Advocate calls on Canada to remove sexism from Indian Act before MMIW inquiry


(Sharon McIvor, left, outlined her concerns at a press conference in Vancouver on Thursday. Photo: UBCIC)

Cara McKenna
APTN National News
A prominent Indigenous feminist says Canada’s upcoming inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women can’t be taken seriously until the federal government addresses sexism within its own legislation that’s existed since 1876.

Sharon McIvor said she was dismayed to find out recently that the federal government asked the United Nations Human Rights Committee to suspend consideration of a petition she launched aiming to stop gender inequality in Indian status designations.

McIvor has been fighting for several decades against provisions in the Indian Act that stop Indigenous women from gaining Indian status and passing it along to their descendants on the same basis as men.

“Because of this, Aboriginal women and their descendants have been separated from their families and communities, treated as less worthy, less human, less Indian, and not full members of their cultures and communities,” McIvor said in a statement.

The federal government’s reason for blocking her petition to the UN is that it will be embarking on its own wider consultations in an effort to fix the problem.

It said in a written statement to the UN that it will no longer be appealing a 2015 Superior Court of Quebec ruling that concluded parts of the Indian Act are discriminatory on the basis of sex.

“The Government of Canada is now exploring various opportunities and approaches for engagement with First Nations and other Indigenous groups on necessary legislative changes,” the statement said.

“The exact nature of the engagement, including how information will be shared and received from First Nations and Indigenous organizations, will be determined in the coming months.”

But McIvor said Canada has not committed to actually removing discriminatory rules from the Indian Act – something she said is a proven root cause of violence against Indigenous women.

She is now calling on Canada to drop its request to suspend her petition and remove sex discrimination from the Indian Act as soon as possible.

“The national inquiry and any consultations on a new nation-to-nation relationship can only start on a credible footing if the Government of Canada begins by publicly undertaking to eliminate the sex discrimination in the Indian Act immediately,” McIvor said.

“Without this, Indigenous women do not begin these processes as equals.”

Her call has been met with support from various groups including the Native Women’s Association of Canada, the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs and the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action.

“There is no need for further study,” said NWAC president Dawn Lavell-Harvard.

“In 2016, it is time for Canada’s new government to end this discrimination, once and for all. This is the necessary beginning for a national inquiry.”

The federal government is expected to launch its inquiry into the country’s disproportionate number of missing and murdered Indigenous women any day now.

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