Third reading of Bill S-3, An Act to amend the Indian Act (elimination of sex-based inequities in registration), as amended—Motion in AmendmentPublished on 1 June 2017 Hansard and Statements by Senator Sandra Lovelace Nicholas
Hon. Sandra Lovelace Nicholas:
Honourable senators, I rise today to support the Senate committee’s amendment to Bill S-3. This amendment has come to be called “the 6(1)(a) all the way amendment.” It is of critical importance to me personally and to all First Nations women and their descendants in Canada. It is way past time for all sex-based discrimination in the Indian Act to be eliminated, and this amendment will remove the core of that discrimination.
You all know my story. I am a Maliseet Indian and I was a member of the Tobique First Nation. However, because of sex discrimination in the Indian Act, I lost not only my Indian status when I married a non-Indian but also my right to be a member of the band and to live on my reserve. We organized and participated in the now famous March of the Tobique Women to Ottawa. But that did not bring change.
Then I filed a petition with the United Nations Human Rights Committee, in 1977, because Canada was violating my right to equality and my right to enjoy my indigenous culture. These are rights that Canada agreed to uphold when it ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The committee ruled that my equal right to enjoy my culture was violated by Canada through the Indian Act.
Right now, a senior legal team from the Human Rights Centre of the University of Essex, in the United Kingdom, is engaged in research on the implementation of decisions issued by the UN treaty monitoring bodies. Canada is one of the countries that they are studying. Among other questions, they are asking: Has the UN Human Rights Committee’s 1979 Lovelace decision been implemented? Clearly, the answer is no. The essence of my complaint to the United Nations, 40 years ago, was that, as an Indian, my “Indianness,” my culture, did not belong to me and it had been stripped from me because of who I married.
When my status was restored to me, I got second class 6(1)(c) status. I was a lesser Indian, a re-instatee, a “Bill C-31 woman,” considered to be less of a bearer and transmitter of Maliseet culture than my male counterparts.
In 2017, 38 years later, Sharon McIvor has a petition before the United Nations Human Rights Committee because she and other indigenous women are still denied equality.
That is what I am asking my fellow senators to support today: just equality for Indian women and their descendants born prior to April 17, 1985.
I want to speak more about the harms that Indian Act discrimination has caused and is still causing to indigenous women. I know the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, her officials and legislative drafters, are focused on how many more indigenous women and their descendants will be entitled to status if sex discrimination is removed. I agree that this is crucially important, and I say that Canada must stop using sex discrimination as a tool of forced assimilation, defining Indians out of existence based on their sex and the sex of their Indian ancestor.
I want to focus on harms — past and current harms. As senators, and protectors of the political and social well-being of Canada, and all of its diverse peoples, we have to take account of the harms that Indian Act sex discrimination has done and continues to do. I can attest myself, as can Sharon McIvor and Dr. Pamela Palmater, and others who came before the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, to this: Thousands of indigenous women have suffered the indignity of being denied status entirely and being banished from their communities.
As “Bill C-31 women,” we have been treated as though we are not truly Indian, or “not Indian enough,” less entitled to benefits and housing, and obliged to continually fight for recognition by male indigenous leaders, our communities and broader society.
The hurt that has been caused and the injustice that has been suffered by the women has been neither recognized nor remedied. We have begun to recognize the terrible harms that were done by the residential school policy in the name of “taking the Indian out of the child” and by the so-called “Sixties Scoop,” which took hundreds of indigenous children out of their communities and placed them in non-indigenous families. But the Indian Act sex discrimination, which has tried to define the “Indianness” out of indigenous women and our descendants through legal rules — the harms of that — are yet to be fully acknowledged, at least not by the Government of Canada.
Discrimination gives permission to violence. This is now understood globally and is well-accepted in international human rights law as a fact.
I say to you today that Canada cannot disconnect the ongoing discrimination against indigenous women in the Indian Act from the current human rights crisis of murders and disappearances. Please take seriously the fact that two human rights expert bodies from the international and regional levels have undertaken special investigations in Canada of the murders and disappearances of indigenous women and girls. Both bodies — the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights — concluded that sex discrimination in the Indian Act is a root cause of the violence.
The Indian Act sex discrimination puts First Nations women at risk of being listed as less than equal human beings by the Government of Canada in legislation and by our own communities. As a result women are seen as a “population of prey.” This is why human rights experts have concluded that Indian Act sex discrimination is a root cause of the violence. They have called on Canada for change. We, as senators, need to make that change.
The discrimination and its effects will not end until the Government of Canada is willing, in legislation, to grant the same full 6(1)(a) status to Indian women and their descendants born before April 17, 1985, that they grant to comparable Indian males and their descendants.
We have been through this before. When Bill C-3 came before the Senate in 2010, it was another band-aid solution to the sex discrimination, like Bill S-3. I ask, then: Where is the equality and justice for indigenous women? I apologized to First Nations women and their descendants for the fact that the Government of Canada would pass Bill C-3 without an amendment that would eliminate the core sex discrimination from the Indian Act. Indigenous women and their issues are always at the bottom of the totem pole.
Honourable senators, I am asking you today, as colleagues, to support the “6(1)(a) all the way” amendment for indigenous women and girls of the generations to come, to stop the harmful discrimination. Let us be equal. After all, it was the government who created this problem.