Inequalities of Status and the Indian Act

This page tries to cast a light on the current situation of Status Indians. What do we mean by a Status Indian? At first sight it would appear that this term applies to all indigenous people of Canada but there are many different definitions for this particular section of the population, but “Status Indian” refers to people who are recognized as Indian as opposed to Métis or Inuit, according to criteria outlined in the Indian Act. Being considered a Status Indian under this act gives certain rights to those people, such as the rights to live on a reserve, share in band monies, vote within the band and inherit band property.

A revision of the Indian Act in 1985 separated band membership from Indian status. The criteria for the eligibility for Indian Status is quite complex. Originally status was entirely dependent on the male linage, which created gender inequalities. One could lose status if one’s mother and father’s mother did not have status under the Indian Act. As a result of marriage to a non-status man, a woman would also lose her status. By losing her Indian status women also lost the ability to pass on Indian status, with its associated rights, to their children. Therefore, they lost their connection to their respective ancestry and community. Thanks to an amendment to the Indian Act (Bill C-31)  it is no longer possible for status Indians to lose their status and those who had previously lost their status were able to reclaim it, although many facied difficulties doing so. Children of “mixed” marriages are, however, unable to pass on their status to their children if they were to marry a non-Status person.

The Indian Act is a way for the government to give a legal tag to people and categorize them according to certain criteria like goods. Why then should this categorization be maintained? For some minor tax advantages concerning reserve property? Why is it still necessary to continue with means that were originally intended as a way of controlling aboriginal people? How can a government decide who can be part of a community without knowing what it means to be part of it and without really knowing the community itself? The government decides who is part of a community based on ancestry, but the community itself cannot decide who is a member of it.

Along with many treaties made since the 19th century, the Indian Act undermines aboriginal cultures. Even though amendments have been made the Indian Act still somewhat suppresses the identity of aboriginal people. It should be a desirable goal for the government to work together with indigenous people and really get to know their respective cultures in order to live peacefully without them having to abandon their identities. After 500 years it should be possible to stop interfering with the business of aboriginal people and grant them self-government, especially after it did not result in equal rights and equal living standards for them. I ask therefore, why do we still need status distinctions in the 21st century?

– Marina Schmidt


Click to access terminology_of_native_aboriginal_metis.pdf


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