Thank you very much for inviting me. I would like to introduce my friend and colleague, Gwen Brodsky, who will be taking part in probably helping me answer some of the questions that I anticipate you will be asking me.
First, I want to briefly introduce myself. I am Nlaka’pamux, from the Lower Nicola Indian Band, in south-central British Columbia, about two and a half hours northeast of Vancouver. I live and work in my community. I drive by the place where I was born every day when I go to work, so I haven't moved very far. Gwen, aside from being a lifelong friend, has also been one of the lawyers on this particular case.
I've had many questions asked about what role does my band play and what does my band think. I have a letter here from my chief that I would like to read to you:
Re: appearance of Sharon McIvor, an LNIB member:
I wish to advise the Standing Committee that the Lower Nicola Indian Band is in full support of the work of our band member, Sharon Donna McIvor, in her efforts to achieve full equality for first nations women of Canada, their children and their grandchildren. I commend the committee for making time to listen to her views. Bill C-3 is a large part of her achievement, having spent 20 years to get a court hearing on the issue of the grandchildren of first nations women who married outside their nation.
Indian status is a citizenship issue and one fully deserving of its equation to Canadian citizenship. When Canadians need to obtain passports to go to the U.S., the minister responsible for passports ensures all Canadians can obtain passports on an expedited basis in the closest town or city possible. The Minister of Indian Affairs has been severely remiss in his duties to first nations, many of whom have waited and are still waiting for status under Bill C-31. The list is reportedly over 100,000. You must do all in your power to ensure these grandchildren of women who married outside their first nations can receive their citizenship in an expedited manner, along with the 100,000 still waiting under Bill C-31.
I remind you that Ms. McIvor was given, by court order of B.C. Supreme Court, full status for her children and grandchildren based on sex equality and this is substantially reduced by the B.C. Court of Appeal. I encourage you to remove the 1951 date, which reduces full equality for all those who have suffered under this sex discrimination.
I would be pleased to make an appearance before the committee.
Respectfully, Lower Nicola Indian Band Chief Don Moses
So, on record, my chief has supported and continues to support this effort. I also want to acknowledge that although this is my part of the fight, I'm not the leader of this fight. I didn't begin this fight, and I want to acknowledge Mary Two-Axe Earley, Nellie Carlson, Jenny Margetts, Jeannette Lavell, Sandra Lovelace, and other women who have taken this fight throughout the years.
For the members, I have a copy of a presentation that Mary Two-Axe Earley gave to the government in 1978. I'm not going to read the whole speech, but there are a couple things that I think are important for you to understand that it isn't only today that this issue has been a problem. She said:
Let us chronicle our pain, point by point:
1. When the Great Spirit calls us we cannot be buried alongside our ancestors in the tradition burial grounds where their bodies have gone to rest. This is the most cruel condition of our imposed exile. Yet people from the neighbouring City of Montreal can bury their dogs on selected plots of Reserve land.
2. We cannot inherit property given to us by our ancestors or bestow property [on] our children. It is as though we were non-entities, not to be accorded the normal recognition afforded by all free people.
We are prohibited from exercising the right to political participation, including the right to vote and to advocate the candidacy of those worthwhile persons who can be an asset to our people. We cannot be Indian in word or action. We are the victims of cultural genocide.
One more passage:
We Indian women stand before you as the least members of your society. You may ask yourself why. First, we are excluded from the protection
—this is 1978—
of the Canadian Bill of Rights
—that's section 67—
or the intercession of any human rights commission because the Indian Act supercedes the laws governing the majority. Second, we are subject to a law wherein the only equality is the inequality of treatment of both status and non-status women. Third, we are subject to the punitive actions of dictatorial chiefs half-crazed with newly acquired powers bestowed by a government concerned with their self-determination. Fourth, we are stripped naked of any legal protection and raped by those who would take advantage of the inequities afforded by the Indian Act. Raped because we cannot be buried beside the mothers who bore us and the fathers who begot us...we are subject to eviction from domiciles of our families and expulsion from tribal roles. Because we must forfeit any inheritance of ownership or property. Because we are divested of the right to vote. Because we are ruled by chiefs steeped in chauvinistic patriarchy, who are supported by the Indian Act, drafted by the rulers of this country over 100 years ago. Because we are unable to pass our Indianness and the Indian culture that is engendered by a mother to her children, because we live in a country acclaimed to be one of the greatest cradles of democracy on earth offering asylum to Vietnamese refugees and other suppressed peoples while within its borders its native sisters are experiencing the same suppression that has caused these people to seek refuge in the great mother known as Canada.
Those are the words of Mary Two-Axe Earley in 1978, and I'm bringing those words today because they are current 32 years later. We have a piece of legislation being introduced that continues to perpetuate sex discrimination against Indian women and their descendants.
Jeannette Lavell was one of the first to bring the issue to court, followed by Sandra Lovelace, who took it to the UN. Jeannette was unsuccessful. Sandra was successful. And in 1985 Minister Crombie changed the act, Bill C-31. But when the act was changed in 1985, parliamentarians knew there was residual discrimination. Crombie's records show that they understood that some of us would still suffer from the residual discrimination.
My case started in 1985. I got into the court system in 1989. When I started, my oldest son was 14, and my grandchildren...I had not thought of them. I hoped I'd have them some day, but they weren't anywhere on the horizon.
As a result of some of the litigation, my son received his status in 2007, which is 16 years after we started. When we started he was a minor, and, as the case proceeded he was then added on under his own right, because he was old enough.
My grandsons, who were not thought of when I started, will be 17 and 19 this year.
We knew that it was discriminatory. You, as parliamentarians of the day, knew it was discriminatory, and yet they forced someone like me to take it through the courts and have the courts decide that it was discriminatory. As a result of that, my son lost 15 or 16 years of his entitlement, and my grandsons have not been recognized as having that entitlement yet.
I'm not the only one. There are thousands of women and thousands of grandchildren out there who are still looking to have this put right.
The government is now responding to the court decision. The court has told you that you have to change it. Section 6 of the Indian Act is potentially being struck down because it discriminates against Indian women.
I understand from reading Bill C-3 that you have crafted some kind of remedy. I am here today to ask you, to plead with you, to include all of those women and their descendants who are discriminated against, not just the narrow view that the B.C. Court of Appeal addressed. As parliamentarians you know that the court does not draft legislation. They just put it back into your lap so you can do what is right.
It's up to you to do what is right and get rid of that residual discrimination--