The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples (CAP) says the federal government is leaving out the voices of urban Indigenous Peoples by excluding it from a seat around the National Council for Reconciliation (NCR).
The council is expected to hold the federal government to account on behalf of residential school survivors. The council was one of the calls to action in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report.
It’s been seven years in the making, and the creation of the NCR is now weaving its way through the parliamentary process in Ottawa.
However, it’s already under fire from CAP.
“The federal government has chosen to disenfranchise over a million people, living off-reserve,” says CAP National Vice-Chief Kim Beaudin on the latest episode of Face to Face. “The majority of the people that our communities work with are not connected to bands, they’re not connected to Métis communities or Inuit communities, for that matter; they live off-reserve and it’s very important that our voices are heard.
“And to hear the frustrations, it’s ongoing and we believe the reconciliation committee is very important and we should have a voice there. Unfortunately, the Liberal government doesn’t see it that way.”
It’s not just the federal government, says Beaudin, who believes “there has been political interference by other Indigenous political organizations” working to keep CAP off the NCR.
While the move is frustrating for CAP, it’s nothing new for the organization that during a 50-year existence has often encountered resistance and indifference.
“We know that there’s organizations out there, Indigenous ones, really trying to demonize us for some reason,” says Beaudin. “Historically, we’ve done some incredible things for our people.
“We fought for Bill C-31, for example; we’re the ones that put Métis in the Constitution, and we’re the ones who fought for Daniels with respect to non-status Indians and Métis across Canada.”
Beaudin acknowledges CAP needs to do a better job of telling the grassroots what it does and who it fights for.
Meanwhile, the organization that prides itself on being the “national voice representing the interests of Métis, status and non-status Indians, and southern Inuit Indigenous people living off-reserve” is making a lot of headway when it comes to justice issues.
Addressing the over-incarceration of Indigenous Peoples is something Beaudin has been working on for decades, going back to his time as a justice of the peace in Saskatchewan.
“The people in our prisons don’t have a voice and, politically, organizations have abandoned them, their bands, their communities. We have to fight for everyone,” he says.
Beaudin feels the policy changes being made at the provincial and federal levels are not having the desired effect.
He also agrees with those who say the child welfare system is a pipeline to the justice system.
“Once you age out, if you’re struggling with addictions, for example, or housing, or employment, these are all seeds for the police. Look at the number of people they arrest if you’re homeless. Look at the homeless camps all across Canada, Vancouver, those kinds of things, east Hastings is a big one, Halifax,” he says.
“The answer is to arrest people – and most of those people are Indigenous people – and put them in provincial and federal facilities. That’s their answer to homelessness,” says Beaudin.
Another case CAP has taken up is that of the Quewezance sisters, Odelia and Nerissa. The two are serving life sentences for a crime their cousin has repeatedly confessed to.
A bail hearing is coming up for the two, early in the new year.
Beaudin said the injustices they have faced is stunning and thinks they’ll finally be set free.
“These two, they’ve been tied up, they were in residential school prior to that, so they’ve maybe only seen freedom for five or 10 years, maybe not even that of their whole life,” says Beaudin.