Tag Archives: Canadian Government

Indigenous People Impacted By Sixties Scoop Finally Getting Day In Court

"I lost everything, including my name. I lost my family. I lost my language. I lost everything about my culture," says Marcia Brown Martel, the representative plaintiff.

“I lost everything, including my name. I lost my family. I lost my language. I lost everything about my culture,” says Marcia Brown Martel, the representative plaintiff.

Ottawa has fought unprecedented class action every step of the way

The Canadian Press, Aug 22, 2016

Thousands of Indigenous people who argue the federal government robbed them of their cultural identities finally get their day in court this week but will have to wait months for Canada to make its case in the unprecedented class action Ottawa has fought every step of the way.

The plaintiffs and supporters from all over Ontario are expected to rally at the courthouse on Tuesday as their lawyers press for summary judgment in the legal battle started in February 2009.

The lawsuit turns on a federal-provincial arrangement — called the Sixties Scoop — in which Ontario child welfare services placed as many as 16,000 Indigenous children with non-native families from December 1965 to December 1984.

Their unproven claim alleges the children suffered a devastating loss of cultural identity that Canada negligently failed to protect. The children, the suit states, suffered emotional, psychological and spiritual harm from the lost connection to their Aboriginal heritage. They want $1.3 billion in various damages — $85,000 for each affected person.

“This is the first case in the western world (about) whether a state government has an obligation to take steps to protect and preserve the cultural identity of its Indigenous people,” said Jeffery Wilson, lawyer for the plaintiffs.

The plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment to be heard Tuesday essentially calls on Superior Court Justice Edward Belobaba to decide the case based on the evidence the court already has without the need for a full trial.

Canada has previously tried to have the case thrown out as futile. Among other things, Ottawa argues it was acting in the best interests of the children and within the social norms of the day. However, Divisional Court ruled in December 2014 that the plaintiffs deserved a chance to argue the merits of their position at trial.

“It is difficult to see a specific interest that could be of more importance to Aboriginal peoples than each person’s essential connection to their Aboriginal heritage,” the three-justice panel concluded.

In early March, the courts ruled the action should proceed over two weeks, starting Aug. 23. However, much to the chagrin of the plaintiffs, the government late last month asked for a delay, saying it needed more time to come up with experts to counter the claims. The court refused.

‘I lost my family. I lost my language. I lost everything about my culture.’– Marcia Brown Martel

But with buses ordered and courthouse rallies planned for Tuesday, the prospect of more government appeals and delays prompted the plaintiffs to agree to the one-day hearing. In exchange, the government since filed thousands of pages of materials, but has until November to file expert evidence. The hearing is slated to resume for two days on Dec. 1.

Wilson said he hoped the hiatus would allow for a negotiated settlement — a tack the Liberal government now appears to favour. Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said last week she would like to see the case discussed at the table rather than in court.

The Ontario case differs from scoop lawsuits in several other provinces in that it does not take legal issue with the placement of Indian children in non-Aboriginal homes because it was done under court orders in the best interests of the child.

In addition, Ontario was the only province to sign a formal agreement with Ottawa to take over the protection and adoption of First Nations children. The case turns on a single provision the plaintiffs say essentially required the federal government to consult Indian bands and maintain oversight of the children’s welfare.

“I lost everything, including my name. I lost my family. I lost my language. I lost everything about my culture,” Marcia Brown Martel, the representative plaintiff in the Ontario case, told The Canadian Press. “This should never have happened. It was wrong.”

Martel, a member of the Temagami First Nation near Kirkland Lake, Ont., was taken by child welfare officials and adopted by a non-native family as a child. She later discovered the Canadian government had declared her original identity dead.

Last week, five Aboriginal leaders wrote Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to urge his government to settle, and admit the “immense wrong” done the scoop children.

“This moment is an opportunity for Canada to put an ugly legacy behind us,” the letter states.


Canada Wants First Nation People To Sell Land For Cheap And Give Up Their Rights

The treaty the government is pushing would relieve the federal government of its legal responsibility to people still suffering from generations of colonization, violence and poverty. Photograph: Mark Klotz/Flickr

The treaty the government is pushing would relieve the federal government of its legal responsibility to people still suffering from generations of colonization, violence and poverty. Photograph: Mark Klotz/Flickr

The Guardian

For a more just and equitable future all First Nation people must refuse modern treaties that affirm Canadian rights above our own

Treaties often dictate relationships between indigenous peoples of North America and the governments that control their ancestral lands. In the US, Congress maintained an official policy of negotiating treaties with Indian nations until 1871, and kept up a not-so-official policy of breaking them long after. In Canada, treaty-making continued into the 20th century. In the province of British Columbia (BC), however, there are almost no treaties between First Nations and Canada, because the provincial government believed primitive natives could not have any claim to the land. Today, this means that First Nations hold unextinguished legal claims to a landmass larger than Texas.

But the Canadian government wants that to change. There are 64 First Nations in the midst of a treaty process aimed at extinguishing all present and future Native claims to land. I’m a member of the Tsq’escenemc, or People of Broken Rock, one of 17 bands of the 10,000-strong Secwepemc Nation, and one of four Northern Secwepemc bands currently negotiating our own treaty with the federal government.

The “deal” currently on the table for the Northern Secwepemc pays $37.5m (in US dollars) and returns roughly 174,000 acres of crown land in exchange for an end to all claims to almost 14m acres of traditional territories. To put this into perspective, the treaty returns just a hair over 1% of our land and pays $2.74 per acre for the rest. This is a deal sadly reminiscent of the 47 cents an acre offered to California Indians in 1963. According to a major realty company, price per acreranges in British Columbia from $48,510 for farmland to about $777 for bare land in the North. There is no corner of British Columbia where land sells for $2.74 an acre.

Needless to say, the four Secwepemc bands must cast their ballots against this treaty at the planned October vote so that they and their descendants will survive as sovereign and self-determining nations.

The agreement, which is very similar to others offered to British Columbia’s First Nations, would also restructure the four Northern Secwepemc bands as municipalities, stripping them of all rights and services provided under the Indian Act, including reserve lands, healthcare and housing. In effect, the treaty would relieve the federal government of its legal responsibility to people still suffering from generations of colonization, violence and poverty. Perhaps most troubling of all, the deal would eliminate our last vestiges of sovereignty by converting all Northern Secwepemc territory into private property.

Since BC was first settled in the 1800s, First Nations have fought to reclaim stolen lands. In this history, the Secwepemc – who threatened war in 1874 and 1879,confronted Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier in 1910, helped found the National Indian Brotherhood in 1970 and participated in the Gustafsen Lake Standoff in 1995 – occupy center stage.

On the other side, the province and natural resource corporations have long desired “certainty” on the Indian land question – by which they mean the extinguishment of any indigenous claims to lands, rights and sovereignty, present and future. From an economic or corporate perspective, unextinguished aboriginal land claims are an investment risk, because they allow First Nations to block developments that exploit their land or people through lawsuits and direct action. And so one can easily imagine that they have run statistical models to calculate the value of paying us off.

But here’s the kicker: First Nations, including my own, have accrued hundreds of millions of dollars in debt in the effort to work towards an agreement in principle. The Northern Secwepemc bands’ debt, estimated at $16.9m back in 2011, will come out of our final settlement. It also functions as all unpaid debts do, coercing impoverished people to choose between fast cash for their rights, or a mountain of debt and the continued struggle.

Although the struggle for land, rights and equality has been and continues to be a long and weary road, it has turned up notable small victories in Canada of late. The Tsilqhot’in – western neighbors and ancient enemies of the Secwepemc –won a landmark supreme court decision last year affirming aboriginal title to over 430,000 acres. June’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission report shined a light on the dark history of residential school abuses and opened up the conversation about moral responsibility for colonization. In notoriously conservative Alberta, where First Nations have stood on the front lines of growing opposition to the tar sands, the recent election of the left-wing New Democratic Party signals a seismic shift in the political landscape. And in the national elections in October, it is possible that indigenous Canadians could play a key role in removing the conservative government from power.

To realize the promise of a more just and equitable future, my people, and all First Nations, must refuse modern treaties that affirm Canadian rights and sovereignty above our own. We must fight for what is rightfully ours in the courts and in our territories. We have the wind at our backs. Maybe it is not a gale force, but the gusts are noticeable.


First Nations Bands Have Until Wednesday To Submit 2014-15 Financial Data

The Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation led by Chief Allan Adam is in a battle with the federal government over a new law that went into effect last year. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation led by Chief Allan Adam is in a battle with the federal government over a new law that went into effect last year. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

CBC News

First Nations bands that have not filed their financial statements for 2014-15 by Wednesday at midnight will risk having federal funding for non-essential services cut beginning Sept. 1, warns Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt.

Under a new law which came into effect one year ago, First Nations have to submit to the Canadian government their audited financial statements for the past fiscal year, including the salaries and expenses of their chiefs and councillors.

While 98 per cent of bands complied with the First Nations Financial Transparency Act last year, CBC News reported Monday that the federal government has taken eight bands to court in a bid to force them to comply. Four other bands are said to be co-operating with the government to meet the requirements.

“Let me be clear, our government will take action, according to the provisions of the law, against First Nation governments that do not follow the law,” Valcourt said in a written statement on Tuesday. “Those First Nation band councils which fail to comply by the deadline will receive several formal reminders.”

“Beginning Sept. 1, 2015, bands that have yet to comply with the law will see funding for non-essential services withheld. Further actions may include seeking court orders to compel compliance.”

Withholding federal funds for non-essential services could impact First Nations bands that rely on government support programs to help them meet the costs of delivering services. The salaries of chiefs and councillors, according to the government, which in part can derive from federal funding, are also considered a non-essential service.

The federal government will not give First Nations bands an additional 120 days to post their financial data like it did last year when the new law came into effect.

“Unlike last year, no additional extension will be provided before sanctions are applied. I have directed that the sanctions not target essential services that support First Nation members,” Valcourt said.

Threat ‘fans the flames of division’

The minister also took a swipe at both opposition leaders, accusing them of taking a position against accountability and transparency.

“It is shameful that Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said he would scrap this law and deny these members the right to access basic information about their community finances, a right that is awarded to every other Canadian,” Valcourt said.

“Similar to the Liberal leader, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair has shown his party does not believe they need to be accountable to taxpayers byrefusing to pay ‎back the $2.7 million of taxpayer dollars they owe for use of their satellite offices outside Ottawa.”

In an phone interview with CBC News, NDP Aboriginal Affairs critic Niki Ashton said the threat to withhold funding was not only “unacceptable” but also “fans the flames of division with indigenous peoples.”

Ashton said if the New Democrats form government in the next election they would “either try to repeal or amend the Act” but they would consult with First Nations beforehand.

Liberal Aboriginal Affairs critic Carolyn Bennett said the minister’s threat to pull funding was “inappropriate” given “this government’s inability to foster a working relationship with First Nations.”

“A Liberal government would review all the laws that have been unilaterally imposed on Aboriginal Peoples by this government,” Bennett told CBC News in a phone interview.

Last year’s disclosures revealed in part that Ron Giesbrecht, chief of the Kwikwetlem First Nation in B.C., earned nearly $1 million last year. That amount included a one-time $800,000 bonus which came as a result of a land deal with the B.C. government.

The number of bands that have submitted their financial data for 2014-15 will not be known for a day or two after Wednesday’s deadline.


Canada Offers Settlement For Historic Indigenous Land Dispute

Protestor Joe Taylor marches with a Mohawk flag against the government’s approval of the Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline in Vancouver, BC. | Photo: Reuters

teleSUR English‎ | Published 25 May 2015

The Akwesasne would have to renounce all claims to the territory to accept the Canadian government’s land settlement offer. The Mohawk Council of Akwesasne announced Monday that the Canadian government offered about US.$200 million to settle a historic land dispute over the traditional unceded Mohawk indigenous territory spanning more than 20,000 acres along the banks of Canada’s St. Lawrence River.

According to the Mohawk First nation, the lands in question, called Tsikaristisere or Dundee Lands, were never sold or surrendered and have been under ongoing occupation by the Canadian government since the 1800s. Intermittent negotiations over the land claim, a portion of the Mohawk territory located in the Canadian province of Quebec, have been ongoing since the 1980s.

RELATED: First Nations in Canada Demand End to Water Crisis

Accepting the settlement offer would require the Mohawks of Akwesasne to give up all claims to the Dundee Lands, the Mohawk Council, an elected community government, explained in a statement. The agreement is subject to a community referendum to be held in the coming months, preceded by a series of educational sessions for the community on the history of the land claims and the implications of the settlement.

 Map of the Mohawk's Dundee, or Tsikaristisere, land claim. (Government of Canada)

Map of the Mohawk’s Dundee, or Tsikaristisere, land claim. (Government of Canada)

The agreement would also make tens of thousands of acres available to the Akwesasne to turn into reserve lands.

Akwesasne is a Mohawk First Nation whose traditional territory extends across the U.S.-Canada border and across the Canadian provincial border between Ontario and Quebec. Despite their territory being separated by an international border, members of the First Nation see themselves as belonging to one community, arbitrarily divided.

In 2009, Akswesasne protested the arming of federal immigration authorities of the Canadian Border Services Agency at the U.S.-Canada border.

Mohawk people were harassed for months by local police, border control agents, and RCMP national security forces, forcing some to leave their homes.

In 2014, the Tsilhqot’in Nation became the first First Nation to win title to its historic territory in a landmark Supreme court decision to recognize the Indigenous land claim to about 680 square miles in the interior of the western Canadian province of British Colombia.


Take Action On Missing Aboriginal Women

A photograph of Dauphinais is seen as participants hug during the '24 Hour Sacred Gathering of Drums' protest calling for an inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women, on Parliament Hill in Ottawa

A photograph of Dauphinais is seen as participants hug during the ’24 Hour Sacred Gathering of Drums’ protest calling for an inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women, on Parliament Hill in Ottawa

Victoria Times Colonist

An arm of the Organization of American States is calling for a Canadian action plan or nationwide inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women.

An inquiry is needed, but it should do more than gather the tragic statistics with which we are already familiar. It should be specifically focused on finding solutions. We don’t need another report collecting dust while more lives are lost.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights released its report Monday from an investigation the commission conducted in Canada in 2013. The commission’s main focus was on B.C., since this province accounts for 28 per cent of murdered and missing aboriginal women in Canada, but its report said what happens in B.C. reflects a pattern across the country.

Claudette Dumont-Smith, executive director of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, said: “This requires leadership from the government of Canada, since its leadership and participation is necessary in order to ensure nationwide co-ordinated, effective efforts.”

In total numbers, far more nonaboriginal women are murder victims than aboriginal women, but it’s the ratio that is shocking. Indigenous peoples account for 4.3 per cent of Canada’s population, yet 17 per cent of women murdered over the past 30 years were aboriginal.

It’s a heartbreaking situation, but not particularly mysterious. While the commission says a “fuller understanding” is needed, the underlying causes are fairly obvious and have been for generations.

“Indigenous women and girls constitute one of the most disadvantaged groups in Canada,” says the report. “Poverty, inadequate housing and economic and social relegation, among other factors, contribute to their increased vulnerability to violence.

This persistence of longstanding social and economic marginalization has given rise to large numbers of indigenous women living in vulnerable situations, including homelessness, and abusive relationships. It has also led to the disproportionate engagement of indigenous women in highrisk activities such as hitchhiking, drug use, gang activity and prostitution.

“They face discrimination on multiple fronts: as women within their home communities due to the patriarchal legacy of colonization, as women in mainstream society and as aboriginal persons in mainstream society.”

The commission’s report dwells at length on the frustrations families of murdered and missing women have experienced. Its recommendations are aimed at ensuring police take more seriously reports of missing aboriginal women, and that victims’ families get access to information.

But the action plan should go far beyond that. The problems are deeply rooted in the past, and solutions will be difficult, but not impossible. They include better housing, social programs, better educational and economic opportunities, and stronger supports to help families stay intact.

Yes, those measures cost money, but they will pay off. Poverty, isolation and lack of opportunity spawn substance abuse, crime and violence, which cost all of us dearly.

This holds true for any sector of our society where poverty rules, but Canada’s treatment of indigenous peoples and the paternalistic Indian Act have exacerbated the problems.

The rights commission’s report acknowledges that governments in Canada are aware of the problems and have been taking steps. It cites the federal government’s statement: “Canada has been clear that abhorrent acts of violence will not be tolerated in our society, and remains committed to take action to address the situation of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls in Canada.”

Those words need to be backed up by concrete measures, and those measures cannot be imposed from above – they must be worked out by all groups affected. The involvement of aboriginal women and First Nations leadership is crucial.

While a deeper understanding of the issue will be helpful, let’s remember that the statistics are not merely numbers. They represent real people and suffering families.

Originally posted in Victoria Times Colonist January 14, 2015