Senate bill restores Indian Status to children born to women who married non-Natives

Share Button

A political showdown between the Canadian Senate and the House of Commons ended by answering one father’s dream – returning Indian Status to hundreds of thousands across Canada.

Indigenous Senator Lillian Dyck was in tears at the November 7 announcement, saying that First Nation women waited 150 years for this change.

In 2015, Stéphane Descheneaux – an Abenaki from the Odanak reserve – had sued the federal government for racial discrimination. He was unable to pass along his Indian Status to his three daughters because his grandmother had married a non-Native.

The courts agreed, and told Canada they would have to remove gender-based discrimination from the Indian Act. It was a move that potentially opens the door to hundreds of thousands of individuals who lost status because a mother or grandmother had married a non-Indian before 1985.

In October 2015, senators introduced Bill S-3 to amend the Indian Act. This was an unusual move, as most legislation to amend existing laws originates in the House of Commons.

After Bill S-3 passed the Senate, it was then sent to the House of Commons. MPs chose to amend it, causing the Senate, along with many Indigenous groups, to protest that those amendments would keep discrimination in the Indian Act.

The original court ruling put in place a deadline for changes to be made to the Indian Act – July 2017. The Trudeau government argued that they would have to pass the bill without the desired provisions to stay within that deadline.

However, Deschenaux’s lawyer, along with the Senate, urged the court to push back the deadline so that they could take the time necessary to get the bill right. They were successful, and the final court deadline was moved to December 22, 2017.

Over the summer, pressure from Indigenous organizations and the Senate increased. Groups like the Native Women’s Association of Canada and the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action called on the government to end discrimination.

It appears they were successful.

On November 7, the government declared that it would no longer oppose the Senate bill’s amendments to the Indian Act.

It was also a personal fight for Senator Dyck. A member of the Gordon First Nation in Saskatchewan, Dyck’s own mother had lost her status in 1943. Dyck didn’t get her status returned until 1985.

National Chief Perry Bellegarde called it a “positive step for First Nations women and girls and for all First Nations families.”

The government is now expected to conduct consultations, and later report to First Nations bands any estimates of how many new members they may have.

Detailed figures on the number of people who could be affected are not available. They could be applied to descendants of any woman who lost her status, going all the way back to 1876.

Some commentators say the figure is as few as 80,000, while others say as many as a million people could become Status Indians as a result of the legislation.

Bill S-3 will now return to the House of Commons, where Senator Dyck hopes the process will conclude by mid-December before the court-imposed deadline.

“Finally, Indian women will be recognized in law as having equal rights as Indian men to transmit their status as registered Indians and all that goes with it – your language, your culture, your connection to your family, your connection to your community,” Dyck said in the Senate.

Share Button

Comments are closed.