National Chief says Ministerial Representative’s Report on Matrimonial Real Property Offers Hope for First Nations Families by Calling for Greater First Nations Control
OTTAWA, April 23 – Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine, and AFN Women’s Council Chair Kathleen McHugh, strongly support some key recommendations in the Indian and Northern Affairs (INAC) Ministerial Representative’s Report on Matrimonial Real Property (MRP) that call on the government to recognize First Nations authority and ability to deal with MRP issues.
“Matrimonial Real Property deals with the sometimes painful issues that affect our families and communities when marriages breakdown,” said Ms. McHugh. “The report states that First Nations have inherent jurisdiction over this matter. To us, this means our peoples, our communities, and our governments must be front and centre in setting the rules, policies and procedures that govern division of matrimonial real property. Not only is this our right, it is the right way to go given this issue literally hits so close to home. Federal legislation created this problem and more imposed legislation to try and correct it is not the answer. The voices of our women and men must be heard and respected.” Ministerial Representative Wendy Grant-John confirmed that the federal government does not yet have a policy to implement its “duty to consult” with First Nations, set out in the Supreme Court of Canada’s Haida decision of 2004. As a matter of urgency, the federal government must address this policy gap by developing a federal consultation policy. AFN strongly endorses this recommendation and stresses that First Nations must be involved in this work. The Minister should not go forward with legislation in the spring of 2007 without a joint consultation policy in place.
The report recommends also that the federal government make funding available to First Nations communities to establish dispute resolution bodies and provide legal aid funding to First Nations families to address access to justice issues. Existing programs must prevent shortfalls in resources required. The AFN has also strongly encouraged the federal government to adopt these non-legislative options.
“We are pleased that the Ministerial Representative has addressed the fundamental issue of First Nations capacity,” said AFN National Chief Phil Fontaine. “New rules and regulations are not useful if there is no way to enforce them. Building capacity in First Nations communities will lead to greater control over the decisions that affect our lives. The transition towards self-determination and self-sufficiency is essential to alleviate poverty among First Nations children, women and families, and create a healthier future for all First Nations peoples.”
The Ministerial Representative has recommended that the federal government introduce interim federal rules that would allow courts to make orders regarding the possession of homes on reserve. While First Nations want to address the immediate needs of families impacted by legislative uncertainty, there is potential for interim federal rules to affect the constitutionally protected Aboriginal title and Treaty rights of First Nations. Again, this raises significant implications for the federal government’s clear legal duty to consult.
“The Minister must now respond fully to these recommendations and call a Joint Steering Committee meeting, as agreed in the 2005 First Nations – Federal Crown Political Accord signed by the AFN and the Government of Canada,” said National Chief Fontaine.” Minister Prentice promised such a meeting more than a year ago at an Assembly of Chiefs in British Columbia, but he has yet to meet with us. This is the appropriate forum for further discussions on this issue. We owe it to all First Nations people to move forward in a spirit of cooperation, recognition and partnership.”
The Assembly of First Nations is the national organization representing First Nations citizens in Canada.
For further information: Bryan Hendry, A/Director of Communications, (613) 241-6789 ext. 229, cell (613) 293-6106, [email protected]; Nancy Pine, Communications Advisor – Office of the National Chief, (613) 241-6789 ext 243, (613) 298-6382, [email protected]