Thank you so much. I see a clock behind you, so I will be self-governing this morning within the 10 minutes that you've identified.
Good morning to the committee.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
[Witness speaks in his native language]
I come from the little village of Ahousaht, off the west coast of Vancouver Island, and it is our way to acknowledge the Algonquin people.
Thank you so much to the committee for inviting me to be here this morning. Within the 10 minutes allocated, I'd like to provide some opening thoughts.
I hadn't really thought of it in that way, but yes, there are new individuals in the various leadership roles. It's happening amongst the national executive as well. We have new regional chiefs in British Columbia, Alberta, and Yukon. There seems to be a lot of this happening right now amongst first nations across the country.
To begin discussing what we've come here to cover today, I want to offer up some general comments and then some specific thoughts about a possible way forward, because of course having just come through an election.... I already apologized to Mr. Lemay for the 24 hours and eight ballots that occurred, and also to anyone else who went through that, as has been the case right across the country. But of course it was an election in which all of the candidates worked very hard, supported by their families and their communities, all with a deep care and concern for improving the lives and conditions of our people.
We all work in a very complex policy environment. The needs of our communities are, of course, some of the most acute that are faced in this country. There are ongoing pressures being faced by our communities. As national chief, it's my role to advocate for the chiefs for first nation governments, for those who sign treaties. We've been dealing with a cap, an imposed cap of 2%, since 1997.
We have some sense over the course of our history of lurching from conflict to conflict, if I can describe it that way, both in the courts, through many, many court decisions, and on the ground. Examples crop up nearly daily when it comes to relations between first nations and the government.
I can point very quickly to a number of them, including Akwesasne right now, with the border guards. I join Grand Chief Mitchell's call for a mediated solution to yet again another conflict of differing opinions about whose jurisdiction needs to be honoured. That community operates within five different jurisdictions in that area. There's deep frustration about the inability to come to some resolve.
We have a history of conflict, and I think it's our time to really examine and reflect on how we can do things differently. Our community, as you well know--this committee would know better than most--is very young. I saw some numbers that said 49% of our population is under the age of 19, which puts me, at the age of 42, amongst the older set in our demographic. This is very true, and we have a shortage of paid work in our communities.
The most recent focus on H1N1 not only draws attention to the issues of pandemic planning and the need to make sure we are well prepared for H1N1, but it also opens the window to the broader health conditions, to chronic diseases, to the broad issue of health supports in our communities, and to access to health services. We know that we have three times the rate of diabetes in our communities. We have deep structural and fiscal challenges in areas like housing, which impacts health. We have infrastructure needs and there is a need for ongoing work.
We have a need for healing to overcome the effects of not only the residential schools but the long-term lingering effects of colonialism in our communities and the constraints of the Indian Act. I'll come back to those with some specific thoughts.
First nations are increasingly looking to reach out and create new structures and authorities as a way of doing business. We're seeing examples of this across the country, examples of how to work independently and interdependently with other levels of government, including municipalities. I saw an example of this in Treaty 8 territory recently, in northeastern British Columbia. And of course there are new arrangements with industry.
We are well aware of what was said by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, and I quote:
The main policy direction, pursued for over 150 years, first by colonial then by Canadian governments, has been wrong. Aboriginal peoples must have room to exercise their autonomy and structure their solutions.
This still remains the most important aspect of what we would suggest today. We must be in a position to jointly design and deliver the solutions that impact our lives. This was further supported by the Harvard project in 2006 in a report authored by Stephen Cornell, which stated that the three key factors include self-rule, capable governing institutions, and a cultural match. Other work by Chandler and Lalonde in the area of suicides further supported these notions.
My own community had an incredible experience with major suicides happening in our communities. Thankfully, not only did the government work with us at that time, but Canadians worked with us. Business and industry stepped up and said, “What can we do to walk with you to address these issues?” It ended up a very successful leadership initiative that serves as one example of how first nations and governments can together reach out to the broader Canadian society to say, you know, these issues are happening right here in Canada today; we need to find some ways to really work together.
The way forward perhaps builds on that notion, an enabling notion, moving from constraint and imposed control to respect and recognition. To move forward based on interdependence and mutual accountability is always what the treaty relationship was about, it's what it still means today, and it's what it will mean going forward. We want to move from an assumption of dependence to sustainable funding and from unilateral delegation to tripartite harmonization. We have examples of tripartite agreements where we are able to overcome the jurisdictional gaps and sometimes the jurisdictional wranglings that occur. That means shared accountability as well.
The approach needs to be one of overcoming and bridging divisions, inclusive and open processes, and having culture and identity as a source of confidence and strength for first nations. So if, as the Prime Minister articulated, the residential school period was wrong, that it should have never happened and it should never happen again--there is an acknowledgement of the deep damage that was done under the guise of an education policy--shouldn't we then look at this issue of education as being one of the tools to support the reconnection of people with family, with land, with culture, and with the over 50 indigenous languages in this country that the experts suggest are in dire need of being supported?
I ran and was elected on four major themes, the first of which was supporting first nations families and communities. The second was around exercising and implementing rights, talking about treaties and aboriginal title and rights. The third theme was about the need to focus on economic and environmental interests--that convergence between a planet in peril and the issues of climate change that we all have responsibility for, but also noting the great market challenges that have happened in the recent past.
First nations haven't really been a part of the broader market economy in a significant way. If the economy is beginning to warm up, as experts would suggest, first nations don't want to be once again chasing the caboose of a train that's ready to leave the station. First nations want to be on board and helping to lead the way in a new market economy, one that tackles the issues of morality that have been challenging us, whether it's the Ponzi schemes or the collapse of Wall Street. I know that first nations have much to contribute to the discussion about building strong, sustainable economies, and doing it with a care for the environment.
In the area of first nations families, education will always bubble to the surface as an area of strong importance where we put a lot of effort. There's a report coming out today from the Community Foundations of Canada and it will be entitled, “Canada's Vital Signs 2009”. I've not seen this report. I understand it's being released today and it will touch on first nations high school graduation rates. It will not be a really positive report. We'll wait to see the findings, but I am flagging this because it's really important. While we are making progress in a number of areas, there are certain indicators, such as high school graduation rates, that will continue to be important for determining the future success of first nations throughout the entire country.
In the area of health, I'm pleased that we were able to sign a communications protocol on H1N1. It's important that this protocol be fully implemented, that first nations governments throughout the country work very closely with health authorities and other jurisdictions to ensure there are no gaps in information, that we're closing the gaps in planning, and that we're working from shared knowledge of whether we are fully prepared.
When I took office and the H1N1 issue arose, it was very clear that there were differing levels of information or understanding between jurisdictions. This is not helpful for individuals. This is not helpful for emergency planning. We still have a long way to go and we'll need to continue to be very diligent in that area.
With respect to child welfare, I think about Jordan's Principle and a similar concept, making sure we overcome interjurisdictional challenges, that we take care of the needs of the children and address issues around funding supports. We know we have too many children in care across this country, and that is another major issue of concern.
We want to continue to reflect that Canada is amongst the very small minority that have not supported the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I believe Australia has moved forward to express support. I heard from the former special rapporteur for the United Nations that the United States has begun to express tacit support for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and we're pleased about that.
There have been specific ideas around the issue of treaties and treaty implementation, such as an office of a national treaty commissioner. With respect to comprehensive claims, the policy dating back to 1986, I think we need to advance the notion of removing barriers that inhibit successful outcomes and fail to support the implementation of agreements that are signed within that policy. I think, most recently, of my discussions in the Yukon with the Yukon self-government agreement.
I've touched on the economy and the environment. We have much more work to do in the area of consultation and accommodation by governments. This must be approached consistently, and it must be grounded in respect for first nations' rights and title and treaties.
When it comes to working with first nations governments, I suggest that we support the protection of both the collective and individual rights of our citizens. There are examples of this with the issue of citizenship. As opposed to once again having the unilateral decision-making by governments to determine issues around status, we would like to broaden that to citizenship. It is nations, after all, that determine who their citizens are. It's those who have treaty rights who determine who has the rights under that treaty. We want to table that sort of notion as well.
So how is it that we can work together? And these points will close my opening thoughts.
We have some ideas for creating parliamentary studies and/or special committees, for example, that this committee could consider striking in several areas, such as convening a joint committee between this committee and the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights to address violence against indigenous women and girls and to ensure that Canada has a full response in its report to the committee to end discrimination against women that is due November 2009. I would like to table that as one specific example.
Second, there could be a special committee to examine the fundamental barriers inherent in the current Indian Act framework. I mentioned citizenship or the issue of status. Why can't we take a broader view to issues such as status, looking at it through the broader lens of citizenship? Matrimonial real property is another such example. There are issues of justice and alternative dispute resolution.
When I raise these issues, I think about RCAP, which said that the history of policy-making for the last 150 years has been wrong and we need to do something significantly different. I think of the Penner report. I think of the negotiations that have been happening in British Columbia for around 15 years, the emerging experience in the Atlantic provinces with the made-in-Nova-Scotia process, and of course the experience of the courts and the conflicts, far too many conflicts, that have plagued our relationship.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. Those are my opening comments.
Good morning, National Chief. It's good to have you here. On behalf of myself and all the Liberal Party, I want to congratulate you once again on your historic victory.
I was in Calgary at the time and, being sleep-deprived by about six-thirty, I decided that sleep was going to be a bit more forthcoming than the eventual results. It was a fantastic time to be there, though. It was the first annual general assembly of the AFN that I've had a chance to attend.
You covered a lot of ground in your 10 to 12 minutes, but I was struck by your comment that we move from conflict to conflict, and that this has been the nature of our relationship with the crown for many generations. You mentioned the border issue in Akwesasne. Some of us would even say conflict-to-conflict will come up in the H1N1 policy, with maybe some jurisdictional wrangling about who is responsible for what.
I think of some of the legislation that has come before this committee. When certain legislation comes before this committee without the proper involvement of first nations or aboriginal people, there seems to be a hell of a lot more tension around this particular table. There is certainly a lot more conflict between the aims and aspirations of aboriginal people and what the government wants to impose. There is also the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and all of these things are somewhere in the mix.
You mentioned some processes that we could use, from a parliamentary perspective, to ease our way through some of these issues, instead of going from conflict to conflict. You talked about special committees on particular matters. But I also want to go back a little. You mentioned RCAP, and I want you to reflect a little on the Kelowna agreement. I know some people raise their eyebrows or nod their heads when we mention Kelowna, but it seemed to be a process that served, at least in part, to resolve some of the difficulties we have and to stop the conflict-to-conflict type of mood.
I'm wondering if that process had some value to you. Would it be a process that might help us build future relationships between the crown and aboriginal peoples? How important is a respectful process to you as national chief?
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you, Mr. Russell.
I truly believe good process can produce good results. None of us likes process just for the purpose of process. I think our people and our communities demand much more than that.
When I reflect back on 2005 and those discussions that occurred and I think about the work that has ensued since then, one example stands out, and it was our ability to really build on that process in 2005. For first nations, we tabled a report. I co-authored a report with Dave Nahwegahbow to the chiefs and assembly, called “Recognition and Implementation of First Nation Governments”. It's a body of work that was approved by the chiefs in the spring of 2005 that builds on RCAP, that builds on the Penner report, and that from a first nations perspective suggests very strongly that there is a way we can do joint policy and legislative changes. First nation governments need to be involved, and the Assembly of First Nations can, where the chiefs support it, play a facilitative and coordinating role.
We have several examples that suggest outcomes. One was work that ensued in British Columbia. In my previous role as B.C. regional chief we signed a transformative change accord with the former Prime Minister, Premier Campbell, and the BC First Nations Leadership Council, and it has resulted in work in a number of areas--health and education.
At the national level, I think about the Specific Claims Tribunal Act process, a joint first nations and government process that produced an approach that changed fundamentally the way specific claims are handled, with a new independent tribunal that has yet to be fully operational. But we have expectations that this will bring an element of fairness and an element of independence to the process and, as many first nations suggest, will remove government from being that of both judge and jury on claims.
Most recently, I was in Regina, close to two months ago, meeting with the premiers. The premiers have agreed to establish a national aboriginal affairs ministers working group. One of the interests that the premiers were expressing, which I share, was the idea of having a first ministers meeting happen in 2010. I think there's a notion that good process equals the need to establish real working relationships to overcome those deep gaps of misunderstanding that occur and that result in conflict on the ground. I think as leaders we have a responsibility to examine every manner possible to engage in a process that will produce different results.
The core principle here is that in order to move away from the unilateral development of solutions and/or policy and/or legislation in isolation of first nations, we need to shift that around and, if we can, learn from some of our experiences most recently that it's time for us to return to a process of real engagement.
I want to welcome the national chief to Ottawa.
I was also at the Assembly of First Nations meeting in Calgary. Being from British Columbia, I have to admit that seeing the elders and all of the people there who came out to support it was an honour and a privilege. So congratulations to you, your community, and your elders, because I know they were a big support.
I want to make a brief comment before I start with my questions.
You touched on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In a recent report by Paul Joffe in September 2009, he talked about Canada's increasing isolation. He pointed out that in April 2009 the Labour government in Australia announced its endorsement of the declaration; that in the spring of 2009 both New Zealand and the United States indicated that they were in the process of reconsidering their opposing positions; and that Canada was increasingly isolated on the world stage. I think you made an important point, that the declaration elaborates on indigenous people's inherent rights, which throughout history have not been respected.
That's a bit of a context for a question I'm going to lead into.
What this committee is aware of and what we know is that since Confederation in 1867 we've had decades of neglect and outright denial of inherent rights. We also know that we have any number of reports. We've had Auditor General's reports. We've had the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. We've had court decisions and studies. They all largely pointed to the fact that conditions for first nations, Inuit, and Métis in this country are appalling and there is a need to move forward.
We can talk about funding, housing, water, and the environment, but if we don't actually address some of the underlying issues we're not going to move forward. You can put money into housing, but you have to address some of the issues around self-government.
Can you specifically comment on the fact that what we seem to be missing here is recognition of a nation-to-nation status? We don't have recognition and implementation of those self-government agreements and treaties once they're signed. There is a lack of recognition around the honour of the crown and the fiduciary responsibility.
I wonder if you can comment on whether dealing with those things that seem to underpin everything else might not help us move forward.
I offer our warm congratulations on your July 23 election and welcome you to the committee. I think your strong leadership has demonstrated itself throughout your career, and you're demonstrating that once again today.
You did talk about the complex policy environment we live in. I was in opposition in this same portfolio for many years. It's very enlightening to be a part of government and to recognize how many of the things you have talked about are things we are also seized with in many regards. There are challenges to changing the way we do things. If we can create a partnership on as many of those challenges as possible, I think we can do a lot.
There has been discussion here about the 2% cap in education. We know about the ongoing negotiations with the 13 first nations in British Columbia, the FNCIDA process, which I think will be a model for the rest of the country in terms of the comparability.
You've talked about the specific claims policy. I think that's a major advance. It was done jointly, and the Senate played a strong role.
On the education front, we know that the aboriginal youth are very important to Canada and to our future for all of us—this is not a first nations question; this is a Canadian question.
I appreciate your strong recognition of the role of the environment and economic development.
You talked about moving away from unilateral decision-making. I want to talk about process versus action. How can we move from process to action? You described four joint committees on some important subjects: violence, citizenship, MRP—the matrimonial real property—and alternative dispute resolution. I believe those were your four.
We went through a very painful process on the Canadian Human Rights Act amendments to be inclusive of first nations people in this country. Without leadership from the government, I believe that never would have happened. So I guess the challenge is how we would create a process that would better that. The example I'll pose is matrimonial real property. You said we should table something. We should maybe study it in joint committee. How can I be convinced that would have any different result than further status quo—in other words, no movement because no consensus could be reached? That's my question.
[Witness speaks in her native language]
I bring you greetings from my people. I am from the Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve situated on Manitoulin Island. I am Anishinabe from the Anishinabek Nation.
Many years ago I came before a committee such as this to retain my right as a member of my community, because, to me, this is who I am. It's my identity and my place, the place of all my ancestors and the place of any future generations that I'm part of.
I would like to share with you some of the teachings I have been brought up with and show you how I intend to use them as president of the Native Women's Association of Canada. Maybe some of you have heard of the grandfather teachings. These are practices that we try to follow every day.
The first is honesty, and through honesty, in my role as the president, I hope to be looking at transparency and accountability.
Humility. We're looking at our provincial and territorial member associations. They have been at the bottom rung, and we need to ensure that their voices are heard, so this is going to be one of my big initiatives.
Respect. Respect is inherent in all our relationships with each other. When we think of respect, we think of human rights and the matrimonial real property legislation that is being proposed, because this ensures that respect is being continued.
Under truth, we're looking at economic development, employment, education, training, especially for our women. The results will have a positive impact on our families and our communities.
Courage. It takes a lot of strength and courage to challenge legislation. We're looking at the Sharon McIvor case and our rights as citizens within our own nations.
Under love, love of our people, love of our community, love of our families, we're looking at the elimination of poverty, and all that this entails.
Wisdom. We look to the wisdom of our elders, the wisdom of our teachers, for health, well-being, and for a sense of balance within our communities.
So that's my view of how I'm going to approach my role as the president of Native Women's Association of Canada.
I would also like to acknowledge that we are here working and speaking to you on the lands of the Algonquin people, and I acknowledge them and recognize that it is a privilege to be here.
The Native Women's Association of Canada, for those of you who may not have been recently told about us, is a national representative organization made up of 11 provincial and territorial member associations, which we could refer to as PTMAs, from across the country. We are dedicated to improving the social, economic, medical, and political well-being of our first nations women, our Métis women, and the Inuit women of Canada. Many of our provincial organizations consist of members from those three categories.
At this committee session, I would like to present the priority issues that the Native Women's Association of Canada is considering, the issues that all of the aboriginal women in this country are looking to resolve. We're looking at the discriminatory provisions in the Indian Act, which we're still having to deal with. We're looking at matrimonial real property and violence against aboriginal women.
We will also speak about the need for greater capacity for the Native Women's Association of Canada to effectively carry out our critical work, particularly given the fact that NWAC is the only national organization representing the views of aboriginal women.
If we look at the Indian Act, in April 2009 the British Columbia Court of Appeal ruled in the McIvor case. I happen to know Sharon McIvor and I was supporting her in this initiative. The provisions they were looking at in the Indian Act were paragraphs 6(1)(a) and 6(1)(c), which governed registration or status. The ruling said that these were unconstitutional and must be amended within the year.
This is a consequence of the discriminatory second generation cut-off enacted in Bill C-31, which means that brothers and sisters may have different abilities to pass on status to their children. In particular, mothers who regain status through Bill C-31 will not be able to pass on this status to their grandchildren as easily as those who had prior to Bill C-31.
This particular section affects me directly. I regained my status under Bill C-31. For 15 years I didn't have my status, even though I'm very much a part of my community. Now under Bill C-31, two of my grandchildren have status according to the provisions; three of my granddaughters, whom I love dearly--these are my future generations--do not have status because of this provision within the Indian Act.
The McIvor decision is in part a welcome decision from the perspective of first nations women in Canada who have long fought for the removal of this discrimination resulting from Bill C-31. But it is not what we envisioned.
I took my own personal case to the Supreme Court of Canada--this was way back in 1970, so it's a long time ago--in my endeavour to remove sex discrimination contained in paragraph 12(1)(b) of the old Indian Act. I did it to protect my children and my grandchildren's rights.
Now here we are, almost 40 years later--I know because my son is 39--and we all know that Bill C-31 did not in fact result in equality in a meaningful way. This complicated system established under subsections 6(1) and 6(2) for status under the Indian Act has not only left residual discrimination toward the women's descendants--my granddaughters--but it will also lead to the eventual elimination of Indian status for many of our first nations. This is unfair, and we need to deal with it right away. I think this is an appropriate time to be addressing this.
I was also the commissioner on citizenship for the Anishinabek Nation, and during that work with my communities, the 42 first nations, I was told and I realized that within three years some of our first nations in the Anishinabek Nation will have their last status Indian born. After that, there will be no more status Indians in that community. That is in the middle of southern Ontario. That's reality. That's what we're facing under this current Indian Act.
There is also the unfair requirement for our women to state the paternity of their children. If they do not, their children's father is deemed to be non-status. This is totally unacceptable. I don't know if you would require your women to have to do that in order to keep their citizenship. There are many reasons for this within our communities, social and cultural reasons, and it definitely needs to be looked at.
We were told just last week in a presentation from Indian and Northern Affairs Canada that the federal government does plan to make the required amendments to ensure that the registration provisions comply with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We're pleased they have made that commitment. It is a step in the right direction. Earlier I mentioned that we support the B.C. Court of Appeals' decision in part, and that's because it is still too narrow. It is not dealing with my grandchildren and Sharon McIvor's grandchildren. This needs to be looked at. If we can do it in a meaningful way to ensure that the constitutional requirement to consult and accommodate our people's aboriginal and treaty rights is ensured, then I think we would be starting in the right direction.
In the Government of Canada's presentation to us last Friday, I believe, it outlined plans to hold national engagement sessions with national aboriginal organizations and 15 regional engagement sessions. This was done to provide information on the government's preferred approach to legislative amendment and to provide an opportunity to review and to receive views of all the aboriginal delegates they were talking to. But it was just an information session, and INAC has acknowledged that. If this is the approach that leads to the formulation of legislative change, you can be assured that the views and perspectives of our first nations community members will not have been solicited in this process in any kind of meaningful way.
NWAC urges this committee to call upon the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs to put adequate resources to hold meaningful discussions with the national aboriginal organizations and our communities across Canada about these legislative amendments. We urge you to ensure that the feedback received is considered in the drafting of these amendments. A culturally relevant gender-based analysis of the proposed amendments must take place. We would like some assurance that this is going to be done.
Once again, the unstated paternity presumption must also be addressed in a meaningful way. This is done to ensure that our women are not put through any more hardships. Once again, this is only dealing with our women within our communities, and it's just double hardships again. I know it's not a simple issue, and it goes to the essence of our rights as first nations, as nations within this country of Canada. We are nations, and we should have the right and be able to practise our rights as nations within this beautiful country of ours. All we would like to see is to have that right.
If we have that right to decide who our citizens are, who our members are, the right to our language, the right to our history, the right to practise our own ceremonies, I think that would be a step in the right direction. I believe it's the only way we can go.
Okay. It now is on the record.
Perhaps we'll just finish up. I'll come back and address the previous point of order as well, but if I could, members, there are two things. We're going to finish up, and thank you very much, Madame la présidente, for your presentation today. It was very welcome and timely, and we wish you all the best in the months ahead in your important position.
Members, as a point of housekeeping here, I would like you to look at the documents that were circulated to you, and we will try to set aside a very short period of time at the end of the next hour to take a vote on that. The reason for that is that there may be a Liaison Committee meeting as early as this week, so if we don't get a tentative travel budget passed now, it will have to wait until after the break. So I ask you to consider that. You realize, of course, that we do not have committee business on the agenda today, so we will have to discuss this at your blessing in that regard.
Finally, if I could, members, on the point of order that was raised by Mr. Duncan, the committees really are not in a position and/or are not empowered to sanction specific members for unparliamentary language, if that is what has been alleged. However, I would encourage all members, whether their microphones are on or not, to abide by the spirit of the Standing Orders in regard to language that is used at committee. This is an important consideration and helps keep the debate and dialogue at the committees at a respectable and civil level. That's not to say that language cannot be pointed, certainly, but I would ask that you respect that. The only means we have, if members were to persist with such language, would be to not recognize members when it comes time for them to speak. Only the House can in fact bring sanctions on this type of intervention, should that be the choice of the committee.
So that is just for the benefit of members to understand the implications of the point of order, and the other comments are now on the record.
So with that, I think I saw a couple of hands up.
Good afternoon, Chairperson Stanton, members of the standing committee, and fellow NAO leaders. It's an honour to be here today on the traditional and unceded land of the Algonquin people to present to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.
I am a status Mi’kmaq who has lived all my life off-reserve. I'm from Geary, New Brunswick and I am the former chief and president of the New Brunswick Aboriginal Peoples Council.
On September 12 I was elected national chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples. We represent the rights and interests of status and non-status Indians living off reserve and those of Métis people.
Today is an historic occasion when two of the three national aboriginal leaders appearing before you are women. I think this fact is sending you an important message about how things get done in aboriginal communities. Traditionally speaking, Mi’kmaq culture was matrilineal and women were the leaders.
Emma LaRocque, a noted aboriginal scholar, has said that colonization has taken a toll on all aboriginal peoples, but perhaps it has taken its greatest toll on the women. Women continue to be discriminated against through the Indian Act, but through the brave work of people like Sharon McIvor and Sandra Lovelace, we are taking this legislation apart, piece by piece. We have never bought into the Indian Act, and we have stood our ground and we have lived on our traditional territories.
Through this odious legislation, we are denied our birthright and treated as second-class citizens. I am a registered Indian and classified as a subsection 6(2) Indian. Under the law, my son is not entitled to be registered as an Indian. We are graded like cattle or grades of beef. It's unadulterated discrimination. Fighting this inhuman treatment and colonial-era thinking is the central priority of the congress.
The core problem we face is the denial of the federal government that it has jurisdiction over Métis and non-status Indians under subsection 91(24) of the Constitution Act, 1867. The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples stated that this denial was at the core of federal government discrimination. We say that this denial is wrong in law and we are seeking a judicial declaration to resolve this issue. The declaration will remove a major obstacle to negotiating a range of matters pertaining to the rights and interests of Métis and non-status Indians.
The federal government has refused or failed to negotiate with us in good faith. As a result of their legal position, Métis and non-status Indians have suffered discrimination in health care, education, and other benefits, as well as an opportunity to negotiate or enter treaties with respect to unextinguished aboriginal rights or agreements. Our priorities include health, education, economic development, housing, and homelessness.
It is difficult in 10 minutes to cover an entire range of issues. There are many more agenda items that could be included. Some are aboriginal specific and others are of interest to all Canadians. Aboriginal veterans, matrimonial property rights, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and environmental issues are all of great importance to CAP.
Everyone on this House of Commons standing committee is aware of the health status of aboriginal peoples. It's much lower than that of the Canadian population. If you name any health issue, it's likely that the prevalence in our communities is much higher, from type 2 diabetes to heart disease, substance abuse, and fetal alcohol syndrome. These are all major health problems for our people.
The key priority of CAP is to work with the federal and provincial governments to resolve complex jurisdictional issues that impact on the provision of good health care. We want to ensure that our people obtain the same level of access and support as is taken for granted by other Canadians.
The pandemic of the H1N1 flu virus is of great concern to us. It is one of the most urgent health challenges we face and it highlights the vulnerability of our communities.
Let us be clear about health. There needs to be a policy change in the way the federal and provincial governments are dealing with health, including pandemic viruses. Governments need to coordinate with all national aboriginal organizations to increase readiness against this pandemic strain of influenza and any future strains that may come upon us.
Our first and central consideration is the fact that the health status of our people is well below the national average. We need intelligent health policies to overcome these disparities. We need to be involved. We need the capacity to be involved, and we need an integrated and transparent process to find solutions.
I've recently written to Minister Aglukkaq concerning the importance of renewing the aboriginal diabetes initiative. Type 2 diabetes is an epidemic in our communities. Dr. Stewart Harris, one of Canada's leading authorities on this disease, has reported that the prevalence has skyrocketed. If the aboriginal diabetes initiative for off-reserve and Métis is not renewed in a timely fashion, we will lose our network of front-line prevention and education coordinators. All the gains we have made in the last 10 years will be lost, and the epidemic will continue to grow in our communities.
The education of our children and youth is a public policy priority of the first order. Aboriginal youth have the highest dropout rates, the lowest levels of literacy, and the lowest levels of skills development. It is education that improves our lives. It is education that is integral to reducing poverty in our communities. We view the needs of aboriginal children and youth from the prenatal period to university as a priority. Federal, provincial, and territorial jurisdictions need to make a clear commitment to improving the school experience of aboriginal students and making aboriginal education a priority focus. This will require fundamental changes in the way education systems operate, to ensure there is consultation with us in development of policies, tools, and rules and implementation of structures.
Back in 1996, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples recommended the federal, provincial, and territorial governments cooperate to support early childhood education for all aboriginal children, regardless of residency. We view ECD as an essential program to ensure our children have the very best start in life by receiving all possible stimulation and nourishment. The goal of kindergarten to grade 12 should be to produce graduates with a sound education that is relevant to aboriginal culture, values, and history.
At the February aboriginal summit on education, we were encouraged by the discussions concerning strengthening aboriginal successes in education. The provincial and territorial ministers of education have recognized that in the next 15 years aboriginal students will represent over 25% of the elementary student population in some provinces and territories. Urban aboriginal families are in a particularly difficult situation because in the urban setting they lose the cultural influence and supports.
The most urbanized aboriginal people are non-status Indians and Métis. Métis and non-status Indians do not have access to the post-secondary education support services that are provided to reserves and the Inuit. This is a major barrier to increasing the numbers of aboriginal people who have post-secondary education. CAP recommends expansion of the federal post-secondary education programs to include status and non-status Indians and Métis. We are also seeking resources to provide bursaries for our students in order to assist them in pursuing higher education and skills development.
A third priority is economic development. CAP is committed to working with the federal, provincial, and territorial governments to secure programs and services that support our full engagement in the Canadian economy. We are seeking an opportunity to engage in economic development programs, which have been historically denied to our constituency. We need to have access to these programs, including regional economic development initiatives and the implementation of a network of aboriginal economic development officers.
The core of CAP's economic development relies on the aboriginal human resource development strategy, which is a basic building block. This is in jeopardy because the program sunsets at the end of March 2010. The CAP AHRDA needs to be maintained because, without this organizational platform, new initiatives will be uncoordinated.
In economic development initiatives, there must be a focus on the needs of aboriginal women. Their capacity to support themselves and their families is limited by a lack of education, skills, and training. In any labour market agreements, child care costs must be included.
CAP has been a long-time advocate for aboriginal people with disabilities, and there is a need for employment and training programs for this sector, which represents the most marginalized and poorest of the poor in our communities.
A final priority is housing and homelessness. The housing crisis being faced in our community requires a national aboriginal housing strategy and action plan. Our organization was the driving force behind the establishment of the rural and native housing program. This program resulted in action on the long-neglected housing and shelter needs of our constituencies. It produced thousands of housing units across Canada, but today many of these units need to be replaced or repaired. CAP has just renewed a protocol agreement with the National Aboriginal Housing Association. NAHA has been working since 1994 to advocate for the interest of off-reserve Métis housing.
We are fully supportive of the NAHA's call for a national office of housing strategy. It's remarkable that no such strategy exists in Canada. There have been numerous reports and studies on the aboriginal housing crisis, and there is increasing evidence that urban aboriginal people are facing a worsening housing situation. In 1998, the Big City Mayors' Caucus declared homelessness a national disaster. Homelessness should not exist in a country as wealthy as Canada. It's an embarrassment to all Canadians. It is an outrage that British Columbia intends to forcibly move homeless people off the streets during the Olympic Games. Homelessness is an urban epidemic of poverty, and our people comprise the largest sector. The overrepresentation of aboriginal peoples constitutes a powerful image of the move by our people to urban centres.
The Canadian public continues to associate aboriginal issues with Indians living on-reserve, but the reality is that 80% of the ancestral aboriginal population live off-reserve, and 60% live in urban areas. This is the most significant demographic factor for policy-makers, yet it is the one where the least action takes place.
[Witness speaks in her native language]
Thank you. Merci.