Bill C-3 finally received Royal Assent on December 15, opening the door for many Natives to gain the official Indian status that they were previously denied. The remaining hurdle before the bill comes into effect is a proclamation by an Order in Council, but this is anticipated within the coming weeks.
“Once it is enforced, its basic role is to provide eligibility for status to certain grandchildren of women who lost status through marriage prior to 1985,” said Roy Gray, Director of Special Legislative Initiatives for Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC).
The rules for Indian status under the Indian Act are the same for all Natives across Canada. However, those who could potentially enjoy this new status have to meet a certain criteria.
“For status it is across-the-board national rules. I am coming at this from the perspective of the grandchild. Basically the criteria would be: did your grandmother lose her Indian Status as a result of marrying a non-Indian? Is one of your parents registered under Section 6.2 of the Indian Act? And, were you or one of your siblings born on or after September 4, 1951,” said Gray.
Those who meet the criteria can apply for their status as soon as the bill is passed. The INAC website states that it can take four to six months to process completed applications.
What this means for those who will receive status for the first time is that they will now be eligible for a number of programs and services under INAC as well as non-insured health benefits provided by Health Canada. There is also the eligibility for becoming tax exempt. However, Gray explained that there are certain rules concerning tax exemption but he could not elaborate on at this time.
At the moment INAC is anticipating that an estimated 45,000 Natives across Canada will be eligible to apply for the status they have been denied due to gender equity issues within the Indian Act.
According to Bill Namagoose, Executive Director of the Grand Council of the Crees of Eeyou Istchee, Bill C-3 won’t change things tremendously for the Cree nation.
“The Crees resolved the non-status and status Indian issue in the JBNQA in 1975 and further in 1984 with the passage of the Cree Naskapi Act. The status Indian issue is irrelevant for the Crees since all services all delivered to all Crees and without distinction.”
Namagoose said the Crees maintain two lists of people. One is a band list that defines who is an Indian under the Indian Act. The Cree do not use this list in their administration of programs. Another list is the JBNQA beneficiary register which in effect is the Cree citizens record and names all Crees whether they are on the band roll or not. Crees are still Indians under the Indian Act and the only benefit is the tax exemption under Section 87 of the Indian Act.
In terms of the Crees and services, Namagoose pointed out that there has been a long outstanding problem with respect to the delivery of services when a Cree is out of the JBNQA territory for over 10 years.
“Crees take the position that Crees should receive INAC or other federal programs when outside the JBNQA territory after 10 years. This is where there may be problems for a few Crees in the future. The GCCEI takes the position that JBNQA benefits are portable but governments have opposed this consistently,” said Namagoose.
Namagoose said the GCCEI’s position is there should be no discrimination in Bill C-3 and that other nations who are directly impacted on a daily basis should lead the fight to remedy this issue.
Such has been the case with Sharon McIvor, who took the federal government to court over gender equity and won but she only sees it as “partial success.”
McIvor, a member of B.C.’s Lower Nicola Band, is essentially why Bill C-3 exists. In 1994, she initiated a constitutional challenge to sex discrimination in the registration provisions of the Indian Act regarding status.
The B.C. Supreme Court ruled that Section 6 of the Indian Act violated Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. But Canada appealed this and it was ruled that although the Indian Act was discriminatory, the majority of the discrimination was justifiable as the government’s purpose was to preserve the existing rights of the Aboriginal men and their descendants who had been given preferred status.
McIvor has since taken her battle with Canada to the United Nations.