Canada says First Nations women will finally be treated the same as men under the Indian Act.
On Thursday Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett announced the federal government has now brought the final provisions of Bill S-3 into force, allowing registration by First Nations descendants born before April 17, 1985 who lost their status or were removed from band lists due to marriages to non-Indigenous men.
Until now, provisions within the Indian Act meant women lost their status when they married non-Indigenous men, while men who married non-Indigenous women kept their status.
“Gender equality is a fundamental human right and for far too long, First Nations women and their descendants have continued to face the effects of historical gender discrimination in Indian Act registration going back to its inception 150 years ago,” Bennett said in a statement Thursday.
“I stand in solidarity with the Indigenous women who have been working so hard for decades to end sex-based discrimination in the Indian Act registration and am proud that today all remaining gender discrimination has been eliminated from Indian Act registration provisions.”
Parliament passed the Indian Act in 1876, giving the federal government enormous power over the control of registered First Nations people, bands and the reserve system.
A decade ago the B.C.’s court of appeal ruled in McIvor v. Canada that the Indian Act discriminated against First Nations women, contravening Section 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The case was initiated by Sharon McIvor, who under amendments to the Indian Act in 1985 was eligible for Indian status but could not pass status on to her son the same way a man could to his children.
In 2010, Canada passed Bill C-3, which was intended to address sex discrimination under the Indian Act but still excluded many women from eligibility for status.
The federal government passed Bill S-3 in December 2017, though that legislation still excluded some women where men could still be eligible for status.
Grandchildren of an Indigenous woman could still be denied status if the grandchild was born prior to Sept. 4, 1951, where the same exclusion did not exist for Indigenous men under the same circumstances.
In January of this year, the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) ruled that Canada, through the Indian Act, was still discriminating against First Nations women and their descendants and needed to remove those barriers for women.
McIvor and her son Jacob Grismer filed the complaint in 2010.
The Trudeau government says bringing in the final provisions of Bill S-3 “responds to the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls’ calls to Justice and is in line with the United Nations Human Rights Committee decision on the claim brought forward by Sharon McIvor and Jacob Grismer,” according to Thursday’s statement.
“This means that as of August 15, 2019, all descendants born prior to April 17, 1985 to women who lost status or were removed from band lists because of their marriage to a non-Indian man dating back to 1869, will be entitled to registration, bringing them in line with the descendants of men who never lost status.
“Once registered, First Nations individuals will be eligible for federal benefits and services such as Treaty payments, post-secondary education funding, and Non-Insured Health Benefits.”
Estimates range in terms of the number of individuals who will be newly eligible for Indian Status, from 270,000 to 450,000, depending on who chooses to apply and whether they can provide adequate supporting documentation.
With files from The Canadian Press.