Weyt-k, bonjour, and good afternoon, Madam Chair and members of the committee.
I would like to begin by acknowledging the Algonquin and the Anishinaabeg peoples and thank them for allowing us on their unceded traditional territory, with special acknowledgement to the indigenous women and their families for whom NWAC exists.
Thank you for the invitation to share the Native Women's Association of Canada's perspectives on Bill C-262, which proposes an act to ensure that the laws of Canada are in harmony with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. NWAC is in full support of this bill and all the implications that come with it.
The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples does not create new laws or rights. It enhances the existing rights of indigenous peoples and holds the Government of Canada accountable for ensuring respect to first nations, Inuit, and Métis communities. It also emphasizes that indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination. What this bill sets out to do is implement the inherent human rights that indigenous peoples have and to enforce those rights within the Canadian legal system. Indigenous people should not only be consultants of the government but also participating members of all decision-making. This is not about saying yes or no; it's about creating equal and inclusionary negotiations.
At the end of my remarks, I will be making recommendations specific to the needs and issues of indigenous women, but overall, Bill C-262 is a good first step towards a better and stronger partnership between the federal government and indigenous authorities.
Indigenous women exist at the intersection of multiple forms of discrimination tied to gender, race, and colonialism. As a result, indigenous women face many barriers and obstacles to accessing their basic human rights. A fundamental human right is the right to education. We are seeing indigenous women and girls with lower levels of education than the rest of the Canadian population as well as with less access to adequate education. Often this can be attributed to poverty and discrimination based on geographic location.
There is a growing number of the indigenous population who identify as having a disability or functional limitation, especially first nations women living on reserves. As a triply marginalized group, indigenous women with disabilities face systemic and structural barriers that are not typically faced by non-indigenous and able-bodied Canadians.
There's a lack of culturally appropriate services available to indigenous women, whether they are health services or social services. Health care is a human right, and being culturally sensitive and trauma informed is crucial to delivering those services in a way that doesn't re-traumatize or cause further harm to our communities.
Social, political, and economic marginalization of indigenous women limits access to necessary and appropriate supports and services that reduce the impacts of poverty. Housing is a necessity, and indigenous women are more susceptible to homelessness, poverty, and violence. The most successful method of combatting poverty is empowering women through increased employment, access to education, access to health care, protection of cultural practices, and fostering socio-economic autonomy.
As activists and grassroots women have highlighted for decades, indigenous women and girls and gender-diverse people continue to experience discrimination on multiple grounds and in various forms. In terms of violence, indigenous women and girls 15 years and older are three to five times more likely to experience violence. Indigenous women have reported fearing for their lives over the last few decades at a much higher percentage than non-indigenous women and are also more likely to be murdered by strangers than non-indigenous women.
Canada's national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls is currently hearing first-hand accounts that provide a heartbreaking foundation to these statistics through the stories told by the families and loved ones of our murdered and missing sisters. I mention this to highlight that everyone in Canada has a charter-guaranteed right to life, liberty, and security of person, and we must do everything we can to ensure that this becomes a reality in the lives of indigenous women rather than remaining a mere paragraph in a government document.
In Canada, indigenous peoples continue to be overrepresented in the correctional system. According to Correctional Services Canada, indigenous women, who represent only 4% of the female population in Canada, make up to 41% of women in sentenced custody. This is a clear link to systemic discrimination based on racial, cultural, and colonial prejudices that need to be identified and scrubbed from our legal and judicial system. Everyone has the right to a fair trial and equal treatment under the law.
The correctional system isn't the only one that sees staggeringly high percentages of indigenous peoples. Child and family services is the other. Over 50% of children within the child welfare system are indigenous. Currently there are more indigenous children in care than at the height of residential schools.
As per article 2 of UNDRIP, indigenous women will be recognized as equal to all men and women. Article 22 builds on this, cementing that the government must ensure that all indigenous women and girls can access their human rights and fundamental freedoms in all political, social, economic, and cultural contexts.
Article 18 ensures that indigenous women have the freedom and right to participate in all decision-making matters that would affect their rights. As you can imagine, this is a particularly important article for NWAC because it reflects what we have been fighting for since our inception in 1974.
Articles 6 and 9 refer to the right to a nationality and the right to belong to an indigenous community or nation in accordance with their traditions and customs. As countless studies have found, and as indigenous peoples have been saying for as long as colonialism has existed, self-determination is a key part of empowering indigenous communities.
Finally, to ensure that Bill C-262 leads to the full and effective harmonization of Canadian law with UNDRIP, we recommend the following: one, development of a mechanism that will ensure accountability and consistency; two, a commitment to ensure that language is inclusive and will reflect the rights, respect, and co-operation of indigenous women and LGBTQ2S; three, the recognition of the intersection of multiple forms of discrimination tied to gender, race, and colonialism; four, going beyond UNDRIP by including the specific needs and issues of the diverse indigenous communities in Canada—this includes a specific distinctions-based approach that recognizes the diversity amongst and between first nations, Inuit, and Métis communities.
Thank you for your time. Kukwstsétsemc. Meegwetch.