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

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Andy Fillmore

I'm sorry, we're out of time here, but maybe in the next question.

Mr. Schulze. If I could just take a moment, I'd like to introduce you to the committee in your role, if you wouldn't mind.

4:45 p.m.

Legal Counsel, Abénakis Band Council of Odanak

David Schulze

My name is David Schulze. I was the lawyer for Mr. Descheneaux, for Susan and Tammy Yantha, and for the two Abénaki communities in the Descheneaux case that led to the bill that's before you today.

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Andy Fillmore

Thank you.

I have to mention a rule in House of Commons Procedure and Practice, that we operate under, which is that if you're here as counsel, it's meant to be that you assist and counsel the witnesses, but you yourself are not testifying. I expect you would find some flexibility among this group, but I wanted to make sure we all understood the parameters there.

Thank you.

The next question is from David Yurdiga, please.

November 21st, 2016 / 4:45 p.m.

Conservative

David Yurdiga Conservative Fort McMurray—Cold Lake, AB

I'd like to thank the witnesses for participating today.

The first question is for Chief O'Bomsawin. When exactly did you find out about Bill S-3? I was kind of shocked to hear that it was like “Hello. Bill S-3 is here. Welcome. Come talk to us.” That's shocking to me.

I'd like to get it on record exactly when you found out about Bill S-3.

4:45 p.m.

Chief, Abénakis Band Council of Odanak

Chief Rick O'Bomsawin

If I want to be really fair and really nice, I'll say two weeks ago, but I don't believe it was even two weeks ago. Even for this particular meeting, I knew about it on Friday at four o'clock—and I have a four-hour drive.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

David Yurdiga Conservative Fort McMurray—Cold Lake, AB

We appreciate your efforts in coming here on such short notice.

Prior to coming to speak to us, would you have liked to see a process where you were engaged before you even got to this level? Obviously, we want to hear not only from you, but from the perspective of your community and other communities. My line of questioning was originally going to be on the consultation part. That's out the window, so I'm going down a different avenue now.

4:45 p.m.

Chief, Abénakis Band Council of Odanak

Chief Rick O'Bomsawin

We definitely would have appreciated being able to discuss this beforehand, to talk about it. As a matter of fact, they met with us at a chiefs assembly, and we requested it. Then this was the next thing we heard. There hasn't been any communication whatsoever, and I think this is one of our biggest complaints about this whole thing.

In the chiefs meeting it was made very clear that they were just there to speak to us and give us an update. They didn't really give us much information. They basically just said well, they're working on it and here's where they are, and they'll get back to us.

The next thing we heard was, as I said, about a week ago—or I'm going to say two weeks, to be fair—that this was passed, and it made no sense to us.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

David Yurdiga Conservative Fort McMurray—Cold Lake, AB

We heard that there would probably be—I forget what the number was—potentially over 28,000 people seeking Indian status. Do you have a feeling of how your community will be affected? There will be people in the community who will want to become members of your band or your community. Obviously, there has to be money attached to it if you're going to have people relocating or.... They don't even have to live there, but they'll be seeking services, whether it's a school or recreational facilities, whatever it may be.

Do you think there should be a program to address the financial burden that potentially your community might face?

4:50 p.m.

Chief, Abénakis Band Council of Odanak

Chief Rick O'Bomsawin

Again, at the chiefs assembly we asked for this program several times. We're told that the winning of the case...that the case was based on status; it wasn't based on financial commitment.

What has this done to our communities? I figure within less than five years from now, I will be completely broke in education. Health care is going to take a very a hard hit. Although the members are gaining their status back, and we have new people applying to be in our band and we're accepting them all, we have no additional funding for these people, which is causing a very big financial burden on our communities. As I said, we've asked several times if there was going to be new funding, if there was going to be anything on it, and at this point we're told no.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

David Yurdiga Conservative Fort McMurray—Cold Lake, AB

Do you think Bill S-3 goes far enough? Are there some areas that are not being addressed? Obviously, Bill S-3 would address some of the issues, but are there going to be some complications as a result of it?

4:50 p.m.

Chief, Abénakis Band Council of Odanak

Chief Rick O'Bomsawin

I'm going to let David answer that.

4:50 p.m.

Legal Counsel, Abénakis Band Council of Odanak

David Schulze

With the chair's permission, I'll try to do this very quickly.

We have identified at least four scenarios where there will be very odd results even after this.

The first is where a woman lost her status. Either she gave up her status before marriage through what was called enfranchisement or, if she was under 21, her father could have given it up for her. For instance, there's a woman in Odanak who lost her status at 20 because her dad decided to enfranchise the whole family. She's a 6(1); her son is a 6(2), and her grandchildren and great-grandchildren have no status. Her older sisters lost their status through marriage. They benefited from McIvor. Their children are now 6(1)s; their grandchildren are 6(2)s, and post-Descheneaux, their great-grandchildren will be 6(2)s. The only difference between them is whether they were enfranchised at 19 or 21.

The second is men who chose enfranchisement. There's at least one family like this at Wôlinak. A man marries a non-Indian woman, has a few kids, chooses enfranchisement, and gets his status back in 1985, as do his children born before the enfranchisement. They're all 6(1)s. His child born by the same mother after enfranchisement is counted as having only one Indian parent, so that child's a 6(2). He has some grandchildren with 6(2) status, some with no status, with the same degree of intermarriage.

The third is unstated paternity. Before 1985, if a woman didn't declare the father, he was presumed to be an Indian. Post-1985, he was presumed to be non-Indian unless it was proven. Before 1985 some women chose not to get married and not to identify the fathers to keep Indian status for their children. There's another family at Odanak, and that's what this woman did. Her kids born before 1985 are 6(1), and her kids born after 1985 are 6(2). Her grandchildren by the older kids have status; her grandchildren by the younger kids don't.

The fourth and final case is legal adoptions. Before 1985, when an Indian family adopted a child, that child was also an Indian only if their own natural, biological parents were Indian. Another family at Odanak had a natural child, and they adopted a child out of the orphanage, out of the cradle, and that son didn't have status until 1985. He got married before 1985, so his child is a 6(2), and the daughter, who was the natural-born daughter, her child, is a 6(1).

They are four scenarios where first cousins have different status with the same number of Indian ancestors, and two cases where you can have siblings, children of the same parents, with different status. Those are some of the scenarios we had hoped to raise with the registrar. Apparently, the registrar is not interested.

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

David Yurdiga Conservative Fort McMurray—Cold Lake, AB

Really.

4:55 p.m.

Chief, Abénakis Band Council of Odanak

Chief Rick O'Bomsawin

So in answer to your question, does the bill go far enough? No.

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

David Yurdiga Conservative Fort McMurray—Cold Lake, AB

No.

How much time do I have left?

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Andy Fillmore

You're well over, so thank you for the question.

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

David Yurdiga Conservative Fort McMurray—Cold Lake, AB

Thank you for the extra time.

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Andy Fillmore

The next question is from Niki Ashton, please.

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill—Keewatinook Aski, MB

Thank you very much for your very powerful presentations. I almost wish we'd heard them first to really place just how serious the situation is that we're facing.

My question for you, Mr. Descheneaux, and for you, Chief O'Bomsawin, relates to the bigger picture that we're discussing here.

The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples expressly forbids forced assimilation.

Mr. Descheneaux, you spoke about your personal questions and those of your children, about who you are and what this means for your identity.

We've heard the way in which this process around Bill S-3 in unfolding, heard about the lack of consultation, and heard about the fact that you heard about this—as you put it, being kind—two weeks ago. We're hearing from other first nations. We've heard from the AFNQL, and they are expressing serious concerns about the lack of consultation as well. Can you expand on how you feel about this process and how it relates to that question of forced assimilation?

You may answer in English or in French.

4:55 p.m.

As an Individual

Stéphane Descheneaux

I'll keep going in English. It's not been too bad so far I guess.

In my own case, I got a phone call last Thursday asking me to be here today. Then I called David, and I started talking to David about what we were going to do. For me, in my mind, it was like the start of the machine. We're going to start to talk about things and stuff. You think you need money; you need this and that. David talked to me and asked me where I was going on Monday. I said, “I'm going to Ottawa.” I sent him the email I had. They never had it, because we have the one for tomorrow morning. I asked David if that was going to be the start after the ruling. Are we going to sit at the table, and are we going to talk about that this and that. We shall cover this, and that stuff we don't, and then we ended up with the project almost done. I was like in shock. I figured those people who are higher than I am....

That was the feeling I had this morning when I got there. It's like something was cut off or was missed somewhere.

Rick.

4:55 p.m.

Chief, Abénakis Band Council of Odanak

Chief Rick O'Bomsawin

To be honest with you, the feeling I get is that one more time this is just going to be pushed down our throats and we're going to get whatever they give us. We've asked several times, as I said, to discuss the matters. We're told that there's really nothing to discuss. I was actually a bit blunt in the chiefs meeting. I said to them that they were trying to rush this thing too fast. They don't have the time to do what needs to be done. I asked why they didn't ask for an extension. She asked why I didn't ask for one. I said, “Well, I can't. The reality is we won the case. I would look foolish if I asked for an extension.” But I would be more than willing to say that we need an extension. The feeling I get is that although we talk about the Human Rights Act, and although we talk of all these things, at the end of the day, it seems like Indian Affairs is going to say, “This is what it is. If you don't like it, take us back to court and fight again.” I just find that process ridiculous.

I'm probably one of the chiefs at the table who is strongly known for negotiations. I'm a strong believer that we all sit down at the table and we talk. We're not going to solve all the problems of the past, and we never will, but it wasn't us who made these problems. It was our ancestors who made the problems. I think today we need to sit down and say, “What is the future and how are we going to work together?”

I feel once again that we're not working together. Indian Affairs is here; we're here, and there is no discussion. To hear of things last minute is ridiculous. As I said, I was told about a conference call last Friday, that we were going to discuss things. I thought it was a conference call where we were finally going to sit down and say where we are going and what we are going to do. The call lasted all of about 15 minutes, and the call was to tell me to be here today. That's what the call was about. I said to her, “Hang on a second. What about all the stuff we discussed in the chiefs meeting? What about all the stuff we talked about?” Did you ask for an extension?” She said no. I said, “You know that we'll be back in court.” She said, “Oh, that's fine.”

I don't know. I just think it's the wrong way of approaching this.

We're here at the table and we're willing to talk. First nations communities are saying, “Listen. There's a problem.” The government is saying there's a problem. Let's sit down and solve this problem once and for all. Let's stop going to court. Let's stop fighting with one another. It's ridiculous. We're wasting my time and your time, and it's all a matter of a group of people saying, “Let's do this right the first time.” I don't understand.

How do I feel? I'm very angry about it. I know the other first nations chiefs are angry about it. We're saying that once again, it's the same story.

5 p.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill—Keewatinook Aski, MB

Thank you.

You may have heard, Chief, that in the presentation by government officials, there was a reference of the department continuing to assess the potential cost increases of Bill S-3 on the post-secondary education program and its funding approach. We know that the 2% cap with respect to sponsorship at the post-secondary level continues to be in place. A statement like this indicates that certainly there are no figures with regard to the additional needs. Does this statement concern you? Do you think this is a major concern that warrants an extension, but also is something that we need to take very seriously as parliamentarians?

5 p.m.

Chief, Abénakis Band Council of Odanak

Chief Rick O'Bomsawin

We definitely need to take this very seriously. I find it very hard to believe that she said that they don't have any figures. Well, I was a bit disappointed. I know I was only sitting in the audience, but I was a bit disappointed that she didn't have any figures. I think they should have come a bit more prepared. We know what the impact is. Each one of our communities has already felt the impact. We know how many. In my own community membership I have already over 400 new members. I'm expecting close to probably 1,600. It's not hard to do the math, and they're saying that they don't have any figures. I don't want to back up, but I also heard them say, “Well, we have so many members and we're behind in the registration of our status....” Behind? I have members applying for status today and it takes two years to get your status, and they're telling me that they're not really behind, that they have about 35,000 people who are registering. I think they're a lot further behind than they think.

5 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Andy Fillmore

Thank you.

The next questioner will be Joël Lightbound.

5 p.m.

Liberal

Joël Lightbound Liberal Louis-Hébert, QC

I'll start, Mr. Chair, and then I'll share the rest of my time with Mr. Rusnak.

I thank the witnesses for being here with us today.

My question has to do with the extension you spoke of, Chief O'Bomsawin and Mr. Descheneaux.

The Superior Court judge recommended to the government that it identify and settle all of the other discriminatory situations that could be problematic. So this concerned more than the ones targeted in Bill S-3.

Did anyone explain to you why the government is going to proceed in this rather restrictive manner regarding Bill S-3, and why they did not ask the court for an extension?