THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON ABORIGINAL PEOPLES
OTTAWA, Wednesday, May 30, 2012
The Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples met this day at 6:45 p.m. to examine and report on the evolving legal and political recognition of Metis identity in Canada.
Senator Lillian Eva Dyck (Deputy Chair) in the chair.
The Deputy Chair: I would like to welcome all honourable senators and members of the public who are watching this meeting of the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples on CPAC or on the web. My name is Lillian Dyck. I am the deputy chair of the committee, and I am from Saskatchewan. In the absence of our chair, Senator St. Germain, I will presiding at this meeting.
The mandate of this committee is to examine legislation and matters relating to the Aboriginal peoples of Canada generally. In addition, we have a specific order of reference authorizing us to explore Metis issues, particularly those relating to the evolving legal and political recognition of the collective identity and rights of the Metis in Canada.
The early meetings in the study have consisted of briefings from various government departments that have provided us with information, including facts on current federal programs and services, the status of Crown-Metis relations, general statistical information and current legal issues, amongst other things. We them heard from two legal experts on Metis issues who provided a legal context to the decisions. We have since begun hearing from national organizations that represent a Metis constituency. This evening, we will hear from the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples.
Before hearing from our witness, however, I would like to take this opportunity to introduce the members of the committee who are present this evening.
Senator Sibbeston: I am Nick Sibbeston, from the Northwest Territories.
Senator Campbell: I am Larry Campbell, from the province of British Columbia.
Senator Ataullahjan: I am Salma Ataullahjan, from Toronto, Ontario.
Senator Patterson: Dennis Patterson, Senator for Nunavut.
Senator Raine: Nancy Greene Raine, from British Columbia.
Senator Housakos: Leo Housakos, from Montreal, Quebec.
The Deputy Chair: Members of the committee, please help me in welcoming our witnesses representing the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples. We have Dwight Dorey, National Vice-Chief, and Julian Morelli, Adviser.
National Vice-Chief, please proceed with your presentation. Questions from the members will follow.
Dwight Dorey, National Vice-Chief, Congress of Aboriginal Peoples: Thank you, and good evening.
I am honoured and privileged to be here to speak to you on the traditional territory of the Algonquin peoples. I am the National Vice-Chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, which is formerly known as the Native Council of Canada, which is one of Canada's five national Aboriginal organizations. For 41 years, the congress has represented the rights and interests of status and non-status Indians living off reserve and Metis peoples throughout Canada.
In the 17th century, Samuel de Champlain used the term “Metis.” He actively encouraged the intermixing of French and Indians, and many offspring resulted from those marriages. During de Champlain's lifetime, the children of these mixed unions began to be called Metis.
Over the following years, more than 70 different terms emerged to describe mixed blood individuals, for example, Metis, half breeds, and free men. Reflecting this fact, the 1996 Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples used the word “cultures” when referencing diverse Metis peoples across Canada.
As committee members, you have a difficult job of separating historical fact from fiction and truth from political propaganda when pondering the testimonies you have heard. I think it is fair to say that no one on this Senate committee is interested in seeing the injustices and discrimination of the Indian Act repeated in a Metis enumeration process.
It is a historical fact that the Metis were nomadic peoples, yet the Powley decision required a self-identifying Metis person to establish that they belonged to a contemporary Metis community that is linked to a historical Metis community. The term “community” needs to be interpreted liberally, taking into account the nomadic nature of Metis.
The congress has always opposed the Metis National Council in kidnapping the use of the constitutional term “Metis” for its own political and financial purposes. Their efforts to have Metis in section 35(2) restricted to their own constituency has been a failure, and it has never been agreed to by the federal government or the provinces.
When Harry Daniels was president of our organization, it was he who negotiated the constitutional recognition of Metis peoples in the Constitution Act, 1982. As a result of his efforts, the constitution refers to Metis peoples as Aboriginal peoples and recognizes and affirms our Aboriginal and treaty rights. This was the crowning achievement of Harry's career and a major achievement for the congress.
Harry's vision and understanding of the Metis was not a narrow exclusionary one, as proposed by the MNC. We have no interest in repeating the discriminatory practices of the Indian Act in any Metis enumeration. We object to the testimony earlier this month concerning section 35(2) and the view that mixed ancestry people are not included. This discriminatory view of section 35 is clearly not what Harry Daniels negotiated.
In 2003, the Supreme Court of Canada recognized that Metis have a constitutionally entrenched Aboriginal right to harvest for food. In the Powley decision, the court stated that Metis in section 35 refers to a distinctive peoples who, in addition to their mixed ancestry, developed their own custom, way of life and recognizable group identity, separate from their Indian and Inuit and European forbearers. This part of the court's decision reflects the position promoted by the MNC since 1985. I have never seen a single line of documentation that would support the assumption that the drafters of the constitution were thinking this way. We know one thing for certain: It contradicts the recorded intention of Harry Daniels, who was responsible for negotiating the term Metis into the Constitution Act.
Harry Daniels left one more gift to the Metis and non-status Indians, which will take a few more years to achieve. In 1998, while serving a second term as president of the congress, he launched the case of Daniels v. The Queen. The goal of this case is to redress a long-standing grievance of Metis and non-status Indian people. The federal government denies it has jurisdiction over Metis and non-status Indians under section 91(24) of the Constitution Act, 1867, and has consistently held that Metis fall within the authority of provincial governments. The provinces take the opposite position, that non-status Indians and Metis are a federally responsibility.
As a result, we are trapped in a jurisdictional vacuum where non-status Indians and Metis have few government programs or initiatives to address our needs. Let me give you an idea of the financial scale of this issue. Of the $10 billion per year that the federal government invests in Aboriginal-specific programming, almost 90 per cent goes to assist on-reserve status Indians who comprise less than one-third of the total Aboriginal population. This is why Metis and non-status Indians continue to be underserviced by governments and why we have not reached our full potential in Canadian society.
CAP continues to be engaged in negotiations with the federal government concerning the rights, interests and needs of Metis and non-status Indians; however, these negotiations have been and continue to be frustrated and hampered by the federal government's denial that Metis and non-status Indians are owed a fiduciary duty based on section 35.
The categories of Aboriginal peoples are not watertight compartments. In urban settings today, most Aboriginal families have mixed identities. The position of the congress has always been that Metis rights flow from our Indianness and not from the fact that you have a mixed genealogy.
Currently, the congress receives no funding to work on Metis registry systems or to evaluate Metis registry systems already in place. In addition, I am not aware of any CAP affiliate that receives funding to support their work on enumeration or registration of Metis. We are not engaged with the Canadian Standards Association in developing a methodology to verify the quality and integrity of Metis membership systems.
While the Powley decision was a burst of hope for Metis harvesting rights, the criteria set out by the Supreme Court are problematic. Experts have warned us that Metis who cannot meet such a narrow interpretation of the term Metis are likely to become the new forgotten peoples.
We all know that the issues surrounding registration, membership and citizenship are complex and that broad reform on these matters cannot be achieved overnight or in isolation. The question you need to ask is why membership would be defined by the Crown instead of by the Metis peoples?
We agree with the Supreme Court when they indicated that the difficulty of identifying members of the Metis community should not be exaggerated so as to defeat constitutional rights. If you cannot prove you are eligible under the Powley rules, it does not mean that you are not Metis or that you do not have Metis rights. Future court decisions or political agreements may change these rules.
You have heard reference to Metis being a distinct people. There is a long history of discrimination and racism that has taken place against Metis, and unfortunately, a distinction-based approach would ensure that the bitterness would continue with Metis discriminating against Metis.
During our work on the exploratory process on Indian registration, band membership and citizenship, an overwhelming number of Metis supported the idea of an individual being able to identify as both Metis and Indian. When people of mixed ancestry are forced to choose between one identity or another, the impact is discriminatory and does not reflect that most Aboriginal people live in mixed identity families.
The congress agrees with the Assistant Deputy Minister Tromp that there are few if any Metis specific programs offered by the federal government. There are programs and initiatives for non-status Indians and Metis, and there is no question that status-blind delivery of these programs in urban settings achieves the best results and is the most efficient use of resources while avoiding duplication of services.
Strengthening the relationship between the congress and the Office of the Federal Interlocutor is a mutually agreed-upon objective between the congress and Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. Prime Minister Harper has made important undertakings to us, including the legal costs of Daniels v. Canada. In addition, the Prime Minister has acknowledged that the congress will play a key part in the future of Canada and that the forgotten peoples will no longer be ignored or forgotten.
When the Powley decision was rendered, it was difficult to gauge the extent of its impact on Metis harvesters. We now know that Metis harvesters wanting to assert their Aboriginal rights are faced with the task of documenting their heritage through a difficult and expensive process, which makes it impossible for many to exercise their rights. In addition, provincial governments are adopting very narrow interpretations of the terminology used in the Powley decision. A practical harvesting regime for rights-bearing Metis harvesters still does not exist, and I sincerely hope that my presentation will assist you in bringing the central questions more sharply into focus. Thank you.
The Deputy Chair: Thank you for your presentation, and we will now open up the discussion for questions from members.
Senator Patterson: Thank you very much for the presentation. There are a couple of questions I would like to ask.
You referred to the MNC in critical terms, and you know we have heard from them. Their definition of Metis, we were told, is that Metis means a person who self-identifies as Metis, is of historic Metis ancestry, is distinct from other Aboriginal peoples and is accepted by the Metis Nation. I think that definition has been incorporated into the bylaws of the MNC and its provincial organizations.
I do not believe you agree with this definition, but I would like to ask if you do, and if not, why not, and if the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples has a definition for Metis peoples of Canada.
Mr. Dorey: On the first point, senator, you are right. We do not agree with the MNC's definition of Metis. It has been clearly stated by the Metis National Council leadership that it is a distinction-based definition that is relative to their definition of Metis nationhood, or the Metis Nation, which is exclusive. It is geographically defined and, from our perspective and from the people that we represent who are of mixed blood, does exclude thousands — not hundreds but thousands — of Metis people outside of that Metis Nation as they define it.
Our position is that there are thousands of other Metis outside of those that the Metis National Council purports to represent or who are members of the so-called Metis Nation.
Senator Patterson: If I may, the second part of my question, does CAP have a definition for Metis people of Canada?
Mr. Dorey: We do not have a specific definition per se. Ours is one that is, as I stated in my presentation, inclusive of people of mixed Aboriginal and European ancestry.
In Mr. Daniels' process of negotiating Metis into the Constitution, it was made clear to the Native Council of Canada, its board members and the officials involved in that constitutional process of that day that it was a pan-Aboriginal definition for Metis.
The Deputy Chair: You were saying that Mr. Daniels was the person who negotiated the recognition of Metis peoples in the Constitution, and I think you also just mentioned MNC. Was the Metis National Council in existence at the time and were they part of the work that Mr. Daniels undertook to get the Metis recognized in the Constitution?
Mr. Dorey: No, the Metis National Council did not exist in those days.
The Deputy Chair: That is interesting. You also said that you have a recorded intention of Mr. Daniels. In what form is that recorded intention? Does that have a record saying that his definition or the way he considered people to be Metis was a more pan-Aboriginal approach?
Mr. Dorey: That is correct. I do not have that documentation here, but we do have that in our files, in the public records of the Constitution.
The Deputy Chair: Could you submit that to the committee so we can see what it says?
Mr. Dorey: Yes, I could.
The Deputy Chair: Presumably within that he had some sort of parameters on what he considered to be Metis?
Mr. Dorey: Yes.
Senator Patterson: I am not trying to give you a hard time here at all, but what we have learned so far is that the federal government is having a difficult time deciding how to extend Aboriginal programs and services to Metis people.
We had witnesses who told us that they were kind of relying on Metis organizations to do that job and there is this registry process going on.
With that testimony in mind, do you understand that a broad definition like you have just given, which is anyone of mixed Aboriginal and European ancestry, would be of concern to governments? The population served could and we had some evidence showing it actually is expanding. There was a term; I forget the term that was used but it is growing.
Do you understand how governments — and I am not asking you to sympathize — might want to have a clearer definition than such a broad definition for the purpose of budgeting and deciding eligibility for programs? Do you have any comments on that?
Mr. Dorey: Yes, senator. That is a good point.
Going back to my presentation and the history of this issue of the 91(24) jurisdiction, as I indicated I have personally been involved as a leader with the congress, the Native Council of Canada for 35 years. I have been here pretty much since the early days. For those years up to this current day, sitting right here before you, this jurisdictional issue has been a constant problem for us. I believe it is fundamentally based on your question and your point: It is all relative to cost. It was Mr. Daniels, in his wisdom, who took this case to the Federal Court when he was serving in his last tenure, 13 years ago. It still has not been heard yet; the case has been heard but the decision has not come down yet.
There is no question that it will be a difficult process of identifying who is Metis, who is entitled to benefit from that definition of “Metis,” who might have treaty or Aboriginal rights and who might not, just as Powley has indicated. We understand, and it is our view, that there would have to be certain tests. It is not just self-identity, although we believe that is one important aspect of it. People must first self-identify, but then they must identify and be recognized by the community, and so on.
I wish to bring you up to the modern, current situation today with regard to that challenge. The Federation of Newfoundland Indians is an affiliate organization of the congress and has recently gone through a process of recognition of status. As I understand it, they now have approximately 30,000 registered Indians. That is the largest Indian band that this country ever probably dreamed of having 10 years ago. The fact remains that they have gone through the process. They have worked out a way to do it. There will still be people who cannot meet the tests — whatever those tests are that will be in place for that registration process — to be recognized.
It is not an impossible challenge. Yes, it will be difficult. One of the points I am trying to make on behalf of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, which has a Metis constituency — a fairly significant one — is that we do not want to be lost in the shuffle or put aside as they say. That is the whole point. I do not believe the dollar figure is any rationale for excluding us.
Senator Campbell: Thank you for coming here today. I have three questions. The first is this: According to CAP, are the Metis fortunes tied to the same fortunes as off-reserve Aboriginal peoples?
Mr. Dorey: Could you explain what you mean by “fortune?”
Senator Campbell: You say you represent the Metis and off-reserve Aboriginal peoples. Neither one of them are recognized by any government at this time. Are they intertwined? Are they tied together? If you recognize off-reserve First Nations, is it then necessary to also recognize Metis, in whatever form that might be?
Mr. Dorey: There are some exceptions to that point, I guess, even as I stated it. For example, Powley is a case in point, where there are Metis that now have rights recognized of hunting.
In the situation of my home territory, which is the East Coast and the Mi'kmaq people — I am a Mi'kmaq First Nations person — we have pre-Confederation rights for hunting, fishing and gathering, and it is not tied to status. There are people of mixed blood. As long as you can prove your Mi'kmaq ancestry it is our firm position that you have entitlements to those rights of hunting, fishing and gathering. Although, I might say that there were pretty definitive efforts on the part of the federal government, in particular — but also the provincial government shortly after having won that Supreme Court decision on the pre-Confederation Treaty of 1752 — to allow only status Indians access as beneficiaries to the treaty.
The Native Council of Nova Scotia is an affiliate to the congress, and I happened to have been the chief and president of that organization when that case came down. I took the position with the 13 Mi'kmaq chiefs in Nova Scotia — which they held and supported, as did the Mi'kmaq Grand Council — that the Indian Act status cannot be the determining factor of Mi'kmaq treaty rights; it would be our people, that proof of ancestry accepted by the community. Those would be the determining factors and that remains today.
Senator Campbell: Second, would I be correct in saying that you believe that government responsibility flows through Aboriginal ancestry?
Mr. Dorey: That is correct. However, it also goes to self-identity as well. It is not just enough to say that you are Aboriginal.
Senator Campbell: It is not?
Mr. Dorey: If you do not identify as an Aboriginal, no.
Senator Campbell: What happens if you did not know?
Mr. Dorey: If you do not know, then —
Senator Campbell: What happens if I am on ancestry.ca and I discover that my great great-grandfather was a Cree, and his daughter married a factory man from the bay? I find outside about this, so am I now entitled?
Mr. Dorey: I would ask the question: Do you have a contemporary community or a historical community that you identify with? Are you accepted by that community? These are other tests.
Senator Campbell: I just discovered it; I live in Vancouver, British Columbia and I feel strongly that I am Metis at the very least, but from your point of view I could be a non-status First Nation. I decide that I will identify with them and then I get involved with the community and I am proud of it. Do I then also have all of the rights that flow through it because of it being through my Aboriginal ancestry?
Mr. Dorey: We have begun through some of that process in the past with the existing Metis; those who took scrip. They made the decision or decided that they were Indian, and then they later decided they were Metis and, in some cases they wanted to go back to Indian again. It is a point about your identity. You have to make that connection somehow. However, it is not just a simple black and white choice or decision; there are a number of different factors. That is our whole point with the congress. That is what the courts are saying as well.
Senator Campbell: What are the current relationships between CAP, MMF and AFN? We had testimony that there is an ongoing, if loose, relationship between MMF and AFN. How does CAP fit into these other major organizations?
Mr. Dorey: It is a hot and cold situation, I guess, and has been for quite a number of years. It often depends totally on the leadership and the personalities of those leaders.
By way of example, outside of government meetings to which the five national Aboriginal leaders are invited, such as meetings with first ministers, ministers of Aboriginal Affairs, premiers and so on, we do not have occasion to get together often and collaborate on issues, strategy or things like that. Having said that, when we do get together, we often chat. We are very cordial and friendly with each other. Since being elected as the vice-chief of the congress in October, I have had numerous discussions with National Chief Atleo and with David Chartrand, but not in a normal, business way. It is not a case where we do not talk; we do, in fact.
The problem tends to come, in particular with the Assembly of First Nations, with doing it publicly or in any formal way. I can say that for my own region in Nova Scotia because the Mi'kmaq chiefs take the position that they are the only official spokespersons for the Mi'kmaq people. On the one hand, they say, “Use the Indian Act as the determining factor of who is a chief and who is not.” On the other hand, they say, “We are a nation of people with inherent rights, and we have a grand council,” but they do not really acknowledge or accept the authority of the grand council. It is a matter of convenience and often, unfortunately, a matter of money because the money flows through that status, that structure under the Indian Act, that I talked about in my presentation.
Senator Campbell: Thank you very much for coming in.
Senator Raine: Thank you for being here. It is good to hear your perspective. I have a couple of questions. The Supreme Court ruling said that an individual would have to self-identify as a Metis, be a member of a present-day Metis community and have ties to a historic Metis community. How are those defined? What are present-day Metis communities, and what is a historic Metis community?
Mr. Dorey: That is a good and important question. I cannot give you the answer.
I understand that the Metis National Council has their view of it, but, as I pointed out, we have no evidence of it. There are other people who have been excluded in coming to any determination of that question. The congress would like to be able to get engaged in involving our people in that discussion. It is our belief and our intent, in particular when a decision is rendered by the court on the Daniels case, which is 91(24) jurisdiction for all Aboriginal people, that we will be engaged in that kind of a process because the government will want us to be engaged in that kind of process.
On this whole issue of identity and who is Metis, I wish to take you briefly to my own personal situation. I am a mixed blood person. My mother was a Mi'kmaq with a little bit of French, she says. My father was claimed to be totally non-Aboriginal, with Dutch, English and whatever mixture there. He had nine kids. There were eight siblings. All of us were mixed blood Mi'kmaq. I remember, in my younger years growing up, various stages of self-identifying — because I became aware of this — as a Metis because I did not know what an Indian was. I did not identify as being a Mi'kmaq because my own people, the Mi'kmaq people from the reserve, said I was not one of them. I then learned there is this term “non-status.” We were Indian without status, so we were non-status Indian. I went through a period of being a Metis and then a non-status Indian. Then, in 1985, when the Indian Act was amended, my mother, who was 72 years old at the time and had never had status because she was not living in the reserve community when registration took place in the 1950s, gained her status and became what was defined as a 6(1)(a) Indian at the age of 72. A year later — I was in my 30s — I gained status as a 6(2). I went from Metis to non-status to status. Only two years after that, the Mi'kmaq people won their pre-Confederation treaty rights in the courts, and I was then entitled to treaty rights. Prior to that, I was a non-treaty Indian. I was Metis, non-status, status, non-treaty and then treaty. To this day, I can honestly tell you that there are times where I feel more White than I do Indian, and I dress accordingly. Then there are days where I am so proud of my Mi'kmaq heritage that I wear my traditional dress and everything. I do not have a choice over how I feel when that happens to me. I have heard many other people say the same thing. It is here. It is how you feel; it is in your blood. It is the connection with other people. The sad reality is that, to this very day, I still, on occasion, feel discriminated against by White people because I am Indian or they think that I am, and I feel discriminated against by Indians on-reserve because they think that I am not. That is the reality that hundreds of thousands of our people, including children, face.
Here is the other situation. This is what the Indian Act has done. I am the only one of nine kids, up to this point in time, who has been able to pass status onto my children because I was non-status and married a non-status, and we both gained status through the amendments to the Indian Act. All my brothers and sisters did not marry into status, Mi'kmaq or any other First Nations group; they married non-Aboriginals and were not entitled to pass on status to their kids. But guess what? Someone decides that that is not right and that discrimination still exists, and the Indian Act gets changed again. Now, all of those kids, my nieces and nephews, are in the process, some 15 or 20 years later, of getting status.
This goes on, and it is what our people have dealt with their entire lives. What is not acceptable, 50 or 100 years ago was acceptable. Then something else changes and it gets acceptable, and it goes back to this whole issue of if you identify, if you connect with the community and if you have the ancestry, then you are what you are. That is it.
Senator Raine: You did not answer my question, but I can understand why. When I look at that description, I can see that it is a conundrum. It is very difficult.
I will ask you a question about a different topic. We had a presentation here, some months ago, from the Sami Aboriginal people from Norway.
Mr. Dorey: I know some of those people.
Senator Raine: I asked them, at one point, what entitlements do you expect when you self-declare as a Sami person?
They looked at me with a big question and said, “What do you mean? We are Norwegians. We have all the same entitlements as any other Norwegian — social programs, medical, health, everything. There are some special Sami entitlements to herd reindeer and some fishing rights in the far North, but we do not live there. We live in the city, so we would not be entitled to those rights. What is important for us is to feel proud of our ancestry.”
This ability to self-declare as a Sami person was so important for them to preserve and promote their culture and what is in their hearts.
I cannot help but think that perhaps we are going down the wrong road. Somehow, most Canadians think that determining yourself as a Metis is somehow connected to entitlements and it is not connected to your heart.
Could you comment on that?
Mr. Dorey: I think I answered your question in my presentation before you even asked it. You are absolutely right. I think the vast majority of people feel the same way. It is about identity, but then also acceptance in terms of that identity and taking pride in it. At the same time, there are other issues, for example, the statistical reality about the deplorable conditions of Aboriginal peoples: high rates of infant mortality, diabetes, health and social problems, and so forth.
In recent years, the statistics that have been reported by Statistics Canada and other surveys clearly demonstrate that as far as those people who identify in those surveys as being Aboriginal people, there is no distinction of those conditions based on residency. The conditions are equal, whether it is a high rate of diabetes or a low level of education, regardless of your status or of where you live.
In our efforts to try to address those issues and problems, which we feel need to be addressed, that is where this whole issue of identity, acceptance and recognition is important. It does translate to eligibility for certain programs and services that would address the specific needs of that population.
Senator Sibbeston: Mr. Dorey, I thank you for being here.
I was going to ask you to describe your struggle to get recognized by government but also to maintain your constituency, as it were, your membership. Generally, I gather you are a catch-all organization of off-reserve Aboriginal people and even, I noticed, including Inuit people. I notice in your affiliates that it is in some respects vague and nebulous, referring to “native” and “Aboriginal.” It is not “First Nations” or “Metis”; it is everything in between in the names associated with non-status Indians: Aboriginal Affairs Coalition and Ontario Coalition of Aboriginal People. To me, this seemed like a vaguer description of Aboriginal people.
I would be interested to hear from you on that issue — your constituency or your membership — and also your difficulty, if any, in being recognized by the federal government as an organization.
Mr. Dorey: As I indicated in my presentation, the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples is one of the five national Aboriginal organizations. When the federal and provincial governments convene meetings to address Aboriginal issues, the congress is invited. There is that level of recognition.
We get various levels of funding as an organization, both at the federal level and also at the provincial level: financial resources for human resource development, education, training, and that kind of thing. We have health programs on occasion. Those are just periodic programs that we become eligible for, and they come and go.
We have had housing programs in the past, such as the Rural Native Housing Program that many of our people have benefited from. That got changed because the federal government, in its wisdom, decided to transfer housing responsibility jurisdiction over to the provinces.
In some cases, provinces do something for the Aboriginal people and in some cases do not. There is no consistent type of program or services to those people as there is to status Indians on the reserve or the Assembly of First Nations representing those groups predominantly, because there is no question on anyone's mind as to their identity and their recognition as First Nations, falling under the federal Department of Indian Affairs and 91(24) jurisdiction. They tend to get constant programs and services, whether health, education or whatever. It has been like that ever since the organization has existed with the bands. That is where the major difference is between our organization and theirs.
The Metis National Council were well aware because, as pointed out earlier, those organizations that make up the Metis National Council at one time were members of the congress, or the Native Council of Canada, as we were called then. In the time since they formed, they have occasionally received programs and services on and off, at varying degrees or levels. Some come and some go. That is the main difference.
This is one of the issues Harry Daniels raised in terms of this case of federal jurisdiction. It is about being constant and being inclusive of all Aboriginal peoples so that not only the governments know who they are dealing with, but the people know who they are and what their entitlements are or are not. That is what it really boils down to.
Senator Sibbeston: What would you say is the force that binds you together? I get the feeling that there is a lot of uncertainty in terms of your identity and who exactly you are. What would you say is the binding force of your membership? You are not First Nations. You are not Metis. You are not Inuit. You are something in between all of that and White people. You are there in the middle, particularly in the urban centres.
What would you say binds you? What gives you power or force or motivation each day to go on and feel pride and dignity?
Mr. Dorey: It is that broad scope that you mentioned. Some of our people are First Nations, some are Metis, and some are Inuit, whatever we have involved with our organizations. It is the fact that we are Aboriginal. There are other Aboriginals who prefer a separate distinct identity, that is, First Nations or, as the MNC want to be defined, as a Metis Nation or the Inuit. However, as I indicated in my presentation, there are other Aboriginal people. It is that identity.
To be totally honest with you, it is the fact that we still tend to be struggling, and we use the slogan “We are the forgotten people,” and it is just that. It is because we are still struggling for this recognition, for access to services or programs that our people feel they are entitled to. That is what holds us together and keeps us going, and it will keep us going for many years to come as long as there are groups like the congress, the people we represent who are being excluded.
Senator Meredith: Thank you so much for your presentation. Your last comments segue into my question with respect to the identity.
Some have called for a registry and that the government should assist Metis in establishing a registry which would lead to services and programs. In terms of ensuring, and you talked about it earlier, that these programs come and go, whether it be education, health or housing, we need consistency for all Canadians, in my opinion, across this country. Do you support the creation of a single Metis registry system? Yes or no, and why or why not?
Second, what are some of the benefits you see to having this registry that would recognize the Metis people right across the country?
Mr. Dorey: You raise some very good points and questions. On the first point, about whether or not I support a Metis registry, I cannot give you a definitive answer because it is not for me to give you that answer.
Senator Meredith: What would your membership say with respect to the discussions that you have had around this? You are working on behalf of your constituency here, so they obviously would have given you some sort of direction as to whether this is a direction they would like to go in.
Mr. Dorey: The point that I was making in my presentation, we have not been asked that before. We have just recently learned that there is some sort of registration system being looked at by the Metis National Council. It was never brought to the congress to either respond to the question or indicate to us whether we would be interested in addressing this issue or looking at the system. We have not.
All I can say as the leader of the organization is, yes, we would want to do that. As to a definitive answer, is that what the Metis people that the congress represents want, I do not know. We would have to consult with them to see what they would want.
Senator Meredith: The second part of my question, hypothetically if there was a registry, what would you see as the benefit of that registry?
Mr. Dorey: The benefit, to a considerable degree, would be to put the question aside, to some degree, as to who are the Metis in Canada. Not knowing what the process of that system of registration involves, I cannot elaborate much further. We all know, to this day, there are problems with the Indian Act system and the Indian Act registration system, and I just alluded to that in my own personal circumstance.
We have people involved with the congress who are non-status who just months ago, years ago, did not have the same entitlement. Some of them are seniors and never before in their life were entitled to be registered and now suddenly they are, so these things change.
Whenever there is a process of registration, with the unknown factor of what the criteria is for registration, there will probably always be people left out.
My position with the congress is that our people are entitled to be engaged in that dialogue, in that discussion, in determining from their perspective their own position on those questions that you are asking. They are very important ones.
Senator Patterson: I understood, and we got the impression from the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, that after the Powley decision the Office of the Federal Interlocutor since 2003 has provided CAP and it is affiliates with funding to develop harvester and membership registries in Quebec, Ontario, and Labrador. That is what we were told. I am wondering if you could tell us if that is correct and how that has been going, please.
Mr. Dorey: Yes, I understand before I came back, just recently, some resources were made available, and I believe it was only in the last fiscal year, but the congress had not gotten to the process. It was to do some consultations in those two areas, jurisdiction, to go out and engage the people in this kind of dialogue but that did not happen. It is planned for this coming year.
Senator Ataullahjan: When Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada appeared before this committee, they mentioned high prevalence of diabetes in the Metis community. They spoke of the need for community mobilization around the issue to raise awareness and promote healthy living. What is the state of the health of the Metis community? Is much being done? Is there a need for community action on diabetes and other health issues?
Mr. Dorey: Yes, I would totally agree that. There are prevailing problems, as I indicated earlier, with the statistics. We are aware of them; we are aware of the problems in the community; but presently, for our organization, whether it is Metis or non-status, there are no programs. Just recently, the Aboriginal health funding has been cut, the program itself, so we do not know where things are now. There are no programs.
Senator Ataullahjan: Nothing is being done to raise awareness?
Mr. Dorey: No.
Senator Housakos: I have a supplementary question to that of Senator Patterson in regards to the Powley initiative where the Federal Interlocutor as of 2003 provided CAP and it is affiliates with funding. Did I understand correctly your answer when you said that in this program you had not created the registry? Did I understand correctly?
Mr. Dorey: Yes, that's correct.
Senator Housakos: Yet, from 2003 to now, have you received funding for this?
Mr. Dorey: There has been some funding to have some discussion at the community level on this issue. There have been some preliminary discussions, as I understand it.
Senator Housakos: If I understand correctly, the program is there, you have received the funding, but the registries have not been built, right?
Mr. Dorey: Yes, but only a small amount of the work that was intended or planned out for that process has been started. Very little has been done so far.
Senator Housakos: I understand that, but I am trying to get my head around this. In the funding that was allocated, you received the funds for the work?
Mr. Dorey: No. It was allocated for last year. The work did not get done, so it is being carried over to this new fiscal year.
Senator Housakos: I just wanted to clarify that.
The Deputy Chair: I would like to thank, on behalf of all the members of the committee, our witnesses this evening: National Vice-Chief Dwight Dorey, Congress of Aboriginal Peoples; and his adviser Julian Morelli.
Thank you very much.
(The committee continued in camera.)