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Presentation To The Committees Reviewing Bill C-31

In January the Committee to review the progress in the implementation of Bill C-31 held hearings in Prince Albert and Saskatoon. A number of Bands, the Treaty Indian Women's Council and the FSIN made presentations to the Committee.

Bill C-31 is the legislation that allows for the reinstatement of the Indian people who lost their treaty status and Band membership through restrictions in the Indian Act such as marriage, joining the army, and enfranchisement.

Bill C-31 is an amendment to the Indian Act that recinds the old provisions for Band membership and allows for the reinstatement of those who meet certain criteria.

The Minister of Indian Affairs is currently conducting a review on the implementation of the changes. A committee is conducting hearings across the country and a report will be submitted to the Minister.

The following are excerpts from several of the presentations.

The Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations

Bands which have assumed control of their lists are under no legal obligation to provide membership information to DIAND, which requires this data to plan its programs and calculate contribution agreements. Other federal departments such as Health and welfare Canada and provincial governments also require accurate demographic information. In the long term, the absence of a sound data source on membership and on-reserve population statistics could seriously jeopardize the government's ability to fuffil its trust obligation to the Indian population.

When a Band assumes control of its membership rules and list, it also assumes responsibility for the accuracy and completeness of the list. However, if the view of most Bands that have taken control of their membership, DIAND has not lived up to its obligation by providing adequate funding, training and/or systems support for maintaining membership lists.

Further, access by Indian Bands to information held in government files has also developed into a problem area. Bill C-31 was developed without consideration to the Privacy Act, which significantly restricts the information the federal government can release to Bands relating to status. In turn, this can greatly increase the amount of time Bands must devote to researching an individual's background to determine whether he or she is eligible for membership, since status is usually a key consideration.

The degree of documentation required to substantiate claims to status is another concern of Indian communities. In many areas of the country, historical records are lacking. As well, many applicants do not possess birth certificates and the search for alternate documentation is often beyond their means. For applicants who were adopted, the requirements are even more demanding. Indian Bands have indicated the need to simplify the documentation requirements, particularly in cases where documents are likely to be difficult to obtain.

As an alternative to the Saskatchewan Bands, it would be to their interest to develop and establish their own data base system in line with their need for a better and greater control of the entire Saskatchewan Indian Population. To coordinate all FSIN Tribal Councils and Citizenship data, in the development of a global plan to enhance and establish an FSIN Citizenship Policy, in line with Indian First Nations Cultural, linguistic, geographical and political aspirations.

Five Bands in the Touchwood File Hills Qu'Appelle District have established Citizenship codes namely Carry the Kettle, Little Black Bear, Okanese, Standing Buffalo and Fishing Lake.

Six Bands in the North Battleford District have established Codes namely Lucky Man, Moosomin, Onion Lake, Poundmaker, Saulteaux and the Thunderchild Band.

Only two Bands in the Prince Albert District have codes namely Cumberland House and the Wahpeton Band.

Meadow Lake District has all their Bands under Citizenship codes namely Buffalo River, Big C, English River, Flying Dust, Island Lake, Joseph Bighead, Makwa Sahgaiehcan, Turnor Lake and Waterhen Lake Band.

Saskatoon District has three Bands under codes namely Muskeg Lake, Nut Lake and the Kinistin Band.

The Yorkton District has four Bands under codes namely Sakimay, Kahkewistahow, Keeseekoose and the Key Band.

The main problem with assuming control over membership under Bill C-31 is that it has the capacity to have negative implications for individuals and communities.

The Touchwood File Hills Fort Qu'Appelle District

Under traditional Indian Government, Indian nations determined tribal and Band affiliations. The Indian nations established social organizations based on matrilineal and patrilineal societies; and regulated membership based on a number of factors including marriage, adoption and capture in battle. The decision making process of determining membership and citizenship was not as restrictive or narrowly focused as the legislation imposed upon them by the Federal government. The British North America Act of 1867 assumed responsibility for Indians and lands reserved for Indians, giving rise to the first Indian Act which took away the decision making authority Indian Nations had over their lives. The Indian Act also took away the control of determining Indian status, membership and citizenship. The Indian Nations of this country have since been forced to live under racist and oppressive legislation dictated to them by the Federal government. The latest Indian Act amendments referred to as Bill C-31 does not go far enough to returning and reinstating Indian nation control and prerogative for membership and citizenship.

In the Touchwood File Hills Qu'Appelle District, sixteen Treaty Four Bands are affected by this legislation. The Indian nations that exist with in this Tribal Council territory are the Assiniboine, Cree, Dakota and Saulteaux. The population currently consists of 13,275 Treaty Indians, of which approximately 100 are Bill C-31 reinstatees.

The Department has encouraged the migration of Indian people away from the reserve by establishing a standard of living on-reserves well below the living conditions an urban setting can offer. No one can blame the Indian people who relocate to the cities in search of better living standards. Granted, this migration began before the inception of Bill C-31, but what Bill C-31 has done is it accelerates the problems of this migration. The new amendments provide for Band control of Band membership.

A Band is now in a position to decide who can be a member of that Band and who can reside on the reserve, provided the Band Code does not exclude those individuals who are automatically reinstated both status and membership. Initial reaction to those reinstatees was very negative in some Bands and that still exists, but the new Bill has also created another problem. The authority to determine membership goes beyond those reinstated individuals, and extends to those off reserve Indians who have taken residence in the cities.

The reality of the situation is that half the population of registered Treaty Indians reside off reserve, leaving the on reserve population to decide who can and cannot be a Band member. This creates division and conflict among the Indian people for a number of reasons.

On the one hand, a Band council is interested in protecting the collective rights of the Band, by establishing criteria that will protect and enhance the culturally distinct society of the Band. This criteria may exclude some individuals who may or may not be reinstatees, who feel they are discriminated against and wish to protect their individual rights. In their effort to protect the collective rights of the Band, the Band has no support from the Federal government who are entrusted to protect the on reserve Indians, but the individual who feels his/her rights are violated can receive financial support from the Department of Indian Affairs. This is a huge legal battlefield in the making, and while this has the potential to erupt among Indian people, the Federal Government who created this battle field through Bill C-31, have effectively distanced themselves from this membership issue. It is therefore recommended that the Federal Government resolve this situation by providing necessary support to the Bands in their effort to promote and protect the collective rights of their nations.

The Lac La Ronge Band

The policy position of the La Ronge Band has been to accept reinstated C-31 members into the Band if they can demonstrate a tie to the Band prior to their loss of status. As well, the Band has accepted transfer of membership from other Bands for reinstated C-31 people provided they have a demonstrated tie to the La Ronge Band - for example, marriage to a person who is or was a member of the La Ronge Band.

The number of people reinstated under Bill C-31 and being granted membership in the La Ronge Band as of November 10, 1989, is 512. At the time this presentation is being made, we would estimate that this number now exceeds 600.

The La Ronge Band has a population of over 4,300 - the largest Band in Saskatchewan and certainly one of the largest Bands in the nation. In spite of this, it has no senior citizens homes, no day care/child care facilities, no social service centres, no recreation facilities and no hospitals. In respect to education there is only one high school and this is located in Stanley Mission. In terms of services, the Band has no professional social workers, has no police services based on the reserves, no para-legals or court workers based on the reserves, no post secondary educational facilities, and no professional medical or dental personnel based on the reserves. It has very limited social support services with one family services worker to service the total Band membership. In the entire Band membership, there are only about a dozen houses that have sewer and water. Statistics available through National Health and Welfare demonstrate beyond any reasonable doubt that the incidence of medical problems, social problems, early death and unemployment are significantly higher than the National average. In general, we can state without qualification that the development of social support systems and social services have lagged far behind what would normally be expected in a developed western nation.

In the past ten years, we have made applications for funding assistance to build senior citizens housing, social service facilities, day care facilities, an alcohol rehabilitation facilities, a facility for multiple handicapped children, group homes for social child care, an arena, and a swimming pool. In all cases, the request has been either rejected outright or the Band has been put on hold.

So what does this all have to do with Bill C-31? The point we are trying to make, is that the Band Social Support System was already heavily overtaxed prior to the implementation of Bill C-31. The result of adding another 600 Band members without any corresponding increase in social support systems or related infrastructure has only served to compound a problem that was already "out of control". It is my view that if the Band takes on a whole new constituency of people without the necessary social support systems to allow these people to maintain a decent life style, the result is problems - major problems in all health and social areas.

The Saskatchewan Treaty Indian Women's Council

The passing and implementation of Bill C-31 has had a negative effect on our people and Indian women in particular.

As Indian women we are the homemakers and caregivers in our families and as such a limited amount of land and resources available on our reserves.

The rapid increase in Band membership brought upon by Bill C-31 has stretched our resources to the limit. People added to the Band list under Bill C-31 are adult individuals who require adult services such as land, housing, education and social services.

In the past, population increased by the birth rate and plans could be made and growth was orderly. Now with the Bill C-31 our community planning and service delivery system is unable to meet the demand.

As Indian women we were not involved in the drafting of Bill C-31. In fact, it is our understanding that there was very little input into the drafting of the legislation by the treaty nations.

Instead, the Government of Canada reacted to cases that were pleaded in the courts of Canada and the international forum of the United Nations.

Canada saw individual rights paramount to group rights. As Treaty Indian people, we have rights as a group of people who are descendants of the original nation of this country who made treaty with the Crown. We see our Treaties as group rights that supersede individual rights.

In addition to our treaty rights, we are a distinct people entitled to inherent human rights. Defined under modern Internation law: The right to physical existence, the right to self-determination and the right to use our own resource are the three well defined inherent rights.

While we signed treaties and obtained certain rights, we retained our inherent rights. We retained the right to self-determination which includes the right to govern ourselves, retain our language and culture and to define ourselves in terms of our membership.

As Indian women, we are not opposed to the government granting Indian status on people who meet the criteria under Bill C-31. We do however, oppose people gaining Band membership without the approval of the Band.

The Band membership codes are very important because through controlling our Band membership we can control the orderly development of our reserves.

Some Bands have chosen to deny residency rights to people reinstated under Bill C-31, others have placed the responsibility on the individuals to complete a time period to become acquainted with the Bands history and customs. We support these actions by the Bands to maintain order and stability in their communities. Also, some of our Bands are expected to increase their population by up to 10 to 15% overnight with no increase in the land base. Under the Treaties, we are entitled to 125 acres of land per person. Each time a Band has to admit new members the Band should be entitled to 125 acres for each new member that way, our land base could expand to meet the increasing population.

As the situation now stands, we have no expansion of the land base to meet the increased demands placed on us by Bill C-31. Our reserves are already over-crowded and as Indian women, we see the strain that this places on the fabric of our families and communities.

Traditionally, our reserves were small, close knit, groups of families. The original reserve population was determined at the time of treaty when each Band appointed a Chief and four (4) Headmen. Groups of families and close friends and close friends gathered together and signed the Treaty.

Belonging to a Band is not being a resident in a small town or joining a club. A Band is a special group of people held together by a strong Band of family and a common history.