Cut-off policy 'annihilating' communities: blood quantum still drives status decisions, says chief.
Brokenhead Ojibway Nation Chief Tina Levesque told the special chiefs' assembly in Vancouver in March that there's no sense forging a new relationship with Ottawa if the government's own rules about status will mean that no government-recognized First Nations people will be left in a few years.
"It doesn't matter. We can have meetings and conferences like this 'til the cows come home, but they're literally annihilating us in a very subtle and yet wide open way."
She's talking about Bill C-31. Enacted 20 years ago, it was seen at the time as the solution to complaints from women stripped of their Indian status for marrying non-status people.
Native men who "married out" did not lose their status, so Canada was vulnerable legally because the policy discriminated against Native women. So the solution was to reinstate the women, but with that reinstatement came sub-levels of status for their children and grandchildren.
Ron L Clark, Jr. told Windspeaker he will walk from Prince Rupert to Vancouver beginning June 5 to protest the second-generation cutoff. That's Section 6-2 of Bill C-31, which causes the grandchildren of the marriages between a status Native person and a non-status person to lose their Indian status.
His wife, Barb Joseph-Clark has status and is a band member. Clark has neither because of the second-generation cut-off. He had status but lost it when he turned 18, another peculiar result of the Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) policy on status and membership.
"As a dependant of my mother I did have temporary status. Then it was not reissued after I turned legal age. But I should belong to the Glen Vowell band," he said.
He said his Gitxsan name is Yoga Makw, which means, "To Set it Down."
"It was given to me by my grandfather and House Chief Abel Peter in January of this year," he said. "I have a genealogy. If you have a genealogy, you should have status."
Former Federal Court of Canada Justice Francis Muldoon, who retired from the bench in 2001, weighed in on the C-31 issue in his 1996 ruling on the Sawridge case, a fight about band control of membership that is on-going. When the issue of blood quantum was raised at trial, he warned against it.
"'Blood quantum is a highly fascist and racist notion, and puts its practitioners on the path of the Nazi Party led by the late, most unlamented Adolf Hitler," Muldoon wrote in the decision.
After that statement, any mention of "blood quantum" disappeared from the Canadian bureaucratic lexicon. But the government's cut-off policy disqualifies children of mixed marriages, even if they're accepted by the community and related to status members of a First Nation community.
And that means it's about blood quantum, Chief Levesque and others say.
Congress of Aboriginal Peoples leader Dwight Dorey was asked if it was his view that blood quantum is still the main factor behind the government policy. He replied, "That's right."
Dene National Chief Noeline Villebrun spoke on the issue in Vancouver. She regained her status in 1985 after being required to sign a form.
"Today, because I signed Bill C-31, there's a blood quantum. We have to turn this around," she told the chiefs. "I'm born of mixed blood. When our children or our grandchildren apply, not to become full-blooded Indians but to access benefits and funding under the treaty agreement, this is what it's about.
"It's not about blood quantum. It's about accessibility to treaties or to agreements that were signed on your behalf for the future generations. And that's not happening today."
Levesque thinks the whole concept of blood quantum is wrong headed and insulting.
"This is not some little club that you can join. It's something you're born into. Membership is something you apply for. Our people are not applying to be citizens of the Brokenhead Ojibway Nation. They are our citizens. It's their birthright," she told Windspeaker. "And we don't have the power or the authority to determine that under the guise of the Indian Act. We can go ahead and determine our citizenship, but we'll never be recognized by Ottawa and the bureaucracy. And the short and long of the whole matter [is], they still hold the purse strings. So we have to get that changed. And it's not going to be easy and it's not going to be without a big fight."
The Native Women's Association of Canada (NWAC) and Quebec Native Women (QNW), Inc. are planning a protest on Parliament Hill on June 28, 20 years to the day after C-31 received royal assent. NWAC President Beverly Jacobs said her office is still receiving a lot of complaints about the discrimination that the legislation was supposed to eliminate.
Sources in Ottawa say there are a variety of problems with the current policy that would never to tolerated in the mainstream. While mainstream Canadians are guaranteed they will not have to wait more than 90 days for passports, applicants for Indian status are waiting eight or nine years.
"It's their strategy. People get frustrated and they give up--or die," said Levesque. "They treat people immigrating from other lands better than they would treat their Indigenous people. It's common practice. And it's unacceptable and the public in general is unaware of this. Canadian society in general is ignorant of what the federal government is doing to us."
She said a variety of government policies force First Nation people to leave the reserve for the cities and it's part of an intentional plan to force assimilation.
"This is a strategy. People think, 'Oh the federal government is not that smart.' But it's a long-term strategy. Within 25 to 50 years there's not going to be any status people in Brokenhead. We see it coming. If we have no status people, a nation is not a nation without citizens. And if we no longer have citizens, our treaties become null and void and the federal government is off the hook for any treaty obligations. We'll become a municipality in less than 50 years. And there is one First Nation in Manitoba that is closer to the brink of annihilation than we are. Within five to 10 years there'll be no status people there," she said. "It's my belief, that's exactly what they're doing. Get rid of us. We've always been a thorn in their side and the quicker they can get rid of us the better. They didn't come into our communities with guns and tanks but their annihilation through legislation is just as effective. It's sad but I have no trust in the federal government when they try to justify this legislation. I just don't. They want us to be gone, to become municipalities."
Dorey agrees that this is a crucial issue.
"You can't be advancing or seriously advocating a self-governing authority if you're not addressing the people issue. Who is the nation? Who are the people? Who are the benefactors? Those are the fundamental matters that I think have to be addressed first," he said. "Because those people have every right to have a say in the structure and authority that will be negotiated for them in self-government. So that's where I have fundamental departure from what the AFN and the chiefs, and the federal government as well, seem to be doing."
AFN National Chief Phil Fontaine and Dorey discussed the matter recently, Dorey said, and Fontaine raised the fact that the federal government refuses to put control of citizenship on the table in any self-government or land claim agreement.
"And I said, 'Well, then as far as I'm concerned, nobody should be at the table.' When it comes down to the fundamental legal rights of the people, we have a charter of rights in this country. How can you deny a significant portion of the people a say into any new arrangement that impacts upon them?"
By Paul Barnsley
Windspeaker Staff Writer
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|Title Annotation:||news; Assembly of First Nations|
|Date:||May 1, 2005|
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