Aboriginal Women's Action Network Report on Bill C-31 (year 2000)

Aboriginal Women's Action Network Releases Report on Bill C-31

by Audrey Huntley for AWAN
April 21, 2000

The Aboriginal Women's Action Network's Bill C-31 Project remained true to the "Partipatory Action Research" model right to the very end. As reported in different issues of Kinesis, our research questions were formulated by Aboriginal women from communities throughout the province. These same women were the ones who identified women from their own communities to interview.

Upon completion of our final report, AWAN members were not satisfied with releasing it until we conducted another phase of consultation with a variety of women who were asked to review it. Input was then integrated and last minute additions were made to include new  developments.

With the "Bill C-31 Final Report" now in print, the Aboriginal Women's Action Network will now be shifting our focus to the implementation of the recommendations. The attention generated from this project sharply defined the issue of inadequacy of advocacy and educational services to Aboriginal women on Bill C-31. Project objectives included surveying the experiences of Aboriginal women and analyzing policy with regard to this legislation, but what we were frequently called upon to do was to provide advocacy or educational services. The difficulty that women encountered with reinstatement procedures was often mired with confusion, costly documentation and arbitrary decision making at the level of the "Registrar Entitlement Unit". Within this isolating process, the registrar and its bureaucracy, does nothing to coordinate or cross-reference members of the same family who are engaged in the same application procedures. If the registrar denies reinstatement of an applicant, the very same registrar is the one who must hear the appeal - now how many registrars would be willing to admit that she made a mistake the first time round and be willing to reverse that decision? In short, Aboriginal women are subjected to rigorous and rigid guidelines in applying for reinstatement, a situation in which all power and authority rests with the registrar, and a process which women must go through alone.

Applying for reinstatement of status is usually just the beginning of a long struggle to regain inherent Aboriginal rights. Trying to access rights and benefits that 'status Indians' are entitled to can be difficult enough, particularly with the competition over scarce resources in Aboriginal communities. In these conflicts, newly reinstated women, as 'outsiders' are vulnerable, and again, outside of the decision-making process. Band councils control the allocation of such limited resources as housing, educational funding, health and other benefits. The primary issue is the lack of advocacy and educational services for Aboriginal women, at both the reinstatement stage and for post-reinstatement follow-up.

Accessing "Existing Aboriginal Rights" under section 35 of the constitution is a challenge for reinstated women, but the devolution of powers under the guise of self-government compounds the problems of unequal power relations.  For example, the passage of Bill C-49 has increased the powers of band councils, by giving them absolute authority over reserve lands. Despite the lobbying efforts of the Native Women's Association of Canada, nothing was done to address "Matrimonial Property Rights" of Aboriginal women on-reserve in this legislation. The dangers for marginalized people on-reserve, particularly the newly reinstated, are obvious. Band councils have the legal right to evict anyone from reserves if they see better opportunities for that lands.

In parallel course with globalization measures, such as the MAI, NAFTA and other trade agreements, Band councils are moving toward putting corporate interests before human rights. At an economic and political level,  Aboriginal women need a voice, an opportunity to  participate in decisions that affect our lives.

Aboriginal communities are coming to the realization  that all of us, who have status, are categorized under some section of  Bill C-31. Whether we allow the Department of Indian Affairs to deplete our populations, or if we actively participate in that 'termination' through narrowly defined membership codes, the results are the same. The  court cases that we heard about in the course of our research indicate that some Band councils are playing an active role in that termination policy by developing and implementing membership codes which reflect the internalized racism of our communities and biological conceptions of identity which are highly constrained. Other cases before the courts are in relation to section 6(2), the second generation cut-off rule.

Our report demands that this section of Bill C-31 be struck! Further, we demand that the requirement of single mothers for proof of paternity be struck! We call upon our non-Aboriginal allies to support us in our lobby of the minister of Indian Affairs, Robert Nault, to strike these things from Bill C-31.

A version of this article first appeared in Kinesis Newspaper, Dec/99.

Copies can now be ordered, please enclose a cheque or money order in the amount of either $10.00 or $20.00 (depending on your ability + $2.50 (for shipping) to:

Aboriginal Women's Action Network 
c/o VSW 
309-877 E. Hastings St. 
Vancouver, BC 
V6A 3Y1 
fax 604 255 7805