Call to Action # 41: Background Content

Bill S-3 An Act to Amend the Indian Act

June 27, 2022

Fed. Govt.

‘Piecemeal’ government action has worsened discrimination in the Indian Act: Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples.

Senate of Canada: Ottawa – First Nations women and their descendants are still being denied status because of ongoing discrimination in the Indian Act, according to a report by the Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples.

The report “Make it stop! Ending the remaining discrimination in Indian registration” found that ongoing discrimination in the registration provisions of the Indian Act remains and continues to affect First Nations women and their descendants. Over the last several decades, and most recently in 2017, Parliament has enacted legislation in response to court decisions, making piecemeal technical changes to the Indian Act in response to obvious and persistent inequalities. Together, the government’s reluctant, piecemeal responses have only exacerbated the problem rather than addressing it.

The federal government, for example, has failed to address the “second-generation cut-off,” which strips status after two consecutive generations of mixed status parentage and disproportionately affects women. One witness likened this to a “legislated extinction date” for every First Nation in Canada.

First Nations women and their descendants face obstacles when attempting to register for “status” under the Indian Act. Obstacles to registration include challenges accessing documentation, significant wait times, indecipherable and overly technical registration provisions, and a complex application process.

The committee makes nine recommendations to finally end discrimination in the Indian Act. Those include:

  • repealing section 6(2) of the Indian Act (which establishes the “second generation cut-off”)
  • providing plain-language materials about the registration provisions in Indigenous languages and Canada’s official languages, and
  • providing compensation to Indigenous women and children who have been harmed by these shameful and discriminatory practices.

The federal government has thus far made only narrow and technical amendments to the Indian Act, and then only when the courts have forced it to. The committee urges the government to restore long-overdue equality to First Nations women and their descendants.

Quick Facts


“For more than 150 years, the federal government has been stripping First Nations people of their status. I have seen how it has impacted family and friends all my life. We do not need more Band-Aid solutions, we need a comprehensive plan to ending gender-based discrimination in the Indian Act. First Nations should decide who has status — not the federal government.”

– Senator Brian Francis, Chair of the committee

“In my community of Membertou First Nation, there are a growing number of people under the age of 20 who do not have status, yet they have always lived there; they are culturally part of the community, but they are not entitled to federal housing or education benefits. From generation to generation, the provisions of the Indian Act are slowly shrinking populations of status First Nations.”

– Senator Dan Christmas, Deputy Chair of the committee

“This feels like déjà vu. We already outlined the problems with the deeply flawed Bill S-3 in 2016. Now, here we are again with a report that not only reiterates those concerns but further states that all federal amendments to the Indian Act have made gender-based discrimination issues even worse.”

– Senator Dennis Glen Patterson, member of the Subcommittee on Agenda and Procedure

June 12, 2018

Appointment of Minister’s Special Representative to lead the consultations

Ms. Claudette Dumont-Smith has been appointed as the Minister’s Special Representative (MSR) to lead the consultations. The collaborative process will involve comprehensive consultation and joint work with First Nations, Indigenous groups, experts and impacted individuals on Indian registration, band membership, and First Nation citizenship reform to ensure that the dialogues account for and reflect the diversity of viewpoints of the participating individuals and communities.

November 2, 2017

Awareness campaign to change Bill S-3

Advocates have joined forces with two Aboriginal senators – Lillian Dyck and Sandra Lovelace -Nicholas – in an awareness campaign that kicked off this week urging the Liberal government to change the bill known as S-3. Part of the outreach, supported by the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action, includes the distribution of a letter to women’s organizations, academics and human rights groups to canvass support on the “full and final removal” of sex discrimination in the Indian Act.

The discrimination has existed since the Indian Act was first introduced in 1876, the letter adds. In June, the Senate unanimously passed a change to Bill S-3 dubbed the “6(1)(a) all the way” amendment, a change designed to ensure Indian women and their descendants have full Indian status like Indian men and not just to 1951 which is which is date the federal government prefers.

October 25, 2016

Bill S-3 introduced

Bill S-3: “An Act to amend the Indian Act (elimination of sex-based inequities in registration)“.

Government wants to equalize treatment for women but only from 1951 when the registry was created. First Nations must have the ability to maintain and protect the legal/legislative status and existence of its present and future citizens Senate is insisting that the Liberal government remove all traces of sexist language that affects who qualifies to be legally regarded as status Indian

December 12, 2017

Bill S-3 receives Royal Assent

The Act comes into force in two stages: Phase 1 addresses the initial discrimination relating to an Indian woman losing her status if she marries a non-indigenous man (after 1951); Phase 2 deals with restoring status to this impacted before 1951 (the 1951 cut-off) and other discrimination inequities.

January 14, 2019

NWAC calls for immediate action

Native Women’s Association of Canada calls on the federal government to take immediate action. A more expansive approach is required to account for all discriminatory provisions, including the second-generation cut-off rule and the burden of proof to establish “Indian parentage”. This ruling is historic for many First Nations women and their descendants. Indigenous women deserve nothing less than full equality. Canada must act now. Canada must stop discriminating.

June 21, 2019

Passage of Bill S-3

Passage and implementation of Bill S-3 will finally eliminate 143 years of gender-based discrimination in the Indian Act.

January 22, 2019

Recall the Collaborative Process survey and honour the UN ruling on the Indian Act’s discrimination against women

Open Letter from Union of BC Indian Chiefs to Carolyn Bennet (Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada (CIRNA): “Recall the Collaborative Process survey and honour the UN ruling on the Indian Act’s discrimination against women”.

The CIRNA’s survey is fundamentally flawed and unrepresentative of the true collaboration that needs to take place between Indigenous Peoples and the Government of Canada. Designed by the government as a nominal and placatory symbol of “reconciliation” and “renewed relationships,” the survey is anything but collaborative. Now that the UN Committee has ruled that Canada must dismantle the discriminatory, sex-based hierarchy in the status registration provisions of the Indian Act, the survey is unnecessary and insulting to the Indigenous women who continue to have their right to equality breached.

August 15, 2019

Removal of 1951 cut-off from the Indian Act

All provisions under Bill S-3 brought fully into force. The Bill removed the 1951 cut-off from the Indian Act registration provisions, ensuring that women and entitled descendants could register for status. Eligible individuals include descendants born prior to April 17, 1985 (or of a marriage before that date), of women who lost status or were removed from band lists because of their marriage to non-status men going back to 1869.

January 14, 2019

The UN Human Rights Committee ruled that Canada continues to discriminate against First Nations women and their descendants

The United Nations Human Rights Committee ruled that Canada continues to discriminate against First Nations women and their descendants by denying them the same entitlement to full s. 6(1)(a) status under the Indian Act as First Nations men and their descendants. This long-standing discrimination affects First Nations women’s entitlement to status, their right to transmit status, and their equality with First Nations men.

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