June 27, 2022
‘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.
- “Indian status” is important as it may confer Aboriginal and treaty rights to First Nations individuals, access to federal benefits and membership in a First Nations community.
- Bill S-3, An Act to amend the Indian Act in response to the Superior Court of Quebec decision in Descheneaux c. Canada (Procureur général), was introduced in the Senate on October 25, 2016. The bill was intended to remedy some sex-based inequities identified by the Superior Court of Quebec. Justice Chantal Masse wrote that “it appears that the holders of legislative power prefer to wait for the courts to rule on a case-by-case basis before acting, and for their judgments to gradually force statutory amendments to finally bring them in line with the Constitution.”
- Only 28,000 people have registered for status as of December 2020, despite the federal government saying that new provisions would allow “hundreds of thousands, or even millions” of new people to register.
“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