Wednesday, March 12, 2008

"We only hit you because we love you"

(Note: This post was originally supposed to run on Saturday, International Womens' Day.)

The week heading into Saturday's International Womens Day was rich with irony from our political representatives in the form of the passage on to committee of the nefarious Bill-484. But as if a potential assault on abortion rights wasn't enough, First Nations women were singled out for a special insult as they were used to facilitate a Trojan horse of a bill that would push forward the Conservative agenda of Aboriginal assimilation.

Last week, Balbulican at stageleft posted about some new and odious legislation recently introduced by the Conservative government -- the extension of Matrimonial Property Rights to First Nations women living on-reserve. Like so many Conservative initiatives, it sounds good, but that's all -- it would actually do more harm than good to the women it's supposed to help.

In the guise of addressing the long-standing inequity of on-reserve property rights, the Harper government went through the motions of consultation with First Nations women on the issue. The FN's advice was then promptly ignored as the government pressed on with their own agenda. The resulting legislation, opposed by First Nations womens' groups, is clearly about assimilation -- all wrapped up in the pretty package of Aboriginal Womens' property rights. The Native Womens' Association of Canada says:
"Property on reserve is not held in the same way as it is held in the rest of the country. This is a reflection of the unique status of Aboriginal peoples in this country, which in 1982 was enshrined in Canada's Constitution. Providing the same right as other Canadian women hold does not take account of our unique situation and actually creates inequality rather than protecting against it."
The legislation is largely useless because it doesn't take into account the special status of Aboriginals or the systemic solutions needed to address issues around property rights, like poverty and violence against women. Most ominously, it sets the precedent of the Canadian government overriding FN's own governments, which could be a threat to larger FN society, self-governance, and even treaty rights.

Aboriginal women are mistreated with depressing regularity -- our society's tacit acceptance of such abuse is Canada's dirty little racist secret. First Nations women routinely disappear in numbers that would cause deafening public outcry if they were white. Now the government, the government no less, goes through the motions of consultation with Aboriginal women, pretends to be doing something good for them, then proceeds to heap one more abuse atop a long series that FN women have endured.

Balbulican's post has more details. Read it, then contact your MP and Chuck Strahl, Aboriginal Affairs Minister, and tell them that FN women deserve a voice in the property rights issue, not a token acknowledgment by a government more focused on assimilation than the righting of a long-standing wrong.