Amendments to the Indian Act's Registration (Status) Provisions

The federal government appears to be pursuing a course of amendments to the Indian Act’s registration (status) provisions that will not address all of the gender discrimination raised by Sharon McIvor in her court case (McIvor v. Canada). It would seem that the Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC, the honourable Chuck Strahl, is relying on the court of appeal’s obiter to significantly reduce the amount of gender discrimination it will fix. The problem is that this minimalist amendment which is being contemplated will have the same effect as the 1985 amendments to the Indian Act (also referred to as Bill C-31). Bill C-31 was supposed to bring the Indian Act into compliance with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Charter) and its section 15 equality provision. As INAC did not address all of the gender discrimination in the Bill C-31 amendments, McIvor and others had no choice but to try to address the residual (remaining) gender discrimination in court. Despite both the trial and appeal court agreeing that there is still gender discrimination in the registration provisions of the Indian Act; INAC plans only to address a limited portion of that discrimination. What is even more troubling about this situation is that INAC specifically decided NOT to conssult with Aboriginal peoples on this issue. To my mind, there can be no more important issue to Aboriginal peoples that the right to determine their own individual, communal and National identities. The Indian Act’s past and current registration formulas are restrictive and meant to eventually eliminate all status Indians and their communities in the future. I include communities because the majority of First Nations determine membership based on the Indian Act’s registration provisions. It is my opinion that Canada does not have the right to determine our legal, social, cultural or political identities and certainly does not have a right to limit our numbers or create a situation whereby we can all be legally extinct within several generations (for some communities). So, we as individuals and communities must not silently acquiesce to this situation. I agree that once a government has it in its mind to legislate in a certain manner, that it is very difficult to change their minds. However, it is not impossible and we as grass roots Aboriginal peoples have the power to stand up for ourselves in our own right and in partnership with our communities, organizations and Nations. When Mohawk lands were threatended in Quebec, the warriors showed up to defend them. When the Mi’kmaq treaty right to fish was threatended in New Brunswick, the warriors showed up to defend that right. Yet, when the future of our identities and communities are themselves at risk – where are the warriors? Our Aboriginal women and children are being unfairly excluded from their legal identities and their right to belong to their Nations. Where are the warriors to defend these women? One would not be entitled to call themselves a warrior in the past if they could not protect the women and children of their communities. Some of our leaders sometimes raise concerns about the lack of land and resources of their communities. They somehow associate this lack of wealth with an inability to include Aboriginal women and children as band members. Monetary gain may be attached to land and natural resources, and not to our women and children, but who we are as Mi’kmaq, Mohawk and Maliseet peoples is not based on how much money we have as individuals or communities. The many ways in which we are Cree or Ojibway have absolutely nothing to do with money. An Anishnabek’s identity and belonging in one’s community is a fact which is determined long before one know’s if they can access programs and services or live on a reserve. What some Aboriginal leaders are missing is that limiting the “pot” to a select few members does not address their lack of capacity in governance, their lack of access to lands and natural resources or their lack of power generally within Canada. A Nation is built, in part, upon its strength in numbers and the loyalty it receives from its citizens. Slowly reducing the number of members a band has is no different than the slow extinction of status Indians. Aboriginal Nations cannot improve their capacity and power within Canada without a solid citizenship base. All limited numbers does is ensure that this generation has access to bigger per capita pay-outs and quicker access to housing on reserve. Not everyone wants to live on a reserve – in fact, many Aboriginal peoples live off-reserve BUT in their traditional territories. Not everyone wants their identities recognized for the per capita pay-outs – some people want to protect their identities, those of their children and their heirs and heirs forver, because protecting their identities mean protecting the integrity of the Aboriginal communities from which they descend. There is a very simple math – an Aboriginal community can’t exist without its citizens and restrictive status or band membership codes means that Aboriginal peoples will continue to lose power and capacity instead of rebuild their once very powerful Nations. While there may be roadblocks to rebuilding our Nations and healing our people, it is up to us to take action and protect ourselves and our future generations. Despite the constitutional promise to Aboriginal peoples to protect our cultures and identities for future generations, I wouldn’t rely on Canada to keep its promise – would you? Take action – start talking – get your community or organization involved – our future generations are depending on it!


  1. Pam,

    You raised many great points. I will focus my comments specifically to the issue of the fears of influx to reserves. This relates to your apt description that many who may attain status may not wish to move to their homelands. Yet because of limited resources, there are political forces against amendments to address the historic sexual discrimination in the Indian Act because of unjustified fears that there will be a huge influx to reserve lands.

    I can only speak for myself and will take some liberty in assuming that I am not alone, but I sincerely doubt my son Chip would take his newfound status at the age of 16 and seek to move back to Deninu K'ue in Fort Resolution, NWT. He may wish to do so as a grown man, but this is not in the foreseeable future.

    My role and responsibility as his mother is to provide for him and I would not suddenly shuck that responsibility if his status is granted under future amendments. I detest the implication that granting status to those long-denied means our children and grandchildren's hands will be stuck out begging for crumbs. This is about acknowledgement and respect for the harm caused by generations of discrimination against our mothers and grandmothers and their descendants.

    Our identities as Dene mother and son do not depend on living specifically in Fort Resoultion. My son is a Dene without the amendments and he will continue to be regardless.

    It is unfortunate that the 'warriors' seem to be silent on this issue. It is also sad to realize that some of our 'sisters' are also too quiet.

    Thank you for all of your efforts to address this deafening silence Pamela.

    Mahsi Cho,

    Aleta-Jo Bird

  2. Thank you for your comment Aleta-Jo. I completely agree with you that it is demeaning that so many think that the pursuit of equal treatment is only about money. In fact, the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples did a survey of those reinstated to status after the 1985 amendments and the vast majority of those indicated that they sought reinstatement not to live on a reserve, but to have their identity recognized finally.
    I also agree with you that this is a hard battle to fight without the support of both our sisters and our warriors.

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