Aboriginal Citizenship or Membership in Bands?
Chief William K. Montour, Six Nations of the Grand River Territory in Ontario.
Chief Montour is an inspiration to those who truly know him. He has decades of experience working on behalf of his people both inside and outside of the Canadian government and the Six Nations government. It wasn't Chief Montour that enacted the Indian Act and he certainly did not impose the assimilatory rules, regulations, and policies which have divided Nations and imported anger and distrust into our communities. He no more believes in Indian Act administration than I do. But he also seems to be aware of the present legal realities and has taken up those challenges with a view to making positive changes for the future.
At the AFN AGM which was recently held in Ottawa on December 9-11th, 2009, the assembly had to address a resolution to regarding Indian and Northern Affairs Canada's (INAC's) plan to amend the registration provisions of the Indian Act in a very minimalistic way, that will not address all of the gender discrimination raised in the McIvor case. The debate centered around membership and how it could be impacted by this legislation and disintegrated into a debate about how "band resources" would be at risk if additional members were added to the band lists. It was at this point that Chief Montour addressed the entire assembly and said that he was "confused". He asked them whether the discussion was one of citizenship or one of registration. He explained that by continually pursuing issues of registration, we are involving ourselves in our own assimilation.
He told the assembly that leaving our future to the legislators ensured that we would have no future. He referred to the AFN commissioned-study in 1992 which found that the registration system provides for decreasing numbers of Indians and that his own community of Six Nations which is over 26,000 members strong, would not have any registered or status Indians within 100 years. Under section 91(24) of the Constitution Act, 1867, the federal government has jurisdiction with regards to Indians and lands reserved for Indians. All reserve lands are therefore held by the federal crown for the use and benefit of Indian bands. In order for a band to hold land, there must be band members. Chief Montour then highlighted what I would refer to as the "5 steps to extinction":
(1) In order for a person to be a band member, they must be a status Indian.
(2) If there are no status Indians left in 100 years, then there are no band members.
(3) No band members means no band.
(4) No band means no legal entity left to hold reserve land.
(5) Crown lands without any legally recognized title holders escheats (reverts) back to the Crown.
In Chief Montour's words: "It's the biggest land grab of the century!" He went on to say that we all thought that residential schools were bad because they took away our language and culture. "This is worse: it takes away our identity." Chief Montour told the assembly that he is a Mohawk from the Mohawk Nation and he is proud to be Mohawk. He also explained that no one has the right to tell him that his grandchild is not Mohawk. He then concluded by asking the assembly whether they were working towards citizenship in their Nations or membership codes in their bands.
There is no doubt that gender discrimination or any kind of discrimination within the Indian Act has to be addressed in the interim. However, if we do not also have a bigger plan for our Aboriginal Nations in relation to citizenship; if we do not start acting as the Nations we are; and if we don't start asserting our jurisdiction with regards to citizenship (with or without the cooperation of Canada), then we are already well down the path towards legislated extinction and all the oil royalties in the world will not be able to save our future generations.
As Chief Montour said: "The choice is yours."
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