Status Issue Debated By First Nations Leaders

Thursday, June 04, 2009 at 14:33



Ottawa’s decision to make changes to the Indian Act about who qualifies as a status Indian, rather than challenge a ruling by the B.C. Court of Appeal, is a hot topic of discussion amongst First Nations leaders this week.


In April, the B.C. court decided sections of the Act breach equality provisions in the Charter of Rights.


The case stems back to 1989 when Sharon McIvor, who married a non-Native man, challenged rules that barred her son from passing status to his children.


Chief John Beaucase of the Anishinabek Nation sees the decision as an opportunity to increase First Nations citizenship.


Beaucage says the question of who and who isn’t a First Nations person needs to be looked at in a closer light.


He says the government has made a good move, but he also feels it’s important that people realize these new candidates for First Nations status need to be seen as citizens of distinct nations, rather than merely “members”.


Beaucage says it shouldn’t be status cards that tell people they’re First Nations people; that needs to come from their families and communities.


Meanwhile, the Chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations says individual First Nations will determine who has treaty rights.


There was much talk about Bill C-31 yesterday at the spring session of the FSIN legislative assembly.


Chief Lawrence Joseph says the chiefs in assembly gave direction that individual bands will decide who has treaty rights rather than another level of government.


Joseph says he has talked to Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl about this, and says Strahl is interested in seeing a proposal.


The FSIN is looking at passing a resolution that would oppose any further amendments made to the Act, and would give the First Nations — not the government — the right to determine who has treaty status.


During today’s assembly, a First Nations lawyer encouraged to become organized in light of Strahl’s announcement.


Sharon Venne warns there is not much time to do something, so people must be organized.


Venne says there is a very real danger of internal confict developing.


“Status Indians and band members are not going to be the same people, and the contribution agreements that come from Ottawa, related to funding, is for status Indians,” she says.


“Lands are held by status Indians when you look at the Indian Act. So you’re going to have two categories of people within the same bands — people that are entitled to receive funding, and people that are going to be members without having entitlement to those resources.”


Venne says it also has to be from the First Nations up, because the Assembly of First Nations is in a conflict of interest, since it directly supported McIvor by providing her with funds.


Venne says Strahl has said he’ll work with willing Aboriginal groups, including the AFN, to rewrite portions of the Indian Act.