Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Aboriginal Peoples

Issue 12 - Evidence - October 20, 2010


OTTAWA, Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples met this day at 6:50 p.m. to examine the progress made on commitments endorsed by Parliamentarians of both chambers since the government's apology to former students of Indian residential schools.

Senator Gerry St. Germain (Chair) in the chair

[English]

The Chair: Good evening and welcome honourable senators, members of the public and all viewers across the country who are watching these proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples. They will either be watching on CPAC or possibly on the World Wide Web.

I am Gerry St. Germain, from British Columbia, and I have the honour of chairing this committee. The mandate of this committee is to examine legislation and matters relating to the Aboriginal peoples of Canada generally. Today, we are meeting on an order of reference that asks the committee to examine and report on the progress made on commitments endorsed by Parliamentarians of both chambers since the government's apology to former students of Indian residential schools.

In June 2008, Prime Minister Harper delivered a statement of apology on behalf of the Government of Canada to survivors of Indian residential schools. In the apology, the Prime Minister stated that the entire policy of assimilation implemented by residential school systems was wrong and has caused great harm. He committed to moving toward healing, reconciliation and resolution of the sad legacy of residential schools and to the implementation of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.

We will likely hear more about this settlement agreement negotiated in May 2006 when we hear the testimony this evening from our witnesses from the Native Women's Association of Canada.

Please allow me to introduce the members of the committee who are present. On my left is Senator Nick Sibbeston, from the Northwest Territories; and then Senator Roméo Dallaire, from Quebec. I would like to welcome you back to the committee, Senator Dallaire; it is nice to see you here. Next to him is the Deputy Chair of the Committee, Senator Lillian Dyck, from Saskatchewan; and Senator Larry Campbell, from British Columbia. I want to thank you, Senator Campbell, for chairing the last meeting while I was absent due to illness.

Senator Campbell: It was my honour.

The Chair: On my right is Senator Dennis Patterson, from Nunavut; Senator Carolyn Stewart Olsen, from New Brunswick; Senator Rose-May Poirier, from New Brunswick; Senator Jacques Demers, from Quebec; and Senator Nancy Greene Raine, from British Columbia.

Members of the committee, help me in welcoming the witnesses from the Native Women's Association of Canada, NWAC. We have Jeannette Corbiere Lavell, President; and Claudette Dumont-Smith, Interim Executive Director. I understand you have a presentation. Please proceed.

Jeannette Corbiere Lavell, President, Native Women's Association of Canada: Meegwetch, Mr. Chair, committee members, distinguished witnesses and guests, my name is Jeanette Corbiere Lavell, and I am the president of the Native Women's Association of Canada. I would also like to say meegwetch to all of you for giving us this opportunity to present to you today.

I am a citizen of the Anishinaabekwe Nation in Northern Ontario and a member of the Wikwemikong First Nation on Manitoulin Island, also in Northern Ontario. I bring with me the voices of my ancestors, the concerns of Aboriginal women from across Canada and the hopes of our future leaders — our young people.

The Native Women's Association of Canada is the only national Aboriginal organization in Canada that represents the interests and concerns of Aboriginal women who are First Nation, Metis and Inuit.

As president, it is my responsibility to promote the value of Aboriginal women's roles in all processes at all levels — in the political and socio-economic realms of Aboriginal societies and Canadian society alike.

It is no small task to speak adequately to the unique needs and interests of 52 per cent of the Aboriginal population. Our perspectives are diverse, to say the least. While we share many commonalities, we also experience distinct circumstances that vary by region and community. It is no small challenge to incorporate such diverse needs at the national level, but my staff and I at NWAC do our very best.

It is good to be here today to speak to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement and the process involved. This process has not been easy for many of our women or for many of our men. It needs to be understood, however, that women and men experience abuse differently. It also needs to be understood that each of us deals with these experiences in our own way and, once again, very differently.

I feel it is critically important to highlight Aboriginal women's perspectives in the agreement process not simply because they make up more than half of the total Aboriginal population, but because our interests and our needs differ from that of our men. In our roles as mothers, caregivers and life-givers, we carry the burdens of the atrocity that is the legacy of the residential school era; and this happens in many different ways.

My presentation today is based on work that our organization, NWAC, has done over the years with respect to culturally relevant gender-based analysis, CRGBA for short. We have led the advancement of CRGBA nationally for many years and, most recently, we have developed two papers that apply CRGBA to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement and the truth and reconciliation process.

The first paper is entitled, "Culturally Relevant Gender Based Models of Reconciliation," which I have here. I brought a few copies for members of the committee. The second paper is entitled, "Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement: Easily Accessible for Aboriginal Women." My presentation today reflects the content of these timely pieces of work. I am more than happy to make these papers available to any of the members of the committee at your request.

In a presentation to this committee last month, speaking about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, the Honourable Justice Murray Sinclair said, "The TRC is a cornerstone of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement." He also spoke of the accomplishments of the commission since its inception about a year ago, all of which are significant and must be commended.

I agree with his assertion that this is a long road. I do not think that anyone would argue with that. The TRC's five-year mandate is not, in and of itself, to right the wrongs of residential schools.

As the national voice for Aboriginal women in Canada, it is my responsibility to raise the concerns of our women in relation to the respect for gender within these processes, both within the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement — IRSSA — and the TRC. NWAC asserts that a culturally relevant gender analysis should guide the entire process of reconciliation. A gender framework would put into practice our Aboriginal ways of knowing and of living, including traditional approaches to gender balance. Both of these are crucially relevant factors to the process of seeking truth and reconciliation.

Aboriginal culture teaches connection, not separation. Our nations promoted balance; men and women working together for the good of the community. We recognized that each had unique roles and responsibilities and that both were needed for survival. We, men and women, functioned as cooperative halves. Roles were equally valued. Independent yet interdependent, each half worked to create the perfect whole of society.

The gender framework highlights the benefits of balance and equilibrium in process. It highlights how this can be done and how the outcomes can truly reflect the needs.

Important lessons are to be drawn from the work and experiences of Aboriginal women in relation to reconciliation. The South African reconciliation process should be used to inform the Canadian process — most importantly in terms of healing for victims. Healing is not reconciliation. It has been shown that in the South African experience, personal healing alone does not address the fundamental need for broader structural changes. Structural changes are required to achieve true reconciliation. Given Aboriginal women's historical and current realities in this country, including the alarmingly high rates of missing and murdered women, the abhorrently high rates of violence, abuse, incarceration, ill health and exclusion, we have an extremely long way to go to achieve reconciliation.

The imposition of colonialism has profoundly altered traditional beliefs and practices. Aboriginal women and men have internalized these colonial beliefs about female inferiority and male authority, much to our dismay and devastation in our communities. For far too long, our perspectives, our opinions and our roles within governance structures, and especially in our decision-making roles, our authority in our communities have been severely undermined. Truth telling and reconciliation must represent a reparative process that promotes restoration of Aboriginal women's place of respect in our dignity, safety, authority and agency.

Truly honouring the stories of our women and men requires not only witnessing but also implementing meaningful change in response. NWAC advocates for the inauguration of an Aboriginal women's advisory council as a significant step toward ensuring that the unique experiences, needs and concerns of Aboriginal women are reflected and respected in the IRSSA process and beyond into reconciliation.

We feel strongly that we should head up this council given our knowledge and expertise in culturally relevant gender analysis, our network of Aboriginal women from across the country and the fact that we have been excluded from the process thus far.

At the core of any reconciliation process is a preparedness of people to anticipate a shared future. This entails not only forgiveness for the past but also sharing of strategies for moving forward.

My question to the parties involved is: Is this happening? If not, how can we ensure that it happens?

In addition to an Aboriginal women's advisory council, we advocate for a national youth advisory council as one way of ensuring that reconciliation is sustained and that our people have a place in a shared future within Canada. The sustainability of this process and the structural changes necessary for true reconciliation can only be achieved with youth in a leadership role. Aboriginal men and women — and our youth — need to be involved in shaping the future of this country, in shaping our future relationship with government and with broader Canadian society as a part of true reconciliation.

Going forward, the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement must utilize a culturally relevant gender-based analysis approach in appreciating the ongoing and long-term ramifications of their actions for the survivors and for their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Indeed, emerging research points to the severity of intergenerational effects exhibited by the children and grandchildren of mothers and fathers who had attended residential schools.

Meegwetch. Thank you for listening.

The Chair: Does this end your presentation?

Ms. Corbiere Lavell: My formal presentation, yes.

The Chair: What feedback are you getting from your constituency about the after-effects of the apology? Have there been any effects that you can report to us that have taken place within the constituency of your organization?

Claudette Dumont-Smith, Interim Executive Director, Native Women's Association of Canada: I have not been with NWAC too long, but I have been immersed in the issues of NWAC over the years. I am well connected with the women. However, because NWAC was not involved in the process from the outset, we are not part of the parties of the settlement agreement and have never been invited to the tables in any shape or form. I think there were many expectations on NWAC's part, when the apology was delivered by our Prime Minister in 2008, that some positive events would happen specifically for Aboriginal women. However, things were derailed somewhat, as you well know. I find — and I think the women feel this as well — that that subject is sort of off the radar at the moment. We do not really speak about the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement or the TRC too much now because there was a long time of inactivity. Therefore, that is the way I would assess that situation at the moment.

Mind you, some women, including at least one or two of our staff, are proceeding with independent assessment processes that are within the settlement agreement, so there is a little bit of activity but not too much.

Senator Campbell: Perhaps my question is premature given that the process is ongoing. However, as you look back over where we are right now, in your view, has the government not met any of the obligations under the settlement agreement? I realize it is ongoing, but I wonder if, to this point, there is anything that sticks out that we should be addressing and how severe that is. Is it something that can be handled, or is it something that you see will be a difficulty as we move forward?

Ms. Corbiere Lavell: From comments we have received from our members within our provincial and territorial organizations, I know we have been asked to look into becoming involved in the IRSSA. Our women at the community level are not able to access information about activities or any type of processes or strategies to deal with the impacts of the residential schools, whether it is for themselves, their families or their communities. I know we have had several annual general assemblies where resolutions have been raised to that effect. That concern has always been there.

Our women at the community level would like to become involved in working within the communities, assisting in any program or activity that improves the lives of the people who have been through the residential schools to see if there can be that positive change and that healing taking place. Once that healing is taking place, we can ensure that the children and the communities then benefit.

It is somewhat difficult, as Ms. Dumont-Smith pointed out, for us to really get into details because, as the Native Women's Association of Canada, we have not been involved. We would appreciate the opportunity to participate.

Senator Campbell: Who represents Native women in this process? Who is speaking on their behalf?

Ms. Corbiere Lavell: That is the reason we are here, to present our solution to this, to make the recommendation that we would like to see an Aboriginal women's advisory council where women can bring their concerns to you as senators, to the government, because they have been excluded.

Many of our people, both men and women, have been through the process of just receiving the settlement aspect. That is spread right across Canada. However, to actually do the follow-up process is the big grey area. That is lacking, and that is where we would like to work with the government to see what we can do about that. We have two papers where we have taken the time to study this, and we are prepared to follow up.

Senator Campbell: I am very interested in them, and I want to see them. I think it is obvious that Native women have to be involved in this process. Native women are as affected by what has happened as Native men and Native children. I find that no one is speaking on behalf of Native women, period.

Ms. Corbiere Lavell: You are absolutely correct.

Senator Dyck: I will follow up with questions related to what Senator Campbell was raising. You said that NWAC has essentially been excluded from the process. You were considering that there should be a national advisory council that would come from your organization, I suppose, as well as a youth council.

Ms. Corbiere Lavell: We would assist with that, yes.

Senator Dyck: How do you see these groups interacting with the TRC, or how would they interact with other bodies that are part of the process?

Ms. Dumont-Smith: In the paper, we do come up with some solutions for that. We have not been included, and that is a shut door now because the agreement has been negotiated; it is a done deal. However, things will be opening up as a result of the TRC, and there will be the need for the development of healing programs. There will be the matter of trying to bring as many women as possible to speak to the TRC, and a special outreach must be done to bring as many women to the table to speak about their experiences as well. We feel that our provincial-territorial member associations within each province know what the women of their particular region want and the cultural practices, and how they should be included in that process.

It would be more to really ensure that our women are heard, and we are not sure if that is happening right now. We have no way of knowing because there is no communication to and fro.

We do see that the process was faulty that we were not involved at the beginning when all of this was developing. However, we do see a role whereby we can improve not only the TRC but also the commemorative things that will be happening after. Therefore, we believe that we should have our place there as well, being that we are 52 per cent of the population and being that Aboriginal women have experience in residential schools, and the sequelae of being a residential school survivor is quite different from the male population. We have spelled out many different ways for women's involvement in the documents that we have produced.

The Chair: Was NWAC not consulted when the agreement was being drafted or discussed at government levels?

Ms. Dumont-Smith: From what I read, NWAC was not one of the parties. The parties included Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Assembly of First Nations, the four churches, different Inuit groups and, of course, the government; but the Native Women's Association of Canada was never a party per se. No, they were not consulted when the IRSSA was designed.

The Chair: That is strange.

Ms. Corbiere Lavell: I would like to add further to Senator Campbell's question. It is really to our dismay that we were put through that whole exclusion. As you know, many of our women lost those parenting skills, lost the ability to pass on our traditional knowledge, our way of bringing up our children with love and compassion, teaching our children the language and all those values that are required to be a strong, independent person.

Since that has happened, these women are not able to have anyone advocate for them, assist them in any of their ideas that would help them on this healing process — not only to heal themselves, as I said, but also to follow through.

In our culture, women are the focal point within our communities. We are the centre. From the women flow the future generations. We are the heart of our community. If the hearts of our women, that knowledge, has been destroyed, then our future does not look very good.

We desperately need to do something to provide that healing and the reconciliation process that is necessary. Right now we are looking at what positive processes we can initiate to help these women so that they can be strong within their traditional roles again. We hope we can achieve that.

Senator Sibbeston: I appreciate that you have said in some respects that you were not involved. What do you think, as NWAC, you could have provided if you had been involved? What could you have brought to the table that is not there now?

On the one hand, one can say that much has been done. We have the federal government recognizing that they had done wrong. They have apologized, and they have a number of things in place. Money has been paid for common experiences, and a process is in place for those who have been assaulted in any way or hurt in any way, so that process is ongoing. The TRC is running, so one can say that much has happened.

I am curious to know what you could have brought to the table or what you could have done to improve the present system.

Ms. Corbiere Lavell: When we look at what was happening and the impact of the residential school system, as I said in my presentation, we recognize and have noted that many good things have taken place. However, at the same time, more needs to be done. All we have to do is look at the violence within our communities and what is taking place, what is being initiated to stop that violence.

The violence within our communities has been directly related to the loss of our traditional values, the respect that we had for each other within our communities, the respect of men and women for each other to recognize our traditional roles. Once that has been taken away, the respect is no longer there.

Then we bump up against all the other elements that are out there that lead to abuses, and from those abuses — whether it is alcohol or other abuses — we get the devastation of the person, and then the violence erupts. That then has an impact on the children and the young women who feel that they are dealing with that violence in their homes.

We also have done that study. Young women who have been subjected to abuse within their homes and their communities flee from those environments; they go into the cities. However, it is not any better there because of lack of resources, skills and education. Being at the bottom end of the poverty scale, they get into prostitution, and then we see all those numbers.

We have over 600 missing and murdered Aboriginal women now; that has been documented. Probably, there are many more. We are the only national Aboriginal organization that has brought this to the forefront.

We are trying to do something about it. We have just submitted a proposal to the government. We appreciate that we have been given the first five years of our research into all this, which gave us all those numbers. However, at the same time, now we are ready to move forward.

We would like to put some of what we have learned into action, and we have a proposal that we have submitted. We would really like to have that implemented. It has been difficult to take that next step, but that would be one part of dealing with some of those issues — what has not happened. Many things could be done with our women, with our elders, those keepers of our knowledge, such as the restoration of language.

Our women are still there. They want to assist in this process. It is just a matter of finding them and bringing them out, telling their stories.

Senator Sibbeston: I had the good fortune a number of weeks ago of being in a number of First Nations communities. Our committee went on a fact-finding mission to Saskatchewan and Alberta. We went to the Onion Lake Cree Nation reserve, where the band has an immersion Cree program. We were given a chance to see the school, the children and the classes. I could not help but think of the love, the cuddling that these kids were given.

I was in residential school, and there was no such thing as ever being cuddled by a sister. You can imagine a Grey Nun sister with her uniform, and she also has type of protective headpiece. They were dressed and designed to be apart from society, in a sense.

When I saw these children being loved and cuddled, being spoken to in their native language, I thought how lucky it was that these children will grow up to be very strong, healthy and vibrant in their language. That is what we were denied in residential school, and this is what this is all about.

I have no doubt that the role of women — the mother language, teaching the children, the love, the cuddling and all those pretty well humanly essential things — was not there. I agree with you and wonder if something is missing because it was mostly handled by men.

I do not doubt that if you were at the table, the women could have provided something to the whole process, and it would have been a gentler, more motherly process than what we have. I agree with you that women could have added something substantial to the process, if nothing else but to make people aware of what I just talked about — the essence of being cuddled that was never provided by sisters. That is my feeling on the subject. I agree with you.

Also then, what do you need to do to be more noticeable? What do women have to do so that the government and our society recognize women and their role? It just seems you are being shunned and put out. What do you need to do?

Ms. Corbiere Lavell: I believe I mentioned part of it. One very strong aspect that we would like to recommend is that we be given the opportunity to bring back our traditional role as decision makers, as members of our community able to speak out and take action. We have been excluded so far. That is just because of the attitude and the process that has been put into place.

I am sure, as you said, had women been there negotiating, there would have been all those other aspects — that sensitivity, that long-term compassion for future generations. That would have been part of the process because that has been our role and will continue to be our role. Right now, we are struggling to regain our voices within our communities so that we can be heard. We are doing our best to bring this forth to everyone. If it happens that we regain our traditional role, only good can come of it, in my opinion.

Senator Demers: I really liked the question that Senator Campbell asked. I saw him frowning because you obviously could not give him an answer. I feel badly for you. I am not saying you were not trying to give an answer.

This is 2010. Do you want the government to take charge of putting women in charge? Will there be a time when women will have to stand up and say that they will not take it anymore? I have been on the committee this last year, and I have seen some strong Aboriginal women come before us. You could see they were strong.

It is unacceptable. A member of my family is a police officer who recently returned after four months. I guess they have to come back and take a couple months off. Given the things that went on up there, you would not think we are in 2010.

Your question was great, Senator. You have to have a woman or women in your group to be able to defend your rights. If we were in 1940, it might be different; but this is 2010. It is sad what I am hearing tonight; and I have been at many meetings.

Are you saying to the chair that you want the government to put a woman or two in charge? You have to have a woman speaking for you because I know not many men out there — and I am not saying that there are none — will defend women because a great deal of abuse is happening.

Ms. Corbiere Lavell: Exactly. I know many of our women are strong, as you say, and will gladly assume that responsibility because part of our role is to protect and care for our children, families and communities.

At the same time, when they begin that very struggle you are talking about, they have to approach others, mostly men, at government levels who make those decisions. I do not know if we can honestly say that women within the broader Canadian society are able to achieve their voices and goals, as I understand it. Being an Aboriginal woman, I am on the outside looking in. I also see a lot of the frustration of non-Aboriginal Canadian women who try to have their concerns and voices heard. It is an ongoing struggle, understandably. We are trying to promote and bring back gender balance. That is what we are saying in these papers that I have with me. All we need to do is begin the implementation process.

Senator Patterson: The settlement agreement is done, as you said, and we are near the end of the first year of the TRC. Have you approached the TRC with this idea of an Aboriginal women's advisory council and an Aboriginal youth advisory council?

Ms. Dumont-Smith: To my knowledge, NWAC has not done that. Actually, the funds for the development of the two papers were to be presented to Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, INAC, and then to the TRC. No follow-up has happened since these two papers were presented, one, I believe, in 2009 and the other in March 2010. No, no follow-ups have happened that I know of since these two papers were presented.

They map out very well how NWAC could become involved, even though the settlement agreement, as I mentioned earlier, was complete. It mentions how we can become involved in future processes. That is where it stands. Ms. Corbiere Lavell made a presentation at the first TRC event in Winnipeg during the summer. When NWAC is invited, of course we will be there, but that is where it stopped.

Senator Patterson: I know that the Inuit had felt left out of the TRC process. An arrangement was made with the TRC to have a subcommittee to advise the TRC. That was established. Perhaps Aboriginal women could be involved in a similar way because they still have some four years left to do their work. Would that be welcome?

Ms. Corbiere Lavell: That is precisely what we are recommending in our presentation. I could go over it again. You have said it exactly. NWAC advocates the inauguration of an Aboriginal women's advisory council as a significant step toward ensuring the experiences, needs and concerns of Aboriginal women and subsequently families and children in the future. We would strongly recommend that this step be taken.

Senator Stewart Olsen: I was thinking along the same lines as Senator Patterson in that I do not understand why the TRC has not placed more weight on the women. They themselves said in the presentation they made to us that there is a significant difference and that women bore the brunt of the residential schools. That would be the family association. I would be very supportive of not only the advisory council, which would be great, but also an actual subcommittee to the TRC, which might carry more weight. Would you look at that and bring your views to the TRC in that way?

Ms. Corbiere Lavell: We would definitely be prepared to do that as soon as possible. Certainly, you would know the difference that would make. By all means, we would appreciate that opportunity for a subcommittee.

Senator Stewart Olsen: I am very much in favour of your youth advisory council as well. I would like to see us move forward on those two issues. Thank you very much.

Senator Poirier: We must be leading to some conclusion because we are all thinking along the same lines. The questions I wrote are the same as those of other senators.

Have you put your proposal to the TRC or to the government?

Ms. Corbiere Lavell: I understand that it was commissioned by the TRC and was presented back to them and to the government as well.

Senator Poirier: I thought you told me you had a proposal in place. Did I misunderstand you? I believe it is a proposal to set up a women's advisory council and a youth advisory council. Have you proposed that to anyone at this point?

Ms. Dumont-Smith: That is the presentation we are making tonight. No, we have not.

Senator Poirier: That has not been presented to the TRC or government or to anyone at this point?

Ms. Dumont-Smith: No, it has not.

Senator Poirier: In 2008, you were excluded from the process. I know you have done much research and work since that time in educating yourselves and making yourselves ready for where you are today. Do you feel that today you would be ready to approach something like this, present it to the TRC and ask them about you being a part of this process from here to the end? Are you more ready now than you were in 2008?

Ms. Corbiere Lavell: Yes, I suppose we are, in that we have been able to do the research and the study and the community involvement, getting advice from the women in our communities. We have done all that work, so we are much more prepared.

We would have been prepared in 2008 had we been invited. We have all gone through that experience. My mother was in residential school. We have all felt the impact of it.

Senator Poirier: Your presentation tonight with the recommendation of putting together the women's advisory council or the youth advisory council, or whether we go with this subcommittee, is this something you plan on presenting also to the TRC in the near future?

Ms. Dumont-Smith: It is possible that we will communicate with them. We have not been approached, so it would be up to us to approach them and offer our advice and suggestions. Once that work was completed in 2009 and the second project in 2010, there has not been any movement back and forth with any part of the IRSSA, with the exception that Ms. Corbiere Lavell was invited to speak at the first national event in July in Winnipeg. That was it.

Senator Poirier: I have learned, as a woman in politics, if I sit and wait for something, often nothing happens. In your situation, I would be proactive. You are willing to go, and you have some good ideas. I would be proactive and be knocking on their door.

Ms. Corbiere Lavell: I thoroughly agree with you. We do have good communication with Honourable Justice Murray Sinclair, and we have an open dialogue. There have been many things to do. I am sure he is busy. We are dealing with other relevant issues right now as Aboriginal women, with legislation. This is something that perhaps we just put aside, but it is something we want to move forward on right now. Thank you for the suggestion.

Senator Dyck: On the papers or projects that you submitted to INAC about the TRC, I am wondering whether you can recommend that this committee intervene on your behalf and that we ask why they have not responded. Your first report was in 2008, and you have one in 2010. What is the reaction, the response, and what will they do?

Ms. Corbiere Lavell: As the Native Women's Association of Canada, we would appreciate your support and intercession on our behalf. We would very much like to move forward on that. Thank you, Senator Dyck, for bringing that up.

Senator Raine: I feel a little at a loss because I do not really know what was in your proposals in 2008 and 2010. Will you give us copies of those?

Ms. Corbiere Lavell: Yes.

Senator Raine: We will have to have them translated and distributed.

Ms. Corbiere Lavell: I was informed that that has to be done first, but they are available.

Senator Raine: I am sure we would all welcome the opportunity to look at those.

Could you explain to me and maybe some others how NWAC is structured? Do you have affiliated women in all the First Nations across Canada? Are you set up provincially or by First Nation? How is it structured?

Ms. Corbiere Lavell: Due to the time, I skipped over that part in my presentation. NWAC consists of provincial and territorial members right across Canada. Each of our organizations are all Aboriginal women, and many have members who are First Nations, Metis or Inuit; as well, we have many who are non-status.

Many of our organizations at the provincial level do not restrict membership according to status or any criteria such as that. We have been advocating that we are all Aboriginal women, and we have our traditions that we would like to bring back, to recognize our roles within our communities. If we take those basic concepts, we have member organizations right across Canada.

We were formed in 1973, so we have been in existence for a fair length of time. We came together out of need in those early days in the 1970s because our voices were not being heard. The organizations at the time would not recognize a very basic concern: the right to our own identity within the Indian Act. It was just something that was not being considered at the time. This is how our Aboriginal women's organizations were founded and came into being.

Right now, we have very strong and prominent Aboriginal women's organizations right across Canada that are doing wonderful, tremendous work. This whole concern on stopping violence against women came out of the Ontario Native Women's Association in 1979. As women, we were not afraid to bring these issues to the forefront because something had to be done about them.

As a women's organization, we are not afraid to deal with these concerns and issues, and we are prepared to move forward.

Our ultimate goal is to bring back that balance with our traditions and our way of living within our communities. One of the first steps to enable us to do so would be to stop the violence and stop the imposition of an outside attitude within our communities. That would be one step. If we could do it through the TRC process, all the more power to our communities.

Ms. Dumont-Smith: In addition to the presidents or speakers of each province or territory, the board of directors has four elders, one representing each direction, as well as four youth to also represent each direction. That is the governing structure of the Native Women's Association of Canada.

Senator Raine: Do you communicate with your members directly at the national level, or do you go through the provinces?

Ms. Dumont-Smith: We go through the provinces. The presidents of the provincial or territorial member associations are elected by the women in their particular region.

Senator Raine: Could you tell us the total number of members that you have in all the provinces and territories?

Ms. Dumont-Smith: No. It would vary. We do not ask that from our provincial and territorial member presidents.

Ms. Corbiere Lavell: They represent the voices of Aboriginal women within our provincial and territorial organizations. They have their meetings and memberships, and they are organized to get representation from all regions, all aspects of their province or territory.

As Ms. Dumont-Smith pointed out, they have young women within the boards of their associations, as well as the elders. It is very inclusive, and they try to reach out to many of the women in the community without any restrictions, as I said. That is one of the key issues. We have had many successes.

I believe the restoration of our ability to remain part of our community came about because of the strength and the determination of our women. It was my court case that brought that to the attention of everyone. That was in 1970, when I challenged section 12(1)(b) of the Indian Act. Here we are now in 2010. We are now dealing with the challenge of getting recognition for our grandchildren. It is still the same idea, but it has been moved to a different generation. It is the same restriction that is being imposed on us. This is not something that we can accept because these are our people and these are our families. The young people are the future of our community.

Senator Dallaire: My background is more international humanitarian affairs and also the Human Rights Committee, where representatives spoke to us about housing and the right to housing for Aboriginal women and your argument thereof.

In the context of this apology where the Prime Minister stated that the entire policy of assimilation implemented by the system is false and terrible, would you not want to see that the fundamental document of the Indian Act be amended to take out those terms so that it would start with something like "In order to give stronger guidance and authority to the Department of Indian Affairs," and so on?

Ms. Corbiere Lavell: Did you say to give them stronger authority?

Senator Dallaire: Yes, to be able to be more effective in meeting whatever the requirements might be. We will get to that after.

Ms. Corbiere Lavell: What we are working on at NWAC as Aboriginal women is the right to determining the future of our own communities through our sovereign right that we have been guaranteed within our treaties. We were anticipating the declaration on the rights of indigenous people, which would have given us that right to determine who our members are. We are waiting for that. We look forward to that opportunity.

I know that our nations, and I speak specifically of the Anishinaabekwe in Northern Ontario, have done work, and they are right at the point where they are prepared to initiate a citizenship law known as —

[Ms. Corbiere-Lavell spoke in her native language.]

That means the law for those who belong. It would ensure that our communities would recognize our members and that it is not an outside government agency who would determine who our members are. Rather, our own communities would say, "Yes, we know that young person. That is their ancestor." As long as they have one ancestor connected to that community, they would have a right to be recognized. As well, certain responsibilities go along with being a citizen within our nation as compared to any other nation that would be in a similar situation.

Senator Dallaire: I may not have been clear. I am talking about the opportunity to massively change the Indian Act to achieve what you are saying. Would this not have been an element that you and other Aboriginal authorities would have been pushing for within this context of the apology?

Ms. Dumont-Smith: People were expecting that, with the policy, there would be changes throughout the system.

Senator Dallaire: Does that include legislation?

Ms. Dumont-Smith: Yes, and that would improve the lives of all Aboriginal people. The apology was deemed to be that mechanism or tool or announcement that would make these types of changes.

Senator Dallaire: The residential school is only a component, but it is an instrument to solve a much grander scenario that has as a fundamental premise that 19th century legislation where assimilation was still articulated within it. That was sort of expected when the apology came across. Am I wrong in saying that?

Ms. Dumont-Smith: There were many different expectations by many different people. Yes, many people are still waiting for some action in relation to the apology. Many Aboriginal people are saying that there has not been enough action to make the change that would be reflective of the words of the apology.

Senator Dallaire: Maybe the target has been too low in what has been brought forward with this. There is the TRC, and so on, but a systemic element exists behind it that maybe the apology would have solved on a grander scale.

Ms. Dumont-Smith: Although reconciliation will not happen overnight, it is hoped that reconciliation will eventually lead to that.

Senator Dallaire: Would you say that within the variety of Aboriginal cultures, fundamentally the women are functioning within a male-dominated social structure?

Ms. Corbiere Lavell: Yes, because of the imposition of the Indian Act and the imposition of the attitudes of the colonizers. Of course men have internalized and have assumed that role, which is totally contrary to the way our communities functioned prior to the act. Within our teachings, no one is higher than the other and no one can dominate the other. There should have been that respect for our roles, and respect for each other in terms of long-term survival. That balance we keep referring to should have been there, but it has been destroyed for various reasons.

In the long run, our goal would be to see self-determination; that is, our right as a nation to be independent and to be able to make those decisions on behalf of our people. We are trying to work on how that can be achieved. Obviously, it did not work within the Indian Act. We tried piecemeal; we would change one section, and then another section was implemented that was still discriminatory and still left many of our people out. We have realized that no matter how much work we do on the Indian Act, it will never give us that sense of independence and self-determination. We must struggle with that.

Senator Dallaire: I have a short speculative question. If the women would have had the historic position that they had in the past, which was explained to us at the Human Rights Committee, where the material elements of the communities were managed and owned by women more than by men, do you think we would have been able to bring about the residential schools so easily? Would this have occurred if women had more of a power base within their communities?

Ms. Corbiere Lavell: Obviously it would have been better, and I will share a little story with you. This was shared with me by my grandmother, and she heard it from her mother.

She said that when government officials first came to our communities — and this would have been in the late 1800s — the women were there, and they had been working because that was their role. They made decisions; they worked within the community to ensure the ongoing daily activities.

At the time when government officials came, many of the men were out either hunting, getting food, or maybe there was a war. I do not know specifically, but the government officials came and the women went down to meet the boat. The government officials landed and said that they wanted to talk to the leaders. The women recognized each other and several women went forward and greeted these officials. The officials just said, "No, send us a man, any man," and they would not listen to those women.

This is a story that I have been told. It made me stronger in my determination to regain that role that we had.

Senator Dallaire: You would want to go back to that role pre-White man, European Indian Act, correct?

Ms. Corbiere Lavell: We want to have that respect for each other, that balance.

Senator Dallaire: Certainly for the women.

Lastly, do you think that this apology could have far more reaching capabilities within, as an example, INAC if we really wanted to push legislation? I would contend that maybe INAC is actually, by culture, male-oriented. Am I correct?

Ms. Corbiere Lavell: I think you are absolutely correct.

Senator Dallaire: Why do you not shoot higher rather than lower?

Ms. Dumont-Smith: We are trying.

Ms. Corbiere Lavell: This is what we are doing; we are working on it.

Senator Dyck: I wanted to share a little about the Onion Lake Cree immersion school. My mother went to residential school, and one thing that she taught us was not to speak our language because it was beaten out of her. She was not allowed to speak Cree in residential school.

It was so refreshing when we saw that happen at the Onion Lake Cree immersion school. These little kids were just lapping it up, so it was lovely to see.

At the same time, we also saw that the majority of the kids were not going to the Cree immersion school; they were going to the English school. We questioned that, but in my mind, the reason they did not go was because of the intergenerational effects of residential school. The parents still feel that they do not want to own all of their identity.

That is really just a comment. I agree with you entirely that women are the heart and the soul of the family. If you do not have the women healed, if you do not have women as leaders, your community is at great risk.

I wanted to applaud you in your role at NWAC as the new president. In your former life you were an incredible leader for Aboriginal women. I congratulate you for all the wonderful work you have done. It was well thought out.

Senator Campbell: This has been a real eye opener for me. I am not known as the sharpest knife in the drawer. A light went on here.

We want to blame the government. I know the honourable senators on the other side will fall over in their seats, but we want to blame the government here, and in fact it is not the government. This is internal. This is Aboriginal men fearful that they might go back to the old days when matriarchal society was the way that things happened.

We can support you, and I am sure that we will, but you have 52 per cent of your population. Somehow, some way, you have to change the political way that business is done within the First Nations and get that recognition.

We take full blame for putting you in this position. I am not trying to lessen what we did. We take full blame for that, but we have tried to move forward. However, things have shifted so much that we cannot get back to what was normal.

I believe the subcommittee, as the senator said, is a better idea than just a loose association; you need to be involved with those who have vested interests within your community to maintain the status quo, wrong that it is, to get this to happen.

I am sure that those that were on the committee will remember the Native women who came to us from the West Coast. You were speaking about passing a law with respect to who is a member. It was one of the most touching moments in the committee because they said to us, "We decide who our family is; no one else does."

I think you have to kick the doors down, but I think the doors include those within your community, as well as the overriding "how did we get here and how do we get out of there." I know that was a rant, but I had never thought of it until right now. No matter what the government does, if there is not a change within the First Nation culture, nothing will happen. There will be no reconciliation because the reconciliation is between us and you, but it is also between you and you.

Ms. Dumont-Smith: That is true.

Senator Raine: Was that a question?

Senator Sibbeston: My question has been answered, so I will just pass.

Senator Raine: I think we have all taken the model of non-Native leadership to heart, but it is not about the women being in charge and being leaders. It is about coming back to the true partnerships, where both are recognized for the roles they play.

I have noticed that many more female chiefs are being elected in First Nations, and they are very active members of the Assembly of First Nations. That is one form of political organization, but I see NWAC as being more the keepers of the culture, the learning and so on. Is that the role of NWAC? Is that how you are trying to position yourself?

You are not trying to duplicate the Assembly of First Nations.

Ms. Corbiere Lavell: You are absolutely correct. We do not want to duplicate the structure and the governance of the Assembly of First Nations. Rather, we are trying to advocate on behalf of our women at the community level who are trying to restore our position within our communities.

Granted, it does mean that we have to deal with the attitudes that have been brought from the outside and are being practised right now. That is because of the structure, the processes that are being imposed on us. It is the election of a chief and the council, and that is what we have to live with.

However, if we went back to our own cultural teachings, it is organizing in a totally different way. In our longhouses and our teaching lodges, women had their roles and responsibilities, as did the men. It was shared in balance and harmony, and the respective roles were honoured and recognized. That is what should happen. However, we cannot do that when we have to bump up against other governments. I realize that it is difficult. I am sure that within your communities you have to deal with that too, and it is a struggle. We will not give up. We will continue and will work together at that.

Senator Raine: I would like to expand on what Senator Dyck said about the Cree immersion school. It was beautiful to see how they integrate their ceremonies and traditions with the learning. At the beginning of the day, all the children sat in a circle, the girls sitting one way and the boys sitting a different way because they are different and are taught to be different and to respect each other, their teachers and the elders.

With that many children in an ordinary school, there can be mayhem. No one wants to sit still, and they all interrupt. That was beautiful to see.

I personally believe that the culture should come back, and it would be great for our whole country if it does. I wish you the best of luck.

Ms. Corbiere Lavell: Thank you. That experience is one of many. I am sure many other initiatives such as that are taking place. In my own community, we have immersion and the restoration of our traditional ways of teaching our young people within our lodges. It is one way of bringing back the understanding and respect for each other. This is the way it should be.

Senator Raine: An integral part of what they are doing at Onion Lake is having their own teacher-training program affiliated with the university to educate fully certified teachers who stay there because that is where they are from. That makes a huge difference because it is difficult to get teachers who understand the culture.

Ms. Corbiere Lavell: That is true.

The Chair: Honourable senators, I think we will be able to pursue this because we will be inviting these witnesses to partake in our study on education.

I do not believe you have yet presented to us on that.

Ms. Corbiere Lavell: We have not been invited to present on education as yet.

The Chair: You are definitely on the list. I know that.

Ms. Corbiere Lavell: Thank you. We will look forward to it and prepare for it.

Senator Dallaire: Dealing with the apology and the concept and the fullness of it, in 1964, when I joined the army, my father, who had been a career soldier, said that if I wanted a career in the Canadian army I would have to change my name from Dallaire to Dollards because, as a French Canadian, I would go nowhere. In fact, French Canadians were not allowed to speak their language. We had to speak English because everything was done in English. In 1968, legislation changed that. We became equal and could command and be commanded in our own language.

Do you not think that this apology still requires work in the legislative foundation of the whole premise of why we even thought of using an instrument such as residential schools for assimilation?

Ms. Dumont-Smith: I am sorry; I did not understand your question.

Senator Dallaire: I am saying, do you not think this is a great instrument to get rid of the Indian Act?

Ms. Dumont-Smith: The Indian Act is a big question. Many components of the Indian Act have affected Aboriginal people, especially First Nations. However, if the Indian Act is changed, which I believe is the hope of many people, Aboriginal women must be at the table. Aboriginal women must be equal participants in all the discussions so that we will not have a repeat of what happened with the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, where they were not at the table.

Ms. Corbiere Lavell: Many of our people are well prepared to do away with the Indian Act right now and to take over the running of our communities. However, at the same time, many of our communities are not at that stage, so we have to work within that context. Our ultimate goal is to have a sense of independence and to be able to work together on an equal basis with others outside our communities.

I would love to see that, and hopefully it will happen.

The Chair: I would like to thank our presenters for their excellent presentation and their candid and forthright answers to the questions that were posed to them.

It is really unfortunate that NWAC was not part of this. Our researcher has indicated that national class actions were taking place in 2004 and 2005, and this is what triggered the negotiations and why the IRSSA was set up. The class actions were the impetus. I do not know why you were left out of the process. Perhaps there was an urgency to get the agreement together and an important facet of the scenario was left out, that being you, the Native Women's Association of Canada.

I thank you again. We will spend for a couple of minutes, and then we will attend very quickly to some other business.

(The committee continued in camera.)


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