[Witness speaks in Mi'kmaq] Pam Palmater. I'm from the sovereign Mi'kmaq Nation on unceded territories in Mi’kma’ki.
I want to thank you for allowing me to come today to speak to some of my concerns with Bill S-3. First, I think it's important to acknowledge that we're on Algonquin territory. Second, we're here today for the efforts of indigenous women who have continued this battle for many decades, like Mary Two-Axe Early, Jeannette Corbiere Lavell, Yvonne Bédard, Sharon McIvor, Sandra Lovelace, and now the second generation of litigants fighting for gender equality for indigenous women, including Jeremy Matson, Lynn Gehl, Nathan McGillivary, and of course, Stéphane Descheneaux.
My primary concerns will be laid out in the submission that is being handed out.
The most important one is that Bill S-3 does not address all known gender discrimination. It doesn't. You've heard from other witnesses who have given very specific examples. My examples are not exhaustive, but they include grandchildren who trace their descent through Indian women who married out pre-1951, the illegitimate female children and their descendants who trace descent from Indian men born pre-1951, and also the differentiation and hierarchy that was created between paragraph 6(1)(a), the male category, and paragraph 6(1)(c), primarily the female category. They have come to be known as the “real Indians” and the “wannabe Indians”. In fact, 6(1)(c)s are the same in descent; they just happen to be indigenous women and their descendants.
A problem that also causes gender discrimination is with Bill S-3. They've now included even more complex differentiation in terms of categories. You have proposed paragraphs 6(1)(c.01), (c.2), (c.3), and (c.4). This also disproportionately impacts the descendants of Indian women who married out. Here's the problem with that. There is no legal or policy justification on behalf of Indian Affairs to have everyone identified in this way.
Programs and services are addressed through contribution agreements based on a membership or the status Indian registry. They never have to record whether you get health, if you're a 6(1)(a), (b), (c), (d) (e), (f), or 6(2). There's no justification for it, so then what's the alternative reason for it?
What it does is it places a scarlet letter on women and their descendants for having committed the sins of marrying out, having had illegitimate children, or worse, being born female. That's a scarlet letter that doesn't attach to Indian men and their descendants who have married out and have intermarried for many successive generations.
The other issue is the hierarchy of Indian status between subsections 6(1) and 6(2), those who can pass on status and those who can't. Those in the “who can't” section are somehow seen as defective and cannot pass on their status to others. It disproportionately impacts indigenous women, the children of unwed Indian mothers who cannot name the father, or who will not name the father because of the reasons that LEAF annotated, and also when fathers deny paternity or when they refuse to sign application forms. INAC has given the power to Indian men to have an impact on the children of indigenous women in this way. Last is the denial of compensation to women who have suffered discrimination for so long.
Bill S-3 also does not provide adequate protection for membership. You'll recall that pre-1985, Indian status and membership is synonymous. Even after Bill S-3, it will only be synonymous for Indian men, not for Indian women. Bill C-3 didn't provide those protections, and now Bill S-3 doesn't provide those protections.
The constitutional protection for gender equality is just that. Section 15 of the charter is equality for men and women. Subsection 35(4) of the Constitution, for anyone who wants to exercise aboriginal treaty rights, must be guaranteed equally between men and women. Article 44 of UNDRIP, which this government has said it's going to implement, also says there's equality between men and women. There is no legal option to negotiate, consider, consult, or agree our way out of gender equality.
If you look at the traditional laws of indigenous nations in this country, I have yet to find one in all of my research that promotes gender inequality.
Canada cannot proceed to phase two without addressing all gender inequality. It acts as a legal prerequisite. You cannot talk to our first nations without our indigenous women and their descendants there. It is unconstitutional. It violates all of our traditional laws, and it would act as a legal barrier to even starting the conversation in phase two.
Bill S-3 also needs to be accompanied by funding for first nations. You'll know that INAC has set aside millions of dollars for itself to deal with Bill S-3 applications, but it didn't set aside a single cent for first nations to deal with this at the community level.
Canada obviously failed to engage in any sort of legal consultations by its own admission.
The impact of Indian registration, as we discussed, is very serious. It's not just about programs and benefits; it's a root cause of murdered and missing indigenous women. It's lack of access to elders, language, ceremonies, and even access to powwows. There are powwows children cannot attend unless they have a status card, no matter how they were raised or whether they were raised in a first nation community.
It also won't address any of the pending litigation. Sharon McIvor's litigation is still outstanding. The Descheneaux cases are still in the hopper. There are Lynn Gehl's, Jeremy Matson's, and Nathan McGillivary's cases, and the Canadian Human Rights Commission has many. And of course, there's the Bill C-3 class action that was brought about because of gender discrimination.
My recommendations, very quickly, are for paragraph 6(1)(a) all the way. Every indigenous man and woman who had children prior to 1985, married or not, should all get the same kind of status so that indigenous women and their descendants don't have to wear the scarlet letter of paragraph 6(1)(c). You need rightful compensation for those who have been knowingly denied gender equality since 1982. For pre-1982, Justice said that's a barrier; there have been legal consultations.
My last word to you is that if we do not address gender discrimination now, in all likelihood, it won't happen. In phase two, they want us to deal with aboriginal treaty rights, nation to nation, getting rid of the Indian Act, and the minister has said that her standard for that is absolute consensus. There will never be, in the history of humanity, consensus on gender equality, but that's the law of the land.