Indian Act reforms don’t end fight for aboriginal women’s equality, activists say

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      Aboriginal women’s rights activist Sharon McIvor says federal legislation designed to address discrimination in the Indian Act hasn’t remedied the inequality faced by a large group of First Nations women.

      McIvor has been fighting for changes to the laws that determine status for First Nations women for 25 years, and she doesn’t plan on giving up any time soon.

      “My grandchildren will have status, but that’s a small piece of everything,” she told the Straight by phone from Kamloops.

      On December 15, Bill C-3, the Gender Equity in Indian Registration Act, received royal assent. Drafted in response to the B.C. Court of Appeal’s April 2009 decision in the McIvor v. Canada case, the bill amends the registration provisions of the Indian Act that were found to be unconstitutional.

      According to the Conservative government, the law will provide access to Indian status for 45,000 descendants of aboriginal women who were previously ineligible.

      But McIvor and another prominent human-rights advocate, Shelagh Day, say the bill still doesn’t remove all the discriminatory elements of the Indian Act.

      “What the bill essentially corrects is the discrimination against the women who married out and their descendants, but it leaves in place the discrimination against the women who partnered in common-law relationships and their descendants,” Day told the Straight by phone from Vancouver. “So we’ve got another big group here who are still being left out, and in addition to that, there are some other smaller groups that are also left out.”

      Since the first piece of legislation governing Indian status was introduced in 1857, Day said that First Nations women have been subject to different rules than men for passing on their status to their children.

      “It’s been a very Byzantine piece of legislation over 153 years, but it’s discriminated in a very consistent and simple away against the women,” Day said. “The women as mothers and as partners were never treated the same as the men as fathers and as partners. So we’re still struggling with that, and it seems...far too late in the history of Canadian relations with aboriginal people, and with aboriginal women, to be doing such blunt and unnecessary form of discrimination.”

      When the Gender Equity in Indian Registration Act comes into effect, the federal government will launch an “exploratory process” into some of the issues around Indian registration, status, and membership.

      Brenda Kustra, director general of the governance branch of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, said the department is working with the national aboriginal organizations on the yearlong process.

      “The information that’s going to be gathered over the next year will be part of a continuing discussion in terms of what are the next steps,” Kustra told the Straight by phone from Ottawa. “Now we have a better understanding of all these views, what are the next steps that we may want to take with respect to program, policy, and legislation.”

      McIvor dismissed the exploratory process as “nonsensical”.

      “We’re talking about human inequality rights here...and where else in the country do they go and do an exploratory process to ask others if it’s okay if we can exercise our full human inequality rights?” she said.

      Day said the process of canvassing various issues of concern to aboriginal people is good, but she argued that it’s “not a way to fix sex discrimination”.

      The human-rights advocate said there are other, broader changes needed to address inequality for aboriginal women.

      “This is a profound, societal problem that we’re trying to cope with here and to correct, and that is an attitude towards aboriginal women that treats them as though they’re second class, as though they don’t really matter, as though they’re property,” she said.

      “They could have sent a very strong signal, not just by fixing this particular form of discrimination, but a strong signal more broadly in the society about their honour and their respect for aboriginal women, and they haven’t yet fully done it,” Day said.

      She argued there should be a federal public inquiry into the 600 aboriginal women that have been murdered or gone missing across the country, a number recorded by the Native Women’s Association of Canada.

      The next step for McIvor is pursuing a complaint she filed in November against the federal government with the United Nations Human Rights Committee.

      While she hopes to get a finding from the UN, she said “what the government decides to do with that will be another matter”.

      “The women and the descendants who are still being discriminated against deserve to have everything done possible to see if we can persuade the government to stop the discrimination and just clean up the law,” she said.

      You can follow Yolande Cole on Twitter at twitter.com/yolandecole.

      Comments

      18 Comments

      Steve Y

      Dec 23, 2010 at 4:38pm

      There is actually a very good reason that children of aboriginal women and non-aboriginal men had no status. THEY SHOULDN'T HAVE ANY!!!! That person is effectively a regular, ordinary Canadian. Why the hckl should they have special rights compared to an ordinary Canadian? They are genetically indecipherable from an ordinary Canadian. Look the same as an ordinary Canadian, have the same background as an ordinary Canadian, has the same hopes, dreams and opportunities as an ordinary Canadian. Why should they have special rights?

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      Darren B

      Dec 24, 2010 at 5:30am

      Steve Y. Obviously, you're not a Status Indian. How can I tell this? Because of the ignorant uneducated comment you have just posted. Take a few history classes and read some treaties. My ancestors didn't sign my treaty, knowing there would be racists like yourself making racist comments like this. You surely can't be for real. These types of comments made by racists like yourself are becoming far too common. If you don't like the way my First Nations peoples are being mistreated by your government in this day and age, perhaps a trip back to your ancestors' homeland would be in order. Do us all a favour and book a one way ticket. Racists like you have no place in today's aboriginal society. We are the First Nations People of this Island, if you don't like it, leave!

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      Lynn Gehl

      Dec 24, 2010 at 9:57am

      Steve,

      One's cultural identity is not merely a genetic process or about how one looks.
      I am no ordinary Canadian as you suggest - I have strong cultural ties to this land that predate your ancetors' arrival. One of these cultural ties is respecting the earth for all that she provides and the need to protect her for future generations - yours included. My culture is concerned about the environmental destruction that European culture and the Enlightenment has brought on. And this is a good thing versus a bad thing.

      Like so many Canadians you need to get your ability to reason out of your wallet - these parameters of analysis are far too narrow thus preventing you from understanding the greater issues - that our philosophy has the power to save the earth.

      Thanks,

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      end racism

      Dec 24, 2010 at 2:00pm

      the racist card is used to silence anyone who doesn't agree with another ethnic group's position.

      assuming someone is racist because they are of a different ethnicity and disagree with you is racist too in my humble opinion.

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      Taxpayers R Us

      Dec 25, 2010 at 12:20am

      Wow - playing the race card and the sex card together. Isn't that a basic indicator that their position is very weak times 2?

      I agree with SteveY, and being the equalist that I am, I hope that aboriginal women have the exact same rights that the white man does.

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      Sarah Mah

      Dec 25, 2010 at 2:19am

      I would argue that Steve Y's assumptions are, in fact, racist. Racism is predicated on existing inequalities based on race, and what he said was a complete disregard for the unique and devastating discrimination and inequality that ONLY Aboriginal peoples face. The remedies that McIvor and Day are recommending should be seen as substantive and reflective of the very real challenges First Nations women face.

      I say, support their fight in resisting the inherent sexism and racism of the Indian Act.

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      Lynn Gehl

      Dec 25, 2010 at 1:36pm

      Dear Taxpayers R Us

      Sometimes equality equals equity. It would not suprize me to learn that you do not understand this. It serves well.

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      Taxpayers R Us

      Dec 25, 2010 at 8:12pm

      My apologies Lynn, I didn't realize we were referring to the kind of equity where a woman helps herself to a man's property the way non-aboriginal women do, thereby "equalizing" her net worth with his despite not having worked for any of it.

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      Birdy

      Dec 25, 2010 at 11:43pm

      None of you, of any race/gender, have any rights. You have limited temporary priviledges. No one has any rights if the government has the right to just take them away or change them willy nilly.

      For instance, say a big conference of some kind comes to town, and the mayor confiscates the charter of rights and freedoms, then gives it back after the conference is over. Then you'd definitely know you have zero rights.

      So stop pretending... white, native, male, female, it doesn't matter, you're the property of a gaggle of plutocrats that also happen to own the Corporation of Canada.

      Equal temporary privileges for all serfs would be nice though. It would require not treating people differently based on how they look or who their moms and dads were. This is not going to happen. Anyone who proposes actual 100% equality is labeled "racist" because in the fantasy politically correct world where many "equality activists" reside, equality means taking shit from someone and giving it to someone else because their skin looks different, or hiring people based on skin color percentage quotas. This new "reverse" racism will not "undo" old racism, it will only create more hate.

      Anyway, here's the big secret, ye angry ones: If you don't like hate, stop hating people. Don't hate the idiots that hate you. It only makes their hate stronger, and the cycle continues. I miss real hippies; the whole "peace and love" thing actually works you know, which is why the government always breaks it up with stormtroopers after taking away your privileges.

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      Lynn Gehl

      Dec 28, 2010 at 5:49pm

      It is too bad that some men and women are entering into relationships that are not the best and where afterwards they become bitter, reason poorly, and are unable to know the difference between equity and equality. Like the limitations of the parameters of one's wallet, bitterness is merely reactionary and traps us all in structures that serve no one.

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