Sharon McIvor went to court to challenge the gender discrimination in section 6 of the Indian Act, 1985. Registration under the Indian Act provides greater entitlements to Indian men who married out (married a non-Indian) and their descendants as compared with Indian women who married out. McIvor won both at trial and on appeal and the Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear any further appeal. While the trial court would have offered a broader remedy, the court of appeal limited the scope of the discrimination and therefore made comments which suggested to Canada that it might get away with a minimalist amendment. (For further information on the McIvor case, see my previous blog entry). As a result of these legal proceedings, Canada embarked upon a very short “engagement” process. It chose not to consult with Aboriginal peoples about the need to amend the Indian Act and instead presented Aboriginal groups with their proposed amendment. Prior to the amendments being released, most understood that the proposed amendment would grant section 6(1) status to the children of Indian women who married out (they are currently section 6(2) Indians) and grant for the first time, section 6(2) status to the grandchildren. However, it now appears that this is NOT the case. On Thursday, March 12, 2010 Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs (INAC) Chuck Strahl introduced Bill C-3 An Act to promote gender equity in Indian registration by responding to the Court of Appeal for British Columbia decision in McIvor v. Canada (Registrar of Indian and Northern Affairs) into the House of Commons. This Bill will have to go through both Parliament and the Senate in order to become law. With regard to the grandchildren of Indian women who married out, the Bill seems to be on track with what Canada proposed during the engagement sessions held in 2009. INAC has published a document to explain how the legislative amendments are intended to apply to individuals who are the grandchildren of Indian women who married out. Canada explains that if an individual can answer the following three questions, they are encouraged to apply for registration: (1) Did your grandmother lose her Indian status as a result of marrying a non-Indian? (2) Is one of your parents registered, or entitled to be registered, under sub-section 6(2) of the Indian Act? (3) Were you born on or after September 4, 1951? The problem comes when the children (not grandchildren) of Indian women who married out ask themselves whether they qualify for a change in Indian status from section 6(2) to section 6(1)? The short answer is YES – if they had disentitled kids (non-status Indian kids) and NO – if they never had any kids or had kids with another registered Indian therefore making their children “entitled”. Although not highlighted in their publication which explains how the new amendments might affect individuals, in one of their explanation documents, INAC provides the following check list to determine which section 6(2) Indians will be entitled to registration under the proposed section 6(1)(c.1): (1) Did your mother lose status for marrying an Indian man? (2)Is your father a non-Indian? (3) Were you born AFTER your mom lost status but BEFORE 1985 (unless your parents married each other prior to 1985)? (4)Did you have a child with a non-Indian on or after September 4, 1951? Number 3 is somewhat complex and confusing and seems to be an awkward attempt to prevent the possibility that any of the descendants of Indian women might have enhanced status. However, number 4 creates a whole new division amongst section 6(2) Indians – (1) those who had “disentitled” (non-status) kids and those without kids, and (2) those with disentitled kids and those with status Indian kids. For the first time in the Indian Act’s history, one’s specific entitlement to Indian status will depend in part on whether one has children, and more specifically whether one has non-status Indian children. Status has always been determined based on one’s parents. This new section would now put the focus on the status of one’s children. This is absolutely ridiculous and completely unnecessary in order to acheive the goal of addressing the inequity between the decendants of Indian women versus Indian men. This Bill is supposed to address gender inequity and not create more inequity and division between siblings and families. This is a significant matter that must be addressed before the Bill is passed. At the same time that Canada announced the Bill, they also indicated that there would be a joint process developed in conjunction with Aboriginal organizations, First Nations groups and individuals to try to address the broader issues around registration, band membership, treaties and other cultural issues. But some non-Aboriginal people are asking the question: why should Canadians care about this legislation? This is actually a good question that needs to be addressed. When Prime Minister Stephen Harper stood before Parliament and apologized to the survivors of the residential school system, he did so on behalf of all Canadians. While there has been a great deal of debate about the adequacy of the apology and an obvious lack of corresponding action, the fact remains that an apology was made. PM Harper apologized for the assimilatory foundation upon which the residential school policy was based. The goal of assimilation was based on the idea that European culture was superior to Aboriginal cultures. In addition to the physical and sexual abuse experienced by Aboriginal peoples in residential schools, they also suffered from divided families and communities, and a loss of language, culture and identity that has resulted in significant social ills within Aboriginal communities both on and off-reserve. What Canadians have to remember is that the Indian Act and its predecessor legislation is based on the very same assimilatory foundation as the residential school policy and it has caused the very same division of families and communities, and loss of language, culture and identity. The Indian Act went even further to incorporate a male-preference for registration, membership, residency, voting rights, and access to Aboriginal and treaty rights as well as various programs and services. Canada essentially incorporated an idea into the Act that gave the message to communities that Aboriginal women were less worthy and less capable of passing on Aboriginal identity and culture. This has had an incredibly damaging affect on both Aboriginal women and their communities. Yet, Canada, as a Nation, does not stand for racism or sexism. Canada publically holds itself out to the international community as being a modern, democratic country which values human rights, gender equality and multi-culturalism. If this is indeed representative of Canadian values as a whole, then Canadians ought to care very deeply whether laws affecting Aboriginal peoples also represent a respect for human rights, gender equality and respect for Aboriginal culture. The Indian Act’s registration provisions were based on outdated, assimilatory goals and include a formula that ensures the eventual legislative extinction of Aboriginal peoples. Canada must take action to amend the Act in a meaningful, significant way that reflects our core values as Canadians, at least until something else replaces the Act. The current proposed amendment does not do this. By not amending the registration provisions in any significant way, we are allowing assimilation to continue. This lack of action not only violates basic human rights related to gender and identity, it also violates section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 which represents not only the highest law of the land, but a significant promise to Aboriginal peoples to protect their culture and identity for future generations. Canada accepts tens of thousands of new immigrants to this country every year, who draw upon Canada’s financial and other resources, yet Canada fought tooth and nail against Sharon McIvor for over 20 years to avoid having to register the descendents of Indian women. That does not represent a commitment to gender equity for Aboriginal peoples – it represents more of the assimilatory attitudes upon which this Act was originally based. We wouldn’t accept the reopening of residential schools – therefore Canadians should not stand for the continued assimilation of Aboriginal peoples through the registration provisions of the Indian Act. One can only hope that the joint process announced by Canada will address these urgent issues.