Thank you, Mr. Chair.
On behalf of the Assembly of First Nations, I would like to thank you, Chair, and the members of the committee for welcoming me here today to speak on behalf of Bill C-3.
I would like to acknowledge Karen Campbell, who is from our offices, and acknowledge as well the national chief and my fellow colleague, Regional Chief Guy Lonechild.
I'll briefly introduce myself. My name is Puglaas--Jody Wilson-Raybould--and I come from the Musgamagw Tsawataineuk people of northern Vancouver Island. I am registered under subsection 6(1) of the Indian Act, and I am a member of the We Wai Kai Nation, formerly known as the Cape Mudge Indian Band. I am on council for my home first nation and I am the regional chief for the AFN from British Columbia. For the AFN I co-lead the portfolio on supporting first nations governments, and within that portfolio is the subset of citizenship and nation building.
I know this committee has already heard a lot of the background information with respect to McIvor, and I was pleased to see that Sharon herself appeared here two days ago, so I won't go over that background information. What I wish to provide to the committee today are some general observations on what it means to belong to a first nations community and a vision for the future of first nations that goes beyond the determination of status and membership under the Indian Act to one that recognizes the authority of our first nations across Canada to determine our own citizenship and our rights and responsibilities from that citizenship.
Since the original trial decision in McIvor, I have heard from a number of first nations people, both men and women, who are genuinely excited about the prospect of becoming registered under the Indian Act as a result of the proposed amendments. At one level this is about correcting discrimination, but at a more fundamental level it is about belonging and about association with a group. For policy-makers and administrators, the issue of increasing members might be viewed simply in terms of budget pressures, service provision, and access to resources; at its core, however, this is about community, and this is powerful. Our people are our greatest resource.
As it was in the 1980s regarding Bill C-31, it is a shame that the debate over registration sometimes solely becomes focused on scarce and limited financial resources and tax exemptions rather than the benefits of inclusiveness and self-determination.
In British Columbia, as in other parts of the country, our nations are developing our own models of citizenship. The nation decides who is a part of that nation, who is a citizen, notwithstanding the legacy of the Indian Act and membership. In the context of modern claims, the determination of citizenship is a fundamental conversation that results in the collective setting the rules and the individual electing to be a citizen or not. Citizens are beneficiaries of treaties and can participate in the political institutions created through the treaty or agreement, but--and more importantly, for the collective--in exchange they are subject to the obligations of citizenship.
In announcing the proposed amendments to the Indian Act, Minister Strahl also announced an exploratory process centred around registration, membership, and citizenship issues. I congratulate the minister on this initial step and commitment, but we can go further.
A discussion of citizenship within the broad context of nation building would be evidence of a fundamental shift in the relationship between our nations and the crown, consistent with the spirit of intent of our historic treaties, and necessary to conclude modern land claims arrangements with nations that enjoy unextinguished aboriginal title and rights. It reflects the beginning of a healthier and more mature relationship between our peoples and the crown, not only with respect to the determination of citizenship outside of the Indian Act, but also to govern through our own institutions of government, with appropriate jurisdiction and authority outside of the Indian Act. This discussion necessitates going beyond exploration and information-gathering on a wide range of issues.
There are many opportunities for first nations in this country, but there are necessary prerequisites before our nations will fully realize these opportunities.
First and foremost, there is a need for appropriate governance, which includes, of course, the determination of citizenship. There is also a need for fair access to lands and resources so that our first nations economies will be viable, with adequate own-source revenue generation, power to support critical aspects of our governance, and the provision of programs and services.
In addition to appropriate governance and lands and resource settlements, we of course need well-educated and healthy citizens. Our citizens, perhaps more than any other Canadians, are required to participate in decision-making around our own very existence and future.
Given the colonial legacy with Canada and before significant and fundamental change can occur in our communities, there is a requirement for public votes and referendums. To put it another way, to become fully decolonized we need to vote in favour of change, so we need a citizenry that can not only participate in the workforce and become active contributors to our own society and Canadian society generally, but also a citizenry that can engage in a serious conversation about social change and be part of that change. Ultimately, it will be our people's recognition of themselves as citizens of their nations and not as Indian Act registrants or members of bands that will mark the transformation of our nations.
This, of course, poses many challenges, not the least from those leaders and those in our communities who have internalized the Indian Act's identity and are overshadowed by the administrative determinism established through this colonial ordinance. Stated another way, for some first nations people, their identity has become intertwined with the colonial definition of “Indian” under the law-invested statutory rights.
Turning to Bill C-3, the AFN supports any amendments to the Indian Act that would rid it of discrimination. Discrimination in any nature or form is not acceptable, this notwithstanding that many of the chiefs and the communities they represent have not gone through the process to establish citizenship rules beyond the Indian Act or Indian Act membership codes, and are very concerned about the potential financial implications of implementing Bill C-3.
It will be essential that adequate resources be made available to first nations to avoid any further hardship in first nations communities and for our citizens, regardless of where they reside. There must be a realistic picture regarding additional funding requirements on the ground.
The McIvor case was started by our people. Sharon was supported by our people, and we continue to support the efforts of all our people to end discrimination wherever it may be found. I am fully aware that other witnesses before me have called to end all discrimination that exists under the Indian Act and would like the committee to broaden the scope of the bill. We support these aspirations. I am also advised that any expansion of the bill's purpose to go beyond addressing gender discrimination would probably require a new bill to be introduced, thereby delaying the rectification of gender discrimination. At the very least, if the committee is not able to go beyond gender discrimination issues in this bill, this committee, I respectfully submit, should assure itself that the amendments are being made to address all gender discrimination issues in the Indian Act and not just those applied in the case of Sharon McIvor.
In closing, long-term solutions do not lie in further tinkering with the Indian Act. Our nations have an inherent right to determine who is and who is not a citizen of our nation in accordance with our own laws, customs, and traditions. This is fundamental to self-governance. The real and ultimate solution to addressing ongoing discrimination in the Indian Act lies with full recognition of first nations' jurisdiction over our own citizenship. The contribution that will be made by our full citizenry, when legally recognized through appropriate citizenship processes and in part supported by interim legislation such as Bill C-3, will be profound. While some registrants or citizens of our nations may be somewhat apprehensive to return, and in some cases may initially be made to feel unwelcome by those who have an interest to exclude them, we must not forget that we are family. We will have connections and we have potential for making great contributions to our nations.
The excitement in the eyes of those who identify with being part of our nations but who, through no fault of their own, have been excluded legally from their inheritance is empowering, and it is a sign of better times to come as our nations take full control of our lives and our future. It starts with determining who we are.
Finally, Parliament is in a unique position to work in partnership with first nations to undertake a comprehensive review of the Indian Act and its related policies and regulations, to examine their intrusion into first nations jurisdiction, and to put forward mechanisms for recognition of, and staged and supported implementation of, first nations jurisdiction. We hope that you will support this critical work of supporting first nations governments.
I will end as I began: this is part of a broader process that we recommend around indigenous nation building and rebuilding.
Thank you for your time. Gilakasla.
I would happy to answer questions from the committee. Thank you.