a 36% increase to our population.
We have no confidence that the federal government has fully assessed the potential impacts or has done sufficient analysis on the financial implications for first nations from this proposed amendment. As this bill will increase the status population of all first nations in Canada, we recommend that increased funding must be a key component of the proposed legislation.
Then there is the first nations jurisdiction. First nations citizens and members of first nations communities will continue to be denied the full recognition of their status even after this bill passes based solely on whether they descend from a matrilineal line versus a patrilineal family line.
Article 33.1 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples--UNDRIP--states that indigenous peoples have the right to determine their own identity or membership in accordance with their customs and traditions. This does not impair the right of indigenous individuals to obtain citizenship of the states in which they live. We consider the exploratory process proposed by Minister Strahl as a first step in ensuring article 33.1 becomes a reality in this country. However, we will not support a process where cabinet wants to examine ways of seeking gender equality in Indian registration. We do not wish to work in a process that supports Indian registration; we want the process to look at the larger picture of first nations citizenship determined by the nations. This is providing that there is a will from cabinet to do the work required and the accompanying resources appropriated to work on this issue. This must be accompanied by a legally binding commitment from the federal government to recognize and register as citizens any person a first nation deems to be their citizen.
What we are talking about is first nations citizenship, not the registration provisions that still deny birthrights to first nations citizens under an antiquated colonial piece of legislation. We need to stop the legislated identity for our people and recognize first nations governments' jurisdiction to identify their citizens based on an individual's birthright and lineage.
This also means that all persons recognized by first nations as citizens must be eligible for federal funding based on these new numbers. It also means that first nations governments will need to be proactive and take the step of developing and defining who their citizens are in a written code or law. Once such a law is in place, it should replace the Indian Act provisions on Indian registration and membership, and it would become the law for the first nation government and community.
We are recommending that this committee urge the federal government to move beyond the Indian Act registration process and begin a process that would start the recognition and acceptance of first nations models of citizenship laws. We further recommend that this committee urge the cabinet to follow through on Minister Strahl's commitment to begin this exploratory process.
In conclusion, we recognize the limitations this committee may have on this legislation, but we also recognize that this committee has the capability and authority to recommend that the federal government move beyond the current Indian Act registration process. We urge you to do so.