[Witness speaks in Ojibwa]
I'll wait for the simultaneous translation to catch up there. No, it's okay, I'm just kidding.
Good morning, relatives. My name is Wab Kinew. I'm the director of indigenous inclusion at the University of Winnipeg where I'm in the process of setting up programs that help to connect indigenous people with the mainstream economy in a way that respects indigenous values.
In the Ojibwe introduction that I just gave to you, I told you about my lineage. I said I'm a member of the lynx clan. My people are known as the Lake of the Woods Anishinaabe. My father is Tobasonakwut, my grandfather the original Wabanakwut, and they gave to me the Anishinaabe way. My father spoke to me in the Anishinaabe language. Through them I learned Anishinaabe law.
That is correct: we have Anishinaabe law, a law that tells us to take care of each other. I think others should understand this. We, as indigenous nations, the Anishinaabe being but one example, have laws and governance systems that are still valid, in effect, and relevant to our modern conduct. My introduction refers to many of these laws, to my clan, to my family, to my membership in the spirit lodge Midewin. All of these things ascribe rights, responsibilities, and define my expected conduct within Anishinaabe society. If more people understood our laws and cultures, we could bring about reconciliation between indigenous people and other Canadians.
The Indian Act as it exists right now is an affront to these indigenous systems of law, culture, and governance. The Indian Act asserts the supremacy of western law and implies that indigenous law and culture do not have value. By imposing a system of governance on us you tell us that we do not know how to govern ourselves.
This may sound abstract. However, Chandler and Lalonde have found that cultural continuity is a hedge against suicide in first nations in British Columbia. American research suggests that native youth who are active in their cultures are less likely to use drugs and alcohol. If this is what the research tells us, why do we continue with an approach that undermines these cultures and that implies that indigenous nations do not have value? The proper course of action is to help indigenous people revitalize our own cultures and communities. The first step toward helping that take place is meaningful consultation. By consulting with indigenous people you send a message that you value us, our culture, and are therefore interested in a new relationship that is not coloured by the paternalism of the past.
The Indian Act has been very damaging in that it has removed opportunities, made dependence the easiest path for many, and led to the damaging residential school era. I'm against the Indian Act. The real issue is not whether or not to replace the Indian Act, but how to do it. Status Indians and others affected by the act have made life choices according to situations that have been created in part by the legislation. We have decided where to live, whom to live with, and how to earn a living based, in part, on the Indian Act. To change it or remove it without consulting us is not right. First nations people deserve to have our voices heard in designing whatever is to replace the Indian Act for that reason alone. However, results of the duty to consult changes to the Indian Act will affect treaty rights and aboriginal rights, so some meaningful consultation should occur.
I realize that I and other first nations people have been invited to provide comment, but I do not believe this fulfills the crown's duty to consult. Is there transparency as to why I and others invited to speak were chosen? Has a call gone out generally to everyone affected by the Indian Act to provide comment? Is there any assurance that the opinions we provide will be reflected in the handling of the bill? A thorough consultation would not leave room for these questions; hence, I do not believe that the duty to consult is being fulfilled.
There is a proposed provision in Bill to provide for reporting on collaboration between the federal government, first nations, and other interested parties to develop new legislation to replace the Indian Act. However, this is too vague to represent meaningful consultation. All it requires is that a report be made. I worry that such a report will simply say there has been no progress towards replacing the Indian Act.
If consultation with first nations is a real priority, then it should happen before a bill is tabled, not after. If there is a real desire for it to happen, then we should also spend some time drafting the terms of reference, allocating resources, and setting timelines for that process. We should not merely say, “Let us have a report once a year”. Instead, since Bill is a piece of legislation designed without meaningful consultation with the first nations people upon whom it will be imposed, it is paternalistic in the tradition of the existing Indian Act.
Solutions imposed from outside of indigenous communities do not work. They have not worked for the past 140 years. Replacing a paternalistic Indian Act with a paternalistic act to amend the Indian Act is not real progress. We must replace the Indian Act, but we must replace it with legislation that has been designed at least in meaningful consultation with, if not entirely by, indigenous people.
The proposed provisions within Bill are fairly innocuous. I do not think you would find very many people who would argue in favour of residential schools or keeping the laws that made them possible on the books. However, does anyone really fear that the federal government will start funding residential schools again if the Indian Act is left the way it is? I do not think so. So removing these provisions represents picking the low-hanging fruit, if you will. That may not sound too bad, but in a world of limited resources, picking the low-hanging fruit comes at the expense of tackling the more challenging aspects of the relationships between Canada and the indigenous people.
There must be a legal interface between the Anishinaabe law, of which I spoke earlier, and Canadian law, and we have an interface already, interfaces actually. They are called treaties. We should be focusing our attention on honouring the spirit and intent of the treaties. Spending our time tinkering around the edges of the Indian Act distracts us from what we should really be doing to improve the relationship between indigenous people and other Canadians: honouring the treaties in the treaty areas and respecting aboriginal title in the non-treaty areas.
Furthermore, there is only a limited amount of political capital available in this country to deal with indigenous issues. If we expend it on this bill, I worry there may not be enough left over to tackle the real problems in first nations communities. When I visit reserves across this country, the problems I hear about over and over again are suicide, prescription drug abuse, and the lack of opportunity. We should be focusing on tackling these problems. You will recall that Chandler, Lalonde, and others have found that culture, and consequently the indigenous laws embodied therein, can help deal with some of those issues. Let us devote our energies to improving the relationship between indigenous people and Canada and to responding to the immediate crises many first nations people face today.
Based on these remarks, I have three recommendations: one, that the federal government engage both first nations politicians and grassroots indigenous people in a meaningful consultation about replacing the Indian Act, meaningful consultation meaning a consultation process where the opinions expressed by those first nations and indigenous people are not only heard, but reflected in future legislation; two, that this consultation happen before any act to replace the Indian Act is tabled; and three, that you withdraw Bill as an act of good faith until such meaningful consultations take place.
Meegwetch. Merci. Thank you much.
I agree with your assessment that having non-indigenous people in Canada buy into the need to replace the Indian Act is very important. That will generate the political capital necessary to engage in this wide-ranging consultation process that I've outlined in a few of the answers and in my comments.
Having worked in the media as a daily news reporter for a number of years, I can tell you that issues like the Indian Act and the rationale behind why consultation with first nations needs to occur, these are complex issues that are not easily explained in a two-minute news story or in a 700-word column within a newspaper. It is definitely a challenging exercise.
However, every year the government sets out its priorities. I think one step would be for the federal government to make this a priority, and consequently, the media would be forced to do a better job in explaining what the issues are and what the duty to consult is.
Beyond that, I think there's a real challenge in Canada within our education system at the elementary, secondary, and post-secondary levels about how we teach indigenous history and indigenous issues today. I think in the long run we want to look at those things and make sure that the place first nations people, Métis people, and Inuit people occupy within the fabric of the country is properly taught. That's the long-term solution.
I think the immediate solution, one which federal politicians can engage their constituents in, is to make this a talking point. Whatever your assessment is of the Indian Act, or the policy alternatives that could potentially replace it, I think there's widespread agreement that the status quo doesn't work. On one side of the spectrum you have people who think the act is offensive and paternalistic. On the other side you have people who may not be against the way the act is approached, but who just resent the current status quo on reserves. They too would want to see the Indian Act changed.
I think it's working from that common ground where federal politicians say, “We're tired of the status quo. Let's do something to change the status quo. In order not to have to revisit this issue again in a year, when the next first nations housing crisis or another thing pops up in the news, let's do it right. Let's get it right this time.”
The way to get it right is to engage in the consultation process with first nations, to fulfill the duty to consult, and to make sure that whatever legislation eventually gets passed reflects that consultation process right back, even before the legislation is tabled.
It's a sentiment that I agree with, and it's something that all politicians may be able to play a role in bringing about.
Good morning, everyone.
Before we start, an eagle feather signifies truth and respect. When we speak here today, it will signify this. Also, I respect a lot of people coming here. In our culture, one of the biggest respects we have is the passing of tobacco. I guess I should remind you guys that we travelled a great way to come here and meet with you. If you want something like that in the future, if you want to fully understand something, you should pass tobacco first. You've got to really understand our people, what we've gone through, and where we come from.
You look at the feather itself. To walk traditionally our way of life is very hard. They say it's to walk this red road or to walk this feather, which means that feather's hard in the middle. You know how hard it is to walk straight and narrow. If you falter, you go left and you go right. That means maybe to drink or to get into bad habits. We heard Wab Kinew comment on drinking alcohol and drug abuse, addictions. These are all things that happen in our communities. We get out of these things through traditional values. They say that if you fall into the soft part of a feather, it's just like a pillow. It's like a bed. Once you get into that comfort zone, you have no worry in life. You just rely on that. What you do is pretty much throw your life away. For somebody to come and walk how hard it is in a feather, that's how hard it is. These are values that were taken away through residential schools and through the Indian Act itself.
I wanted to speak further. I'm in total agreement with Wab. We're all in consensus. You always ask how we get past this. The way to get past this is you have to understand who we are and what we went through. We signed a treaty. For us, we signed Treaty No. 2 with the Queen. We had a Treaty No. 2 meeting on Tuesday in my community, and we had all our elders come out from various communities. We talked about what this government is doing to us and how the Idle No More movement has awakened our people. We have to go back to the treaty arrangement, which is what we've known and what we've seen. We have a treaty signed with the Queen and the chiefs within our territory. What's happening is that there's a third party coming in here, and they're trying to administer policies and laws on us. They tell us that we have to take things into your own hands.
As Wab stated earlier, there's a lack of money. If you look at the various agreements according to the treaty, you're guaranteed a school. In Ebb and Flow, we were given a school in 1983. It was built for 250 students. Today, we have 708 students. What we've done is not everybody utilizes the gym we have. Chief Eastman has the same problems. All the various communities do. The only way you can get a school is if you give up your lot of land and the province comes in. There's a breach of treaty right there. It's also with the dollars that we get on reserve. We get $7,200 per student for tuition fees. Off reserve, other schools are being funded at $11,667. There is a great indifference there. When you look at it, we're being set up to fail. Those are things just on the education side. You're guaranteed a school today. How many sorts of different schools are there? There are elementary schools, junior high schools, high schools, universities, and colleges. That had to be fixed up.
As Wab mentioned, there should have been changes coming along the way. We've come to about 140 years since the Indian Act. There should have been changes made along the way to accommodate us.
I like the comments that Jean makes sometimes. I always read up on Jean's comments. She's right about our resources; they built this country, but we've been forgotten.
We still get $5 every year for our treaty. Look at that $5 today and consider what it was worth maybe 140 years ago. You need to index that.
Do you want to make changes? Then make changes according to the treaties, what we signed for. Give us those schools. Give us the funding we're supposed to be getting. Give us the honours we're supposed to be getting.
Every first nation's entitled to, for every family of five, it says 160 acres. Where is that? How many people have come and gone who have never gotten that?
It also says that before anything happens in our territory, we'll be consulted. We weren't restricted to living on reserves. We have a territory. That's the map you see before you. If somebody wanted to come to live there, you had to consult with the chiefs. You had to ask special permission to live there, and they gave it up for settlement.
You talk about produce and farming and all that. That's all that was allowed. Anything beyond that has to be done through consultation. All this was signed on the basis of four directions.
You really have to understand who you're dealing with first. Even me, I was lost, too. We're only human. We make mistakes.
Four directions, if you look at the signing of the treaty, it says, “Then they made their mark.” You look at the mark. People look at it. It's an X, right? It's not an X; it's four directions. If you look at what the four directions are, in our culture.... This is what I mean. You have to go out and fast. For somebody to speak on our behalf, they have to live in our shoes. Our culture, being traditional, every year we go out and fast for four days, four nights. You go without. That's to give yourself to the Creator, to do the right thing, to know what we need.
Four directions come from that significance. The first direction that's talked about is the tree. The second direction is an animal. The third direction is the land. The fourth direction is the water.
When I asked what those significances were, I sat with my elders and they explained them to me. The elders said that first direction was a tree. When people asked if they could come to live in this territory we own, we asked them what they were going to do there. They said, “I want to farm. I want to survive. I want to live.” We allowed them. They didn't come with houses, but they came with tools.
Then they would ask the chiefs, “I need to build a home. Can I go into that bush there and cut trees to build a home?” The chiefs would say, “For every three or four loads you get, you give me one or two loads.” That's the basis of the treaty working. There was an agreement. That settler would get his home, but whatever was left for the chiefs, they took it and they distributed that among their people.
If you look at what's made from the tree today, your furniture, your homes, paper, everything, it's a big industry. A businessman makes 40% to 50%. Provincial governments that are collecting the taxes make 30% to 40%. The federal government here, you're collecting 5% to 10% through administration fees. About 2% to 5%, maybe even 10%, goes back to the Queen, according to treaty. Nothing comes back to our treaty offices.
The second one, the animal, at that time it would have been the buffalo. Where's the buffalo today? Today, cows are everywhere. We don't get a share of that. The fishing, we don't get a share from that, either, yet they're fishing in our tributaries and all that. Think about it. It's big business. First nations people are big business.
I concur with Jean and all the comments she's made. The permits, the licences, everything, there's a lot of money being exchanged at our expense.
That third resource, that third direction, this is the big one. It's going below the land that we gave away. It's all about oil today: $218 million was taken out last year in Treaty No. 2 territory. That's our people's oil. That's our future as well. If we had that resource, if that money came to us, we wouldn't be sitting here with you today.
We'd want a working agreement. We would have our schools and our roads would be fixed up.
We came here a few years ago when we were flooded, and everybody turned a blind eye to us. That was never discussed in the media. It was controlled. We know that.
Oil is only one. There are so many other minerals: gold, silver, nickel, copper, potash. We have an abundance of potash. To us, that's what these bills want. They want more of our resources; they want to take them away.
Our fourth direction is the water, and the elders say, “When you can't go into the lakes, rivers, and streams and draw water freely and drink from it, that's when all four parts of the treaty have been breached”. That's where we are. Look at all the hydro projects. They're controlling the waters. They're making money from that resource. We're getting flooded out in that process, our people back home in our communities, because there's so much saturation in the land. There's nowhere for that water to go, so it's going into our houses and it's creating black mould, as in Chief Eastman's community and in my community. Over time, because we're not being funded for mould remediation or for real issues, our people are getting sick because of it. People are developing mould spores in their lungs. You can't repair those; once your lungs are gone, your lungs are gone. Our kids are getting sick with respiratory illnesses. People are getting sick so easily from mould. These are the real issues.
If there was a working agreement to go into treaty implementation, we would be self-sufficient. How many people come and do business in our area? Some of the laws that we've discussed at Treaty No. 2 are to make a resource law. We want to have control of our own resources. We'll do it willingly with any government that's there in place.
You look at all this. The treaty's been breached. We've said this in so many meetings. The Queen lives abroad, but we live here together. Let's make a new treaty. If you really want to get down to business, let's make a new treaty.
This bill that is being passed around and talked about, it's as Wab said—he didn't come out and say it rightfully—it's like putting the carriage before the horse. That's exactly what it is. You should consult with us first, before you even think about pushing a bill forward. That's a true working relationship there, that's what you have.
If you look at how things of the treaty are, how did we get to where we are today? The Indian Act itself did this.
We have our own stories in our communities, foretelling of settlers coming in, walking in the creeks, and coming upon something that's shiny and glittery. They come upon it and it's gold. The settler picks this up and takes it to the chief and says, “Hey, Chief, look at this very valuable stuff here. We should dig this up.” The chief says, “No, don't disturb it. Just take what you see. Give us half, and you take half”. That's the treaty working, there.
What happens is the settler goes on and talks to other settlers. They develop these colonial governments, and then they bring this Indian Act and they bring all of this election code. What do they do? They make that treaty chief run against somebody else. They make him run for his position in the community. Perhaps the treaty chief comes from a family of 10, and now he runs against somebody who comes from a family of 50. Who's going to win? It's a popularity contest. So the treaty chief is out. This new chief comes in and then the settler comes back to him and tells him, “There's stuff here, we're going to do some things here, but because you're supposed to live in the reserve, we're not going to bother you in the reserve with what we're going to do here. Is that okay with you?” The chief, not knowing any better because he's a new chief and too proud to go ask the treaty chief what he should do....
That's how we began to lose our way. We're not even allowed in our own territories. There are fences up, and “no hunting” signs. They say to us that there's no trespassing. Those are our lands. We're being locked out of our own lands. We can't even practise our own culture and heritage there.
Those are the real solutions. If you want to do something honestly, then work with us right from the start. Don't bring out this law and then try to say you've consulted with us later, because you're doing things backwards.
That's what I'd like to say.
Thank you for the opportunity to provide information that will allow us to strengthen our relationship.
My name is Chief James Plewak. I'm the son of Marjorie Burns, who is the daughter of Walter Burns, who was the son of Solomon Burns, who was a son of Moses Burns, also known as Chief Keeseekoowenin, who was the half-brother of Chief Mekis, who entered into Treaty No. 2 on August 21, 1871, with the imperial crown, on behalf of the Riding Mountain and Dauphin Lake bands and the rest of the territory.
The territory is the map that you see before you.
Today with me are Chief Nelson Houle of Ebb and Flow, and Chief Eugene Eastman of O-Chi-Chak-Ko-Sipi. Both of them are with Treaty No. 2 first nations.
In the 1800s our people worked with the Hudson's Bay Company to create trade and commerce in what is Manitoba today. The area, which was our traditional territory over which we exercised sovereignty, covered the eastern shore of Lake Winnipeg, as our eastern boundary, going west to Moose Mountain, which is today in southeastern Saskatchewan, as you'll see on the map.
It essentially ran from the northern point of Waterhen Lake to the U.S. border, except for the area that was specified in Treaty No. 1...the postage-stamp Manitoba stretched out to what is today Brandon in southern Manitoba, and it's as you can see on the map.
In 1871, when representatives of the imperial crown asked us if we would open up portions of our territory for immigration and settlement, there were no settlers on our territory. We were the only occupants, as Chief Houle noted in his comments. By requesting the treaty, the crown acknowledged our sovereignty. We utilized our sovereignty and consented to Treaty No. 2. The word “consent” appears at the outset of the treaty.
We could have done what the Ojibway of the Rainy River area did. They told the commissioners to get on their way and they would think about the treaty for a winter or two more. But we did consent, and as Justice Binnie said in Mikisew Cree First Nation v. Canada, the treaty was not the end; it was the beginning.
As Chief Justice McLachlin said in the Haida Nation decision, the duty to consult and to accommodate is for the purpose of reconciling the sovereignty because of our prior occupancy and the crown's assumed sovereignty. That's an ongoing process that's required when we speak of consultation.
There is another matter that you should be aware of. We not only opened up portions of our land for settlement, but we invited the settlers' children to attend our schools because they had none. We invited the settlers to be part of our church because we had one for our people who wanted to learn Christianity.
We helped the settlers establish themselves, to build their homes, to survive the winter. We made arrangements with them to trade in our cattle and our horses, which were the finest of the land. By the Rupert's Land Act, the crown was told the new Canada had no jurisdiction in our territory until a treaty had been entered into, a just and equitable treaty for compensation.
We were assured in our treaty negotiations that lands not taken up by immigration and settlement would continue to be ours, to be governed by our sovereign governments, which included all the Ojibway communities within our territory. We were assured that we would be compensated for the loss of use of those lands that were settled. One dollar an acre was the amount to be paid in 1871, the going price then: not a dollar annually, but a one-time dollar an acre for as long as the sun shines and the river flows, but you never paid a penny of it, not one penny of it.
This alone explains the poverty in which we have lived for so many generations. Just to give you an idea, in my area agricultural land is now going for about $500 an acre. Back in 1871 the value of that land was $1 an acre. You can see how much it has increased in value.
You may wonder what all this history has to do with why we are here on Bill . It is because if you do not understand this history, verified by your documents, you will not understand our fierce opposition to your bill.
Treaty No. 2 in no way diminishes our sovereignty. To the contrary, it gave and still gives your crown the right to exercise its sovereignty over its settlers and the land we shared with them. Every other document is smoke and mirrors and incantations of doctrines of discovery and our inferiority, which made it necessary for you to still, in the 21st century, be amending an act for the gradual civilization of Indians.
Your bill is an infringement on our sovereignty, a breach of our treaty, a breach of the honour of the crown. We want to re-establish the true legal spirit and intent of that treaty. We want a mutually productive, friendly, warm relationship with you and your people.
We continue to hold out our hand of friendship to you, yet while you meet here to discuss removing obsolete nonsense from the Indian Act, your continuing violation of the treaty is killing us. It is a cause of great misery and trauma as Wab Kinew was noting earlier today.
I'll give you one example. Among our Treaty No. 2 first nations, one has been totally dispossessed, Lake St. Martin. Well over 1,000 people were evacuated from there due to deliberate flooding by the Government of Manitoba in order to save the people of Winnipeg from flooding.
Chief Eastman's community was deliberately flooded. The Ebb and Flow reserve of Chief Houle was severely damaged by intentional flooding.
Where has the federal government been? We are still dealing with this problem two years later. “Isn't that a provincial matter?” you ask. This action causes a trespass on our reserve lands, and the federal government has the obligation to take action. In fact, under the Indian Act, which you want to amend, it has the sole authority to lay those trespassing charges.
In case you didn't know about this flooding, it happened in May 2011 and destroyed nearly 200 homes, making the community uninhabitable. Those hundreds and hundreds of people are still, two years later, living in hotels in Winnipeg in temporary placements with nothing tangible on the horizon except promises and requests for patience. This is just one of over a half-dozen communities that are suffering from this kind of flooding of their homes.
Further, we are damaged and traumatized because the schools we insisted upon as part of Treaty No. 2 have been pauperized into an inferior system of education. Only 38% of our high school students graduate. Compare that to the rest of Canada. That's something we have to be mindful of.
[Witness speaks in his native language
I come today to express my concerns over the proposed bill's changes to the Indian Act.
It makes me wonder how this whole process is working. We have stated for years that we need changes, that we need progress coming from leadership. One person writes a bill and puts it on the floor of Parliament and wants to change our lives when this person has never lived on a reserve.
I take this as an insult. I'm offended by this while my people are suffering from the flood we have back home today and from the spike in cancer in my community. We have to drink runoff water, grey water. We have sewage fields. We're faced with inland flooding this year. The water has to be pumped out over the permanent dikes that surround us. We're a diked-in community. It's quite disturbing that suddenly we are sitting here today trying to focus on little things in the Indian Act.
I have treaty rights. Let's focus on those.
I ask myself what we need to do. Do I have to bring my people in here, the sick people with diabetes or cancer? I don't know, but I think your government and your people, your officials, have to come to see for yourselves, and not fly over our communities as the minister did a week or so ago without my knowledge of his coming to our territory. That's working behind our backs without our knowledge. He should come and see for himself.
We sit here and ponder how we're going to change one word of the Indian Act, or this word and that word.
It's quite upsetting that I have to be here to explain myself. If I have to, I will bring my people here. The media is criticizing us for what we are doing, being accountable and transparent. Whose worry is that? Is it your taxpayers? They say we are being funded by the taxpayers. No, we are not. According to the treaty, we should be the richest people walking this land, from the resources that are being extracted on a daily basis.
In our territory we have potash. We have forest. If you look at the Duck Mountain area on the northern part of it, which is Treaty 4, there's no bush left. We hunt on that land. We fish. We lived off the land. There is nothing there.
It's very upsetting that we sit here and talk about these things. Let's talk about the real issues. Let's go back to our treaty table. That's what we are proposing here as we sit as representatives from Treaty No. 2.
I'd like to say good morning on behalf of my people back home.
I, too, feel the same way in regard to meaningful dialogue in terms of consultation. We do have a clear definition of what that word means in our belief, but it's a total definition, both federal and provincial governments. Our definition clearly states that in order to consult meaningfully with our people, you have the majority of our people present in a duly convened meeting.
Just because I'm here doesn't mean this is meaningful consultation. I know time and time again governments have stated that I, as the representative of my own first nation community, that's a way of consultation. But it's not. You have to come down to our community and consult with our people about this particular piece of legislation that's being proposed.
I was one of the chiefs who participated in the crown-first nations gathering. This whole thing about the Indian Act, we were told by the in front of all the chiefs and in front of all his MPs that he had no intention of repealing or changing or even uprooting—I think that was what he mentioned; it's like uprooting a tree—he made no mention of any changes to the Indian Act. That's what he was saying.
Now even before the crown-first nations gathering, we sat with Mr. Clarke, who's the MP of our particular riding, and there too he showed us the private member's bill, and we told him. If I remember correctly, Rob, we told you just to hold off for now; put a hold on your private member's bill. But you went ahead and forwarded it in the process.
This Indian Act—I agree with the gentleman who spoke before me—has done nothing but oppress and depress our people. That is not what our people had agreed to when they signed the treaty. With the private member's bill, I know Mr. Clarke visited the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations assembly in our neighbouring community, in the town of Nipawin, and did a presentation there, but he didn't.... You know, this is what, I guess, angers leaders across Canada: you have different individuals who come into our assemblies and present their views in regard to the Indian Act, but yet they're not prepared to answer any questions.
You'll remember correctly, Rob, that you weren't prepared to answer any questions, but you got up to the podium, and you did ask a question to the chiefs—
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I'll be brief, five minutes.
I have some comments on the proposed bill by the MP. Amendments, as he should know and as all you MPs should know, do not benefit the first nations in any way, shape, or form. They benefit the bureaucracy by strengthening their paternalistic authority, and it reaches the goal of termination and assimilation as stated by John A. Macdonald, the original Prime Minister.
I would like to disregard amendment in that bill itself. Replacement is something that to a certain extent I probably would agree to. But prior to that happening, I think the MPs and Canada need to understand who we are, as has been stated. In doing so, they have to educate themselves the day before treaty, the day during treaty, and the day after.
The day before treaty we were sovereign nations with our own political, fiscal, judicial, and social agendas. If you look at the international interpretation of nationhood, we have our own form of government, population, land, culture, and most importantly, we have our language. The intent is that we escalate and contemporize those agendas into what is being referred to nowadays as self-government. But self-government alone will not be sufficient. Self-government within the federal policy is short-term. At the end of the day, it will just be delegated authority, more or less status quo. Self-government can only happen if we are allowed, through legislation agreed to by the first nations and Canada, to have access to the resources that we have surrounding our reserves and inside our homelands.
Self-sufficiency, the fiscal agenda, is what should fund self-government in order for us to govern our own people. Self-government relies on the funding that we generate, and in the same manner, the judicial agenda. Self-adjudication relies on funding that we should be able to generate from the resources that we have, again in our ancestral lands and in our homelands. Self-determination is an agenda that is identified in treaty. A resurgence of indigenous nationhood on one hand, the application of the fiduciary on the other, and then implementation of treaty. I think that is something that Chief Head stated in the past in meetings with senior officials within Parliament, and also with the and with the Governor General of Canada. I'm not sure if that's been filtered down to the MPs who should be receiving that kind of information.
Again, I go back to the word “replacement”. Amendments, as I said, I'm not in favour of, but if we are going to dismantle something, I say we should not concentrate only on the Indian Act itself. Bring into it where the authority comes from, and who exercises that authority. Dissolve the Indian Act, and at the same time dismantle the department and do away with the Minister of Indian Affairs, and replace them with something similar to the Privy Council.
Ladies and gentlemen, in closing, there is that constitutional authority, subsection 91.24. Most people look at it as application of the fiduciary. We in Shoal Lake and Red Earth interpret that section as recognizing the royal proclamation of 1763 where it states tracts of land will be reserved for Indians or tribes or nations. That is affirmed in section 25 of the Constitution, and section 35 is there for the protection. We need to move a couple of steps further just from protection and our constitutional authority. We need to implement a treaty, and there needs to be a mechanism of enforcement so we don't have MPs interfering. They should be doing work for the Euro Canadians, as we used to call them. We don't have problems with how the MPs deal with Euro Canadians, but we need a system that will deal specifically with our issues.
Ladies and gentlemen, I thank you for your time. I am sure I took five minutes or so.
Yes, and I have a lot to say. Where do I start? I didn't prepare a submission.
I want to thank the chiefs for the opportunity to sit beside them.
I'll give you a little bit of my background so you'll know where I'm coming from. I'm a Cree woman. I grew up in northern Ontario. I don't know if you know where Longlac, Hearst, or Thunder Bay are. This is part of Treaty No. 9.
I'm a member of Constance Lake First Nation. I'm a registered nurse. I'm a lawyer. I have a masters of law in indigenous peoples law and policy, for which I studied under the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Jim Anaya.
All my nursing background is in first nations. I've worked in about 14 first nations in northern Ontario, in the Treaty No. 3 and Treaty No. 9 area, in fly-in and urban.... I've worked in downtown Toronto at Anishnawbe Health Toronto. Basically, all my nursing career has been with first nations people on and off reserve. My legal career has also been with first nations. I've worked with chiefs and council. I've worked with individual first nations. I've worked with Health Canada as well in the first nations and Inuit health branch. I've worked at the Assembly of First Nations and at the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples. I've had the opportunity to do some stuff with the Native Women's Association of Canada as well.
I've basically been through the whole system, and I am very disheartened with what I've seen on the part of all the players involved. That's just so you know where I'm coming from.
I really think the Indian Act needs to be repealed. It's a very racist piece of legislation. It's the cause of all the problems in our communities and part of the residential school.... Before I went to law school, I worked in these communities. I've seen the effects first-hand of the Indian Act and the residential schools. When I went to the Assembly of First Nations and saw what was taking place inside that organization, I was very upset. I went to the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples and saw what was taking place inside that organization, and I was very upset. I went to the Native Women's Association and saw the same thing.
We need change and we need it now.
Yes, I agree: there's no consultation. This bill breaches aboriginal and treaty rights. It breaches our right to self-government. It breaches our treaty right to education.
On the estates, it breaches our rights to govern ourselves and our estates. I've worked on the estates issues, and the Department of Aboriginal and Northern Affairs is really difficult to deal with on estates management. I've had clients. I've called the department. They're telling me to call Six Nations, to call back, and to call the department, and nobody answers my calls. So yes, repealing that part of the Indian Act is good; however, you're dumping jurisdiction to the provinces when our people have a right to govern in the areas of estates and wills. They also have the right to govern in their treaty right to education.
I think Rob deserves credit for raising the issue of the repeal of the Indian Act, because it is something that we were not talking about publicly. However, I think there does need to be a process in place, and this bill does not describe a process. We need something in place to replace it. We need the resources.
We need the right people, first of all. What I've seen throughout my nursing and legal experiences is the right people are not being used. We have educated practitioners on the ground in all of our communities. We have nurses, lawyers, and teachers, and they're not being used. The system is being monopolized by a select group of people. We need to move away from that. If you want to repeal the Indian Act, you need to start using the right people.
My thought is that we do need to have that. I've been listening to the chiefs talk. They're all saying the same thing: nobody's listening to them. The government is not listening. That disconnect is right there. When the government is not listening and not hearing....
You're listening, but you're not hearing what the people are saying. That's the problem right there. The fact that we're not using the right people is another problem right there. It shows you that the bilateral relationship is not taking place and never has.
It's time. We're all saying the same thing: there has been no consultation. The federal government is saying that we need change. We say yes, but you need to start working with us if you want that change to come through and you need to start using the right people.
I've mentioned this to a few leaders. We need to repeal the Indian Act, but I don't think legislation to replace it is the right way to go because it will be just another Indian Act under a new name, just like the First Nations Land Management Act. That's another Indian Act, as far as I'm concerned, because it regulates Indians. It's just another title.
We need nation-to-nation agreements. If you want to repeal the Indian Act, start implementing nation-to-nation agreements. We've been talking about change and reform. Let's sit down and start doing it now.
We know what we need to do. We need to start implementing it, nation-to-nation agreements with a holistic approach. You can't just focus on education without looking at health and without looking at housing. You need to look at all these issues in a nation-to-nation agreement.
Those nation-to-nation agreements can be regional, national, however the people want to do this, but it's up to the people. The people have a right to participate in decision-making. They have that right to be consulted by their own leadership. Our people are not being consulted on the ground. I'm not saying it's happening everywhere, but I have clients who say they are not being consulted on issues.
No, we're not perfect. The federal government isn't perfect. Non-first nations people are not perfect either. But we're coming along, and we're making progress.
We need our share of the resource revenues. If we want first nations to succeed, you have to share the revenues and give us that ability to thrive and succeed as well. We also need to participate in the 2014 federal-provincial transfer payment negotiations. First nations should be at the table and receiving their fair share of the transfer. If the federal government is truly sincere in helping us recover from the Indian Act and the residential schools, you need to treat us like we're partners and let us sit at the table. There's no reason that cannot be done today.
The status quo is unsustainable. We're not going to be able to do this for very much longer. The people are suffering. The conditions are getting worse because it's costing more money. The longer we wait, the more money it's going to cost to improve our lives.
What else did I want to say here? Someone mentioned the jurisdiction under section 91.24. Yes, that gives the federal government jurisdiction over Indians and lands reserved for Indians, and the provinces have their jurisdictions listed in section 92 of the Constitution.
It's my view that section 35 of the Constitution gives first nations jurisdiction over their issues. That was the intent of section 35, so let's start implementing section 35 as it gives first nations jurisdiction over these issues.
There is no good reason we cannot be at the table as partners on a partnership level today. The only reasons we cannot would be hate and racism, and that's obvious. It's not from everybody, but those are the only reasons, and not wanting to share the resource revenues from the lands. We can adequately share. If the companies don't want to share, we can take it from the provinces. There is no reason the provinces and the federal government cannot take our share of the revenues directly from the third party resource developers if they want to be difficult, as we're seeing with the mines in the Ring of Fire, northern Manitoba, and all the other areas.
Yes, first nations are an industry. You've seen it. We're an industry in the criminal law setting. We're an industry everywhere. That's all we are right now. That's basically how we're being treated, as an industry for the legal profession and for the consultants. I'm a lawyer, and I'm saying this because we really need to change now. It really needs to be addressed.
I've looked at the bill. The one issue I had with the process was it provides for the federal government to work with first nations organizations. The organizations do not represent or speak for the people. They were implemented without the people's consent, and the organizations need major reform. When I say organizations, I'm only speaking about the AFN, CAP, and NWAC, because those organizations do not represent the people. They do not consult the people, and they do not speak for the people. They speak for themselves, and those organizations benefit about 20 people.
We need to change because our people have a right to participate in decision-making and to hold their leaders accountable. If we continue on with the first nations organizations in that bill, the status quo is going to continue, so we might as well just scrap everything and continue living as is.