At the time this article was written Barbara
Plant Reynolds was with the Political and Social Affairs Section, Research
Branch, Library of Parliament. She was Research Co-ordinator for the
Sub-committee on Women and the Indian Act.
0n August 4, 1982, the House of Commons
directed the Standing Committee on Indian Affairs and Northern Development to
examine the provisions of the Indian Act dealing with band membership and
Indian status, with a view to recommending how the Act might be amended to
remove those provisions that discriminate against women on the basis of
sex." The most blatant example, of course, is the clause which removes all
benefits and rights provided by the Indian Act to any woman who married a non
Indian. At the same time the Standing Committee also received an order of
reference to study the subject of Indian self-government, This second study
could not begin until the first one had been completed. Some committee members
felt that the subjects of band membership and Indian status could not be
studied in isolation from the wider context of Indian self-government. They
therefore urged a short, concise study of the first subject so that the second
study could begin. A deadline of September 20, 1982 was imposed upon the Sub-committee.
From September 820, a period of just twelve days the Subcommittee heard 27
deputations with 44 witnesses. It hammered out a 45-page report which
recommended elimination of sexual discrimination against Indian women in the
Throughout the hectic, intense, exciting and
perhaps historic period, I recorded some of my experiences.
Wednesday, September 8, 1982
The first public meeting took place this
morning in Room 371 of the West Block. As we took our places around the table,
I noticed the room very quickly filling up. Soon all chairs were taken and its
was standing room only. I looked at faces in the audience, wondering how many
had attended similar meetings on changes to the Indian Act. Do they see us as
yet another committee whose report will gather dust on the shelf? I hope it
will be different this time. One always feels optimistic at the start of a
The Sub-committee is chaired by Jack
Burghardt (Liberal - London West). The other Liberal members are Céline
Hervieux-Payette (Montreal Mercier), J. Raymond Chénier (Timmins-Chapleau) and
Ursula Appolloni (York-South Weston). Three MPs share the two seats allocated
to the Progressive Conservative Party: they are Stan Schellenberger
(Wetaskiwan), Frank Oberle (Prince George-Peace River) and Lorne Greenaway
(Cariboo-Chilcotin). Jim Manly (Cowichan-Malahat-The-Islands) is the sole New
Democratic Party member. The Sub-committee has also invited three ex-officio
members to participate in the hearings, Roberta Jamieson from the Assembly of
First Nations (AFN), Gary Gould from the National Council of Canada (NCC) and
Marlyn Kane from the Native Women's Association of Canada (NWAC). It is unusual
to have ex-officio members participating side-by-side with MPs and I wonder how
it will work.
In deciding to invite ex-officio members to
participate, the Sub-committee was trying to show that it was not carrying out
its investigative function in isolation from the very people being studied. It
was an attempt to show good faith by bringing those most directly involved into
the decision-making process. At the same time, the committee wanted to use the
expertise and knowledge of the three organizations in planning the hearings, in
selecting and questioning witnesses and in drafting the report. The practice of
having ex-officio members afforded an opportunity to benefit from the insights
of those individuals who were directly involved in the subject under study. As
a side effect this also allowed the ex-officio members a chance to see and
appreciate both the strengths and frailties of the parliamentary system.
During the actual hearings the ex-officio
members participated fully in the deliberations. There were no special seating
arrangements and the ex-officio members were tree to sit at any side of the table.
In fact only one ex-officio member changed seats throughout the hearings,
sitting at various times with members of all three parties.
With respect to questioning of witnesses,
the ex-officio members had the same opportunity as Members of Parliament. Each
indicated to the Chairman when he/she wanted to be placed on the list of
questioners; ex-officio members were not required to wait until all MPs had had
a turn as they could ask to be on the list at any point. Likewise, ex-officio
members were free to ask supplementary questions at any stage.
The first hearing began with a
strongly-worded speech by the Honourable John Munro, Minister of Indian Affairs
and Northern Development. He was unhappy about the decision to study this
subject in such a short period. He called for a thorough and complete report.
Emotions ran high as various MPs and ex-officio members made their positions
clearly known. The Chairman exercised great diplomacy which helped to cool
We waited half an hour for our first Indian
witness to appear, this afternoon. As Chief David Ahenekew of the Assembly of
First Nations read his presentation I realized that parts of it had been
written after hearing the Minister's comments this morning.
When the meeting ended, I met quickly with
my research team. Just as there are ex-officio members from each of the three
aboriginal organizations, so too there are researchers from each. Gerry Gambill
from the Assembly of First Nations. Alan Semple from the Native Council of
Canada and Sandra Isaac from the Native Women's Council of Canada are working
with Kate Dunkley, a colleague from the Library of Parliament. and myself. The
research team has been directed to consult with each other at all stages to
ensure that the viewpoints of the aboriginal associations are fairly
represented. Kate and I gave them a crash course on the type of research
assistance required by parliamentary committees. Rather than analytical papers
on various topics. we must concentrate our efforts on preparing summaries of
briefs and a collation of evidence. Our research colleagues seemed to be
surprised to learn about other aspects of committee work such as the need for
bilingual material. In addition to serving as researchers to the Sub-committee
they are also assisting their associations in writing submissions and in
preparing questions for their ex-officio members.
The Standing Committee had specifically
directed that any researchers be selected in consultation with the aboriginal
organizations. As research co-ordinator I run a fine line in ensuring that
everyone has access to all information and that it is presented in a non
partisan manner. I hope Kate and I will be able to obtain the confidence of the
Thursday, September 9, 1982
This morning the Sub-committee listened to
the Canadian Human Rights Commissioner who told them that the Indian Act is not
subject to the provision of the Canadian Human Rights Act. Mr. Gordon
Fairweather reminded the members that as a former Member of Parliament he had
sat, several years earlier, in that very room discussing whether the Indian Act
should be excluded from the protection of the proposed legislation. He then
challenged the Subcommittee to get on with the process of eliminating
discrimination against Indian women.
In the afternoon the Sub-committee heard the
Native Women's Association of Canada. During its presentation I watched the
faces of the Indian women who encircled the room, faces that waited and watched
eagerly for the end of discrimination. There were occasional bursts of applause
which punctuated an otherwise formal committee meeting. Marion Sheldon, a young
Indian woman who has chosen to live common-law rather than lose her status,
made an impassioned plea: "What do I tell my daughter when she says,
"Who are you Mommy, are you an Indian?"
Ernie Benedict, an elder from the St. Regis
Reserve, told us about the history of Indian people. We stood as he offered a
prayer in the Mohawk language. His testimony was in a very different style from
Mr. Fairweather! He said:
". . . this is a good day for us to
deliberate on these matters. The Creator has taken his blanket from in front of
the sun and we may now see clearly that all the elements and forces and
creatures of the nature are performing their duties as instructed by the
Creator. Only the society of humans must constantly work to bring their minds
together so that not only may we be at peace with one another but with the
natural forces of creation."
The meeting ended with comments from
Professor Donald Fleming who represented Sandra Lovelace, an Indian women who
had lost her status through marriage to a non Indian. Mrs. Lovelace had taken
her case before the United Nations Human Rights Committee.
By the end of the day my head was turning
from listening to the variety of testimony. We had heard both scholarly
comments on human rights and also very moving personal stories from people at
the grass roots. How can we take this assortment and work it into a report? And
yet out of this melange I begin to see the issues involved. After only two days
the main areas of tension are becoming much clearer. We are immersed in the
intricacies of individual versus collective rights complicated by historical
and sociological problems and international conventions!
Friday, September 10, 1982
Committees do not usually sit on Fridays but
we have no time to lose. Today we heard from the Native Council of Canada. They
represent persons who have been excluded from the provisions of the Indian Act,
many of whom were excluded because of the discriminatory sections. Donna
Tyndell of the United Native Nations nervously told us her story. I was deeply
affected by her comments about her mother's upcoming fourth and final potlatch
ceremony and her desire to be buried on her reserve. I began to realize what is
at stake for some of these women who are sitting and watching the Sub-committee
at work. The various Native and Métis associations made numerous references to
the definition of aboriginal rights and to the future constitutional conference
on the subject. It is sometimes difficult to separate our study from the wider
implications of the conference.
After the meeting ended there was plenty of
work waiting for the research team as the "blues" or preliminary
copies of the verbatim transcripts had arrived. Because of the short period of
the study, we must work from these bulky transcripts rather than waiting for
the neat little printed copies of the proceedings. We mapped out our duties for
the weekend. Kate and I are going to prepare summaries of testimony and a
collation of evidence. I went home to watch a movie, realizing that this might
be my last chance for television for some time.
Saturday, September 11, 1982
1 went to the office today to begin writing
the summary of testimony and evidence. The Sub-committee has decided to
conclude its public hearings on Tuesday and they want a summary ready for
Wednesday morning when they begin to thrash out their report. Time is a
precious commodity and I must get as much done as possible during the weekend.
Preparing the initial summary is always time-consuming. One must decide upon
the major points. Working from the "blues" took more time, but under
the circumstances was a necessary procedure. Kate, my colleague from the
Library, joined me as we kept a Saturday vigil in the office.
Sunday, September 12, 1982
I didn't go to the office today. It was
bright, sunny and warm so I sat on my deck at home reading and summarizing more
submissions. Even the "blues" were not available from Friday' s
meeting. so I had to rely upon the written statements and my notes. I enjoyed
sitting in the sun but I realize that this relaxed pace will soon be replaced
by a hectic workload. I wonder what will happen on Tuesday, the last scheduled
day of public hearings? I understand the Chairman has been receiving telegrams
from many groups, all asking to appear before the Subcommittee. Everything is
so tranquil now, but I expect my week will be quite different.
Monday, September 13, 1982
The secretaries at the Library must have loved
us this morning as we unloaded all the material we had written over the
weekend. Denise looked at me as if to say, "How long did you work?"
But I know she will handle everything efficiently. She has already started
assembling the binders for Wednesday.
There were no meetings scheduled until 4:00
o'clock, I took advantage of the free time" to answer the phone messages
that had been piling up on my desk. It's hard to return calls when you're in
meetings from 9:00 until 6:00. I had asked the Library's clipping service to
prepare newspaper clippings on the Sub-committee and they had arrived so I
assembled them for the MPs. Members were pleased to see they were getting a
fair amount of press coverage. The Native press has been at all meetings. Over
the weekend there were also a couple of radio specials on the Sub-committee's
The Inuit are explicitly excluded from
provisions of the Indian Act. Nevertheless, today we heard from an Inuit woman
who had married a qualunnat or non Inuit. Speaking through an interpreter, she
told us that some of her medical bills were not paid since the Indian Act had
been used as an administrative guide in providing services. After several
complaints, the practice was stopped.
The cafeteria on Parliament Hill closes at
four o'clock during recess, so it is difficult to get a quick bite to eat. I
went to a nearby restaurant where I saw our witnesses from the Inuit committee.
We exchanged glances and they smiled as they saw I was writing a summary of
their presentation while I was eating my sandwich. In a few minutes, Kate
joined me, also clutching notes and papers to read during supper.
Indian Rights for Indian Women," an
organization specifically organized to push for the elimination of the
discriminatory sections of the Indian Act were our witnesses this evening. The
six women told us they had travelled a long way to meet the Sub-committee. They
were prepared to sit all night. Despite gentle suggestions that a summary of
their lengthy prepared statements would be sufficient, they insisted upon
reading these statements into the record, including a 22-page history of the
Indian Act. The formal presentation took two and one quarter hours! Yet,
despite these prolonged formal statements, there was an intensity in the voices
of these women. They had laboured so long for a cause one simply had to admire
their perseverance. I was particularly impressed by the testimony of Mary Two
Axe Earley, well-known leader in the Native women's movement:
"I feel I must cry out, as a voice in
the darkness of despair, I share every day of my life with this message we need
you to reach out with your heart, your support, your strength as we begin to
weaken. Our only hope is that the Parliament of this great democratic society.
reared in an atmosphere of freedom and justice, dedicated to the eradication of
injustice toward Canadian women, will heed our cry."
Despite the late hour. the questioning was
extensive. When the meeting finally ended at 12:15, the Chairman, Clerk,
ex-officio members and myself met to map out the events for the final day of
public hearings. It had previously been agreed that each aboriginal
organization would have time on the final day for a summation. I learned,
however, that two of the groups planned to use their time to present additional
deputations. Tomorrow is going to be an extremely busy day as all evidence must
be summarized by Wednesday morning. I drove home and worked on tonight's
material until 3 o'clock.
Tuesday, September 14, 1982
Our morning hearing began at nine on a tense
note since there was some confusion about the order of witnesses and the amount
of time each was allotted. Finally, it was settled. Professor Douglas Sanders
of the University of British Columbia gave us an erudite commentary on the
membership provisions of the Indian Act. This was followed by a visual
demonstration of what some Indian bands are doing to circumvent the Indian Act.
Chief Bob Manuel, whose band has not removed the names of women who marry non
Indians, appeared with two women from his band whose identify was concealed by
veils over their faces. They were only identified as Shuswap I and Shuswap 2.
Lunch was a hurried event as Kate and I
rushed to write summaries of the morning's evidence in the fifty-minute break
between hearings. I managed to pick up a box of Kentucky Fried Chicken en route
to the office and offered to share it with Kate. We worked munching drumsticks
and french fries, and managed to get the material finished before the afternoon
The Dene Nation was next. We listened as
Celestine Gillday told us how she lost her status by marrying an
"all-round Canadian boy" from London, Ontario. We smiled because our
Chairman represents a London riding, but I sensed a sadness among Committee
members when she told about the humiliation of losing her status:
"I cannot explain to you what it feels
like. It is the ultimate humiliation of a human being. I do not know how else
to put it. The Government of Canada was denying me the fundamental human right
to be who I am. That is the fundamental human right, as far as I am concerned.
I was humiliated, embarrassed.
I did not tell my husband ... because I was
ashamed of what his government was doing. His father fought in the last world
war, and they are proud to be good all around Canadians. And I was proud to be
a Dene. It was only in the eyes of the Canadian government that we were doing
something we should not be doing."
The hearing concluded with presentations
from numerous affiliated groups of the national organizations. Kate and I took
turns attending the hearings so that we could start working on summaries of the
twelve new submissions from the afternoon. We have also arranged for a typist
to begin early tomorrow morning in order to have everything ready for 10
o'clock. When the material was finally finished, I went out for a late roast
beef dinner. I dined at a fashionably late hour!
Wednesday, September 15,1982
I arrived at the office at 7:30 a.m. to find
Jean typing. Several support staff worked diligently to get those binders for
the 10:00 a. m. deadline. One often tends to forget the role played by the
support staff in an exercise such as this one. Kate and I are visible to the
Committee members because we sit at the hearings every day; but behind us is a
team of dedicated individuals. I was impressed by their co-operation and
determination to have everything ready on time. The last summary was literally
finished at ten minutes to ten. We had made our first deadline!
But our work had only begun. The
Sub-committee now had the onerous task of deciding upon the direction of the
report. Such deliberations are difficult and it usually takes considerable time
before a committee can focus on exactly what is desired. The members debated
and debated. We used a flip chart in order to sketch out the positions. There
was no lunch break, but at 1:30 we sent out for sandwiches. As the
deliberations continued, the Sub-committee began to give us some directions
about certain parts of the report. By late afternoon it was obvious the
Sub-committee had not covered all the topics it wished in the report. It had
originally intended to meet on Wednesday to discuss the content of the report,
leaving Thursday free so the researchers could prepare a draft report for
discussion on Friday. Unfortunately, the Subcommittee will need to meet
tomorrow. That does not leave much time.
The research team met to map out the major
components of the report and to decide who will write each part. In order to
fulfil the direction given by the Sub-committee, we must consult before a draft
is presented to the Subcommittee. I am beginning to see this as a group writing
experience. Time was of the essence so Kate and I once again dined on chicken
and proceeded to write our respective sections. We worked until nearly
Thursday, September 16, 1982
The Sub-committee wants a glossary of terms
in its report so I spent a fair amount of time this morning tracking down the
best definition of individual and collective rights. They are such key terms
that I wanted to have the best possible definition. I consulted my colleagues
in the Legal Division of the Parliamentary Library and also the Research Branch
of the Canadian Human Rights Commission. I read the recent decision on language
rights in the Quebec Court. Finally, I chose the definitions used in the
Pepin-Robarts Report on National Unity.
At 2:00 o'clock the Sub-committee met to
work out the final details for its draft report. During the next four hours we
received further instructions from all directions. Then at 6:00 o'clock they turned
it over to us saying: "Please prepare a draft for tomorrow at 9:00
At this point, the researcher from one of
the aboriginal organizations withdrew because he felt his organization would
not support the main thrust of the report. Another researcher indicated she was
not available tonight because of family responsibilities. That left three of
us, Gerry from the Assembly of First Nations, Kate and myself. Together with
the Committee Clerk, François, we walked over to the Committees Branch in the Wellington
Building to write the draft report. We had some parts sketched out, but we
needed to go over it together.
The support services there were excellent.
Two typists and one photocopy operator were ready to work all night. François
kept us supplied with food and innumerable cups of coffee. When the now
familiar chicken boxes arrived for supper, Kate and I could hardly stop
laughing. As the night wore on, we were appreciative of the many cups of coffee
We had a rough outline of the parts of the
report but we had to fill in the sections with short commentaries and quotes
from the various meetings and submissions. Our summaries of evidence proved to
be invaluable as an aid in locating information and quotes. As we worked I was
surprised to find I did not get tired I guess one has a reserve of energy for
situations such as this. We wrote and wrote and they typed and typed. Then at
three o'clock we were finished.
Friday, September 17, 1982
Would you believe the Sub-committee members
actually applauded when we passed out a 60 page draft at nine o'clock this
morning? Needless to say they needed time to read it, so they adjourned for a
couple of hours. This gave me some time to eat breakfast as I had slept in
until the last possible moment.
We reconvened at 11:00 to begin examining
the draft outline. I was pleased to see the Sub-committee agreed with a
substantial part of our outline. The aboriginal organizations also seemed to
feel that we had presented their viewpoints accurately. Once again lunch was
sent in so that all our time could be devoted to the task at hand. In an air of
joviality we celebrated the Chairman's birthday by presenting him with a
cinnamon bun in which a candle had been inserted.
All our thoughts were on the draft report.
We moved at a regular pace through the preamble, historical background and the
general themes from the testimony. Then we started the analysis of the various
sections of the Indian Act. Here the Sub-committee could not agree; several
options were suggested. Our steady pace of the earlier parts decreased to a
crawl. Various viewpoints were vigorously debated. Throughout the hearings I
had carried mint candies to ease a tickle in my throat; from time to time I
passed them around to Committee members, particularly as meetings wore on. I
soon discovered these candies were a very popular and useful distraction during
tense moments. We went through a lot of candies today!
It was agreed that the staff would draft several
recommendations outlining the different options. The Sub-committee would choose
on Monday. We realized a busy week lay ahead, so I decided to go home early
tonight and get some well deserved rest. Would you believe I was in bed before
Saturday, September 18, 1982
It was almost like a picnic as the staff
assembled again in the Committees Branch. We were six: Gerry from the Assembly
of First Nations, François, The Committee Clerk, Lynn and Sharon, the typists,
and Kate and myself from the Parliamentary Library. Knowing that we were
buckling down for a long writing session, everyone arrived with tea, coffee and
food. Our larder included bagels and cream cheese, fruit, peanuts, cookies,
chocolate bars and sandwiches. A real sense of camaraderie prevailed. We were
in this together and by working as a group we would succeed. Interpersonal
relationships make a great difference in getting a job done under pressure.
A very positive part of our work environment
was the tremendous support personnel. I cannot offer enough praise for their
work, particularly the two secretaries. Furthermore I was spared the tedious
task of proof-reading our material as François agreed to do this. What a
We got down to the business of writing final
copy by putting an outline of the sections on a giant flipchart. Whenever we
finished a section, we would triumphantly cross it out on our chart. Not only
could we judge our progress, but the sight of the chart seemed to push us on.
Today we were joined by Alan from the Native Council of Canada whose
association had decided that its position would not be compromised by
participation on the research team.
Still we munched on. Chocolate bars and
bagels were devoured as we slowly crossed out the items on our flipchart. By
one o'clock the next morning we had finished everything except the analysis of
the various sections of the Indian Act. It had been a productive day!
Sunday, September 19, 1982
Translation is part of life on Parliament
Hill but I am always amazed at the short deadlines given to translators and
even more surprised by their ability to meet them. Three translators arrived at
9:00 o'clock to begin translating our material in French. There will be almost
no time between the Sub-ommittee's meeting and presentation of the report to
the full committee so we must have the report available simultaneously in both
I hope the Sub-committee does not make too
many changes. We decided to write all of the material supporting each option
into the main report and to put the recommendations outlining the various
options in little boxes labelled A, B. C, or D. Once the Sub-committee has
selected the option we will print it in the report. The translators will have
to translate all options including those which are eventually eliminated. but
it is the only way to get everything finished on time.
Most of today was spent analyzing various
sections of the Indian Act As we studied the discriminatory provisions, I was
very glad to have Kate who is a lawyer on the staff. Suggesting amendments is
such a complex business. A change in one subsection immediately requires a
subsequent change in another subsection. The question is larger than simply
making a recommendation to eliminate the discriminatory provisions for one must
consider what should happen to those who have suffered over the years as a
result of sex discrimination. On Friday the Subcommittee had trouble deciding
who should be reinstated to Indian status and band membership and they
suggested three options. We spent six hours examining these options and came up
with twenty different possibilities!
Around 8:30 p.m., the final draft was ready.
Triumphantly, we crossed out the last section on our flipchart.
Monday, September 20, 1982
September 20th has loomed before us and now
at last it has arrived. At 11:00 o'clock the Subcommittee sat down to read the
60 pink pages of final text. In order to distinguish the various drafts, we
used coloured paper, yellow for first draft, pink for second and white for final.
One of my consultant friends once told me it was preferable to use pink and
yellow because it keeps people's attention rather than blue and green which
tend to be restful colours. This morning we needed to be wide awake!
The descriptive parts of the report were
quickly accepted. The stumbling block was still the proposed amendments to the
Once again lunch arrived as a welcome
diversion, and then it was back to the draft recommendations. Viewpoints and
positions were clearly articulated. There were attempts to achieve a consensus,
but finally it became obvious that the deadlock could only be decided by a
vote. At that moment not all Subcommittee members were present, so the Chairman
called a short recess. I used the break to write out the new wording for the
proposed recommendations and to make any small changes on the master copy. Time
was critical as the Subcommittee had to complete its work and present a correct
copy of its report to the Standing Committee by four o'clock. As soon as our
meeting ended, a messenger would rush the master copy to the duplicating
In a few minutes the members had gathered
and the voting began. Then suddenly it was over and the report had been
accepted. In it, the Sub-committee recommended elimination of sex
discrimination in the Indian Act. Furthermore, it recommended a program of
reinstatement so that Indian women and their first generation children would
regain status and band membership. In addition, the Subcommittee recommended
that Parliament appropriate sufficient funds to provide services and programs
currently available to status Indians, and other resources, as needed, to those
persons who would be reinstated.
After the voting the Subcommittee members
rose quickly and began to chat with each other. I sat making the last minute
corrections to the master copy. A messenger stood ready to rush our precious
text to the photocopier. Our earlier planning had paid off. With a pair of
scissors I simply snipped out the options that had not been accepted. At 4:15
the report was finished!
We literally moved from one meeting to the
next. The other members of the Standing Committee were already assembled as the
parade of MPs, ex-officio members and staff walked in. There was a good deal of
backslapping and comments about finishing such a large report so quickly. The
meeting was called to order and within minutes the still warm copies of the
report arrived from the duplicating services. Mr. Burghardt gave his opening
remarks followed by various members of the Subcommittee as well as the
ex-officio members. After a short discussion the Standing Committee accepted
It was all over a full and complete report
covering 5 days of hearings, 27 deputations and 44 witnesses in only 12 days!
It was difficult to describe my feelings. You work so hard, not really sure how
you are doing it and not really thinking about what is left, and then suddenly,
As I picked up the remnants of my research
work briefing books, notes, paper and leftover candies, I thought about what
had occurred during the past few days, and I remembered the faces of the Indian
women who had attended the public sessions. There was one delightful older lady
who sat quite close to the front. I never did find out her name, I only recall
the intensity of the expression on her face and the way she followed all the
questioning. I wonder how she will react to the report?