Evidence of meeting #35 for Indigenous and Northern Affairs in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was status.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Joëlle Montminy  Assistant Deputy Minister, Resolution and Individual Affairs Sector, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development
Martin Reiher  General Counsel, Department of Justice
Candice St-Aubin  Executive Director, Resolution and Individual Affairs Sector, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development
Nathalie Nepton  Executive Director, Indian Registration and Integrated Program Management, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development
Effie Panousos  Senior Policy Advisor and Manager, Treaties and Aboriginal Government Sector, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development
Stéphane Descheneaux  As an Individual
Rick O'Bomsawin  Chief, Abénakis Band Council of Odanak
David Schulze  Legal Counsel, Abénakis Band Council of Odanak

5 p.m.

As an Individual

Stéphane Descheneaux

In my case, I would go back to what I said previously.

We were waiting for a call to sit with people to talk about that. The first call we got was to be here today, so someone, somewhere, lost the puck.

We end up here today finding lots of blind stuff, such as how come nobody talked to us about that, when nobody ever came to us to talk about it.

As the chief said earlier, how was it the case for me and my kids that my own brothers and sisters who filed after me got their cards before me?

Try to figure out what's wrong with the machine. Something is wrong somewhere, and we have an example again today.

I had the call last week to come in here to start talking about which way or from what angle we should have a look at this, not having a closed project that's almost done.

Chief.

5 p.m.

Chief, Abénakis Band Council of Odanak

Chief Rick O'Bomsawin

We brought this question up several times. We asked them several times for a direct answer on why they are not looking at other cases. This was brought up in the chiefs assembly. I had, I think, 14 chiefs there asking the same question. It is very clear that it said to try to solve all the problems, and not just gender. The reply from them on four occasions was that this is our interpretation, that they interpret it as just gender, and that those are the only cases they are going to look at, at this time.

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Joël Lightbound Liberal Louis-Hébert, QC

The department representatives indicated that with Bill S-3, they expected that 28,000 to 35,000 additional people would become eligible to registration as status Indians.

Can you evaluate how many people would be eligible if the bill applied to all of the categories you mentioned in your presentation?

November 21st, 2016 / 5:05 p.m.

Legal Counsel, Abénakis Band Council of Odanak

David Schulze

One or two people in Canada would be able to make such an assessment, but we did not hire them.

That said, I would like to clarify one point.

Just as an extra piece of information, the Government of Canada got two extensions after the McIvor judgment.

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Joël Lightbound Liberal Louis-Hébert, QC

Thank you very much.

I am going to give the rest of my speaking time to Mr. Rusnak.

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Don Rusnak Liberal Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

You've mentioned several times that you wanted to have a discussion. Who specifically in the department, or which department, has been pushing back?

5:05 p.m.

Chief, Abénakis Band Council of Odanak

Chief Rick O'Bomsawin

You had them sitting right here a little while ago.

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Don Rusnak Liberal Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

It's all the same people.

5:05 p.m.

Chief, Abénakis Band Council of Odanak

Chief Rick O'Bomsawin

Yes, they're exactly the staff I've been meeting with. They're the same ones who met with us at the chiefs assembly and made it very clear that they were only looking at this particular case, and that was it.

Then again, today I heard about stage two, which, as I said, I've never heard anything about. The last time we spoke to them, which was Friday, they never mentioned anything about that. It's the same team that has been working on this from the beginning.

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Don Rusnak Liberal Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Were you engaged in conversations from the beginning about something that appeared to be a second stage?

5:05 p.m.

Chief, Abénakis Band Council of Odanak

Chief Rick O'Bomsawin

No. As I said, there has been no consultation at all.

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Don Rusnak Liberal Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Other than whatever conversations you say you've had....

5:05 p.m.

Legal Counsel, Abénakis Band Council of Odanak

David Schulze

Just to clarify, in the spring of this year I wrote to my opposing counsel once the appeal had been withdrawn, and I said that I hoped my clients would be hearing from her clients. She said, “Oh, yes. I'm sure you'll be getting a letter from the registrar.” That was sometime this spring. The next thing I heard was that the proposal had gone up on the website of Indian Affairs. Then there was one meeting in Montreal with the chiefs, which Chief O'Bomsawin mentioned; that was September 8. Then it was silence again until someone mentioned to me that there was a bill before the Senate.

Just to be clear, there's still a case before the court. I'm still the lawyer in that case. The only contact I've had has been from the clerk of the committees of the Senate, but I did thank him.

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Don Rusnak Liberal Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

It's almost a situation of what to do now in terms of where do we go. I'm an individual who likes conversation. If we have conversation, and we don't withhold information for whatever reason, we are open and sharing, and build relationships, there are things that can be done. Now that's just me. Over many years I have dealt with the department in the different roles I've held in my career. This is now a different role I play as a member of Parliament and sitting on this committee.

I find it frustrating what you say you've gone through trying to deal with the department. In previous roles I had been frustrated dealing with the department back then as Indian and Northern Affairs. I just don't know where this should go right now. I have an idea. I know where you would like it to go for further discussion. If I'm getting it right, the department is asking the court for an extension, so that we can do this right.

5:10 p.m.

Chief, Abénakis Band Council of Odanak

Chief Rick O'Bomsawin

Yes, exactly. I'm also a strong believer in communication. I really believe that if we discuss these things, we can solve the problem. A one-way discussion doesn't work. I know it sounds crazy, asking the people who won the case for an extension, but I don't want to do this again.

We have a perfect opportunity. It's not time to close the door and move on to stage two. The door is open. We're here to discuss. Let's sit down and see how we can solve this problem. How can we sort this all out?

There's no doubt about it. With the influx of status, I see the burden on Indian Affairs, and I can appreciate that, too, but we need to have communication.

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Andy Fillmore

Ms. McLeod, please. We're into five-minute rounds of questions now.

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Thank you to the witnesses.

Do you ever have anyone under your citizenship code whom you accept that is not status?

5:10 p.m.

Chief, Abénakis Band Council of Odanak

Chief Rick O'Bomsawin

Yes. Citizenship code isn't based on status. The citizenship code in our community is based on a family member. As the status system runs out, as we say, which I never did figure out how that ran out, but it does run out. If the status runs out, to the community, the individuals are still family members, so we'll bring them in as citizens.

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

In the case of, was it your daughter, Mr. Descheneaux?

5:10 p.m.

As an Individual

Stéphane Descheneaux

I even went through that. When my mom got it back in 1985, I was on the first citizen code they had on the reserve. I was one of them. After that, I got status, and my daughters are under the code now.

Try to figure that out. I'm going to slide out and then pass the puck back to the chief. Every single day, I have new friends in Canada who write to me and ask me questions, to let them know when I am going to start to talk to the government about the new law, about the changes. Then, like a clown, I tell them that I will.

I'm going to tell them when. I'm going to tell them when the machine is going to be on. I told them last week that I was going to Ottawa to see what's been done. That's how we feel about that. For the citizen stuff, it was approved; they made it certain. You were there.

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

In your case, with your community, they've been very accepting regardless of this piece. I would say, Chief, that's probably not the case in all communities.

5:10 p.m.

Chief, Abénakis Band Council of Odanak

Chief Rick O'Bomsawin

Let me explain some of the problems with the citizenship code. In our community we're very open. In some communities, they are very closed. They're even closed to some of their own status members. These are individual communities and I can't speak for them, but let me explain to you one of the problems with the citizenship code.

Under being a status member, a status member can own land and live on reserve and own a house, where a citizen doesn't really have the right to own land and have the same exemptions that a status member has.

Let me tell you how it went with my little girl. When she was very young, when we first came out with the citizenship code, she went to school and her friend said to her, “How come you're more Indian than I am?” Little kids don't understand what the difference is between a citizen and status.

The problem with the citizenship code is it creates racism and stereotypes within our own communities because children don't understand. This was the biggest question among the kids, “Why am I a citizen and you're an Indian?” There are the complications with it too.

At the beginning I remember that my community had thought that the chief who was in there at that time would issue cards for citizens. Some would have a citizenship card and the others would have a status card. This is the problem we created and that young children don't understand. We're trying to explain a real, complex system to children, when they just want to go to school and have fun and be who their first cousin is or even who their sister is and not understanding it.

5:15 p.m.

As an Individual

Stéphane Descheneaux

That's what they were in my family. My own kids were playing with their own cousins who were status. We have the same grandmothers, but we have an uncle instead of an aunt. They were the same kids, like “I am more Indian than you are,” exactly like Rick's. You try to explain that to them, but you can't because there's no logic to it.

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

You might have heard earlier I talked about one of the communities that I represent getting a letter—it was in June or July—but you didn't get that same letter talking about how there was going to be a consultation process.

5:15 p.m.

Chief, Abénakis Band Council of Odanak