Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Good morning to the members of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.
It's an honour to be here on the unceded territory of the Algonquin people to present you with some priority issues of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples.
With me today is our new vice-chief, Dwight Dorey, who will be speaking to you concerning the Daniels case and subsection 91(24) of the Constitution Act of 1867. My presentation to you will focus on remaining discrimination in the Indian Act, matrimonial real property, band membership, along with aboriginal citizenship, education, and the long-gun registry. There are many more issues that will need to be discussed at a later date, including health, economic development, housing, homelessness, language, and culture.
Since 1971, the congress has been at the forefront of the aboriginal people's movement in Canada, advocating for our constituency of forgotten peoples. We advocate for the rights and interests of status and non-status Indians living off reserve and Métis. The year 2011 marks the 40th anniversary of the founding of our organization. Despite the successes that have occurred over the last 40 years, the Canadian public continues to associate aboriginal issues with Indians living on reserves. The reality is that 80% of the ancestral aboriginal population now live off reserve, with 60% living in urban areas. This is the most significant demographic factor for policy makers, yet it's the one where the least action takes place because of jurisdictional issues.
On May 18, we were pleased to learn that Prime Minister Harper had changed the name of Indian Affairs and Northern Development to Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. This was an important step, better to reflect the scope of the minister's responsibilities for all aboriginal peoples. This type of straightforward thinking and inclusive decision-making is what we need to make progress.
The Indian Act remains the principal expression of the federal government's jurisdictional policy over Indians and lands reserved for Indians under subsection 91(24) of the Constitution Act of 1867. The political and social reality affecting aboriginal peoples is based by and large on this outdated legislation. The Indian Act status and membership rules have a long history of impacting the lives of aboriginal peoples. For example, of the almost $10 billion per year that the federal government invests in aboriginal-specific programming, almost 90% goes to assist on-reserve status Indians. This outdated policy framework needs to be reshaped and recast to reflect the fact that the federal government has the responsibility to act in a fiduciary capacity for all aboriginal peoples.
This was the central finding of the largest, most extensive inquiry undertaken in Canadian history, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. In 1996, it reported that the relationship between aboriginal peoples and non-aboriginal peoples needed to be fundamentally restructured. The facts of aboriginal life have changed, and it's time for policies and frameworks to reflect the new reality.
CAP is pleased that the government has reintroduced Bill S-2 concerning matrimonial real property. This legislation will address a longstanding gap and will better protect the rights of aboriginal people, particularly women living on reserve. For many years, we've been calling for an effective MRP regime on reserve. Aboriginal women on reserve face unfair and unconstitutional discrimination in the exercise of their right to a fair share of matrimonial real property after the breakup of a marriage or common-law relationship. We view the bill as a positive step to ensure that aboriginal women and children receive equitable distribution of matrimonial real property assets in the event of divorce, separation, family violence, or death.
The congress has never bought into the Indian Act, and we have a long history of fighting this legislation. Back in 1974, with financial assistance from our organization, Jeannette Corbiere Lavell was the first non-status woman to bring a challenge to the Indian Act. Today, our women continue to be discriminated against through the Indian Act, but through the brave work of people like Sharon McIvor, Sandra Lovelace Nicholas, as well as many others, we are taking this legislation apart piece by piece.
I'm a registered subsection 6(2) Indian. Under the law, my son is not entitled to be registered as an Indian. We are graded like cattle or grades of beef. It is unadulterated discrimination, and fighting this is the central priority for the congress.
In January of this year, Canada proclaimed into force Bill C-3, Gender Equity in Indian Registration Act. This was a direct result of the McIvor decision, which took 20 years to move through the courts. Because this legislation is very narrow in scope, sex discrimination, unfortunately, remains in the status registration provisions. Not all descendants of the Indian women who lost status through marrying out have gained status back. The first generation was covered by Bill C-31 in 1985, the second generation through this year's Bill C-3, but further generations remain cut off from Indian status.
The only way to be sure that such discrimination is eliminated from the Indian Act is to place descendants of status Indian women on the same footing as descendants of Indian men. Today aboriginal women are not treated equally as transmitters of status. As a result of this discrimination, thousands of their descendants have been forgotten.
Another remaining problem relates to the post-1985 Indian Act registration rules and how they operate in cases of unstated paternity. In 1985 Canada went from a one-parent descendancy rule, which favoured Indian men, to a new system called the second generation cut-off rule. Now whether you were an Indian man or woman, mixed parenting is only allowed for one generation. After the second generation of mixed parenting, a person is no longer an Indian. Today, when a status mother does not disclose the father's identity, the child's registration can only be based on the mother's entitlement. From 1985 to 1999, this resulted in the downgrading or outright loss of Indian status to approximately 50,000 Indian children.
The new second-generation cut-off rule will result in a drastic reduction of the status Indian population over the course of a few generations. Status Indians, like many other Canadian citizens, fall in love and have children with people from other cultures. This common social occurrence, when paired with the second-generation cut-off rule, has the perverse result of depriving the children of these unions of either their Indian status or the ability to pass status to their own children.
It has been estimated that within 60 years only one-third of the descendants of the current status Indian population will be entitled to status. The number will continue to decline. Academics and demographers alike have argued that the Indian registration rules introduced in 1985 will lead to the legislative extinction of status Indians.
A clear solution to this problem would be for Canada to return to a one-parent descendancy rule for Indian status and apply it equally to men and women. However, everyone here can acknowledge that the capacity of courts to deal with these issues is very limited. CAP is seeking a political commitment to examine and address aboriginal citizenship, with all the associated broader questions.
Since the passage of Bill C-3 in December 2010, the federal government has launched the exploratory process. It is not a consultative process, which we like, and I'm pleased to say the government has not pre-determined or pre-defined the agenda or questions with regard to Indian registration, band membership, and aboriginal citizenship. CAP is currently engaged with the process and we're hosting dialogue sessions across Canada.
Section 74 of the Indian Act allows bands to elect chiefs and councils according to their own customs. Currently about 30% of bands have adopted their own custom codes. Under these rules a band can admit to membership people who do not have status. They can also deny membership to any status Indian except Indian women restored under paragraph 6(1)(c).
Despite this apparent opportunity to break away from the Indian Act, 30% of the bands have adopted membership rules that are more restrictive than the Indian Act itself. CAP was pleased when the Conservative government delivered on its promise to repeal section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. Since 1977, section 67 has shielded bands from complaints of discrimination stemming from membership codes plus other issues.
In June of this year the transition period ended. We expect that many of the custom election codes will now be challenged under the Canadian Human Rights Act. My understanding is that Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development has not provided any resources to the bands to review and update their membership codes or to ensure they are in compliance with the Canadian Human Rights Act or the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. That is really unfortunate, because there are some bands that are being very proactive in addressing this issue. I believe in giving credit where credit is due.
In regard to aboriginal citizenship, CAP takes the position that the right of aboriginal peoples to determine our own citizenship is an inherent right derived from the Creator and protected both under section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, and under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Our right to self-government was never distinguished.
We view the exploratory process as the beginning of a long process of questioning and thinking, and as we move towards self-determination and citizenship, we are being given the chance to come up with the solutions to long-lived problems we've had to face.
The possible self-government structures for urban aboriginal peoples are wide-ranging. CAP has been working on these challenging issues for many years and at the same time struggling with the reserve focus of federal government policies and programs. Federal and provincial wrangling has slowed progress for urban aboriginal populations.
With the resolution of the federal government's responsibility regarding Métis and non-status Indians, aboriginal and state relations will be very clear, and some of the on-reserve and off-reserve distinctions will be resolved.
My colleague Dwight will speak further to that.
The education of our children and youth is a priority of the first order for us. Aboriginal youth have the highest dropout rates, the lowest levels of literacy, and the lowest levels of skills development. The odds are better that our youth will end up in jail than that they will graduate from high school. It is education that will improve our economic situation and our lives. It is education that is integral to reducing poverty in our communities and eliminating our dependencies.
At the Summit on Aboriginal Education held in February, we were encouraged by the discussions about strengthening aboriginal success in education. The provincial and territorial ministers of education have recognized that in the next 15 years, aboriginal students will represent over 25% of the elementary student population in some provinces and territories. We encourage the Prime Minister to call a first ministers meeting on education at which an interjurisdictional commitment to improve school experiences for our students could be mobilized.
Last, I want to talk to you about the Canadian firearms registry. Currently, aboriginal firearms owners who are not compliant with the Firearms Act can incur criminal liability for unauthorized possession of non-restricted firearms under sections 91 and 92 of the Criminal Code. In the last couple of weeks, the government gave notice concerning the bill to abolish the long-gun registry.
CAP joins many other aboriginal organizations across Canada in calling for an end to the long-gun registry. We view the licensing and registration requirements imposed by the registry as an infringement on our right to hunt. Aboriginal hunters and harvesters are not part of the crime problem, and the registry is ineffective and wasteful. The infringement on aboriginal treaty rights to hunt, trap, or fish is not acceptable to our organization. CAP remains supportive of regulations requiring hunters and harvesters to secure an acquisition licence and to follow rules for the safe storage of firearms.
In conclusion, I wish to express our appreciation for the attention the Prime Minister has brought to aboriginal issues by meeting with national aboriginal leaders. In the days ahead, my colleague and I look forward to active engagement with various House of Commons standing committees that have an important role to play in moving the aboriginal agenda forward.
At this point I'll turn to my colleague, Vice-Chief Dwight Dorey, to speak on the issue of section 91.24.