In the gymnasium of the Prince Albert Indian-Métis Friendship Centre (PAIMFC) on Wednesday afternoon, a number of aboriginal women gathered in a round table forum to discuss recent amendments to the Indian Act through the passing of Bill C-3, Gender Equity in the Indian Registration Act in April, and its 1985 predecessor, Bill C-31.
Through such discussions, the PAIMFC’s parent organization, the National Association of Friendship Centres (NAFC), is gathering valuable feedback from aboriginal communities across Canada regarding matters of nation, identity, cultural membership and perceived gender inequities in the Indian Act, specifically Section 6.
The information gathered will be compiled into a report the NAFC is determined will influence future amendments to the Indian Act.
Section 6 of the Indian Act deals specifically with status and how the federal government determines who qualifies for status and whether they are to be identified as full or partial Indians.
In 1985, Bill C-31 was passed in an attempt to address unconstitutional aspects that had been written into the act in 1951.
“The 1985 amendments to the Indian Act had the effect of re-instating status to First Nations women who had been wrongfully disenfranchised (when the Indian Act was passed) through marriage to non-First Nation spouses,” explained Michelle Bell, facilitator for the round table.
“Further, children of women who lost their status through marriage were given second level status under Section 6(2). This 6(2) status designation, however, meant that these children could not pass on status to their children unless they married a 6(1) status First Nation person.
“The effect of this amendment was to continue to grant a lesser ability of those individuals re-instated to pass on their status to their descendants,” read a slide during Bell’s presentation.
Essentially, while these women should not have lost their status in the first place, when they were rightfully granted their status back, their children were only considered to be partial Indians and the only way that their children could pass their status on to future generations was by marrying a full-status First Nation, explained Bell.
According to the federal act however, First Nations’ males never lost their status if they married non-Aboriginal women and nor were their descendants subjected to the same discrimination as children of aboriginal women in the exact same situation.
When Bill C-3 passed in the spring, certain aspects of the gender discrimination were eliminated, however, the full and partial labels remain, as do the limits placed on an aboriginal woman’s ability to pass status on to her descendants.
During the round table, an outside observer heard phrases such as, “It’s not fair, status should never have been taken away to begin with,” and, “Why have women been targeted by this legislation?”
These are the very statements and questions the NAFC intends to put to Parliament in its tireless efforts to influence future legislation, legislation that would finally bring the Indian Act in line with the nation’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The NAFC points out in its literature that Canada’s Charter assures its readers in section 15(1), “Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.”
“Canada is supposed to be a democratic country. We should be able to decide who we want to be with. To me it’s not a free country if we can’t decide who we want to marry and keep our identity as aboriginal peoples,” said Norma Green, one of the women in attendance.
Such is the sentiment shared by aboriginal women across the country and such will be the sentiment of the NAFC when it presents its report to the peoples’ representatives in Ottawa.