[Witness spoke in Secwepemctsin]
Hello, everyone. My Indian name is Big Voice that Speaks the Truth. I'm the chief of the people of the Splatsin Shuswap nation.
I acknowledge the ancestors of this territory, their present-day descendants and this very important issue we're talking about. I'm a father of five, a grandfather of 28 and a great-grandfather of one. I'm a former child in care from the sixties scoop. My mother was a survivor of residential school.
As I speak today, I'm honouring my past and my deceased brother, Adelard, who took his life. We came back to our community in 1977, and my mom passed shortly after him, two years later.
I became involved in this issue at age 23. I've been involved in this for 42 years in the capacity of chief and councillor for my community for 23 years and working in the healing and addictions field, helping our people for close to 20 years. That's the perspective I'm going to present to you, members of Parliament.
We all know why we're here in terms of how Canada's legislation and legislative genocide, as I call it, has created the situation we are in today. Our response to this, I think, is important, because in 1980 when I was elected chief, a young mother came to me and asked for help for her four boys who were going to be removed by the province. We asked our elders this question, “What did we do before they imposed white law on us? How did we look after ourselves?” They told us we had our own Indian court. We had our own jails. We had our own laws. We had our own systems to look after ourselves.
Knowing that, we put in place community-based legislation in over one year, working with a very young lawyer called Louise Mandell. You may know of her. She's quite well known in terms of aboriginal title and rights across the country. She worked with us for a whole year to design that process and put that law into place.
Since 1980, we've been operating under our own jurisdiction and our law that's based on our inherent right. The relationship we've had with the provincial government has been an interesting one, because they, as you know, claim alleged jurisdiction over our children but they don't have jurisdiction.
We had to mount a political campaign called the “Indian Child Caravan” in 1980, and the then deputy premier and the minister of children and family, Grace McCarthy, came to an agreement with our community to recognize our jurisdiction and return the children. We jointly planned for each child and we would seek resources from the federal government. Since 1980, that's what we've been doing.
It's really important to understand that the basis of our jurisdiction is notwithstanding residency. It's not just on reserve; it's everywhere. Wherever one of our children is in need of protection, we go. We've been to the United States, in Dallas, Texas, and in Georgia. We've been right across Canada. We've been to all the cities in British Columbia, Vancouver and the major cities. You need to have a good understanding.
Bill C-92 that has been proposed opens the door for that space of inherent jurisdiction. We've been doing this and we have some experience in this field. You've heard a lot of presentations around different aspects of what takes place. We've been doing this for 40 years, and I think it's important that people understand that. It has not gone without its struggles, because the provincial government started to try to enforce the fact that they had jurisdiction for children not in our communities.
We tabled a writ, a constitutional challenge, in 2015, challenging the provincial government's assertion of jurisdiction. We went into a negotiation with British Columbia and got an abeyance order, and we established a memorandum of understanding with British Columbia to say we would talk about the issue of jurisdiction, establish a jurisdictional process, an operational process, as well as look at a transition from where things are to where they need to go. We did that as a community, but also established that as the Shuswap Nation.
You have a written submission that explains who we are as a nation. There are 32 communities, 17 Indian Act bands, a population of about 15,000 and a territory of 180,000 square kilometres. We're bigger than 168 countries in the world in terms of our land mass.
I think you really need to understand that, in the context of Bill C-92, there are some specific fundamental issues that have to be addressed.
First is the issue of changing funding to a fiscal relationship, because we really believe it's about a nation-to-nation process with Canada. You've heard other chiefs talk about that. Stop calling it funding and move it to a fiscal relationship and, within that, move it out of the preamble of the legislation and right into the main body of the legislation. It's an easy fix. I think it's possible.
In the preamble, we also talk about UNDRIP. I think that needs to move out of the preamble and into the body of the legislation.
The issue of Jordan's principle is cited in paragraph 9(3)(e). We find this very interesting, simply because in our jurisdiction, for approximately 40 years, we've had situations where children are physically disabled and their parents can't look after them. In the system, they would have just been lost or they would have died, quite honestly.
In terms of what we've been able to do with children who have come into our care, we have a young girl who's now 25 years of age and is alive because we intervened and took care of her for all of her life. I think that's really an important part. That's what jurisdiction is about, having the resources and making those decisions for that child.
I think Jordan's principle is really important as to how it's addressed. It has to be addressed in terms of how jurisdiction flows from the community up, not into the community but from the community up into the process. I think that's important.
Those kinds of things are important in terms of the process.
Amend subclause 10(1) on “best interests”. The provision needs to include family, communities and cultural continuity as primary considerations in the application of this bill. That's really important. I think the issue of best interests has to be defined by the community and by the nation, not by Canada or British Columbia.
On paragraph 13(b) and the definition's inclusion of “care provider” having “party status”, we disagree with that completely. Care providers only become care providers because they have a contractual arrangement to look after the children. They shouldn't have legal standing in those processes and in those decisions around our children.
On the issue of “stronger ties”, that needs to be amended so that it's nation to nation—indigenous nation to indigenous nation working with each other to have a really clear idea of where that child belongs, so that whether it's with the Secwepemc, the Sq'ewlets, or the Tsilhqot'in—whoever—we have that ability ourselves. We have historical treaties with the nations around us, around what are called kwséltkten, our relatives. I think it's really important.
The last comment on the legislation is really that the five-year period is too long. It should go to a yearly review, because I think we really need to get on the ground with this stuff right away. In speaking about these issues, my experience is that in a community-based process, you can correct problems.
This was a big issue that we had with Grace McCarthy. She kept asking me, as chief, in 1980, “Can you look after your children?” What I said to her was this: “Look, when you make a mistake in your system, you can't correct it. It takes a long time to correct it.” That's what's going on right here today. Here it is, 40 years later, and the system is still the same. It has not been corrected.
We can change rules and regulations and adjust to the system on the ground. For Canada and British Columbia, in your laws, you can't, and I think that's the problem with the system. I appreciate each and every one of you. You're lawmakers. You make laws for Canada. Our laws come from our oral history and our interaction with the land. We've been on the land for 10,000 years, so it informs what we do. In our oral history, we have numerous stories that talk about children. Simply put, what they say in those stories is that the person who pays the ultimate price is usually the child. These are oral histories that go back a long way. We have to pay attention to that.
With this legislation as it goes, you will have an opportunity to change lives for literally thousands of children. I'm speaking here as a former child in care, as a father and as a grandfather. I speak on behalf of my mother and brother. Like my brother's death in 1977, there have been thousands of deaths in the system since then. Like my mother, there are a lot of mothers who have no voice in the system. You heard about them today. They're taking the children away from the mothers right in the hospitals. That is ridiculous. It has to stop.
Is Canada going to grow up? Seriously, we have to have this legislation so that it creates a space for recognition of our laws and our jurisdiction. Simply put, it's the right of self-determination. Communities can decide if they're in or they're out. It's up to them. That's what's critical to this piece of legislation.
I'm getting the high sign.
Voices: Oh, oh!
Chief Wayne Christian: Thank you very much for listening. A written presentation has been submitted.