UN de­nounces In­dian Act on gen­der grounds

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De­spite gov­ern­ment ef­forts over the years to fix the sit­u­a­tion, Canada’s In­dian Act still dis­crim­i­nates against In­dige­nous women when it comes to pass­ing on their sta­tus to their de­scen­dants, the United Na­tions Hu­man Rights Com­mit­tee ruled this week.The com­mit­tee found the act vi­o­lates Canada’s in­ter­na­tional obli­ga­tions and urged Ot­tawa to put an end to the dif­fer­en­tial treat­ment of an es­ti­mated 270,000 women and their de­scen­dants.The com­plaint came from Sharon Mcivor, 70, and her son Ja­cob Gris­mer, 47, both of Mer­ritt, B.C., who ar­gued they had not been treated as “real In­di­ans” be­cause of flaws in the In­dian Act, which Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau this week called a “colo­nial­ist relic.”“This de­ci­sion is a gamechanger for First Na­tions women and for Canada,” Mcivor said in a state­ment. “If the gov­ern­ment of Canada ful­fils its obli­ga­tions and fi­nally treats First Na­tions women as equals, it will be a new day for us, for our com­mu­ni­ties and for Canada.”Mcivor’s grand­mother was a mem­ber of the Lower Ni­cola Band — part of the Nlaka’pa­mux Na­tion — who mar­ried a non-in­dige­nous man. As a re­sult of pre­vail­ing rules that de­ter­mined In­dian sta­tus on the ba­sis of male lin­eage, their daugh­ter was in­el­i­gi­ble for regis­tra­tion as an In­dian.As a re­sult, nei­ther Mcivor nor her sib­lings were deemed to be In­di­ans be­cause their in­el­i­gi­ble mother mar­ried a non-in­dian. Mcivor would also marry a non-in­dian and had three chil­dren, in­clud­ing Gris­mer.The fed­eral gov­ern­ment changed the In­dian Act in 1985 in re­sponse to com­plaints and var­i­ous court de­ci­sions in an ef­fort to ad­dress the overt gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion. How­ever, Mcivor and Gris­mer ar­gued the changes didn’t rem­edy their sit­u­a­tion but in­stead con­tin­ued the “ex­ist­ing pref­er­ence for male In­di­ans and pa­tri­lin­eal de­scent.”Ac­cord­ing to their com­plaint, Mcivor can only pass on par­tial In­dian sta­tus to her son, who also mar­ried a non-in­dian, but no sta­tus to her grand­chil­dren. Her brother, on the other hand, can pass on full sta­tus to his chil­dren as well as his grand­chil­dren.“The com­mit­tee notes that Sharon Mcivor is treated dif­fer­ently from her own brother un­der the In­dian Act,” the com­mit­tee said.In ad­di­tion, Mcivor said she had suf­fered from the stigma of be­ing a lesser-sta­tus In­dian, while Gris­mer said he, too, ex­pe­ri­enced “iso­la­tion and stigma­ti­za­tion” de­spite spend­ing his life in the ter­ri­tory of his fore­bears.The fed­eral gov­ern­ment told the com­mit­tee that it made changes to the In­dian Act in both 2011 and again via Bill S-3 in 2017 to deal with gen­der is­sue — al­though not all the bill’s changes are in ef­fect pend­ing con­sul­ta­tions with First Na­tions.“(Canada) re­grets the his­tor­i­cal dis­crim­i­na­tion and other in­equities to which In­dige­nous women and their de­scen­dants have been sub­ject,” the com­mit­tee re­port cites the gov­ern­ment as say­ing.Mcivor and Gris­mer coun­tered that Ot­tawa was wrong to claim a “sub-class” of In­dian no longer ex­ists un­der the act, specif­i­cally in Sec­tion 6 (1). While the changes have im­proved the sit­u­a­tion, they ar­gued they are still vic­tim­ized.“The 1985 act as amended in 2011 still ex­cludes from el­i­gi­bil­ity for regis­tra­tion sta­tus Abo­rig­i­nal women and their de­scen­dants who would be en­ti­tled to reg­is­ter if sex dis­crim­i­na­tion were com­pletely erad­i­cated from the scheme,” they told the com­mit­tee.The com­mit­tee ruled that Canada must re­move the dis­crim­i­na­tion and en­sure all First Na­tions women and their de­scen­dants are granted sta­tus on the same foot­ing as First Na­tions men and their de­scen­dants.In re­sponse to the rul­ing, the gov­ern­ment called elim­i­na­tion of all sex-based dis­crim­i­na­tion from the In­dian Act a pri­or­ity, and said it was do­ing so through Bill S-3. The of­fice of Crown-in­dige­nous Re­la­tions Min­is­ter Carolyn Ben­nett said the gov­ern­ment was putting in place an im­ple­men­ta­tion plan for the rest of the bill’s mea­sures and for “broader re­forms to regis­tra­tion, mem­ber­ship and First Na­tion cit­i­zen­ship.”

“This de­ci­sion is a game-changer for First Na­tions women and for Canada,” says Sharon Mcivor, left.

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