Mr. Speaker, when I was speaking previously, I had made reference to the fact that many women on first nations reserves had talked about the lack of enforcement with regard to violence against women. Another woman involved in the consultations said:
Whatever occurred in that community we had to take care of it ourselves, there was no one to rescue us. I remember the frustrations I felt and had seeking help in when I was in a violent relationship and there was no one available… the police were an hour by flight, skidoo, boat, and there are no services in the community for women in crisis.
The report, “Reclaiming our Way of Being: Matrimonial Real Property Solutions” states:
Women who cannot remain in their homes because of violence need immediate help. Sometimes assistance may be available through their family and friends, but the provision of assistance through programs and service providers is essential to ensuring that women have access to the continuum of supports. Transition houses help women in two ways: they provide a temporary place to stay and the support workers can help women to make healthy choices about their next steps. Women who live in remote or isolated areas also need transition housing, but they told us that they are often unable to access these services because these services are not available in their communities; the cost of transportation to travel from their community to the service was too high; or because they were ineligible to use the services based on some eligibility criteria.
Women went on to say:
Certainly we need more services on reserve but for a woman who needs to make the choice for safety reasons; you know there needs to be services and supports elsewhere as well. So I don't think it should be an either/or. Options are great because you can meet your own particular need.
There must be options. The report states:
When there is no transition house located on the reserve, women who need these services have to decide whether to leave their community in order to access them. Some women told us that they could not leave the reserve, because this would disrupt their children's schooling, or because they would lose their access to other services if they moved off reserve.
Separation should be planned and not have to be emergency evacuation, and there is a need for protection of the right to leave or the right to stay. In order to secure a safe place for her children, one woman said that it was sometimes necessary for the male spouse to leave. It was important that she remain in her home.
The report further states:
Some participants suggested that transitional houses for men should also be developed. It would be less disruptive for the family if the woman and children can stay in the home, and the man can find temporary shelter elsewhere. Some elders spoke of traditional approaches that supported this idea.
Creating transitional houses for men would bring the added benefit of increasing their access to programs and support that usually are available at these sites which could help men to resolve the issues that led them to the transition house in the first place. This would benefit women and children by helping the matrimonial home to continue to be a place that was safe for them.
Respondents to the consultation were very clear. They said, “We know about the cycle of violence and all that. If we can help the children in this process, then I think that will help in the coming years, decades and generations”.
The housing shortage that exists on many reserves makes the issues associated with matrimonial real property even worse. There is not enough housing to accommodate marriage breakups. One respondent said, “I think the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs has fallen down in its responsibility”. The lack of housing can be one of the key reasons women stay in abusive and violent relationships. There is a need not just for more housing but also for subsidized and affordable housing for aboriginal women and children both on and off reserve. Another respondent said, “The issue is not enough housing in our community. It wasn't resolved in Bill C-31 and they need to address severe housing shortages in our communities”.
The report states:
Finally, women spoke about the need to develop tools that will help communities move their people along the healing path. Traditionally, First Nations people had a collective responsibility for the well being of the community. This responsibility included providing assistance to community members who require help to resolve conflicts, including those between partners.
One elder concluded:
We probably will go back to the way we used to do things, with Elders and community members rather than go to the court system.
…even though the legislative options are focused on matrimonial real property and the underlying issue is violence, there needs to be clear protection for women on reserve in terms of legislation, shelters, a community safety plan, which is broader than the legislation being proposed but this is important and because of the Indian Act and colonization there is disrespect for women, violence and women are being pushed out of their homes.
The report goes on to state:
Freedom from violence will allow Aboriginal communities to thrive, and will allow community members to reclaim their way....
The government had a golden opportunity to end generations of neglect and it failed. Enforcing legislation that ignored the specific wishes and advice of first nations communities, the message is clear: first nations' solutions are of no interest to the government.
The extensive and excellent work of Wendy Grant-John and the many first nations women and men who have lived in hope because of the proposed legislation was obviously for naught. Their needs and wishes have not been respected.
The report concludes by stating:
The connections of Aboriginal peoples to our lands and territories are sacred and historical. These are not just pieces of land, but our traditional territories. This issue of matrimonial property on reserve was not created by Aboriginal people. The issue of matrimonial real property on reserve is now a complex one to resolve; however, it should not be. There has been much discrimination in the past and it continues to this day. This discrimination has created detrimental impacts upon many generations of youth, women, men, families, and communities across this country.
When the Indian Act was amended in 1985 (Bill C-31), NWAC and the AFN made contributions prior to any amendments being made. There were many lessons learned from that process. One of them is that we do not want to be used as pawns to justify government processes. We will not get caught by divide and conquer tactics. NWAC believes that our communities need to resolve the impacts of colonization and to assist in building healthy communities. We know that our voices are critical to these efforts.
NWAC appreciated having at least a short time to consult with Aboriginal women and their children who felt the direct impacts of the MRP issue. This was considered the “bridging” point between the long fight for the recognition of Aboriginal women’s rights and issues arising out of the MRP cases. It was an opportunity for these participants to speak their truth and to have a voice.
However, there were very serious concerns raised by the participants regarding the short time frame for this consultation process. As noted in previous NWAC submissions, a full year would be needed to complete consultations. In this process, we were given three months. Many participants were skeptical of this process because they viewed it as government driven....
Fortunately, as I said, Wendy Grant-John did the impossible and produced a remarkable report in the voice of the men and women involved.
The report continues:
The participants in this process stated that they want their rightful place in society. ...women are re-establishing their feelings of pride and self-worth by speaking out about themselves and their communities. The voices of these women must be heeded.
The women who provided these solutions are daughters, sisters, mothers, grandmothers and granddaughters. They want the intergenerational cycle of abuse and marginalization to end. They want this to be a collective effort to bring the required change in their communities. The men we heard from are our sons, brothers, fathers, grandfathers and grandsons. They too wanted to see change that respects our ways of being and the women of their communities. Through the creation of a responsive and comprehensive MRP process, they want to heal and come together to reclaim their way of being now more than ever.
Those aspirations have not been achieved with Bill C-47. In the Standing Committee on the Status of Women, we heard the fear expressed by Bev Jacobs of the Native Women's Association of Canada and the women's committee of the AFN that the legislation governing matrimonial real property was already written long before the consultation, that it would be a situation where the responsibility would be sloughed off to the provinces.
The minister responsible insisted that it was not true and he was very clear about that. Unfortunately, the fears of the women of NWAC and the AFN were quite accurate. Ultimately, Bill C-47 was not written in consultation with first nations, despite all the promises. Their hopes were frustrated and their wishes were ignored.
We keep travelling down the same old paths, the same road that led to the school incidents where children were abused and to the situation in Parliament where the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples can be ignored and set aside. We have travelled this road for far too long and we need to do better. The government has an obligation to do better. We all have an obligation to listen to the voices, to respect the needs of the communities and to act in accordance with an honourable kind of resolution.