Posts tagged ‘aboriginal-women’

Native Women face the Tax Man

Tina Pelletier, Photo

International Women’s Day highlights the plight of First Nations women

First Nations citizens, no matter where they choose live, have the right to tax exemption.  No nation has the right to impose taxation on another nation’s citizens without due process, including consent, tax implementation agreements and even further treaty provisions.

So why is it that the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) is going after Canada’s most impoverished citizens: First Nations women?

Over the past few months, current and former employees of OI Employee Leasing-Native Leasing Services (OI-NLS), have been contacted by the CRA to address outstanding tax assessments, begin paying significant tax bills, penalties and interest.  To me, this indicates that the CRA is starting to move toward aggressive collection and enforcement of income taxes.

This is truly alarming, given the significant financial repercussions on these First Nations families.

The reality is that the majority of the OI-NLS employees are First Nations women.  Many are single mothers.  Most earn less that $37,000 per year.  They are among Canada’s most marginalized and impoverished people.

Proceeding with the collection and enforcement of taxes and penalties will result in extreme financial hardship, countless personal bankruptcies, and even homelessness.  The very few homeowners among this group may lose their homes.  These actions will further contribute to First Nations poverty and is, most definitely, not in the public interest.

The issue dates back to the early to mid-1990s.  OI-NLS provided a service whereby status Indian employees could be “leased” to off-reserve aboriginal organizations.  Because the employees are status Indians, and their employer is a First Nations employer located on-reserve, their incomes were considered to be situated on-reserve and thus exempt from income tax.

In the early 1990s, the CRA changed their interpretation of these rules.  CRA now required these duties to be performed on-reserve for the benefit of on-reserve citizens in order to be tax exempt.  As a result, most of these employees would be required to pay taxes, back taxes and penalties depending on individual assessments.

OI-NLS publically challenged these changes and CRA’s interpretation of section 87 of the Indian Act, which exempts personal property for status Indians. What followed was a number of tumultuous years, which included strained relations with CRA, high profile demonstrations across the country, and “Revenue Rez” – the occupation of the CRA office in Toronto.  Eventually, the Deputy Minister of Revenue Canada agreed to support four test cases and keep individual tax files in abeyance pending the result of the cases.

Over the years, the good and loyal employees of OI-NLS continued to practice their right to tax exemption, given that they were indeed status Indians who were paid by their First Nations employer based on-reserve.  These “connecting factors”, which are the central tenets to the CRA policy, have never changed.

Sadly, the test cases, which the employees hoped would affirm their right to income tax exemption, were lost and the court ruled in favour of the CRA.  In 2009, the Supreme Court of Canada decided they would not hear an appeal.  Many of the cases are being taken individually to the Tax Court of Canada have also lost.  In another bizarre twist, the Tax Court has recently stated it would not hear any further individual cases that have similar circumstances.  If individuals insist on bringing their case forward, they would be fined upwards of $2500.

Sure, this fight must, and will continue.  Tax exemption is fundamental to our view of aboriginal rights as well as First Nation-Crown relations.  However, given these mounting losses and growing tax bill, we also have to consider the best interest of these individuals.  For these employees, it’s not only about their aboriginal rights, or a political issue.  It’s not even about principle.  For them, this is very real.

The action of the Canada Revenue Agency in collecting these taxes will have an immediate, long-term and irreversible affect on their lives.  Literally, this is about their ability to put food on the table, keep a roof over their heads and take care of their children.

It’s clear, that in the circumstances of the OI-NLS employees, the Government of Canada needs to examine this further.  This is about the best interests of the individuals affected as well as their families and their children.  It is not in their best interest or in the public’s best interest to move forward with stringent tax collection.

Why I’m an angry Native

By Jessica Lee

Right now I’m owning the title/stereotype/image/whatever you conjure up in your mind about “angry Natives” because along with the usual colonial-type affronts to our people and communities, there are some notable racist extremities happening across Canada as of late. Initially I felt like there was just way too much going on to even write a single post about – but I thought to at least round up a few of the points of why I’m so flippin’, screaming, ANGRY that may shed light on what some of you may not be aware of yet. And we also need y’all to do something about this stuff in your communities too:


  • The continuous denial of racism towards Aboriginal people in the education system. A new study from the Canadian Teacher’s Federation interviewed 59 Aboriginal teachers teaching in public schools throughout the country. The teachers reported a disregard for their qualifications and capabilities, a standard lowered expectation from Aboriginal students; and general disparage of the long-lasting effects of colonization.
  • The “Free Native Extraction Service” placed on the (of course taken down now) advertising that it could “get rid of those pesky buggers with extraction services to relocate them to their habitat.” To top it off they actually illegally used a photo in their advertisement from the Native Lens Film “March Point” which I wrote about here some months back – which is, incidentally, a film about environmental justice and what Native youth are doing positively in our communities.
  • Tuberculosis is 185 times higher in the Inuit population than in the rest of Canada. I repeat 185 times the national average – according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.  The recently released data from their Tuberculosis in Canada 2008 publication shows these appalling numbers contributing factors include “inadequate housing, as a result of both overcrowding and construction ill suited to the Arctic climate, and immune systems severely compromised by a general lack of healthy, affordable food’.”
  • Harmonized Sales Tax or HST coming to the provinces of British Columbia and Ontario. Not that the government ignoring treaties is news by any stretch of the mind – however this is a big one to throw out the door of rights. The imposition of HST means that instead of seeing 8 per cent provincial Retail Sales Tax (RST or PST) and 5 per cent Goods and Services Tax (GST), consumers will pay a combined 13 per cent HST. Yet for the first time since the introduction of the provincial sales tax, HST means status First Nations will be subject to the 8 per cent portion of the tax. This is a total and blatant violation of our treaty rights, not to mention the Canadian Constitution. This is a good article to find out more and you can go here to do something about it.
  • Massive cuts to the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, along with other insulting highlights from the Throne Speech, which is essentially an outline of the Canadian federal government’s budget. (Sign the online petition to reinstate funding here.) The Aboriginal Healing Foundation has provided support to residential school survivors and their families for a decade, in addition to funding major projects in communities across the country. My colleagues and friends at the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal and Inuvialuit Regional Corp in the Northwest Territories will have to axe some of their most necessary programs like health promotion and community wellness worker certification. In total it means 134 community projects across Canada will no longer provide culturally-based healing services to Aboriginal people. Oh sure Harper said he was “sorry” for residential schools in 2008, but just last year he said that Canada has no history of colonialism, so I guess this is right in line with the$199 million promised to address the legacy of residential schools not being committed to the Aboriginal Healing Foundation. But don’t worry, in this same speech they said that Canada thinks the issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women is a “pressing criminal justice priority.” Uh-huh.
  • All of the racist garbage  and lateral violence people are spewing on the internet and in person about the proposed changes to Indian Status which would restore treaty rights to about 45 000 people. This decision is based mostly off of the Sharon McIvor court case, which addressed the specific gender discrimination of the Indian Act where even after the laws were changed in 1985 to restore status to Native women who lost it if they married a non-Native man, it didn’t extend past the children of those unions.  However the new changes would now extend to grandchildren. I definitely don’t think the government should be able to regulate who is and is not considered “status”, but I don’t anymore appreciate the internalized racism that we are doing to each other by adding extra jumps and hoops to go through within the community for who is really recognized as having rights on reserve and who is not.
  • These are just some of the latest oppressive occurrences against Indigenous people in Canada. On the regular I suppose I’ll also mention since it was International Women’s Day week last week, I didn’t find it any easier to get chastised by white women at the many events I spoke at when I brought up the mostly white academic industrial complex that mainstream feminism still lies in, and really doesn’t appear to care about the origins in Indigenous societies or the realities of Indigenous women for that matter – up until now (well, sort of) since we’re all of a sudden making the media with the thousands of us being murdered and going missing.

But it’s been going on for the last 500+ years, anyways.

Violence and Trauma in First Nations

I’ve been watching with great interest the story unfolding in Ottawa, where Constable Eric Czapnik, a father of four, was the first Ottawa Police officer to have been killed in the line of duty since 1983. His alleged assailant, Kevin Gregson is a First Nations man and a suspended RCMP officer. He has been charged with first-degree murder.

On the surface, this seems to be violent, senseless killing – apparently with a robbery motive. But there are still many questions to be answered like: who would try to rob a cop? Or why would you commit robbery in front of a cop in a police cruiser? None of this makes sense.

The likely defence here is insanity given that Gregson blamed a past criminal incident on pre-operative brain cysts. He allegedly pulled a knife and threatened a Mormon church official in Regina in 2006 and was given a conditional discharge. He hasn’t been on the job with the RCMP since.

Any crime that takes the life of another needs to be punished severely. Especially if such an action take the life of a police officer. If Gregson is guilty, so be it – native or non-native.

But what intrigues me is that Gregson is Anishinaabe. According to media reports, he describes himself as an “urban native”, meaning he is a First Nations person that lives and grow up in the city.

There is no question that being a First Nations person, the odds have been stacked against him all his life.

Trauma is a significant factor in the evolution of violence. No matter where we grew up, the reserve or the city, First Nations people are far more likely to have experienced some form of childhood trauma. Be it emotional, physical or sexual abuse, family violence, racism or the effects of poverty.

Poverty is endemic in First Nations. In Canada, one in four aboriginal children live in poverty. So many of our little ones are living in third-world conditions without adequate housing or healthy food. Children are going to school hungry. Poverty isn’t just isolated to reserves, either. The statistics are similar for aboriginal people living in urban centres.

Just imagine if one in four non-native children in Ottawa or Toronto were found to be living in poverty. I’m sure a state of emergency would be called and resources would be immediately mobilized to alleviate such a crisis.

The multi-generational effects of residential schools must not be underestimated. There are thousands of brown people with status cards, wondering why they are different. Wondering why they are confused, depressed and sick. People with no culture, no values or no hope. That was all beaten out of our parents and grandparents, yardstick by yardstick.

Many residential school survivors and their families have no identity beyond their church and what they learned in school. With no identity and without acceptance, they are banished to the margins of society. Although this generation might be more accepting – with access to more social programs and numerous political, legal and rights-based victories – the damage from the past generations has been done. Parents don’t know how to be parents. Families don’t know how to Love.

First Nations people are introduced to violence at an early age – in the home. Violence against aboriginal women continues to be a significant social issue that must be dealt with in a serious manner. First Nations youth living in cities are even more susceptible, as aboriginal street gangs are more prevalent and much more violent.

Sadly, violence is a way of life for many First Nations people. Even my relatively quiet, urbanized native community has had its share of violent confrontations and tragic endings. It has affected me and many other people on my reserve.

Addictions is another incredible factor. Alcoholism began as an early epidemic in our communities. No one knew how to handle the fire-water. It became a means to an end –to wash away the troubles of Indian life. Today, in much the same way, the youth in First Nations are dealing with their lack of identity, poverty and troubles through prescription drug abuse.

For far too many youth, suicide is the ultimate way out. We’re seeing that more in more in remote, northern communities. This is truly the saddest commentary. I can’t imagine how bad life must be for a twelve year-old Cree boy to hang himself at the recreation centre swing-set. To not have the Love he needs… to not have hope. To know that he hasn’t been the first and he won’t be the last.

This isn’t a defence of Mr. Gregson, but a reality check. There is no excuse for violence. But I think there is a significant cause and effect relationship between trauma and violence. It seems to be an unending cycle for First Nations. Violence and trauma begets violence and trauma. At some point this cycle must end.

In First Nations, something has to be done about it to protect our future generations.
Right now, there is too much emphasis on rights. Healing, wellness and reconciliation need to be the key goals for this generation and the next. If we fail at these objectives, there will be no hope for nation building and economic sustainability.

Canada’s Dirty Little Secret

Tiger Woods isn’t the only one with a dirty, little secret.

Canada still has fundamental human rights challenges. This is related to the conditions and history of Canada’s First Nations people. Sadly, these challenges are not generally known outside of Canada. Even some Canadians have blinders on. Many try to refute the truth and the statistics while never stepping foot in a remote First Nation community.

Today is International Human Rights Day. 61 years ago, the United Nations passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights outlining the 20 fundamental human rights that every human being is entitled to. According to Guinness World Records, it is also the most translated document in the world.

I wish it could only be translated into Canadian.

Last week, Stephen Harper was carrying his message of human rights to China – while fully ignoring the realities of his own backyard. Canada is not squeaky clean when it comes to human rights.

Here are just a few of the main human rights issues faced by Canada’s First Nations:

Third World Conditions – Canada currently ranks 4th in the world on the United Nations human development index. However, when Indian and Northern Affairs Canada entered First Nations-data only in the index, Canada ranks 63rd. Officially, this places Canada’s First Nations firmly in the realm of third world conditions.

Quality of Life Indicators – Infant mortality, life expectancy, homelessness, inadequate housing, incidents of tuberculosis, health disease, HIV-AIDS, diabetes – First Nations in Canada are near the top of the statistics. Suicide is the leading cause of death among First Nations between the ages of 10 and 24.

Aboriginal Women – Article 3 of the Universal Declaration states: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” Yet, in recent years, there have been over 500 missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada. Most are the most vulnerable people in Canada, forced into homelessness, prostitution and unsafe situations. Many women and children are forced away from their homes, due to inequalities under the Indian Act and lack of matrimonial property laws. Once again, article 17 of the Declaration states: “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.”

Residential Schools – Article 5 states: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” For decades, First Nations children were forcibly removed from the homes, families and communities and forced to attend government sanctioned, church-run residential schools. Inside they were subject to systemic assimilation, physical abuse and sexual abuse. Entire generations of people endured inhuman and degrading treatment on behalf of the government and in the name of the Lord. First Nations survivors and victims were only given an apology in June 2008. Individuals and affected families were provided long-awaited compensation. Many more are still unresolved. Many thousands of Elders, the survivors, have died in anguish without any acknowledgement. Yet, the government has yet to deal with multi-generational trauma and the affected of residential school on language and culture. A truth and reconciliation commission will be travelling throughout Canada documenting the stories from Canada’s saddest chapter in it’s history.

Child Poverty – According to Campaign 2000, one in four Aboriginal children grow up in poverty. That is utterly signficant. Canada has attempted to address child poverty, and in 1989 passed a motion in the House of Commons to rid poverty by the year 2000. Not even close. Statistics are not improving.

Child Welfare – The Assembly of First Nations is currently before the Canadian Human Rights Commission after filing a complaint against the federal government over child welfare. There are over 27,000 First Nations children in care which is considered by many to be a state of crisis. Former National Chief Phil Fontaine described the conditions as a “national disgrace”. To this day, funding of First Nations child protection agencies is woefully inadequate to address the current need, much less lead to proactive, preventative measures. The situation is similar to what was referred to as the “Sixties Scoop”, another Canadian historical taboo. In the 1960s, thousands of First Nations children were removed from their homes on reserves and placed into non-native care. Many of those children never reconnected with their First Nations culture and roots. Others were adopted out to non-native families without proper consent.

Education Inequity – Article 20 of the Declaration states: “Everyone has the right to education.” But apparently this right is provided in varying degrees, at the discretion of the Crown. First Nations students going to school on-reserve are funded at least $2,000-$5000 less than non-native students attending public schools. On-reserve school facilities are inadequate and in many cases unsafe. As a result, the drop out rate for First Nations students is three times the Canadian average. About 70% of First Nations students on-reserve will never complete high school. This is all according to Government of Canada statistics.

Clean Drinking Water – Article 25 states: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family,” However, there are still hundreds of boil water advisories in First Nation communities. That is boil water advisories for the entire communities, affecting every single home, affecting every single man, women and child. There is a fundamental lack of funding, standards and training for First Nations, much less the infrastructure needed to treat water and wastewater. Schools do not have clean potable water.

Indigenous Rights – Canada and the United States continues to refuse to be signatory to the United Nations Declaration of Indigenous Rights. This document entrenches the aspirations, values and rights of First Nations people including the right to have full enjoyment of the Rights under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, not to mention the right to self-determination and self-government.

Perhaps, this message needs to be sent out during the Olympic Torch Run, leading up to and throughout the course of the 2010 Winter Olympics and perhaps during the Pan-Am Games. The message should be loud and clear during the upcoming G-8 meeting in Huntsville and the G-20 in Toronto.

I suggest that First Nations, as represented by the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) should join the fledgling “G-77”, the group of seventy-seven on the world’s poorest countries as a means of contributing to world affairs and gaining international attention to Canada’s dirty little secret.

Missing and Murdered First Nation Women are Calling

Left:  Shannon Alexander, 17 went missing with her friend Maisy Odjick, 16 on September 5, 2008 from Kitigan Zibi, Quebec.  Right:  Hilary Bonnell, 16 who went missing on September 5, 2009 from Burnt Church, New Brunswick.  Her body was discovered today.  All three girls were taken on my daughter’s birthday, September 5.

I’m declaring a state of emergency. This is a call to action. Something needs to be done, in a big way, to protect aboriginal women from violence, abduction and murder.

Today, police in New Brunswick announced they have discovered the remains of a young woman who they think is 16 year-old Hilary Bonnell, a Mi’kmaq from the Esgenoopetitj First Nation.  She was last seen on the highway coming from her community of Burnt Church.

“She was so excited because I was going to give her my car,” said Pamela Fillier to the Telegraph-Journal.  Pamela is Hilary’s mom.

“She was so excited to drive it. Now she is never going to get to drive it, she is never going to fall in love, she is never going to get to graduate, she is never going to get married and she is never going to give me grandchildren. I will never get to hold my baby girl again.”

I hadn’t realized the connection to me, until I compared Hillary with two Anishinaabe girls who went missin last year, Shannon Alexander, 17 and Maisy Odjick, 16 of Kitigan Zibi, Quebec.  All three girls were taken on my 14 year-old daughter’s birthday, September 5.

Hilary, Shannon and Daisy are just three of hundreds of missing or murdered aboriginal women in Canada. Each loss is a personal tragedy. Together, they represent a national tragedy. Each of these women is somebody’s granddaughter, mother, auntie, niece or cousin. They are not only our Sisters in Spirit, they are our daughters too.

As of March 31, across Canada there are 520 missing or murdered aboriginal women. More than half remain unsolved. This number is not decreasing, it is getting higher and higher.

There are a number of factors contributing to the current situation.  The rates of teenage pregnancies and single mothers lead to vulnerability. Poverty and homelessness forces women to the streets. Prostitution among teenage and underage women is rampant. Chronic disease, addictions and mental illness are also key factors. Family violence and the inequalities of the Indian Act force some women away from living in First Nation communities. In many of these cases, First Nations women don’t have very many choices, little protection and must avail themselves to the dangers of the streets.

Canada’s most notorious serial killer, Robert (Willie) Pickton was linked to 27 murders of women from Vancouver’s downtown east side. More than half were First Nations women. He was convicted of six counts of second-degree murder. It remains to be seen if he faces the remaining 20 or so charges. But you’d better believe there are a few more Willie Picktons out there.

That doesn’t mean all these women are involved in drugs or prostitution either. In many of these cases, vulnerable women are simply stalked, lured and abducted.

In many cases, police are being criticized for their inaction and treating cases of missing aboriginal women different from other cases.

Today, a tearful Pamela Filler said she knew what had happened who was involved in the murder of her daughter. She said she told the police but they didn’t listen to her.

And this is not just happening to the down-and-out. This is happening to young, vibrant First Nations girls, like Hilary, Shannon and Maisy.

According to the Native Women’s Association of Canada, just over one half (52%) of the women and girls in the their database are youth under the age of 30 years. Of this group, 14% were 18 years of age or younger at the time of the incident. That’s 72 girls just like Hilary, Shannon and Maisy.

Something has to be done to protect our daughters.

A focused approach to prevention and protection of First Nations women is needed, not on a case-by-case basis, but with a comprehensive, nation-wide focus. Something has to be done in a big way.

I would suggest this begin by calling a Royal Commission to look into the circumstances of missing and murdered aboriginal women. A royal commission could compel evidence from families, communities, government and law enforcement agencies across

Canada to put all the pieces together and make serious recommendations for implementation.

Recommendations could include setting in place measurable reductions in violence against women, including roles for all aboriginal organizations, the federal government, provincial and municipal governments and First Nations. We need to see significant reduction in poverty and homelessness. Increased long-term and sustainable investments are also needed in the areas of education, health, child care programs and housing programs specifically for First Nations women. Urban shelters and safe houses for vulnerable women need to be built and funded.

We also need to see improvements in the justice system to protect First Nations women. According to Douglas Miranda, this would include changes to the criminal code to increase sentences for violent offenders and new criminal provisions to protect vulnerable women; exploring the regulation of prostitution; improving enforcement and investigations and providing new tools to find missing women and prosecute violent offenders. Moreover, we need to develop an effective and wide-raging awareness and prevention campaign and development of protective programs such as a full-time national task force and street watch program.

We need to stop the infighting. “This is First Nations’ responsibility.” “This should be led by women.” “This is an off-reserve issue.” “No, this is an urban issue.” “This is a federal matter.” “This is a provincial and municipal matter.” In reality, this is an important issue for us all. We all need to accept responsibility and work together. No one needs to pass the buck or look out for number one.

Women need to feel safe. I don’t want to sound old-fashioned, but it’s the men’s responsibility to protect our women and our families. Our Anishinaabe teachings tell us this.

Sadly, even to this day, male privilege means the genders are not equal. There is no balance between the genders. I’m hopeful the day will come soon when male dominance is once and for all, humbled by the power, strength and beautiful Spirit of the women.

Until that day comes, we as men, need to stand up and do everything we can to Love, Respect and protect women. That means standing up on this issue, side by side with women, and calling for lasting change and justice for the 500 plus women that are calling out for help. This is a call to action.

We may not hear them but they are calling. Can you hear them?