The AMC Senior Policy Analyst researches and advocates for change in federal-provincial policies and legislation toward returning jurisdiction for children and families to the First Nations. AMC brings together federal-provincial and First Nations as partners for change in the development of prevention and wholistic culturally based approaches to child welfare and family strengthening and assists in achieving equity in First Nations CFS funding and supports are adequate for operations and maintenance of CFS agencies. AMC”s focus is on strategic planning and research; policy review and analysis, and as such encompasses a wide range of issues and includes collaboration with related programs such as social development, justice and education.
The AMC Women’s Committee is mandated by the Chiefs in Assembly to pursue issues of women’s rights of equality and citizenship. Research, updates and information gathering on issues such as Bill C-3 (Gender Equality as INAC’s response to the McIvor case), federal proposed legislation on Matrimonial Real Property, and Family Violence Prevention are major issues by the AMC Women’s Committee to ensure positive changes are being advocated at the political level.
Women, Children, and Families
The AMC First Nations Women’s Committee (FNWC), established through resolution Jun.95-07 affirmed “the need for First Nation’s women involvement in the self-government process.” Current (as of August 1, 2012) members of the FNWC are:
- Chief Francine Meeches, Swan Lake First Nation (Chair)
- Chief Betsy Kennedy, War Lake First Nation
- Chief Dalphine Bighetty, Barren Lands First Nation
- Chief Louisa Constant, York Factory Cree Nation
- Councillor Yvonne Bearbull, Birdtail Sioux First Nation
- Councillor Audrey Monias, Garden Hill First Nation
- Councillor Rhonda Abraham, Black River First Nation.
Under the Social Development & Research Initiatives, the AMC Women, Children, and Families staff provides technical support to the FNWC, through undertaking research, policy analysis and development, legislative monitoring, and advocacy, with a focus on: girls’ and women’s leadership development, and improvement of the socio-economic status of women, children, and families. The broad scope of this file requires inter-sectoral collaboration with other areas within AMC such as Health and Environment, for example. The significant cases of missing and murdered Indigenous Women continues to be another issue of focus for the FNWC, as well as their recent efforts to assist families dealing with these tragedies (please see accompanying articles on missing and murdered Indigenous women, and fundraising).
Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation
Though human trafficking and sexual exploitation are issues unto their own, they are also related to the issue of missing and murdered First Nations women. Much of the work in these two areas has involved legislative monitoring, and efforts to build awareness and partnerships. Member of Parliament Joy Smith, Kildonan-East St. Paul, introduced Bill C-310 and it came into force on June 28, 2012. This legislation involves two important amendments to the Criminal Code. First, it adds current trafficking in persons offences to the list of offences which, if committed outside Canada by a Canadian or permanent resident, could be prosecuted in Canada. Second, the legislation enhances the current definition of exploitation in the trafficking of persons offence.
While the issue of human trafficking is sometimes viewed as an “international” rather than a “community” issue, stories shared by First Nations families in Manitoba confirm that our loved ones are victims of this heinous crime. Additionally, some of the cases of missing and murdered First Nations women have involved those who were, or known to be, sexually exploited.
In the years preceding this legislation, AMC worked closely with MP Smith in holding community forums and conducting awareness campaigns in an effort to address these issues, including their relation to missing and murdered women. It is expected that AMC’s recent work with frontline service delivery agencies through the Coalition for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women will increase and broaden work in the areas of human trafficking and sexual exploitation.
Child Welfare – Child and Family Services
Though through AMC Chiefs-in-Assembly resolution (JAN-09.23), AMC no longer coordinates issues regarding child welfare. However, the Women, Children, and Families Community Liaison continues to document issues, concerns or complaints raised by community members, and with the permission of those disclosing or reporting this information, forwards the information to the appropriate agency or entity.
What is within the scope of AMC’s mandate regarding child welfare, as stated above, is to work to improve the socio-economic status of children and families. Accordingly, in 2011-12, AMC held workshops with First Nations citizens through the “Guiding Tomorrow’s Generations” initiative, which purpose was to continue ongoing discussions from previous forums and to strategize on taking back responsibility of our children. Youth, foster parents, CFS workers, leaders, and Elder participants clearly expressed that the CFS system should be changed to a holistic approach that emphasizes that, “We are all in this together.” Additionally, key messages included:
- the need to bring back culture, language and traditions;
- involvement of Elders to reconnect to our teachings; and,
- the involvement of parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles.
The AMC FNWC, Women, Children & Families unit along with the Manitoba First Nations Circling Buffalo-Family Violence Prevention Program Board and Swampy Cree Tribal Council-Community Active Measures Youth Leaders joined together to host a 3-day conference, “Building Awareness and Igniting Action Family Violence Prevention Conference (March 7-9, 2012). This conference focused on family violence issues that impact individuals and communities, such as: missing and murdered women (persons), human trafficking and/or stop the sexual exploitation of First Nations people, family violence, and youth leadership development. 300 participants attended this conference. Dakota Tipi First Nation, Opaskwayak Cree Nation, and Peguis First Nation advised AMC they will be holding their own awareness and information sessions as follow-up.
In addition to other legislative monitoring that has been undertaken in the past year, three other pieces of legislation were closely followed. The first is Bill C-3: Gender Equity in Indian Registration Act, which came into effect on January 31, 2011, and seeks to address gender inequities in Indian status registration. AMC and the FNWC presented their view on the proposed legislation to Parliamentary Committee. The FNWC also participated in the AMC Chiefs Committee on Citizenship, where this issue was raised, and provided a presentation update at the October 2011 Chiefs Assembly.
The second piece of legislation monitored in the past year was Bill S-2 (formerly S-4): Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act (often referred to as “MRP”). This is the latest reincarnation of a series of bills dating back a few years, seeking to address the lack of equitable (between men and women) protection for property rights on reserve. Similar to concerns with previously proposed legislation, in the view of the FNWC, the proposed MRP legislation fails to provide the necessary tools and capacity to access justice or to address the underlying issues such as housing shortages, family violence, and the need for community-based dispute resolution mechanisms. First Nations governments are encouraged to work with their citizens to enact their own laws in this area in advance of this Bill coming into force.
Legislative monitoring has also been undertaken with respect to repeal of Section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act (CHRA), which was enacted through Bill C-21. This legislation came into effective on June 18, 2011, and extends human rights protections (under the CHRA) to anything done pursuant to the Indian Act, including by First Nations governments. The AMC- FNWC hosted a May 2011 workshop with the CHR Commission to build awareness with First Nations on how the Act can be used to protect rights and improve conditions in First Nations.