(Ottawa, Unceded Algonquin Territory, Ontario) – Yesterday, the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Interim National Chief Joanna Bernard appeared before the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs (INAN), on behalf of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), calling on the Government of Canada to immediately withdraw Bill C-53, An Act Respecting the Recognition of Certain Métis Governments in Alberta, Ontario, and Saskatchewan, and to establish a national consultation process with First Nations.
In July, at the 2023 Annual General Assembly, First Nations-in-Assembly passed Resolution 44/2023, Protect First Nations Rights and Interests from Unfounded Métis Rights Assertions. Resolution 44/2023 directs the AFN to nationally amplify First Nations opposition to Bill C-53, unfounded Métis rights assertions, and governments who are legitimizing those unfounded assertions.
“Bill C-53 must be withdrawn, and the Government of Canada must properly engage and consult with First Nations rights holders about the potential impacts this legislation will have on their inherent, Treaty, and section 35 Charter rights,” said AFN Interim National Chief Joanna Bernard. “We need to develop a respectful First Nations-led process that ensures all impacts of this legislation are thoroughly considered.”
On June 21, 2023, the Government of Canada introduced Bill C-53 in the House of Commons. The intent of Bill C-53 is to recognize certain Métis governments in Alberta, Ontario and Saskatchewan, provide a framework for the implementation of treaties entered into by those Métis governments and the Government of Canada, and make consequential amendments to other Acts. While the Government of Canada has stated that Bill C-53 will not adversely impact First Nations, it has failed to properly consult with First Nations and obtain the free, prior, and informed consent of First Nations rights holders in accordance with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
“It is essential that all governments engage in thorough consultations with First Nations when legislation may negatively impact inherent, Treaty, and section 35 rights. The development of Bill C-53 failed to include a process for First Nations to voice their concerns regarding the potential negative impacts of overlapping Métis rights assertions or concerns regarding unfounded Métis rights assertions,” said AFN Interim National Chief Joanna Bernard.
Bill C-53 includes broad sweeping recognition of the Métis inherent right to self-government. No such broad recognition of First Nations inherent rights to self-government or jurisdiction currently exists in legislation. On the contrary, First Nations are forced to prove they possess inherent rights to self-government and jurisdiction through costly and time-consuming legal processes. Bill C-53 will therefore create a preferential standard with respect how the inherent rights of Métis governments and First Nations are upheld and implemented.
While the stated intent of Bill C-53 is to focus on internal Métis governance matters, future negotiated Métis treaties have the potential to address self-governance issues related to land and resources. If Bill C-53 and the Métis treaties negotiated pursuant to the legislation result in the recognition of Métis section 35 rights which involve land-based activities (e.g., hunting, harvesting, fishing, and resource management), First Nations inherent, Treaty and section 35 rights may be infringed and there will be no recourse for First Nations to resolve this conflict other than through costly and time consuming court processes.
The AFN recommends that Bill C-53 be withdrawn and that a national consultation process be developed with First Nations regionally to ensure that all potential impacts of this legislation are thoroughly considered, and First Nations rights and interests are upheld in accordance with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) is a national advocacy organization that works to advance the collective aspirations of First Nations individuals and communities across Canada on matters of national or international nature and concern.
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Jon Adam Chen
Assembly of First Nations