Indian status coming for thousands of Canadians

 

Last Updated: Wednesday, March 10, 2010 | 2:11 PM ET

More than 45,000 Canadians could be recognized as status Indians under changes the federal government plans to make to the Indian Act, CBC News has learned.

The changes come after Ottawa lost a court challenge addressing the different ways that men and women are treated when it comes to Indian status under the Indian Act.

In 1985, Ottawa changed the rules for women who married non-natives. They would retain their status, as would their children, but not their grandchildren.

But the rules are different for Indian men. They and their descendants keep their status when they marry non-native women.

Last year’s court decision has prompted the government to extend Indian status for one more generation. This means grandchildren of such a union will now have native status.

Carol Scott, whose grandmother was a status Indian, said she lost that recognition when she married a non-aboriginal man.

The marriage meant that she and her children couldn’t live on reserve and were denied health and education benefits.

But Scott, who’s from Manitoba, said that it’s more an issue of identity.

“It’s almost like you’re lost, you’re in limbo. You don’t know where you belong anymore. And that’s so important to belong,” she said.

Scott said the government’s amendment is as good start.

“We want what belongs to us. It’s our birthright. I’m an aboriginal person, I’m proud of it and I want my son to be proud of it, too.”

Scott wants the proposed amendments extended so her son will be eligible to become a status Indian as well.

Wanda Wuttnee, who heads the native studies department at the University of Manitoba, said that she’s in the same situation as Scott and that the government needs to go further.

“They haven’t corrected it yet with this decision. It didn’t remove the barriers. My children cannot pass status to their children. So yes, there’s still a problem.”

Shawn Atleo, the head of the Assembly of First Nations, said it’s a question of who has the right to define citizenship.

“And so here we are again with potentially the federal government acting in isolation and unilaterally in defining who is or who isn’t a member of a community when it really rightfully belongs to the indigenous nations to do so.”

But Atleo said he welcomes any changes that make the rules fairer for aboriginal women and their descendants.

With files from Karen Pauls

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