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

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

We talk about that as legislated assimilation, under Bill C-31, when it comes to second-generation cut-offs.

Ms. Green, did you have something to add?

5:05 p.m.

Executive Director, Native Women's Association of Canada

Karen Green

Yes, I just wanted to say that status membership is a legal construct created by the Indian Act. We're trying to deal with a citizenship issue--who are the citizens of our nations?--through language that's very difficult and divisive. It is a very imperfect instrument for trying to have this conversation. Does it mean that we should be immobilized? No, but it may not be the best way to have the conversation. What has happened, even among ourselves, is that all of these distinctions have been created because of this law.

We're trying to move forward. We know what happened with Bill C-31. We know what might happen with Bill C-3. And we have to find a way to move forward so that we can live without those distinctions in our minds, because they have been divisive. They haven't served any purpose other than to streamline, for funding purposes, who's an Indian and who isn't.

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

What would you like to see then, to get beyond this divisiveness? Because it is divisive. It sets family member against family member sometimes.

5:10 p.m.

Executive Director, Native Women's Association of Canada

Karen Green

I think part of what we need to do is to start reframing the language of the conversation around citizenship so that we don't fall into the categories of who's a status Indian and who's a member. That immediately gets you into a divisive situation. It creates categories of people: you're entitled to this because you're a status Indian; you're entitled to this because you're a member; you're not entitled to anything; or you're sort of a member because you're under Bill C-31. We need to change that language. I think the language for a citizenship discussion is about principles. I think everybody here would agree that family members deserve to have the same citizenship, and yet we don't even have that as a basic principle. I think if we start there, we could start moving a long way forward.

5:10 p.m.

President, Native Women's Association of Canada

Jeannette Corbiere Lavell

I would invite you to explore our citizenship law with the Anishinabe First Nation, because we went through all that.

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Bruce Stanton

Okay. Thank you very much, Ms. Crowder.

I have just a cautionary note. We are doing simultaneous translation, so on the pace of your answers, and I appreciate that we're under some timelines, just take your time, and everyone will be able to hear and understand in both languages.

Let's go ahead to Mr. Rickford for seven minutes.

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Greg Rickford Conservative Kenora, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Bonjour, Ms. Lavell. Greetings to you as well.

I want to thank you for appearing before the committee today, Ms. Lavell. I think it's entirely fitting that you are at or near the top of the list of people we talk to about this, given your longstanding and admirable history of working on issues of gender equity and status. In my view, your court case in the 1970s brought the issue to light. It was an important precursor to later legislative changes, including the ones we're talking about today, and the action this government is taking.

I have a couple of questions that are going to focus on the exploratory process. I'd like to devote a couple of minutes to each one and give you both the opportunity, at your discretion, to chime in.

Ms. Lavell, there was a recent press release from your organization urging the government to commit to a full and transparent process to explore the complex and broader issues related to citizenship. We have committed to undertaking a comprehensive exploratory process to such an end. I was wondering if you might take the opportunity to present some recommendations and/or suggestions on the best way to fully engage your organization and other organizations in discussing these issues in a more broad and meaningful fashion.

I share your comment earlier that you should have a say in this, and I want you to have an opportunity to make some of those suggestions.

5:10 p.m.

President, Native Women's Association of Canada

Jeannette Corbiere Lavell

Meegwetch.

I understand and recognize the importance of what you're saying. This is what we have been trying to do within our communities, in northern Ontario with the Anishinabe Nation.

I would invite you to visit our communities, our grand chiefs, who brought this about. We have done that community consultation on determining who our citizens are and the rights and responsibilities that go with that. At this point our leadership, the chiefs, are also looking at the implications of financing and how lands and acquisition of other programs would be dealt with within that context. That is ongoing right now.

The bottom line is that our people unanimously said we should have that right to determine who our people are, because these are our people within our communities. We have to live together. These are people who will ensure our future. They welcome them and they want to recognize them.

Of course there are certain responsibilities that go along with that, and we can work that out. Those responsibilities, the right to start learning our language, to learn our history, the right, if they so wish, to go to our ceremonies is who we are. It has been taken away by many factors, residential schools being one of them. But now is maybe the time when we can start restoring our traditions, restoring that dignity to our people. I think you could do it.

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Greg Rickford Conservative Kenora, ON

I think what I hear you saying, Ms. Lavell, is that one of the great benefits to the exploratory process is... I don't think saying “give it broader context” does it justice. You've mentioned a number of other key factors that have certain impact on this. I think it bodes well for the exploratory process to have that wider, more comprehensive input from people and organizations that are most affected by it.

Ms. Green, did you have an additional comment?

5:15 p.m.

Executive Director, Native Women's Association of Canada

Karen Green

I agree with what Jeannette said. I think the trick to the process is having to deconstruct all the problems that have been caused because of the legislation and the divisions and to have a conversation that is inclusive and based on our nations' concepts of citizenship as well as our cultural values.

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Greg Rickford Conservative Kenora, ON

Ms. Lavell, you also mentioned previously that first nations should come to consensus on as many issues as possible. We've heard that today. Do you think this kind of consensus is likely through the exploratory process? Can the exploratory process achieve this, and if so, what tools or structures would you recommend be put in place to ensure a high degree of alignment and consensus on the issues?

5:15 p.m.

Executive Director, Native Women's Association of Canada

Karen Green

If we take a principles-based approach, we might be able to get some consensus on the issue. For instance, the concept that families should be allowed to have the same citizenship is something I think everybody can agree to. So if we start looking for those basic, fundamental principles that no one is going to challenge, in that way we can begin bringing people maybe to more of a consensus or at least having a conversation that is broader-based and gets rid of some of the discriminatory language that has developed because of the imposition of the Indian Act in its various forms over the years.

5:15 p.m.

President, Native Women's Association of Canada

Jeannette Corbiere Lavell

We were able to discover that because these issues are so important, our people came together. There was disagreement on certain aspects, but in the long run they came together and said “This is what we can live with, this is who our people are, and this is what we must do.” And it was done. It can be achieved.

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Greg Rickford Conservative Kenora, ON

It sounds to me as though there is an important unification piece to this process as well.

5:15 p.m.

President, Native Women's Association of Canada

Jeannette Corbiere Lavell

It's with the nations, not the small communities.

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Greg Rickford Conservative Kenora, ON

Exactly.

5:15 p.m.

Executive Director, Native Women's Association of Canada

Karen Green

The other point is that we really need to get back to the basics of the importance of the role of women in our communities and to respecting that. That is the fundamental principle that will take us a long way.

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Greg Rickford Conservative Kenora, ON

I thought that's what I might hear.

Thank you. Meegwetch.

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Bruce Stanton

Thank you, Mr. Rickford. That pace was much better.

We have time for two five-minute questions. We will go to the Liberal Party first. Ms. Neville, you can take the first one, and then we'll go to the Conservative side.

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Anita Neville Liberal Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Thank you, Chair.

Thank you to both of you once again for being here and for the work that you do in so many arenas.

Ms. Corbiere Lavell, you mentioned the issue of a first nations community that in not too many years is not going to have a membership, or a substantial membership. I probably should have asked Ms. McIvor this question as well, but have you done any analysis on what impact providing status to all aboriginal women would have on first nations communities?

You're shaking your head.

5:20 p.m.

President, Native Women's Association of Canada

Jeannette Corbiere Lavell

To get back to your first question, there are studies that have been done by first nations themselves, looking at the future, at what is going to happen. That is available and it can be explored.

Definitely some of our first nations will become extinct, because under Bill C-31, as I said, in as little as three years there will not be any more status members born in some of these first nations. That is what is happening right now.

However, we can look at making Bill C-3 the first step, but broaden it. Take it the next step so that our people will not have to worry about becoming extinct—for lack of a better word, that's genocide—so that we will still be able to maintain our people. Right now, it's not their decision. Just in the way the legislation is, it eliminates their recognition. We didn't have any say in that legislation.

5:20 p.m.

Executive Director, Native Women's Association of Canada

Karen Green

The issue you raise is whether the right is contingent on the resources.

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Anita Neville Liberal Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Tell me more.

5:20 p.m.

Executive Director, Native Women's Association of Canada

Karen Green

We know there will be capacity issues in the first nations, because there were capacity issue when it was Bill C-31. So we have to address that issue in terms of what is the right contingent on, to be a member of your community. Is it contingent on the resources being available, or do you have the right regardless of the resources and that's a separate issue?

If we tie the right to resources, then we know there's going to be a problem. Clearly that's something we have to consider, because presumably the right isn't contingent on the resources.

5:20 p.m.

President, Native Women's Association of Canada

Jeannette Corbiere Lavell

I'd also like to mention the recent study that was done, which said that about 85% of our people, our women, are moving into urban centres, but even though they are moving into urban centres they still want that right to be part of their communities, just to be able to retain that right.

When we look at the resources, job opportunities and everything, if it's not there within our first nations to provide for their children, they have to go where there is employment. When we look at the resources, that could be part of it, but it can be resolved. We can work around that.