Evidence of meeting #8 for Indigenous and Northern Affairs in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was status.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Sharon McIvor  As an Individual
Gwen Brodsky  As an Individual
Jeannette Corbiere Lavell  President, Native Women's Association of Canada
Karen Green  Executive Director, Native Women's Association of Canada
Betty Ann Lavallée  National Chief, Congress of Aboriginal Peoples
Conrad Saulis  Policy Director, National Association of Friendship Centres

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

John Duncan Conservative Vancouver Island North, BC

Well, it's a very meaningful date.

4:25 p.m.

As an Individual

Sharon McIvor

Yes, it's a very meaningful date, and people born before then will be affected, as will people born after.

The last thing I want to say is that as an individual I shouldn't have to decide whether or not I have the right to exercise full equality, and someone else shouldn't be able to say whether I can exercise my full right to equality. So consultation, or whatever that commitment is, shouldn't affect the status part of this.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Bruce Stanton

We're at the end of our first hour, Ms. McIvor and Ms. Brodsky.

4:25 p.m.

As an Individual

Gwen Brodsky

May I make one brief comment?

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Bruce Stanton

You have 30 seconds.

4:25 p.m.

As an Individual

Gwen Brodsky

This committee, this government, and Parliament have a wonderful opportunity before them to remove this terrible stain of longstanding on Canada's reputation, domestically and internationally, as a promoter of women's human rights. That recognition and the opportunity to do that will not be fulfilled if this job is not done fully--and you can do it.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Bruce Stanton

Thank you, Ms. Brodsky.

We're going to suspend briefly for a couple of minutes. Then we'll get right back, because our next witnesses are here.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Bruce Stanton

I call the meeting to order.

We are resuming consideration of Bill C-3, an act to promote gender equity in Indian registration. We're delighted to have with us Jeannette Corbiere Lavell, who is the president of the Native Women's Association of Canada. She is joined by Karen Green, the executive director.

Because we have a full hour, we will proceed directly to Ms. Lavell's presentation.

You've done this before, of course, and it's great to have you back at our committee. You may make a ten-minute presentation, Ms. Lavell, and then we'll go to questions from members.

Ms. Lavell.

April 13th, 2010 / 4:35 p.m.

Jeannette Corbiere Lavell President, Native Women's Association of Canada

Meegwetch, Honourable Chair.

[Witness speaks in Ojibway]

My Anishinabe name is North Star, and I'm from the Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve on Manitoulin Island. I would also like to acknowledge the territory of the Algonquin people.

Having said that, I would just like to take a minute and recognize your invitation for us to be one of the first presenters here. We recognize and appreciate that. Generally, we're usually at the end, but we do get the last word in at times.

While Sharon is here, I'd also like to say that we are thankful to her for all of her efforts. It is through her energy and determination and many times her own funding that we were able to see Bill C-3 come into being. It was through her sheer will this has come about. We recognize this and support her. She will be one of our achievers when we look back at our aboriginal history, along with all of the other ones she talked about who've gone on.

I think this is a really important time in our history. Having said that, I want to share with you that thanks to her, I have five grandchildren, two of whom have full status. My oldest grandson, Nigani, has full status, as does my oldest granddaughter, Autumn Sky. However, my three little ones, Kyana, Eva, Ulbriana, do not have recognition as members of my community right now. But hopefully we will be able to see this happen and I will be able to tell them that they are full members of my community, their grandmother's community, that they will be recognized and will be able to learn our language, learn our history, learn our ceremonies, and learn our culture, because that is who we are and it is very important.

This is the underlying issue in what we're talking about here. If any of you feel that connection to your homes, your homeland, if it's Canada or elsewhere, you know how important it is, and that's what we feel about our communities. Marriage should not have anything to do with it. I would just like to state that from the very beginning.

Just as a little side point, paragraph 12(1)(b) of the Indian Act did not come from us as aboriginal people. That was imposed on us from you know where. We would really like the opportunity to return to our traditions, to who we are as a people, our practices and customs, including having that respect and recognition for our women, remembering that it is our women who will ensure our future generations. That is our responsibility, to ensure that our nations will be here tomorrow and for many generations to come.

Right now, there have been studies done that show that in three years' time, one reserve in Ontario, the Scugog First Nation, will have its last status Indian born in 2013. Now what's going to happen to that first nation? If we continue the way we are going, that is what's going to happen to many others. I don't think any of us in Canada, whether aboriginal or not, will allow that to happen. We recognize that Canada is a great country.

I also want to say that the Native Women's Association of Canada consists of provincial and territorial organizations right across the country and we represent first nations, Métis, and Inuit women. We were created and we support the issue we are talking about here today.

As I said to Sharon, we do support all the work she has done, and we will continue to support her work in bringing about equity to eliminate any of that ongoing discrimination that is present within the current bill. I hope it will not be present in the next piece of legislation that comes about. I think all of you here, with our support--and our little push, perhaps--will make sure that for my grandchildren, the three I was telling you about, their recognition back into my community will have meaning. It will mean something to them. They can say that they have full recognition equal to their cousins, cousins who are descended from a male ancestor.

Right now that is not there, but hopefully we will be able to see that. It will be up to you to ensure that those three little girls will have just as many rights, that they are not lesser than, or that they will not be excluded.

I understand that's what Sharon is talking about. There should not be any more discrimination within legislation.

I was going to take you back through our history, but I'll make it brief. I know that time is going, and Sharon has already covered many of the definitions and all the descriptions.

I will just tell you that from 1876 to 1970, no one challenged the Indian Act. It was just a given. I guess that right, for us, to make changes in the legislation that was affecting us just was not there. We did try in 1970--I tried--and, as Sharon pointed out, lost by one vote. The time was just not right. We had most of the aboriginal organizations, especially the National Indian Brotherhood at the time, who opposed us. We lost by one vote.

Had the time been different, or had it happened now, I don't think the story would be the same. We are changing, and the time is right for us all to work together to bring about true equity, true justice, for all of us as Canadians and as aboriginal people within our community.

I was also going to say to you that because we didn't have a voice in the early seventies, we created our aboriginal women's organizations. Mind you, this is just recognizing the role we had. We actually brought it forward, and thank goodness, because we will not stop our struggle to achieve this equity until we follow the teachings of our grandfathers and our grandmothers--that is, to recognize that our children are gifts from the Creator. As mothers, as grandmothers, as great-grandmothers, we have the responsibility to care for them, to nurture them, to ensure that they have the rights and the benefits so they can grow into strong, wise, and protecting people. They will be our future. I think we can do it if we do look at this legislation.

Now, if we look at definitions within Bill C-3, it is contentious. I know there is a lot of work to be done. But I would just like to share with you my recent association and work with the Anishinabek Nation in Ontario. I was the commissioner on citizenship there, and we drafted our own citizenship law. It was unanimous in all the communities. We recognized that as long as you had one parent who was Anishinabek--within our description of Anishinabek Nation--you would be entitled to recognition and membership as citizens within the Anishinabek Nation. That would be within our own citizenship law.

It is workable because of the attitude right now—what is happening within government, in the throne speech, with the Prime Minister mentioning that Canada is looking at endorsing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This would be a great opportunity to also work with us as aboriginal peoples, as aboriginal nations, so that we can determine who our citizens are. That is our right as a nation and it would be much easier on the rest of the government if we had that right.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Bruce Stanton

Okay. We're over our ten minutes. Would you like one minute or so just to sum up and then we could go to questions, Ms. Lavell?

4:45 p.m.

President, Native Women's Association of Canada

Jeannette Corbiere Lavell

Thank you.

I was wanting to share with you our history and to state that I think now is the time where if we work together, we can bring about this equity. Take all the discriminatory sections of any legislation affecting us and bring about that sense of human rights and justice that we should be entitled to as well. As aboriginal women we've been at the bottom rung of all the other statistics. We have the lowest income and employment. For everything, we're at the bottom. Now is the time when we should be given that right to equality. That our children as well as ourselves, and those of our sisters who are wanting to be part of our community under the unstated and unknown paternity... That is also important.

Meegwetch. Thank you for listening. I have lots more in my paper that you are welcome to. Meegwetch.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Bruce Stanton

Thanks, Ms. Lavell.

Now we'll go to our first round of questions. We'll begin with Mr. Russell, who's going to split time with Mr. Bagnell. Let's go ahead for seven minutes.

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Todd Russell Liberal Labrador, NL

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Good afternoon. It's great to have you with us, Ms. Lavell and Ms. Green. It's always a pleasure. And I do want to acknowledge your long journey as well, and the contributions and struggles you have made in the cause for equality.

A couple of questions are arising from what you have said. Would it be fair for me to say that NWAC, which is also studying Bill C-3, acknowledges that there would be continued gender inequality or discrimination under the Indian Act? Would that be a fair statement?

4:45 p.m.

President, Native Women's Association of Canada

Jeannette Corbiere Lavell

As I understand it, that is exactly what will continue to happen unless changes are made. Right now our second generation, my grandchildren, are entitled, but not the next generation. So that would be ongoing. We'll just have to come back and deal with it again.

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Todd Russell Liberal Labrador, NL

Listening to you and Ms. McIvor, we're starting to get a sense of the historic time we're in. Going back to 1985, that particular piece of legislation was so momentous and historic at the time, but in hindsight it also gave us a number of challenges, particularly for aboriginal women.

If we could do it, technically, through this bill, to make amendments to remove the continuing gender discrimination that exists under the Indian Act—because this bill deals only with the Indian Act and certain provisions of the Indian Act—would you want us to go down that particular road as a committee?

I'm trying to get a sense. If we could do it, right now... I'm not saying it ends all discrimination that the Indian Act itself gives rise to, but if we could end all gender inequality discrimination under the Indian Act by amendments to this legislation, would you want us to pursue that particular avenue?

4:50 p.m.

President, Native Women's Association of Canada

Jeannette Corbiere Lavell

Most definitely, and I would say that would be the first step in eliminating any kind of discrimination. If we were able to take that first step, then I'm sure the rest would naturally fall into place as well. That would be a great step forward in rectifying the injustices, the inequity that is still present within this legislation.

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Todd Russell Liberal Labrador, NL

How much time do I have?

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Bruce Stanton

Another four and a half minutes.

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Todd Russell Liberal Labrador, NL

Larry will only get three.

I think the amendment strategy... I'm not saying it can be done, even on the technicalities, but I think we have to give it some thought. We have to give it some real deliberation. I'm telling you right now that's where I'm at with this.

I want to ask you another question. I think the amendment strategy—if we could go that way... Would we, without prejudice to the exploratory process that the government wants to carry out...? What kinds of discussions have you had with the federal government about this exploratory process? Have there been any discussions around even the broad strokes of what it's going to involve, how NWAC would be involved, the types of resources that would come? Has there been any discussion of this particular nature with NWAC and with yourselves?

4:50 p.m.

Karen Green Executive Director, Native Women's Association of Canada

Yes, there have been some discussions. We've met with the minister on it. We've met with officials as well.

As I understand it, the process is just rolling out. We're not exactly sure what it's going to mean, other than it's a process to talk about views on what we're framing as citizenship, to have that broader discussion of what that would mean. But in terms of all of the specifics, that hasn't been clarified to the full extent yet.

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Todd Russell Liberal Labrador, NL

The Honourable Larry Bagnell.

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

I have one question, just to confirm what everyone's been saying. I think we have 100% agreement here, so I just want to confirm.

I think Ms. McIvor basically said that this removes discrimination in some cases--maybe 45,000--but there are probably a couple of hundred thousand people in total. So there would need to be a few amendments related to the 1951 date--everyone before 1985, I think it was, get to subsection 6(1) status, dealing with the unmarried children.

If we made these amendments... It's not something you need to explore or debate. If you're going to be treated equally, regardless of your gender, then you don't have to explore that. That's a right. It should just be done. We could have the exploratory process for citizenship, as you said, in various first nations.

So basically, I just want to make sure we have 100% agreement here. We should make every attempt we can to make the changes that would eliminate any gender discrimination in the Indian Act. It is fairly black and white--either you're discriminated against or you're not. So we should just make those changes. Is that agreeable?

4:50 p.m.

President, Native Women's Association of Canada

Jeannette Corbiere Lavell

I totally agree with you. If that was done, then I would think that as aboriginal women, as an aboriginal women's organization, maybe part of our work would be done. We could move on to other things. But that would be really good to see if it took place in the very near while.

4:50 p.m.

Executive Director, Native Women's Association of Canada

Karen Green

I just want to add the point that it needs to be removed in law. But what we saw as a result of Bill C-31 was that discrimination in application continued. And the reason for that discrimination... We all know what that was.

It's not a reason not to proceed with taking the gender discrimination out of the Indian Act now. But I think we need to be cognizant of that, because you can have equality in law but not in application. And we need to talk about what needs to be done to ensure that aboriginal women or first nations women actually get accepted back into the communities.

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

On the application, I believe someone told me that if we do make these great changes with this law, or even improve this law, it will still take some people six years to actually get their... Are we that far behind? Is that a huge problem that needs to be corrected? It sounds inconceivable that someone would have to wait that long. That's longer than the Second World War.