Good morning, as I shake myself up. It's raining outside again.
Kwe, bonjour, and good morning to Chairperson Mihychuk, committee members, distinguished witnesses, and guests.
My name is Francyne Joe, and I am the interim president of the Native Women's Association of Canada. Alongside me is our executive director Lynne Groulx; and I am happy to introduce our new director of strategic policy, Courtney Skye.
I would like to acknowledge the Algonquin nation, on whose unceded territory we are meeting today. I would further like to recognize and honour the hard work on the part of individuals, organizations, and members of the Senate, who share our interest in moving this process forward quickly.
Through the elimination of sex-based discrimination in the Indian Act, indigenous people who have experienced generations of marginalization will achieve recognition of their disenfranchisement. It will additionally enable generations of descendants to begin the process of healing and reclaiming pride in their identities as indigenous people.
Following NWAC's presentation on the findings of the engagement sessions with indigenous women and other stakeholders on this topic, several amendments have been made by the Senate to the proposed Bill S-3 that satisfy some of our most pressing concerns. These include the affirmation of a clear process for meaningful engagement, in which we commit to participating.
NWAC continues to advocate for the removal of all sex-based discrimination from the Indian Act. Accordingly, the Native Women's Association supports the amendment of Bill S-3, known as 6(1)(a) “all the way”, as passed by the Senate. However, NWAC needs to flag the “no liability” clause as a problematic addition to Bill S-3.
It is our impression that the new amendments serve to further eliminate sex-based discrimination in the Indian Act, beginning with the removal of the two-parent rule. The two-parent rule, or presumption of parentage, is discriminatory towards many individuals. Our grassroots' engagement process revealed that Bill S-3 did not address the situations of undeclared parentage, a parent being unable to sign documents due to disappearance or death, or cases in which same-sex or two-spirited individuals are parents.
The elimination of the two-parent rule will grant Indian status to disenfranchised descendants. It restores the rights of indigenous people to love who they choose and takes a positive step towards the acceptance of same-sex relationships in the affirmation of the rights of two-spirited individuals. It does not, however, address the ways in which they have suffered due to this discrimination.
We are satisfied with the addition of a legally mandated engagement and consultation process, and encourage the initiation of stage two of this bill. NWAC is fully committed to designing and implementing an engagement process that provides indigenous women with the capacity required to fully and meaningfully participate.
Consultation must be extended to all indigenous women, youth, elders, transgendered women, and two-spirited individuals. This group is not limited to the first nation communities, first nations bands, and Métis communities, whose memberships will be affected. It needs to be inclusive of all indigenous women who are being discriminated against, in recognition of the need for strong, healthy, and loving families, and shaping pride and self-knowledge in future generations.
Canada has denied indigenous children of their right to know themselves through numerous methods of colonization, including those implemented by the Indian Act. By denying women access to their treaty rights and isolating them from their communities, the Indian Act has disrupted their ability to pass on their heritage and culture to their children. Consultations on the loss of Indian status must extend to those who have experienced the effects of the sex-based discrimination in their lives. We must hear from those who have lost their connection to their culture as a direct result of sex-based discrimination in the Indian Act and the delays to this amendment.
Meaningful consultation supports the development of a mutually respectful relationship, as recommended by the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. This relationship must be with those affected by sex-based discrimination in the Indian Act. Consultation must extend beyond groups whose rights are currently supported by the Indian Act, including groups who currently hold Indian status.
Additionally, the inclusion of indigenous women's perspectives must be used as a metric of the indigenous peoples' ability to claim their right to self-determination as outlined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
NWAC has decades of experience in exposing and addressing the root cause of the marginalization of indigenous women. We must strongly recommend that comprehensive consultation and reporting occur within a framework designed with our full co-operation and ensuring that all residual forms of discrimination are removed from the Indian Act.
I will now further elaborate on our expectations in developing this important work.
NWAC has serious concerns about elements of the bill, including clause 10, the “no liability” clause. Its presence supports the sexism inherent in the Indian Act and further entrenches historic discrimination against the group most marginalized and most impacted by the discrimination of the act.
The patriarchal nature of the Indian Act has survived prior amendment and continues to amplify that discrimination against women that has been felt through generations. It was drafted in an attempt to assimilate indigenous women and our descendants by erasing our indigeneity. To include a “no liability” clause essentially divorces its creators from responsibility for their knowing attempts to disenfranchise and disempower indigenous women and their descendants.
The crown is not released from bearing responsibility for this work. This is not only a question of compensation but a recognition of the degree to which the racism faced by indigenous women is intensified by discrimination based on sex. As no process has been introduced that seeks to assist those impacted by this discrimination on their own behalf, the legacy of harm continues to threaten the well-being of women and their descendants. These people will continue to bear the burden of alleviating the discrimination for themselves.
NWAC welcomes the explicit reporting of issues outlined in subclause 11(1), with particular attention on the impacts relating to adoption of children by two-spirited people and same-sex partners, the impact of unknown or unstated paternity in cases of sexual violence, and the effects of enfranchisement of women.
Please accept our input challenging the Indian Act and supportive of our combined work in removing this discrimination. We appreciate the support of this committee in ending the systemic attack on the ability of mothers to pass on our heritage and culture to our children.
The process of colonization and assimilation continues on the bodies and in the minds of indigenous women. We had no hand in writing these laws that oppress us. It is time to reclaim our identities in law and action. There is an urgent need to respect and promote the inherent rights of indigenous peoples. Our rights derive from our cultures, spiritual traditions, histories and philosophies, all of which are passed on by our mothers. These also derive from our political, economic, and social structures, all of which have been actively disrupted by the patriarchal and colonial impositions of the crown.
Canada has committed to implementing these rights as affirmed by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It is time to restore the traditional place of pride held by women, trans-gender women and two-spirited women in our communities. The Indian Act has successfully categorized and divided our people through status designations that impact us at the community level. By revoking Indian status or not awarding Indian status to women and their children, the Indian Act makes these marginalized people easy targets for continued discrimination that is felt across generations.
NWAC recently observed the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge and the indigenous women who chose to fight alongside Canada for our freedom. We have supported a nation that has never supported us. It is unacceptable that today we must continue to advocate for our equal rights to dignity, respect, and freedom from fear on our own soil. Adopting paragraph 6(1)(a) “all the way” is our shared path to reconciliation, healing, and empowerment.
NWAC fully embraces the opportunity to work with Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada in conducting stage two of the engagement process as outlined in the amendments to Bill S-3, and we commit our full participation in its design. The positive action taken in accepting these amendments will let not only first nations women but all indigenous women, their descendants and communities, know that the Canadian government recognizes and respects our right to equality.