Matrimonial Rights Law Passed with Opposition

“ONWA’s vision is to be a unified voice for equity, equality and justice for Aboriginal women. On a daily basis, ONWA advocates on behalf of Aboriginal women and their families for safer communities, improved and increased access to social services, increased affordable housing, improved and self-governed education, and for the elimination of violence,” says Betty Kennedy, ONWA Executive Director.

International Women's Day ONWA Ontario Native Women's AssociationTHUNDER BAY – Bill S-2, Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act, passed the third reading in the House of Commons yesterday (Tuesday, June 11, 2013) despite concerns from opposing First Nations. ONWA believes that while the Bill proposes to address issues relating to family real property on reserves, ‘granting’ First Nations rights to create their own laws, approve membership and notify the Attorney General, it was done so without sufficient consultation and consensus with Aboriginal women.

Not enough consultation – ONWA

Prior to European contact, Aboriginal women exercised great authority and jurisdiction in all areas of governance. Women in many tribes not only owned the home but substantial property interests and exercised authority over major subsistence activities. Paternalistic and European world views conveyed in the Indian Act affectively stripped women of their former revered positions within their communities, and created a system in which Aboriginal women are more likely to become victims of poverty and violence, thus contributing to issues related to Matrimonial Real Property (MPR). Bill S-2 fails to properly address the systemic and paternalistic system that created such socio-economic disadvantages for Aboriginal women.

“I am proud our Government is taking action to ensure that families living on reserve have similar rights and protections as other Canadians. In particular, Aboriginal women and children will particularly benefit from this important legislation,” said Minister Valcourt. “This law will encourage First Nations to create and apply their own matrimonial real property laws that respect their own culture and traditions.”

 “While the Ontario Native Women’s Association (ONWA) recognizes that there is a significant lack of MRP protections on-reserve, and supports the intentions of Bill S-2 to rectify this gap, there are many flaws in the Bill that cannot be ignored,” says Betty Kennedy, ONWA Executive Director.  “Aboriginal women and their families stand to be the most affected by Bill S-2, and to create and pass such a bill without thorough and meaningful consultation with Aboriginal women and their communities and without adequate consideration of the Bill’s disputed shortcomings, is irresponsible and unacceptable.”

Failure to respect the inherent First Nation jurisdiction and authority in regards to collective property ownership on reserves stands at the root of First Nations opposition to Bill S-2. Furthermore, although the bill allows for First Nations to create their own laws, the legislation fails to properly address the limited capacity of First Nations to properly implement the changes necessary to actually improve access to protection and justice for Aboriginal women.  

By empowering the provincial courts to preside over disputes related to the division of matrimonial property, this Bill fails to recognize that many First Nations communities are situated in remote regions with very limited access to lawyers, courts, social services and emergency supports. For Aboriginal women residing within these communities, this bill creates an additional barrier to justice and safety.

“When approaching the issue of family breakdown and MRP, there is a need for a more comprehensive and culturally appropriate solution to address the underlying issues of family violence, chronic housing shortages, poverty, and the lack of emergency shelters and social services,” says Kennedy. “This requires commitment from the Federal government for the provision of necessary social and financial supports. In light of yesterday’s 5th anniversary of the Parliament apology for Residential Schools, it is our sincere hope that the Federal government is willing and committed to working in partnership with all First Nations on this matter, and as a part of the larger ongoing process of reconciliation.”

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