An Update to Bill C-3 – October 28, 2010

I have noticed over the last several weeks that there have been a large number of hits on one of my earlier blogs entitled “Updated – Bill C-3 Gender Equity in Indian Registration Act”. I was wondering why so many people were reading that post all of a sudden and then I realized that it is likely because readers are looking for an actual update.

Anyone who wants to read about any of this can go online to the “Parliament of Canada” website and click on “Government Bills”, then “C-3”, then “Legislative Summary” which will provide a good overview of the bill. To the right hand side, if you click on “Status of the bill” it will provide all of these dates that I am giving you. By clicking on “Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development” you can see when the committee met and obtain the minutes of the meeting as well as the transcripts of what was said.

For those of you who’d prefer a brief overview, here it is:

The bill had its First Reading in the House on March 11, 2010. This was followed by the debates about the bill and the second reading on March 26 and 29, 2010. The bill was then sent to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development (AAON) where they heard from a wide variety of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal witnesses who gave evidence before AAON on their concerns about the bill. These meetings were held on April 1,13,15,20,22 and 27, 2010.

On April 29, 2010 the AAON submitted their report which included a variety of amendments they had adopted to ensure that the bill remedied all gender inequity instead of just a minor part of it. This report was presented and debated in the House on April 29 and May 25, 2010 before Parliament recessed for the summer. Parliament has since resumed, but had other bills they considered more important to address before getting back to this one.

On October 26, 2010 the report was debated again in the House and three motions, which had been introduced on May 25, 2010 were voted on. In one of my earlier e-mails I had explained what these motions were:

(1) Motion #1 dealt with minor amendments to the wording related to how INAC would report on the effects of the bill once it has been implemented;

(2) Motion #2 would restore the previous section 9 which had been deleted at AAON. This section provided Canada with an insulation from financial liability for claims which would come from women and children who had been wrongly excluded from the Act.

(3) Motion #3 essentially was to approve the bill as amended by the previous two motions.

All three motions were approved. This means that the bill will go forward for Third reading and debates as amended. Assuming this bill passes third reading (and it will), then the bill will go to the Senate and go through the same process all over again. There are a good number of people who hope that the bill will not be rushed through the readings and that, at a minimum, the Aboriginal Affairs Committee or the Human Rights Committee will study the bill before voting on it.

Keep in mind that Canada sought and obtained an extension from the BC Court of Appeal to enact Bill C-3. Canada now has until January 2011 to make these changes. In all likelihood, the Senate will be under considerable pressure to pass the law prior to this deadline. Given that the majority of Senators are Conservatives, I fully expect that no matter what I or anyone else says, this bill will be passed. The writing is clearly on the wall and we helped put it there.

That is all the official stuff, here is my take:

I fully expect that the bill will pass third reading at the House because the amendments passed so easily. The parties that originally opposed the restrictive version of the bill (Liberals, NDP, and Bloc) have flip-flopped and now support the bill. The Bloc indicated that “sleeping on these issues helps” and that over the summer Aboriginal women’s groups in Quebec decided that “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”.

The Bloc and in fairness, the NDP and Liberals, have decided to ignore all of the legitimate legal, social, cultural, and economic concerns which were presented before it at Committee and change its vote to support the bill because Aboriginal women in Quebec don’t want to take the chance of never being registered. Aboriginal women and their children have been excluded from recognition, been cut off from their communities and essential programs and services for so long that they are desperate to be registered. In any other forum, this would considered undue duress.

None of these groups want Bill C-3 – but Canada is playing hard ball and has implied that if they don’t take this “deal” they won’t get any deal. I can understand how difficult that situation is for those who stand to be impacted. If one thinks only on an individual level, then yes, some deal is better than no deal especially when we are already at the lowest end of socio-economic indicators and Canada is not negotiating in good faith, but its sharp dealings are ruling the situation.

However, we cannot forget that the very reason why we are even in this situation is because of the “deal” that was crafted in 1985 where only Indian women would get section 6(1) status and not their children. People were thinking on an individual and immediate gratification level. This is the very reason why Sharon McIvor spent the last 25 years of her life, time, energy and resources to try to undo what has now been laws for decades.

I am one of those individuals who stands to gain by the current Bill C-3. I will be registered as a section 6(2) Indian. Great. The House recently approved the no liability clause, so that means the 16 years I went to university will not be paid, nor will my treaty benefits, land claim benefits, health benefits, or other benefits reserved for “Indians” like certain tax advantages. But all of that is just money when it comes right down to it.

What I can’t get back is my right to have lived on the reserve all my life (if I had wanted to), the right to learn my own Mi’kmaq language from my community’s elders, and the right to be a band member and belong somewhere. As important as these things are to my identity, my overall well-being, and my right to live the “good life”, these factors are all focused on me. Again, that is only if I think about myself. As a Mi’kmaq woman, it is my responsibility to think about more than just myself, but in fact think about my two children, Mitchell and Jeremy, as well as my large extended family, my future generations, my community and Nation.

I do not have the right as an individual to settle for a deal that benefits me and not my children. What good is status and band membership if I cannot transmit that to my children, so that they can transmit it to theirs? All of our rights as Mi’kmaq are communal rights and meant to exercised in ways that protect and promote our culture and way of life. While status has not been part of our culture since time immemorial, it is now the legal and political key to accessing it.

With all due respect for any native organization, they do not have the right to make deals after the fact, and behind closed doors that impact the future of our children. Sharon McIvor testified that there can be no “deal” on gender equality for Indian women – you either have it or you don’t. We would not even be having this conversation if the situation was about non-Indian women. In fact, one of Bill C-31’s main objectives was to protect the entitlements that non-Indian women received when they married an Indian man. In Canada’s opinion, it would be unjust to take benefits way from those who enjoyed them.

However, Canada had no problem taking away these exact same benefits from Indian women despite the fact that they enjoyed them their entire lives. Even now, Canada has rationalized that their discriminatory treatment of Indian women and their children is NOT deserved of compensation. So the question is less about whether we have gender equity and more about whether we believe in Indian gender equity -which clearly, as a country we do not.

We are so caught up in getting whatever we can for ourselves, that we have forgotten that as warriors, we have an obligation to stand up for what is right and just, regardless of the consequences. Our ancestors made significant sacrifices for us, and we were not even born yet. They all could have taken the easy way out and settled for what would be good for them at the time. Thank goodness for us they thought farther ahead and more selflessly than that.

Taiaiake Alfred, an Indigenous scholar, who thinks far beyond his young years, has managed to come out on the other side of this ongoing colonization process and can see the future that we will create if we don’t make sacrifices now for the future. In his book “Wasase”, he writes: “Pushing the colonial tyrant to his limits takes both strong words and courageous blows against his coercion”. He poses the question of how we get ourselves out of this cycle of asserting our rights on the one hand, and then being co-opted by money, benefits and power on the other hand?

I would like to think that I am on my way to decolonizing myself and will be able to consider these issues at the level of Taiaiake Alfred at some point in the future. In the meantime, I know enough to realize that it’s time we walked the talk – we either put up and shut up now or we finally stand up for what we know is right in our hearts. I am not saying that fostering an Indian Act identity is what is most meaningful to our peoples, but not standing up for the equality of our Mohawk, Mi’kmaq and Maliseet women and children is beyond neglectful of our responsibilities and will only sink us further into assimilation by our own doing.

So, as far as I am concerned regarding Bill C-3: NO DEAL. I will not sell the rights of my children, my family or my Nation for my own immediate needs.