DEFENDING OUR SOVEREIGNTY

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Bill C-3 - Not a Catastrophe if it Does not Pass

In my previous blog on Bill C-3, I argued that we should not agree to pass the bill as it currently reads. I made this argument despite the fact that I, personally, stand to gain from Bill C-3. In my opinion, the more important issue is whether our children, siblings, cousins and future community members will benefit and not whether a select few have their immediate needs met.

As First Nations peoples, we have always made decisions based on what is best for our future generations and not what we need in the present or what has worked in the past. We can not simply preach the values we represent as First Nations - we have to put those values into action. This will mean that we have to make sacrifices in the present, to ensure that our children are protected in the future. This is asking no more and no less than what our ancestors did for us by protecting our lands through war, treaties and self-sacrifice.

Also in my last blog on Bill C-3, I highlighted some of the misconceptions about the bill being promoted by the conservative government through INAC. Their inaccurate claims about the consequences of not passing Bill C-3 amount to fear-mongering. They appear to be relying on the notion that Aboriginal people will be so scared that if this bill doesn't pass that they will never get status; assuming that they are willing to sacrifice the rights of their children for their own immediate needs.

In my opinion, INAC has grossly miscalculated the degree to which Aboriginal people have become more experienced, educated, and strategic about what they are willing to sacrifice and what they won't. The Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs (AAON) heard from numerous witnesses all over the country: from national, regional and local organisations, as well as individual experts and non-Aboriginal professional societies. With near unanimity, the witnesses said that the bill, as it is currently written, does not address gender discrimination, nor does it even address the limited situation in McIvor.

To make my point about the misinformation that INAC is using to get this bill passed, I informed readers that INAC was arguing in the House that by not passing the bill, there would be a legislative void where thousands of people in BC would not be registered. I highlighted the fact that even if there were a legislative void for people in BC for a short time, say several months while we amended or reintroduced a new act, the temporary situation would not be as bad as it is portrayed by INAC.

As part of my blog, I challenged readers to contact INAC and ask for the actual numbers of registrants in BC each year. I wanted them to compare, for themselves, those who would not be registered if Bill C-3 did not pass, versus the claims of INAC of thousands of people. Subsequently, LEAF, the Women's Education Action Fund, issued an informative e-mail to members of Parliament on this very topic.

The following are some highlights from LEAF's communication:

(1) If the Indian Act is not amended by July deadline, the government can simply ask for an extension from the court.

(2) Even if section 6(1)(a) and (c) do lapse in July, it will ONLY affect those who would be entitled under sections 6(1)(a) and (c) who live in British Columbia.

(3) If the effect of McIvor was national (which it isn't), the temporary delay in registration would only affect less than 1.7% of registrations under section 6(1)(a) and only 0.4% of registrations under section 6(1)(c). This means that those who might be affected in BC are all less than 1%.

(4) The vast majority of registrations nationally are 42% under section 6(2) and 56% under section 6(1)(f).

Therefore, the actual number of people that might possibility have to wait several additional months for registration amount to less than a few hundred in BC, and no one else in the rest of Canada would be affected. This makes the case for a small temporary sacrifice for the benefit of greater permanent benefits for larger numbers of people, all the more compelling.

Furthermore, I think this statistical information should have been provided to First Nations, witnesses, MPs and Standing Committee members at the start of this process. Not only has Canada failed to consult with Aboriginal peoples on this issue, but even their engagement process was inherently flawed by covering up this kind of vital information.

Please write your MP or all MPs and ask them NOT to pass Bill C-3 as it is currently written. They must make substantive changes or reintroduce a proper bill that addresses gender discrimination once and for all. We can sacrifice our immediate needs for a few more months for the benefit of our children - our ancestors did no less for us!

To contact Liberal MPs - LIBMEM@parl.gc.ca

To contact Bloc MPs - BQMEM@parl.gc.ca

To contact Conservative MPs - CPCMEM@parl.gc.ca

To contact NDP MPs - NDPMEM@parl.gc.ca

Please protect our present and future generations from gender discrimination and exclusion - do not support Bill C-3!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Vote-Buying in Burnt Church a Cultural Tradition?

I know that this blog may be a little off-topic from my usual discussions, but this issue is too important to let slide. A very senior person in Aboriginal politics has made an absolutely insane statement about my Mi'kmaq Nation, our governance practices and our traditions. The record now has to be set straight so that the public does not think Mi'kmaq people are all crooks.

Burnt Church First Nation (also known as Esgenoopetitj) is one of several Mi'kmaq communities in New Brunswick. My home community is Eel River Bar First Nation is only a few hours north of Burnt Church. The Chief of Burnt Church is Wilber Dedham and his term in office has not been without significant controversy.

Earlier this year, a member of Burnt Church filed a complaint with the RCMP alleging that council members participated in vote buying during the election. APTN reported that initially the RCMP refused to investigate the complaint because it did not want to ruin relations with Burnt Church. As some may recall, Burnt Church was the First Nation whose members were run over by DFO boats while they fished for lobster.

Given the large amount of publicity over the matter, the RCMP later changed their minds and decided that they would conduct an investigation afterall. APTN reported that the primary evidence were affidavits signed by several community members detailing how council members offered cash in exchange for votes.

Since that time however, new evidence has appeared on the internet and various media outlets (including APTN) which allegedly shows a council member giving electors cash in exchange for votes. Those being video-taped apparently did not know they were being taped and the name of the person who set up the hidden camera has not yet been released.

Given that the RCMP are investigating this matter, I could have left the issue at that. It is a terrible thing to have allegedly happen in one of our own communities, but I had assumed that the RCMP would ensure that we had all the facts before casting judgment. I think those accused have the right to be considered innoncent of the charges unless and until they are proven guilty. If they are found guilty, those involved should resign or be removed from office.

However, much to the surprise of most Aboriginal people across Canada, AFN Regional Chief Roger Augustine participated in an interview with APTN News last night and actually defended the alleged vote-buying actions in Burnt Church. Not only did he seem to think it happened, but he stated that this is actually part of our tradition as Mi'kmaq people.

Furthermore, he said that we should not look at this like vote-buying, but instead see it as a matter of gift-giving to people who are supporting the candidate - it is a way of saying thank you. He also made the claim that older members would not come out and vote otherwise, and appeared to imply that this is a common occurrence.

First of all, traditionally we as Mi'kmaq people did not have elections. The election system and Chief and Council governance structure was imposed on our people by Canada through the Indian Act. Unless and until Burnt Church negotiates and concludes its own self-government agreement, or it enacts its own custom election code, then the Indian Act and its regulations govern band governance and elections.

Section 78(1) of the Indian Act states that chief and council hold office for two years. The exception to this being those bands who have their own custom election codes, and the last time I checked, Burnt Church was under the Indian Act.

Section 78(1)(b) (iii) permits the Minister to remove a Chief or council member from office if, in connnection with an election, they are guilty of "accepting a bribe, dishonesty or malfeasance". Malfeasance means misconduct or wrongoing, especially by a public official.

I don't think there can be any doubt that paying a person money in exchange for a vote is malfeasance. While I have not had time to do much research on the matter, there is also the possibility that the Criminal Code of Canada and/or the Elections Act may have rules against vote-buying as well.

Therefore, the Indian Act, and not tradition, governs Indian Act elections like those held in Burnt Church. Even if it didn't, Mi'kmaq people did not traditionally vote for their leaders and therefore the claim that vote-buying or "giving gifts of money" for votes is unfounded. I invite anyone who has researched the history of Mi'kmaq people to show me research which confirms that it is our tradition to both hold elections and to buy votes.

For Mr. Augustine to make such claims is irresponsible. It is an embarassment to the organization he represents, the Assembly of First Nations, and to the Mi'kmaq and Maliseet First Nations of the Atlantic Region that he represents. Mr. Augustine should not have said anything about the matter at all as it is being investigated by the RCMP.

I think what Mr. Augustine said on public TV does more harm for First Nations in this country who have enough unfounded allegations to defend, than does an isolated incident of vote-buying.

Mr. Augustine should resign from his position as AFN Regional Vice Chief and if he does not, the National Chief Shawn Atleo should fire him - no different than Canada firing one of its Ministers for misconduct. Mr. Augustine should also apologize for making the unfounded claim that it is part of Mi'kmaq tradition to buy votes.

I do hope that the RCMP investigate the matter in Burnt Church and if individuals are found guilty, that they resign. That way, the community can move forward to ensure these things don't happen again.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Bill C-3 Debates of May 25, 2010

This blog is a summary of my initial reaction to the debates on Bill C-3 that took place in the House on Tuesday, May 25, 2010. It is quite clear to me that there is a huge divide between the unanimous voices of Aboriginal peoples on this issue and that of the government. Even the opposition parties have noted the rare unanimity of opinion on this issue. What follows are some of the main items that Canada is using to try to justify passing this Bill:

(1) The Members of Parliament (MPs) must pass Bill C-3 as there is a strict court-imposed deadline of July 1, 2010.

As has already been pointed out by numerous witnesses and the government itself, the court of appeal had already indicated a willingness to grant a longer deadline to amend the Act as it noted the complexity of the Act.

If Canada did seek an extension, they would still be well within the norm of 12-24 months given by the Supreme Court of Canada for amendments.

(2) The government did extensive "consultations" with the National Aboriginal Organizations and others on Bill C-3.

There was in fact NO consultations. There was only, what Canada referred to as "engagement" sessions. In fact, when INAC officials did their presentation to the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples Annual General Meeting in 2009, they were asked directly if this amounted to consultation. The emphatic answer from INAC officials was "No".

Moreover, there was no money provided to First Nations or Aboriginal groups to "consult" on Bill C-3 with their members; there was no full disclosure of key information and documents; nor was there an assessment of the pros and cons of Bill C-3 provided.

The government's "engagement process" was simply telling a few select Aboriginal groups what would happen and the government did not address the legitimate concerns presented by those groups or the individuals, like myself or Sharon McIvor who also put our concerns in writing.

Had these few meetings been legitimate consultations as outlined in Supre Court of Canada cases like Haida, Taku and Mikisew Cree, the government would have been legally obligated to consult (not engage) with all First Nations and groups impacted by the Bill, and accommodate (not ignore) their legitimate concerns.

If you read CAP's submission during the engagement process (on their website), they highlight the fact that this engagement process was not consultation. The Assembly of First Nations took a similar position.

(3) 45, 000 people will not get to be registered if we dont pass this Bill.

The government itself claims that it cannot do any costing on this Bill because it cannot determine how many people will actually apply for and be granted status. If it can't do that, then it can't use 45,000 as the number of people who won't get status if the bill doesn't pass. The government can't have it both ways - either it's 45,000 and cost that out, or its not.

The issue is not even that these individuals won't be registered; it is that there will be a small delay in their registration until the discrimination issue is properly addressed in a more thought-out amendment. I doubt that any potential registrant would mind a delay of several months if they knew that their brothers, sisters, cousins and children will finally be included in registration.

I, personally, stand to gain from Bill C-3 by being registered as a section 6(2) Indian for the first time. However, I am not about to make a deal with the devil for my own registration at the cost of my children's registration. I only want to be registered when my children can be as well.

Gender discrimination is not resolved if only some people get a benefit - one can't even say that gender discrimination is partially resolved - there is no such thing. Gender discrimination is either eliminated or it is not.

(4) If we dont pass the Bill, 2,000 to 3,000 people will not be registered in British Columbia this year.

First of all, I would challenge this number. I invite any individual to e-mail INAC and ask them for a list of how many people are registered in BC each year over the last 5 years. Then I would ask them to break those registrations down into which section each person was registered under. I think you will see that the vast majority of people are now registered under sections 6(1)(f) and 6(2), both sections of which are NOT affected by the McIvor appeal case.

So, even if Canada could not get a court extension, which they should be trying to do now; a delay of several months to a year would impact only a few hundred registrations and only for a short time and only in BC. Everywhere else in Canada would not be affected by this delay.

I think the minor delay for a few hundred people in BC to ensure Bill C-3 finally eliminates gender discrimination, is a reasonable balance between the immediate needs of those few hundred individuals and the equality rights for thousands of Indian women and their descendants all across the country who suffer from continued exclusion.

(5) It is absolutely necessary to re-include section 9 in Bill C-3 so that Indian women are not fooled into thinking they have a legal right to be compensated for their exclusion from registration based on their gender.

Does that sound right to anyone? I mean even writing it felt ridiculous. Canada has to setp up to the plate and register the descendants of Indian women and finally compensate them for what they have lost. The harms they suffered are equal to those who attended residential schools (aside from the physical aspect) and based on the same assimilatory policies for which Canada has already apologized.

Another argument they raised in debate is that section 9 is necessary to protect First Nations. If the government is legitimately concerned about First Nations liability, they could amend section 9 to only protect First Nations liability and only for status issues.

We all know that this is about protecting Canada from liability for wilful discrimination which continues. By having that provision the government will be able to delay addressing the rest of gender discrimination as long as they deem necessary knowing that they are not liable for the harms suffered by Indian women and their descendants.

(6) We should pass Bill C-3 as-is because the joint process will take care of the other issues.

Where is the commitment for funding for any First Nation or their representative groups to participate in such a joint process? Has anyone received a penny?

Where is a terms of reference for this joint process? Who will direct this process and will it have measurable deliverables?

Where is a committment to deal with specific issues like unstated paternity and illegitimate siblings? Where is the commitment to deal with band membership?

There is no commitment on any of these essential points, just like there was no real commitment with the repeal of section 67 of the CHRA, despite promises to the contrary.

This joint process was meant to be a carrot to get agreement by budget-strapped National Aboriginal organizations who are at the mercy of their funder (the government) to pass an otherwise unacceptable bill.

This bill does not address McIvor even in the narrowest terms because Double Mother Clause descendants still have better status than the descendants of Indian women who married out. It is as plain and simple as that.

Bill C-3 does not address gender discrimination because it cannot be addressed in part. If the elimination of gender discrimination would mean that 100,000 people would be registered, then a bill which would register 20,000, 30,000 or 45,000 people, does not address gender discrimination.

We all see through this "charade", as so aptly put by MP Todd Russell, and we need to support Indian women and their equality rights by voting against the bill.

In the end, I think the majority of Aboriginal peoples and their organizations would gladly accept a delay in addressing registration if it meant we addressed gender discrimination in full.

Canada now must live up to its fiduciary and other legal duties and obligations towards Aboriginal peoples and act in a way that lives up to the honour of the Crown. My children and I are counting on Canada to finally eliminate gender discrimination against Indian women and their descendants. I am willing to hold off on obtaining my own status to ensure this happens for my children.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Copy of Letter sent to Minister of INAC asking Canada to Amend Bill C-3

Dear Minister Strahl;

RE: Bill C-3

I understand that next week the House will start debate at the report stage of Bill C-3. Please accept this letter as my official request for you to make meaningful amendments to the bill in order to finally end gender discrimination.

Barring substantive amendments, I would ask that you withdraw Bill C-3 as currently drafted and re-introduce a bill that better reflects the values and principles of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, our Constitution, and our country as a whole. If you cannot withdraw the Bill for some procedural reason, then I ask that your government vote against it and start over.

Had your government been open to considering reasonable amendments to the Bill in order to address gender discrimination, we, those affected by gender discrimination, would not be put in the position of having to find solutions to the legislative mess created by Canada. The duty always seems to be placed back on the excluded to find ways to make inclusion financially, politically and legally acceptable. This is an unfair burden on Indian women and their descendants who are already disadvantaged from their exclusion.

Indian women and their descendants had no power over which to protect themselves against the assimilationist goals of Canada in 1867, 1951, 1985 or 2010. Furthermore, despite being asked to appear as witnesses and provide more than ample proof that the Indian Act still discriminates against Indian women and their descendants before the Standing Committee, Canada has proceeded as though our unanimous voices do not count in this process. This makes a mockery of the entire process.

The honour of the Crown requires that Canada do more than participate in a superficial "engagement" process which does not consider and take into account our voices, our legitimate concerns and interests and our overall legal rights. By denying our voices, you violate the most basic tenet of the very democracy that Canada holds out as the basis of their nation.

It is time that Canada stopped treating us like wards and started to hear and act on our voices. It is long past the time to stop treating us like museum oddities that are slowly disappearing with time. It is time to stop treating us as though we are only a "race" of people that only deserve a voice if we meet complex, biological calculations of Indian blood. It is time to stop treating us as though we are frozen in time and that anyone who does not wear feathers, obtain a moderate livelihood from hunting or live on a reserve are not entitled to call themselves "Indians".

We did not go away when you took our lands, controlled our resources, outlawed our customs, dishonored our treaties, sent us to residential schools, enfranchised our women and children, or bullied us into poverty. We are here to stay, regardless of the political backlash we may endure from standing up for our rights. Why not put action behind your words and start a new relationship with Aboriginal peoples?

We have a duty to our ancestors who suffered at the hands of settlers and colonial governments to protect our rights, to protect those rights for our future generations seven generations into the future. Supporting yet another amendment to the Indian Act which will not only NOT address the minimal discrimination found in the McIvor appeal case as between double mother clause and section 12(1)(b) reinstatees, but will create new forms of discrimination is irresponsible, unjust and shameful.

Some may pose the question as to whether some amendment is better than no amendment. I would highlight the long, hard struggle of Sharon McIvor over the last 25 years after the last amendment to the Indian Act. Bill C-31 may have granted limited entitlements to limited numbers of people back then, but it created new forms of discrimination at a time when we all knew better and when our Charter asked us to do better. I do not believe that sacrificing the rights of large numbers of individuals for the immediate gratification of a few is a fair trade. Canada has the power to enact an OIC which treats us like Indians while amendments are made to the Act. Canada did it for the Innu and can easily do it for Indian women and their descendants - it's a matter of choice.

Canada has an opportunity to finally show some good faith, to act on both its honour and its legal duties and obligations to take the unanimous voices heard before the Standing Committee on Bill C-3, and make an amendment that finally addresses all gender discrimination in the Indian Act. This is not to say that the Indian Act is the ultimate solution. In fact, most consider other alternatives like First Nation citizenship to be the longer term solution. However, we cannot in good faith allow the Act to continue to discriminate against Indian women and their descendants while we take the next 20-30-20-100 years to work out self-government arrangements.

I ask your government and all the opposition parties to either agree to make substantive amendments to Bill C-3 as it currently reads, or if that is not possible, withdraw the bill, or if that is not possible then vote against it and start over with an amendment that finally grants Indian women and their descendants real substantive equality.

I trust you will consider my comments and concerns and implement my recommendations as noted above. Merci beaucoup de votre consideration.


Sincerely;

(original signed and faxed)

Dr. Pamela D. Palmater, and on behalf of my children and our heirs and heirs forever.

CC: Todd Russell, MP (on behalf of Liberals)
Jean Crowder, MP (on behalf of NDP)
Marc Lemay, MP (on behalf of BQ)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Current Status of Bill C-3

Bill C-3 - An An Act to promote gender equity in Indian registration by responding to the Court of Appeal for British Columbia decision in McIvor v. Canada (Registrar of Indian and Northern Affairs)(Gender Equity in Indian Registration Act).

This Bill was introduced in the House on March 11, 2010. Debates at second reading were on March 26 & 29, 2010. The Bill was then studied at the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development (AAON) from April 1st-29th, 2010.

During Committee, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, Justice Canada and Aboriginal groups and individuals gave evidence about Bill C-3 and how it would or would not address gender inequality under the registration provisions of the Indian Act in response to the McIvor case.

Most of the witnesses recommended amendments to the Bill as drafted. The Committee was struck by the unanimity of the witnesses on the point that Bill C-3 as originally drafted not only does not remedy gender inequality within the Indian Act, it does not even address the McIvor case. Therefore, the Committee made several amendments to Bill C-3 in order to more fully address gender inequality for Indian women and their descendants.

The Committee submitted their report to the House with a revised version of Bill C-3 that contained the amendments. As a result, the Conservatives made a motion asking the Speaker of the House to rule the amendments out of order. Submissions were made by the parties on this point in the House arguing that the Speaker should not rule these amendments out of order.

Howver, on Tuesday, May 11, 2010, the Speaker of the House ruled the amendments relating to status and the title of the Bill out of order and ordered that the Bill be reprinted. The amendments that remain within the Bill is the removal of section 9 (the clause which granted Canada and the Bands immunity from claims) and the new section advanced by the Bloc which requires INAC to provide a report in two years.

The next stage is the official report stage. This cannot happen until at least the week of May 24 because the House has a break next week. At the report stage, the House can consider the Bill as it is reprinted.

They also have a chance to make further amendments to the Bill. However, it is not possible to reintroduce the same amendments that were ruled out of order. Similarly, even if different amendments are suggested, it is still possible for the Conservatives to ask the Speaker of the House to rule them out of order.

It therefore extremely important that the opposition parties work together to select strategic amendments that will address gender inequality within the Indian Act, but ensure that what they advance is not so large as to run the risk of being considered out of scope. I am hopeful that the parties will continue to work with Aboriginal groups and individuals to achieve this goal.

Once the Third Reading has been completed, the Bill, including any additional amendments, will go to the Senate to start the process all over again from the Senate side of the House.

Several of the submissions made by the witnesses can be found on AFN's website. I have also included various submissions on my website - http://www.nonstatusindian.com/ under Current Issues and Bill C-3.