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

6:05 p.m.

National Chief, Congress of Aboriginal Peoples

6:05 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Good! Thank you very much. I'm finished.

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Bruce Stanton

Thank you.

Merci, Monsieur Lemay.

Madame Crowder, for seven minutes.

6:05 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

I have two sets of questions, but I want to start with Mr. Saulis.

Mr. Saulis, I want to echo my colleague's appreciation of the friendship centres. In fact, as you're well aware, many parliamentarians take it so seriously that we've formed a non-partisan friendship centre caucus, of which myself and Conservative Chris Warkentin are the co-chairs. I really want to acknowledge the good work that you do and how seriously underfunded you are in delivering that work. I know one of the friendship centres in my own riding has to hold fashion shows and sell coffee in order to raise enough money to deliver programs and services.

I want to touch on the numbers for a moment. The number is around 45,000, but it could be higher in terms of people who may be eligible. As you correctly pointed out, I think there could be substantially more people who will express an interest. Because the friendship centres are so visible in many of our communities, they're the points of contact.

I want to go back to 1985, when Bill C-31 was passed. The Globe and Mail ran an article that said government officers worked two shifts a day and added more than 500 people per week to the country's official Indian population. The system became swamped, with more than 38,000 applications seeking status for more than 76,000.

How do you think the friendship centres will deal with the influx of potential applicants without any additional resources?

6:10 p.m.

Policy Director, National Association of Friendship Centres

Conrad Saulis

There's very little doubt the organizations are financially struggling. The friendship centres are presently struggling due to the lack of increased funding since 1996. Additional work is going to be created through the addition of hundreds of thousands of people coming to ask questions and take up valuable time for their valuable questions. It will put more pressure on the very limited staff the friendship centres currently have.

Friendship centre employees will as much as possible help every aboriginal person who comes and asks questions, but they need to have the right information. The Department of Indian Affairs needs to be able to provide and train friendship centre staff to provide the proper information to those who are seeking the information so that as they wind through this maze of where to go next it will be easier to try to make it as expeditious as possible for them.

Friendship centres will definitely be there. They'll always be there. They continue to make sure that urban aboriginal people have a place to turn to.

6:10 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Before I turn to Ms. Lavallée, to summarize, you need (a) recognition of the role that friendship centres play in terms of dealing with inquiries, (b) some resources to accommodate that, and (c) some training so that friendship centre staff can actually provide the correct information, because this is a very complex matter. Do I have it correctly?

6:10 p.m.

Policy Director, National Association of Friendship Centres

Conrad Saulis

Yes, you've got it. Right on. Thank you.

6:10 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Okay, great.

Ms. Lavallée, I just want to point out something for everybody. In the recent court of appeal extension consideration, the court actually pointed out that:

Under the circumstances, we might well have acceded to a request for a longer suspension of our declaration had it been sought. The Attorney General's factum, however, sought only a 12-month suspension of any declaration of invalidity.

So in fact we could have had the time to do the appropriate work to address broader discriminatory measures, if the government, or in this case the Attorney General, had only asked for an extension. I just wanted to set that out, because people are saying we had to act within the 12 months when in fact the courts might have considered a much longer time, because they recognized that it was desirable for government to consult with first nations people before proceeding with amendments to the legislation. So it was possible that we could have actually done a much better job of this, by the court's own statement. I just wanted to put that on the record.

I want to turn to your discussion paper and thank you, because I understand that members did receive this. You pointed out a couple of important things in here and I want to refer to the Powley decision. In here you state that the Supreme Court “has already stated in Powley that Métis identity cannot be determined by blood quantum. It seems no more appropriate for Indians as a means of identification than it is for Métis.” That's on page 14, just before the conclusion under the heading “True Partnership for Change”.

I think that's a valid point, because one of the things we've heard fairly consistently from witnesses is that it really isn't up to the government to be determining this with some arbitrary criteria. I thought this was an interesting section of the paper, because not only did you identify some discriminatory practices that are still in place, but you also identified the very issues around blood quantum and who gets to determine citizenship. I just want to acknowledge that it was a really important point you raised around who is determining citizenship and why is there this arbitrary blood quantum. As you well know, many of the nations say, “Butt out. It's up to us to determine who has citizenship”. So I'd like you to comment on that.

Then I also want you to comment on your recommendation. I just want to be clear. You're suggesting that we actually abandon what's in Bill C-3. There is the person in the first part and the second part and third part. Instead, you are suggesting that we take the original 1985 bill and take paragraph 6(1)(a) of the Indian Act and insert the words, “or was born prior to April 17th, 1985, and was a direct descendant of such a person”. So you're suggesting that we abandon subparagraphs 6(1)(c)(i), (ii), (iii), (iv) and everything else, and just use your proposed amendment. That's what you're saying. So do away with all these other qualifiers that they've put in here.

I think you've already acknowledged that it won't deal with the broader discrimination. It won't deal with every case of discrimination, but in your view—

6:15 p.m.

National Chief, Congress of Aboriginal Peoples

Betty Ann Lavallée

It's a starter.

6:15 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

—it's a starter.

So what cases—

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Bruce Stanton

We're actually out of time, Ms. Crowder.

I don't know if you have a brief response. I know that was a fairly involved question, but we'll give you a little bit of time just to try to respond to it and then we'll go to our last question.

6:15 p.m.

National Chief, Congress of Aboriginal Peoples

Betty Ann Lavallée

The key words are “direct descendant” and “born”.

To address the blood quantum issue, it's ridiculous. I hate that blood quantum. It has no bearing whatsoever on who or what an aboriginal person is. Children are what they're taught to be; it's their upbringing, it's their exposure to their surroundings, it's the beliefs that are instilled in them. It's no different from someone adopting a child at birth and raising that child. Is that child not your own? It has nothing to do with the blood in his veins or what his DNA is. He was raised with your values. He was raised as a part of the community.

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Bruce Stanton

Okay, thank you, Ms. Crowder, Ms. Lavallée, and Mr. Saulis.

Now we'll go to Monsieur Duncan.

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

John Duncan Conservative Vancouver Island North, BC

Thank you very much.

It's been a long day, but thank you both for coming here and talking to us. Betty Ann, thank you so much for your supportive comments regarding the Human Rights Act amendment and the matrimonial real property bill, which is now before the Senate committee, and also for your comments regarding the exploratory process.

I think all of us are labouring somewhat as a result of the fact that we don't have your document in front of us and that your testimony was quite quick, but I think the last question and explanation may have fleshed it out enough for me to ask you this question. I believe what you're saying would actually eliminate the section 6(2) category as well, would it not? Would it not completely override it and take it out of play?

6:15 p.m.

National Chief, Congress of Aboriginal Peoples

Betty Ann Lavallée

Basically you would have one category of aboriginal person or Indian under the Indian Act. There would be no more section 6(1) or 6(2), 6(1)(a) or 6(1)(c), or whatever. An Indian is an Indian is an Indian.

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

John Duncan Conservative Vancouver Island North, BC

And all descendants thereof, forever.

6:15 p.m.

National Chief, Congress of Aboriginal Peoples

Betty Ann Lavallée

Exactly, if they choose to identify. This goes right back to the heart of parents who raise their children in that belief system and it goes to the individual who chooses to identify. It's about self-determination.

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

John Duncan Conservative Vancouver Island North, BC

Right. We can only describe it as a major substantive amendment to the bill. It basically changes everything.

6:15 p.m.

National Chief, Congress of Aboriginal Peoples

Betty Ann Lavallée

But as I said, when we did these walk-arounds with our communities, this was just a starter. They expect to have substantial discussions. We've always advocated at the Native Council of Canada, as we were thus known when we began and then changed to the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples after the constitutional, and as the founder of the friendship centre movement, that we believe in nationhood. We believe in reconstitution of our historical nations of Mi'kmaq, Maliseet, Passamaquoddy...

I'm a Mi'kmaq woman who lost status because I married a non-aboriginal man and I joined the military. I had the audacity to serve my country for 18 years; therefore, I was penalized, and so are my children and my grandchildren.

6:20 p.m.

Conservative

John Duncan Conservative Vancouver Island North, BC

I think I will go to Mr. Saulis, not because I'm tired of the subject, but because I got the answer to the question I was asking.

Many of us, maybe all of us, have at least one friendship centre in our riding, so we know the work that you do. I believe there is an issue right now with core funding. Beyond the fact that it has been frozen for 17 years, there is currently a two- or three-week lag that the government is trying to address. But my question goes to the new youth program funding, which I think is about $120 million or $150 million over the next six years. I assume that's quite exciting. When that comes into play, does that not address some of your funding issues from the standpoint that a lot of this has to be new money? Am I not correct? So it would allow you to do a whole bunch of things to make up for the fact that your core funding has been frozen for a long time and help you to leverage other moneys as well, I would assume.

6:20 p.m.

Policy Director, National Association of Friendship Centres

Conrad Saulis

The friendship centres have had a long history of leveraging money from other federal departments, provincial and territorial governments, and municipal governments. The new funding will be brought into the friendship centres and will help to provide much-needed services for youth. Its impact on the core funding or the core operations of friendship centres is not readily evident. The funding discrepancy has been there for such a long period of time, and with the urban aboriginal population continuing to increase—which is now at 54%—it's hard to believe that, for lack of a better description, one allocation of funding will have an overriding impact on the scope of challenges that friendship centres are having. But it definitely will help, as you said, to lever funding from other sources, which friendship centres will continue to do.

6:20 p.m.

Conservative

John Duncan Conservative Vancouver Island North, BC

Is it largely new money, or is it replacing...?

6:20 p.m.

Policy Director, National Association of Friendship Centres

Conrad Saulis

I don't think there's a lot of new money. I think it's replacing what was there.

6:20 p.m.

Conservative

John Duncan Conservative Vancouver Island North, BC

That's all I have.

LaVar, I think you have a quick question.

6:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Bruce Stanton

Mr. Payne, do you have a question?