The Exploratory Process on Indian Registration, Band Membership and Citizenship: Highlights of Findings and Recommendations
During engagement on Canada's approach to the legislative amendments to implement the British Columbia Court of Appeal (BCCA) decision in the McIvor case, which took place between August and November 2009, First Nations and other Aboriginal organizations identified a number of issues in relation to Indian registration, Band membership and citizenship that went beyond the scope of the Court's decision and the intended federal government amendments. At that time, First Nations groups also called for a federal government commitment to a process that would examine these broader issues and that such a process involve working jointly with First Nations to achieve sustainable reform in the future.
In response to these views and comments, the federal government announced its intention to launch an initiative that would gather the views of First Nations and other Aboriginal groups on issues relating to registration, membership and citizenship concurrently with the introduction of The Gender Equity in Indian Registration Act (Bill C-3) in Parliament on March 11, 2010.
The Exploratory Process on Indian Registration, Band Membership and Citizenship (hereafter referred to as the Exploratory Process or the initiative) was officially launched in January 2011 with the Royal Assent of Bill C-3 and ended in December 2011. Its purpose was to identify, examine and discuss the broader issues associated with registration, membership and citizenship that go beyond the amendments in Bill C-3.
The initiative was structured to be inclusive and to support the participation of First Nations, including registered Indians and Band members residing on and off-reserve and non-status Indians, and Métis individuals, groups and organizations at the national, regional and local levels. In addition, participating organizations were encouraged to be creative and to utilize both traditional and new technologies in order to maximize the participation of a cross-section of populations. Also encouraged was an expansive approach to the subject matters identified for exploration and discussion in order to gather comprehensive information on the views and perspectives of the multitude of complex issues relating to registration, membership and citizenship.
Participation and Activities
A total of twenty (20) national and regional First Nations and other Aboriginal organizations across the country received proposal-based funding to lead activities under the Exploratory Process. Some of the national organizations flowed part of their funding to their affiliate organizations to undertake activities at a more regional and local level. Accordingly, a combined total of fifty-five (55) national, regional and local organizations led activities under the initiative.Footnote 1
Participating organizations undertook a variety of activities at the national, regional and local levels, which were inclusive and collectively involved broad participation from First Nations and Métis groups and individuals across Canada. Activities took place across the country, in every province and territory except Nunavut. Based on the reporting of some of the participating organizations, this culminated in the participation of over 3,500 individuals.Footnote 2 This includes the participation of First Nations and Métis individuals, First Nations Chiefs and Métis leaders.
Equally, each organization decided how to engage their membership and constituents and prepared a variety of background and communications materials (research papers, briefing notes, presentations, newsletters, etc.) to disseminate pertinent information for the purposes of outlining the issues and informing and guiding discussions.
Participating organizations used both traditional (in-person forums) and new technologies (Internet and social media) in their undertaking of activities, including for information dissemination, discussion of the issues and the gathering of information.
The majority of organizations used web-based technologies for the purposes of information dissemination. Almost all used their organizational web and/or social media sites, such as Facebook or Twitter, to disseminate information on their activities and to outline the issues for discussion to prospective participants. Some organizations, such as the Assembly of First Nations and the Assembly of First Nations of Québec and Labrador, led in the use of Internet technologies in the implementation of their information gathering activities. Both organizations held virtual (web-based), moderated and interactive discussion forums as a key means of discussion and information gathering on views and perspectives surrounding the issues.
The vast majority of participating organizations used more traditional means as their main instruments for discussion and information gathering, namely, through in-person forums. Collectively, participating organizations held close to one hundred (100) individual in-person forums as part of their activities under the Exploratory Process.
The types of activities that participating organizations undertook include:
- community-based dialogue circles involving First Nations and Métis individuals;
- regional dialogue sessions involving First Nations Chiefs;
- discussions during Annual General Meetings of Métis leadership and organizations;
- virtual (web-based), moderated and interactive discussion forums;
- in-person and online voluntary surveys and questionnaires; and
- focus groups, policy forums and conferences.
Participating organizations prepared background and other information documents to inform and guide the discussions in their respective activities. They also submitted over one hundred (100) individual reports, both summary reports of individual activities and final reports rolling up results to the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC). These reports were reviewed over a number of months. The Highlights of Findings and Recommendations provides a synthesis and summary of the information submitted by participating organizations in their reports.
Highlights of Findings
In embarking on the Exploratory Process, AANDC sought to gain more in depth knowledge and better understanding of First Nations and Métis perspectives and views on the array of issues associated with registration, membership and citizenship.
What emerges from the findings as submitted by participating organizations is that, in general, First Nations and Métis are concerned with a number of issues associated with these subject matters, and that overall thinking on these matters has evolved since the 1985 legislative amendments to the registration and membership provisions of the Indian Act under Bill C-31. Emerging First Nations and Métis issues in respect of registration, membership and citizenship are very much in line with their evolving aspirations as related to the recognition of Aboriginal and Treaty rights, matters of self-governance and self-determination, and their relationship with the federal Crown.
In the results submitted by First Nations organizations representing the interests of registered Indians and members of Indian Bands residing on and off-reserve, there is a convergence of views and perceptions in relation to the importance of such issues as: identity, belonging, jurisdiction over citizenship and citizenship determination, as these issues emerged as prominent for many First Nations participants. These are in addition to issues that had been raised during the Bill C-31 legislative process in 1985 and discussed as part of the Exploratory Process, and which remain ongoing concerns for First Nations. They include: the continuing inequities in respect of the registration and membership provisions of the Indian Act and their impacts on First Nations individuals and communities; and the impacts on First Nations governments and communities of the costs associated with the increase in the status and membership populations as a result of the Bill C-31 amendments, and more recently those implemented under Bill C-3.
Métis participants in the Exploratory Process also discussed an array of issues relating to identity, belonging and citizenship. It is clear from the views expressed and as reported by organizations representing Métis interests that the Métis population holds a diversity of views on these matters between generally two groupings of Métis: those of the Métis Nation that are descendants of the Red River region and whose ancestors accepted scrip; and those Métis groups that are not part of the Métis Nation.
For participants who are members of the Métis Nation, the 2003 Supreme Court of Canada decision in the Powley case, which affirmed Aboriginal Métis rights and also cited broad factors as an indication of Métis identity, continues to be of great importance as it relates to Métis citizenship. As part of the Exploratory Process, discussions took place on the Métis Nations' broader aspirations in respect of citizenship, with a focus on issues relating to the Indian Act that affect Métis citizens within the Métis Nation.
For non-status Indians and other Métis groups, the Exploratory Process provided an opportunity for individuals to express their views on matters relating to registration, membership and citizenship, in some instances, for the first time. Based on the findings, there is not one, but many prevailing views and positions on issues relating to identity, belonging, the registration and membership provisions of the Indian Act and governance relating to membership/citizenship among these groups. They include: aspirations for the recognition of dual or multiple Aboriginal identities; the adoption of more inclusive rules in the determination of eligibility for registration under the Indian Act; and broader definitions of Métis citizenship and identity.
There are a number of key recurring themes that emerged as the most discussed and upon which participants focused their attention in discussion of the subject matters. These themes are highlighted in more detail below.
Theme 1: First Nations' Conceptual Thinking on Registration, Membership and Citizenship and Its Practical Application
From a conceptual perspective, most First Nations participants recognized the differences between citizenship in an Aboriginal nation, status under the Indian Act and membership within the context of an Indian Act Band. Most also viewed the issue of citizenship through the inter-related lenses of nationhood, nation-affiliation, nation-(re)building and self-determination, and not exclusively within the meaning of an Indian Act Band, or necessarily a local First Nation community.
Some participants expressed concern that there is a lack of understanding in some First Nations communities of the concept of citizenship, and of the differences between citizenship, registration and/or membership under the Indian Act, as well as the differences between First Nations definitions of citizenship and that of the federal government.
Differences in perspectives among First Nations participants were also expressed when discussing the practical governance application of the concepts of citizenship, membership and registration as opposed to more abstract thinking on these matters. When discussing such issues as how First Nations should go about exercising and/or implementing their jurisdiction over citizenship some participants used the terms citizenship, membership and sometimes status synonymously or inter-changeably in reference to these issues.
There was general recognition among First Nations participants that confusion over the differences between citizenship, registration and membership, as well as those relating to conceptual thinking on citizenship and its practical governance application, is a product of the impacts of the Indian Act system of governance on First Nations, and further affected by the varying developmental and governance capacities among First Nations. Many participants felt that as a result of these influences, there would be differing approaches to governance in respect of citizenship among individual First Nation communities.
Theme 2: First Nations' Views and Perspectives on Identity, Belonging, Citizenship and Nationhood
The majority of First Nations participants felt that identifying as a citizen of their Aboriginal nation, and being recognized and accepted as a citizen by their Aboriginal nation was a positive and affirming aspect in their lives bringing with it a sense of identity, belonging, confidence and pride.
Many participants stressed the fundamental importance of citizenship in their Aboriginal nation or First Nation not only in terms of a positive affirmation of their own personal identity as an individual and sense of belonging as a citizen of their nation, but some also viewed Aboriginal nation identity as closely associated with their health and well-being and that of their people.
For most participants, citizenship in their Aboriginal nation, or membership in their First Nation means that seminal ties to their teachings, spiritualities and ways of life, cultures and languages, manners of governance and their relationship to the land cannot be easily severed, and that they would be able to pass on these connections to their children, thereby ensuring the inter-generational transmission of identity, belonging, citizenship and nationhood.
Some participants recognized the importance of having Indian status and/or being a member of an Indian Band as positively influencing their sense of identity and belonging within the context of their broader Aboriginal nation. Other participants completely rejected definitions with respect to identity and citizenship imposed upon First Nations by the federal government through the Indian Act.
While most First Nations participants viewed identification with, and belonging to, an Aboriginal nation, or a First Nation, as a positive and empowering force in their lives, some acknowledged that the fear and shame of identifying as First Nation was an issue that they still faced and that these feelings are unfortunately reinforced by racism and other prejudice against First Nations that still exists in current Canadian society and by the legacy of residential schools.
Participants that had lost their eligibility to registration, whether through their own, or family history of exogamous marriage and/or parenting, and/or through enfranchisement, and as a result were not able to attain membership in their Band, could not reside in their community or otherwise maintain community ties, or pass on membership to their descendants felt that this also severed their ties to their First Nation or Aboriginal nation. Many of these participants spoke of the adverse affects of this loss on their lives and their sense of self, as well as the consequences of having lost status as negatively affecting their sense of identity and belonging and ultimately their self-esteem.
Theme 3: The Legal Recognition and Exercise of First Nations Jurisdiction over Citizenship
Most First Nations participants viewed their jurisdiction over citizenship as an Aboriginal right of self-government and a Treaty right that is recognized internationally through the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and that should be recognized by Canada. The majority also believed that the determination of who is and is not a member of a First Nation, or a citizen of an Aboriginal nation, should not be within the purview of Canada's legislative authority.
While most participants conceptually recognized the jurisdiction over citizenship as being vested in the Aboriginal nation, the majority envisioned that the community-level First Nation through its government is the entity that should exercise this jurisdiction and that this should include the authority to develop and implement community-based citizenship (membership) laws and to determine the criteria for gaining citizenship (membership).
There were a few exceptions to this however, mainly among participating organizations that are conducting work on, and aspiring to, the development and implementation of nation-level citizenship laws, as well as among participants whose communities and/or nations espouse a more traditional approach to the concepts of citizenship, whereby the Aboriginal nation is responsible for determining citizenship and not the Indian Act Band. For these organizations and participants, the distinctions between the Aboriginal nation and the Indian Act Band, as well as the differences between citizenship in an Aboriginal nation and membership in an Indian Act Band, were clearly separate and distinct.
The findings demonstrate that First Nations do not approach governance in relation to the implementation of jurisdiction over citizenship from a "one size fits all" approach. Many participants recognized that First Nations will likely adopt differing governance models in respect of their jurisdiction over citizenship based on, among others, the history, traditions, cultural factors and the level of capacity of individual First Nations.
Theme 4: First Nations' Criteria for Citizenship Determination
Discussions on the recognition and exercise of First Nations jurisdiction over citizenship inevitably segued into discussions of the criteria to be used in determining citizenship. In general, there was a diversity of views and opinions on the matter of the requisite criteria to determine citizenship (or membership) among First Nations participants.
Some participants promoted more inclusive criteria, such as a one-parent rule, in respect of citizenship determination with concerns raised about the declining status and membership populations among First Nations as a result of the second generation cut-off. Other participants were more concerned about further cultural dilution and erosion among First Nations and therefore promoted more exclusive rules in determining citizenship, such as a two-parent rule.
The use of blood quantum in determining citizenship was also discussed by some participants. Some felt strongly that a certain blood quantum should be the first requirement, or at a minimum, a key requirement for citizenship. Other participants felt that it should play a more limited role and some felt that it should play no role at all.
In general, participants who had lost eligibility to registration under the Indian Act and by extension membership, or who feared that their inter-generational transmission of status was in jeopardy, were more apt to express views and opinions promoting a more inclusive approach in determining citizenship. In contrast, participants who believed in a less expansive approach to determine citizenship were more likely to be concerned about maintaining the ethno-cultural integrity of First Nations communities and Aboriginal nations, rather than the decline in the registered Indian or Band membership populations.
Despite the diversity of opinions on the rules to determine citizenship (or membership), most First Nations participants in the initiative, regardless of whether they espoused an inclusive or exclusive approach to citizenship determination, expressed the following views:
- Concerns with the issue of further cultural dilution and/or erosion within their communities and nations.
- Self-identification alone was not a sufficient enough criterion to determine membership/citizenship, and that factors such as, birth (direct descendancy), kinship, community recognition and ties, and ethno-cultural knowledge of the nation and linguistic knowledge were important determinants for citizenship/ membership.
- Canada should not be involved in determining who is, or is not, a member of a First Nation community or a citizen of an Aboriginal nation.
Theme 5: The Impacts of the Indian Act on First Nations Identity and Citizenship
Of all the issues that were discussed as part of the Exploratory Process, there was no subject matter that garnered as much unanimity in opinion amongst First Nations participants as did discussions on the impacts of the Indian Act's registration and membership provisions on First Nations. Virtually all First Nations participants discussed the detrimental and divisive impacts of the Act on: their identities and sense of belonging; familial and community cohesion; their governance; and their ability to determine their citizens (members).
Discussions centered on all aspects of the Indian Act regime that affected First Nations citizenship, including: Canada's legislative authority to define an Indian; continued gender-based inequities; the second generation cut-off; the system for registering Indians; the federal policy surrounding unstated paternity; the linkages to programs and services; and the funding relationship.
Who Should Define An Indian?
Based on the collective findings of participating First Nations organizations, it appears that the vast majority of First Nations participants fundamentally oppose Canada's continued authority in defining who is and is not an Indian pursuant to the Indian Act, and by extension who is and is not a member of a First Nation, thereby ultimately affecting (positively or negatively) individual and collective identity.
The federal government's continued authority in determining status and for most Bands membership was viewed as the single largest impediment to First Nations governance over citizenship (membership). In turn, the majority of First Nations participants believe that this authority should be vested in First Nations, whether through decision-making of individual communities and their governments, or to a somewhat lesser degree through community consensus to exercise this authority at the broader nation level.
The Registration and Membership Provisions of the Indian Act
Most participants viewed the registration and membership provisions of the Indian Act as the continued efforts of successive Canadian governments to either assimilate them, or eliminate them altogether. As previously mentioned, most participants also fundamentally oppose Canada's continued authority in defining who is and is not an Indian and to determine eligibility to registration and by extension Band membership pursuant to the Indian Act.
At the same time however, participants recognized and acknowledged that given the existing legislative reality, and as unpalatable as the Indian Act is for most First Nations, acquiring Indian status and Band membership is currently the only means of ensuring a level of legally recognized membership or citizenship respectively in their communities and nations.
Participants who deemed status and membership pursuant to the Indian Act relatively important linked both to identity and to ensuring that First Nations are able to safeguard their membership/citizenship and by extension the connections to their families, communities and nations; as well as the ability to pass on membership/citizenship to their descendants. Status and membership were also viewed by some participants as a means of solidifying their relationship with the federal Crown and accessing benefits and rights, such as living on reserve, hunting and fishing rights, voting in Band elections and eligibility for health and education programming, and other Band-administered programs and services.
For those participants who deemed status and membership under the Indian Act as being unimportant in respect of their sense of identity and belonging, their views were centered on the need for First Nations to control the determination of membership/citizenship, as opposed to federal government imposed rules, and that the existing legislative framework only contributed to familial and community divisiveness, discrimination, segregation and exclusion.
Finally, those participants that have lost their eligibility to registration under the Indian Act, and/or will be unable to pass on eligibility to their descendants, as well as participants that fear that their communities have a quickly decreasing registered Indian population, spoke of reforming the current system to provide for more inclusive eligibility requirements in respect of registration and membership.
When asked what reforms should be enacted to the Indian Act to address these issues, many participants felt that, the residual gender-based inequities that currently exist in the registration provisions of the Indian Act should be removed completely as should the categories of Indians pursuant to sections 6(1) and 6(2) of the Indian Act, and that the authority to determine registration and/or membership should be vested in First Nations and not Canada. Many participants also felt that there should be some level of "cut-off" in respect of eligibility for registration and membership and that the "cut-off" should no longer be determined by the federal government but by First Nations and their governments. This is in keeping with predominant views that self-identification as a sole criterion for determining membership/citizenship is insufficient, as well as with concerns of maintaining a level of ethno-cultural integrity within First Nations.
The Federal Policy on Unstated Paternity
Under the current federal policy on unstated paternity, patrilineal descent remains the prominent criteria in determining status in cases of unstated or unrecognized paternity. Under the policy, the father's signature on the birth form and other forms of proof of paternity is required, in the absence of which the child's registration would be determined solely on the basis of the mother's (one-parent) entitlement which usually results in the child being registered pursuant to section 6(2), if the mother is registered under section 6(1), or not eligible for registration at all if the mother is registered under section 6(2). Most participants viewed that Canada has no business in determining which parent is the more important in assigning eligibility for registration. Participants also identified that the federal government's current policy on unstated paternity not only further discriminates against First Nations women by maintaining the dominance of patrilineal requirements in respect of eligibility for registration of their children, it also adversely affects the most socio-economically vulnerable segment of the First Nations population – single, and often young mothers and their children.
Most First Nations participants felt that the issue of unstated paternity could readily be resolved by implementing a one-parent rule in respect of registration in cases where the father is unknown and that the children should be registered as per their mother's status designation.
Linkages to Programs and Services and the Funding Relationship
Most First Nations participants viewed entitlements and benefits that flow from registration as a manifestation of the broader sui generis, fiduciary and Treaty relationship with the federal Crown. For many this encompassed much more than strictly access to programs such as, non-insured health benefits and post-secondary education, but also includes Aboriginal rights, such as hunting and fishing, the ability to reside on-reserve, to vote for their governments, etc. Equally, most participants viewed access to these programs as a socio-economic need given the poorer outcomes of registered Indians residing on-reserve in respect of most determinants, including for education outcomes, employment, housing, infrastructure, health and well-being, in comparison to other Aboriginal groupings and the broader Canadian population as a whole.
Adequate funding to First Nations governments for their delivery of programs and services to newly registered individuals and Band members was a concern for most participants. According to participants, as a result of the inadequate financial resources to accommodate reinstated individuals, many Bands continue to have difficulties in accepting new members and in providing them access to programs and services, thereby further contributing to familial and community divisiveness, and disharmony between members of First Nations that reside on and off-reserve. Although the implementation of Bill C-3 was not a subject matter for discussion under this initiative, most participants discussed the implementation of both Bill C-31 and Bill C-3 within the context of the absence of funding to First Nations to absorb the costs of newly registered individuals and members and as part of the overall issue of funding to First Nations.
Theme 6: Métis Perspectives on Citizenship, Nationhood, Dual Legal Status and Multiple Identities
Based on the findings of the Exploratory Process, Métis participants espoused a diversity of views on matters of identity, belonging and citizenship. In general, there were differences in respect of Métis views and perspectives on citizenship between those Métis who are members of the Métis Nation and fall within the rubric of the Powley decision; and those Métis that fall outside the confines of this decision.
The views and perspectives on citizenship of these two groupings were captured through the activities of the Métis National Council (MNC), the National Association of Friendship Centres (NAFC), its Provincial-Territorial Associations and local Friendship Centres, and the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples (CAP) and its affiliate organizations.
Perspectives of the Métis Nation
For participants who are members of the Métis Nation, the 2003 Supreme Court of Canada decision in the Powley case, which affirmed the Aboriginal Métis rights and also cited broad factors as an indication of Métis identity, continues to be of great importance as it relates to Métis Nation citizenship.
As part of the Exploratory Process, the MNC held discussions on the broader aspirations of the Métis Nation in respect of nation building and citizenship, including the development and acceptance of a national definition of Métis citizenship with various accompanying policies and processes to implement this definition. Based on the findings, the Métis Nation is seized with the protection of Métis culture and identity with a focus on issues relating to the concurrent duality of legal status and eligibility of individuals to be registered as Métis citizens pursuant to the Métis Nation's criteria for citizenship, and simultaneously as status Indians pursuant to the Indian Act.
The amendments to the registration provisions of the Indian Act, through the implementation of both Bill C-31 in 1985 and Bill C-3 in 2011 provided for some Métis individuals to become eligible to register as Indians pursuant to the Act. Many of these individuals are also eligible to register as members of the Métis Nation. According to the criteria for registration as a citizen of the Métis Nation, an individual is not entitled to be registered on a Métis register as a Métis citizen while simultaneously being registered under the Indian Register pursuant to the Indian Act. However, there is currently no provision within the Indian Act to voluntarily relinquish Indian status once registered pursuant to the Act. Moreover, in the case of the Métis Nation citizenship register, once a person voluntarily becomes registered under the Indian Act, they lose their entitlement to register, or to remain registered, as a Métis citizen in the Métis Nation register.
The MNC cited the 2011 Supreme Court of Canada decision in the Alberta v. Cunningham case (also referred to as the Peavine-Cunningham decision) as the Court's recognition that Métis governance over membership is consistent with the objective of preserving the land rights and self-governance authority of the Métis, as well as the lawful authority of the Métis to govern Métis settlement membership, and in so doing, excludes people with Indian status from membership in the Métis settlement. This authority is viewed as necessary to ensure protection for the Métis to have a culture and identity distinct from other Aboriginal groups.
The Perspectives of Other Métis Groups
For Métis individuals and groups who fall outside the confines of the Powley decision and definition of a member of the Métis Nation, their views and perspectives on identity and citizenship differ from those of members of the Métis Nation.
The majority of Métis individuals who participated in the discussions led by the NAFC and CAP and their respective affiliate organizations agreed that there are several different Métis nations in Canada and that the Métis belong to various cultures and communities across Canada (not just the Red River region).
Their views and perspectives also varied in respect of their definition of Métis identity. Some participants felt that the definition of a Métis is anyone of mixed Aboriginal (First Nation or Inuit) and European heritage, others identified as both Métis and First Nation, while others viewed Métis identity as having a unique cultural component.
Many participants in these discussions felt that individuals should be able to espouse multiple identities and that these multiple identities should be recognized by governments. They also held the view that the recognition of Aboriginal rights should be afforded to groups that comprise the Métis population outside of the Métis Nation. In this context, most of the Métis participants in the CAP discussion sessions supported the notion that Métis can be both Métis and First Nation and that, despite the recent Supreme Court of Canada decision in the Peavine-Cunningham case, they felt that excluding anyone with Indian status from the definition of Métis and/or Métis citizenship is discriminatory.
Theme 7: Impressions on the Exploratory Process and Moving Forward on Reform
Most participants expressed relatively positive views on the Exploratory Process and on the opportunity to discuss and provide their views and perspectives on issues relating to registration, membership and citizenship. Some participants also expressed positive sentiments in respect of the non-prescriptive nature of the initiative.
There was criticism, however, related to the limited funding for activities, the absence of direct funding to First Nations communities and governments, as well as the short (one-year) time frame in which activities were to be designed, implemented and completed.
Virtually all the participating organizations stated that they did not consider the Exploratory Process to be a consultation but a first step in a much broader and lengthier process. Most participating organizations inquired as to the federal government's next steps in terms of both substance and process.
There is an expectation among the vast majority of participants that the federal government will engage First Nations and Métis in a meaningful and funded consultation process pertaining to future reforms on registration, membership and citizenship, beyond exploratory discussions and this initiative. Despite these expectations, many participants expressed cynicism and doubt that the federal government is committed to substantive reform in respect of these issues.
There is also high expectation among First Nations participants that the federal government will move forward on reforms in respect of the Indian Act in the shorter-term, with the recognition and implementation of First Nations jurisdiction over citizenship as a medium to longer-term goal.
Highlights of Recommendations
Within the context of the themes that were discussed as part of the Exploratory Process, some participating organizations also provided recommendations for next steps and reform. The recommendations fall into two categories:
- Recommendations for the Government of Canada.
- Recommendations for First Nations governments and First Nations or Métis leadership and constituencies.
1. Recommendations for the Government of Canada
The recommendations for the Government of Canada that were submitted by participating organizations, contained several recurring themes, respectively dealing with First Nations and Métis issues.
Key among the recommendations pertaining to First Nations issues are those related to Indian Act reform. The views of most participants was that Canada should work with First Nations to proactively address issues relating to registration and membership under the Indian Act, as a short-term measure, and in advance of a full transition to First Nations jurisdiction over citizenship.
Among First Nations participants who are registered Indians and members of Bands (residing on and off-reserve) a range of views were expressed in relation to the nature and scope of reform under the Indian Act. They include:
- The recognition of First Nations rights to determine who is eligible to be registered as an Indian and a member of an Indian Band.
- The elimination of all residual gender-based inequalities and categories of Indians under section 6, including the second generation cut-off.
- Addressing issues related to unstated paternity, adoption and status Indians without Canadian citizenship or permanent residency.
The majority of First Nations participants also felt that the recognition and implementation of First Nations jurisdiction over citizenship was their ultimate objective and depending on the level of governance capacity most viewed this as a medium to longer-term goal.
While organizations that are seized with more pan-Aboriginal interests also submitted recommendations dealing with Indian Act reform, their recommendations reflect the differing views on some of these issues between registered and non-status Indians. For non-status Indians, the key recommendations centered on amendments to the Indian Act to implement more inclusive criteria for registration and membership, such as the inclusion of non-Indian spouses as eligible to be registered as Indians pursuant to the Indian Act, and a one-parent rule as eligibility to registration and membership.
In respect of the Métis, the recommendations reflect the views and perspectives of the two Métis groupings namely, those of the Métis Nation as submitted by the MNC, and those of other Métis groups as submitted by the NAFC and CAP and their respective affiliate organizations. Recommendations made on behalf of the Métis Nation relate to amendments to the Indian Act to allow for the voluntary removal of Métis individuals from the Indian Register. For other Métis groups, their recommendations to the federal government are centered on the recognition of multiple Aboriginal identities.
Virtually all of the organizations that submitted recommendations for the Government of Canada outlined the need for next steps and joint processes with Canada to continue working on the issues that were discussed as part of the Exploratory Process, as well as funding to First Nations governments, First Nations and Métis organizations (at all levels), and other Aboriginal organizations and their respective affiliates to continue their internal work related to registration, membership and citizenship.
2. Recommendations for First Nations Governments and First Nations and Métis Leadership and Constituencies
In addition to recommendations to the Government of Canada several participating organizations also identified recommendations for First Nations governments and for First Nations and Métis leadership and constituencies.
The predominant recommendations among organizations representing the interests of First Nations that are registered Indians and members of Bands residing both on and off-reserve were for continued and/or increased discussions within First Nations communities relating to registration, membership and citizenship as a means of raising the overall awareness of, and education on, the issues; followed by recommendations to First Nations Chiefs and governments to begin community processes for the development and implementation of membership/citizenship laws.
In respect of recommendations to Métis leadership and constituencies, the MNC identified recommendations for further work to implement the Métis Nation policy on citizenship.
The NAFC specified recommendations in respect of internal policies and actions within the Friendship Centre Movement surrounding registration, membership and citizenship.
The findings and recommendations as submitted by participating organizations in the Exploratory Process demonstrate that the respective views and perspectives of First Nations and Métis on issues surrounding Indian registration, Band membership and citizenship have evolved in the period following the 1985 amendments to the Indian Act through Bill C-31. In addition to issues identified during the legislative process in 1985, First Nations and Métis are concerned with a number of issues associated with registration, membership and citizenship that were not as prevalent at that time. In particular, issues relating to identity, belonging, citizenship and nationhood emerged as prominent under the Exploratory Process and were discussed within the context of the impacts of existing federal legal and policy frameworks affecting First Nations and Métis and their aspirations in respect of self-governance, self-determination and their relationship with the federal Crown.
Twenty-seven years after the 1985 amendments to the registration and membership provisions of the Indian Act, the findings of the Exploratory Process also continue to demonstrate the complexities of the issues, and that the respective views and perspectives of First Nations and Métis in respect of moving forward vary based on a number of factors, including the history and circumstances of individuals, communities and nations, existing capacities and the impact of both past and current federal legal and governance systems and structures relating to registration and membership. In this context, the development and implementation of possible sustainable solutions to address issues relating to Indian registration, Band membership and citizenship will be challenging for First Nations, Métis and Canada.
Given the complexities of the issues and the sheer volume of information submitted by participating First Nations and Métis organizations, the Department will continue the analysis of the findings of the Exploratory Process in order to inform possible next steps on matters relating to registration, membership and citizenship.
Appendix A: List of Participating Organizations
- Anishinabek Nation (Union of Ontario Indians)
- Assembly of First Nations
- Assembly of First Nations of Québec and Labrador
- Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs
- Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians
- Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs
- British Columbia Assembly of First Nations
- Confederacy of Treaty 6 First Nations
- Congress of Aboriginal Peoples and affiliates:
- Native Alliance of Québec
- Native Council of Prince Edward Island
- New Brunswick Aboriginal Peoples Council
- Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations
- First Nations Summit of British Columbia
- Grand Council Treaty #3
- Iroquois Caucus
- Métis National Council
- National Association of Friendship Centres, Provincial-Territorial Associations and Friendship Centres:
- Skookum Jim Native Friendship Centre (Whitehorse)
- Northwest Territories/Nunavut Council of Friendship Centres
- Tree of Peace Native Friendship Centre (Yellowknife)
- Alberta Native Friendship Centres Association
- Bonnyville Native Canadian Friendship Centre
- High Prairie Native Friendship Centre
- Rocky Mountain House Native Friendship Centre
- Saskatchewan Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres
- Buffalo Narrows Aboriginal Friendship Centre
- Qu'Appelle Valley Aboriginal Friendship Centre
- Manitoba Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres
- Flin Flon Indian and Métis Friendship Centre
- Ontario Federation of Indian Friendship Centres
- Timmins Native Friendship Centre
- N'Swakamok Native Friendship Centre (Sudbury)
- Georgian Bay Native Friendship Centre (Midland)
- Dryden Native Friendship Centre
- N'Amerind Native Friendship Centre (London)
- Regroupement des centres d'amitié Autochtone du Québec
- Lanaudière Aboriginal Friendship Centre
- La Tuque Aboriginal Friendship Centre
- Cree Indian Centre of Chibougamau
- Fredericton Native Friendship Centre
- Labrador Native Friendship Centre
- Micmac Native Friendship Centre in Halifax
- St. John's Native Friendship Centre
- Native Women's Association of Canada and Provincial-Territorial Member Associations:
- Aboriginal Women's Association of Prince Edward Island
- Nova Scotia Native Women's Association
- Québec Native Women Inc.
- Saskatchewan Aboriginal Women's Circle Corporation
- Native Women's Association of the Northwest Territories
- Yukon Aboriginal Women's Council
- Nishnawbe Aski Nation
- Treaty 7 First Nations Chiefs' Association
- Treaty 8 First Nations of Alberta
- Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs