Immigration Minister Marc Miller says he wants to make it easier for Indigenous people to cross international borders that have divided their home countries and their families for generations.
In an interview with Breaking:, Miller said Canada should recognize that indigenous people have an inherent right to move freely across international borders.
“That’s something I think we need to fix as a country,” Miller said.
“It will take time, but it is one of my top priorities.”
A senior government source said the government is considering both a ministerial directive and amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act that would exempt from immigration requirements Indigenous peoples whose traditional lands extend beyond Canada’s borders.
A government source said the federal government is looking to present a solution next year.
Miller’s commitment is part of the federal government’s roadmap to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Miller, who was transferred from the Crown-Indigenous relations portfolio to immigration over the summer, said there is immense institutional resistance within the federal government, but he is determined to get the job done.
“This is encouraging and we now hope that action will be taken,” said Kenneth Deer, a member of the Haudenosaunee Foreign Affairs Committee who deals with border crossing issues.
“Frustrating…degrading” treatment at the border
The deer, whose traditional Mohawk name is Atsenhaienton, identifies as Haudenosaunee, not Canadian. He is from the Kahnawá:ke Mohawk territory south of Montreal and his people are part of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy.
The US-Canada border divides his homeland, which includes parts of Quebec, Ontario and New York state.
Deer, who travels on a Haudenosaunee passport, said he finds it easier to enter the United States than to return to Canada, where he often needs to explain his rights to Canadian border agents and sometimes provide supplemental documentation.
“It’s incredibly frustrating and also degrading that the government of Canada says you can’t cross freely in your own homeland,” Deer said.
“It’s embarrassing and it delays us when we try to cross the border.”
Marriage presents another complication, he said. Mohawks on the U.S. side must obtain immigrant status in Canada to live with a spouse north of the border.
“That’s absolutely ridiculous,” he said.
Deer said he wants Miller to adjust the legislation to ensure his rights are recognized and never overridden.
“We need something there that is permanent … so that our children, our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will always have access to their homeland,” Deer said.
The Haudenosaunee are not the only ones whose indigenous lands are divided by international borders.
Disturbed way of life
The Nunaat Inuit homeland, which stretches across the Arctic, is divided by the modern borders of Canada, the Danish autonomous territory of Greenland, the United States and Russia.
Natan Obed, president of the Inuit group Tapiriit Kanatami, said Inuit have been asking Ottawa to work on the issue for decades and that he personally made the appeal to previous immigration ministers.
“To date, the Canadian government has not taken this seriously,” he said.
“I am glad that Minister Miller is now willing to address this issue.”
In many cases, Obed said, Inuit have extended families, sharing hunting areas and marine management sites in other countries that they can’t access.
The Inuvialuit of Canada’s western Arctic, for example, have close family ties to the Inuit of Alaska, known as Iñupiaq. The Inuit in North Baffin, Nunavut, have family connections to Greenland.
“It’s almost impossible for people to go visit their family for an extended period of time or if people get married and want to live in a certain place or another,” Obed said.
Obed said Inuit want specific revisions to the Immigration Act that would give Inuit from Greenland and the United States citizenship status that would circumvent existing law on foreign citizens coming to Canada.
The measure would create a new indigenous class of citizens, Obed said, and ensure that Inuit families from Greenland and Alaska can travel freely within Canada.
“It would really go a long way toward reconstituting our nation in the way we’ve always lived in it,” he said.
Canada catches up
Miller acknowledges that the United States is ahead of Canada in its approach to Indigenous rights and border mobility.
The United States recognizes the historic clauses of the Jay Treatywhich was signed by the United Kingdom and the United States in 1794, before Confederation.
The treaty states that Native Americans can travel freely across international borders and Canada’s indigenous people have the right to freely enter the United States to work, study, retire, invest or immigrate.
Canada does not recognize those rights.
Miller said he has no intention of recognizing the Jay Treaty. He said part of the problem with the treaty is that it applies only to people of at least 50 percent of what he calls the “American Indian race,” a rule he called inherently racist.
“We need to recognize something a little more fundamental than the Jay Treaty,” Miller said.
“First we have to start by doing our job, which is to recognize the right of indigenous peoples to move freely across borders.”
Paul Williams, an attorney with Six Nations, is working with Canada to help approximately 200 Haudenosaunee families who have a spouse on each side of the border.
Williams, who also sits on the Haudenosaunee External Relations Committee, said Native American spouses in Canada do not have health coverage and cannot work in Canada, and cannot return to the United States without risking being barred from returning. to Canada.
“It’s a whole host of issues that these families face,” Williams said.
Williams said it is within Miller’s power as minister to address the issue through an Act of Parliament amending the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act or issuing a ministerial directive to exempt indigenous peoples as a group, something that has been done limited manner in Hong Kong. students, Afghan refugees and Ukrainians fleeing the war.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Williams said.