“Canada’s Aboriginal peoples are central to Canada’s history, and our Government has made it a priority to renew and deepen our relationship. The contribution of Canada’s Aboriginal peoples will be important to our future prosperity.”
I am extremely pleased to hear that our Government is prioritizing issues that affect Aboriginal peoples. I strongly believe that members of Aboriginal communities should no longer be treated as second class citizens. Although I commend our Government for its commitment to the issues that plague many Aboriginal people I also hope that they remain mindful of the rights and traditions that these very communities value so dearly.
One issue which I have worked on throughout my time in the Senate is matrimonial real property rights on reserves. Our Governor General spoke about this issue specifically when stating:
“Our Government will also introduce legislation to ensure that people living on reserve have the same matrimonial real property rights and protections as other Canadians”
I found this statement to be particularly interesting because just last June Bill S-4 (family homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act) came through the Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights of which I am deputy chair. This particular piece of legislation sought to ensure that women on reserve were provided with the same matrimonial real property rights as the rest of Canadian women. Unfortunately, after hearing testimony offered by several leaders in the Aboriginal community and reading a report advanced by Ministerial Representative Wendy Grant John it quickly became clear that this piece of legislation was inherently flawed. Most of these flaws stemmed from the fact that the Government had failed to uphold its duty to consult.
Members of the Aboriginal community were denied their right to be involved in the process of developing this piece of legislation and when they did speak out and voice their opinions after the Bill had already been drafted their concerns fell upon deaf ears. Bill S-4 not only passed through the committee it also went on to receive royal assent by the Conservative dominated Senate.
Although I commend our Government for reconfirming its commitment to matrimonial real property rights on reserves I also hope that they learn from their mistakes. If we are going to help create lasting change in the lives of Aboriginal people we need to allow them to be a part of the process. We need to listen to their concerns, respect their traditions and value their input. Unless this is done justice will never prevail and the rights of Aboriginal people will continue to be inferior to the rights that are granted to the rest of Canadians.