Bill C-31 Twenty Years Later: AFN National Chief Calls for First Nations Control of First Nations Citizenship
Today, on the twentieth anniversary of Royal Assent of the 1985 Act to Amend the Indian Act (commonly referred to as Bill C-31), AFN National Chief Phil Fontaine called on the government of Canada to address the systemic inequities it has created and to work with First Nations governments so that they can assume control of citizenship.
“After living with Bill C-31 for twenty years, we can clearly and unequivocally say that it has failed Canada and it has failed First Nations,” said National Chief Fontaine. “The Bill has not resolved any of the problems it was intended to fix and has in fact created new problems. Significant gender discrimination still remains, control over Indian status is still held by the Crown, and the population of status Indians is declining as a direct result of Bill C-31. This is a critical issue and the time to act is now.”
The National Chief stated that control of citizenship and the Indian Register must be transferred to the proper jurisdiction.
“It is morally, politically and legally wrong for one government to tell another government who its citizens are, and we are calling for a process to move citizenship to the jurisdiction where it properly belongs, and that is with First Nations governments,” said the National Chief. “Bill C-31 was an imposed government solution to problems created by the government’s own imposed legislation. It is clear that First Nations governments are best placed to identify and define their citizenship. In fact, Canada is in a clear conflict of interest in trying to define our membership because the number of registered Indians creates financial implications for the government.”
Bill C-31 was introduced with the expressed intention of eliminating gender-based discrimination in the Indian Act. The stated purposes of the Bill were to remove overt discrimination from the Indian Act; restore status and membership rights to those who lost them because of inequalities in the Act; and to increase control of Indian bands over their own affairs.
Skawahlook First Nation Chief Maureen Chapman, Chair of the AFN’s Women’s Council, pointed out the fact that, even in the next five years, the number of children eligible for Indian status will begin to decline sharply.
“By 2010, nearly one in five First Nations children will no longer be eligible for status under the terms of the Indian Act,” stated Chief Chapman. “In other words, in the eyes of the government they are no longer ‘Indians’, even if they live a traditional life in their traditional community. The Department of Indian Affairs knows that this is an urgent issue, given that the statistic comes from work they commissioned. The federal government cannot and must not legislate the extinguishment of our citizens, whether based on gender, age or the ‘wrong’ lineage of First Nations ancestry.”
National Chief Fontaine called for an immediate process between the AFN and the federal government on how to transfer complete authority over jurisdiction to First Nations.
“The only honourable way for Canada to proceed from this point forward is to vacate the business of determining First Nations status and citizenship,” said the National Chief. “Strategic discussions and good faith negotiations between the AFN and the federal government must begin so we can decide how best to transfer complete authority to First Nations. First Nations governments want to assume responsibility for their own citizens and can do a better job of it than Canada. The twentieth anniversary of Bill C-31 is an opportune time to begin this work.”
First Nations are not dogs to be catagorized by pedigree.
The Assembly of First Nations is the national organization representing First Nations citizens in Canada.
Don Kelly, AFN Communications Director
613-241-6789 ext. 320 or cell 613-292-2787
Ian McLeod, AFN Bilingual Communications Officer
613-241-6789 ext. 336 or cell 613-859-4335
Nancy Pine, Communications Advisor, Office of the National Chief
613-241-6789 ext. 243 or cell 613-298-6382
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