Indian Affairs Minister John Duncan has come up with a terrible idea. He thinks it’s a good one. But it isn’t. In fact, it’s such a dumb idea that I think Duncan wants to share some of the stink.
What’s this grand idea? He wants to convene the national Aboriginal organizations (Assembly of First Nations, Métis National Council, Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Native Women’s Association of Canada) to… (wait for it ) help him come up with “fresh ideas” to re-design “status” in the Indian Act.
It’s the latest from Duncan’s Department of Indian Affairs. Read about it here. It comes as Bill C-3, the Federal Government’s reaction to Sharon MacIvor’s 25-year legal fight in British Columbia against discrimination in the Indian Act, is in the Canadian Senate for some sober second thought.
In 1985, Bill C-31 ended the practice of granting status to white women who married Indian men but stripped status from Indian women who married white men. All of their children lost status as well. Bill C-31 made it possible for them to apply to regain their status as registered Indians under the Indian Act. Thousands of people did just that.
That same Bill C-31 left a time-bomb ticking in the form of a “grandmother” clause. Any male or female with status married after 1985 were designated as “6.1” or “6.2” depending on the status of their parents. The children of a mixed marriage (status & non-status) were “6.1”. If they married a non-status, they became a “6.2” and so did their children. If these children married out, well that meant they could kiss their status – their rights as defined by the Indian Act – goodbye. They could also lose their right to live on or be a member of a reserve, things very different from status accorded by Indian Affairs.
The national Aboriginal organizations knew about this delayed discrimination, a denial of their rights as Indigenous peoples. Most of them plugged their noses, though, and let the Federal Government define their rights for them.
The Federal Government promised that bands would be compensated for additional costs associated with Bill C-31 and provide for people regaining status, for more more homes, more health care and education costs, etc. There was some increase in funding but never the full compensation promised. Most bands struggled to find ways to cover the costs from taking in “C-31s”.
MacIvor’s win at the B.C. Court of Appeals means the Federal Government expects another 45,000 people to regain their status – at a time when Ottawa wants to head in the other direction. It wants to cut spending on all Aboriginal peoples, but also get rid of Indian “status”, and dump more and more responsibility for “Indians and lands reserved for Indians” onto the provinces.
According to Duncan, things are different this time with Bill C-3:
“We’ve committed to the First Nations community that we’ll do this exploratory process because every time we’ve wanted to engage on the response to McIvor, they wanted to talk about citizenship and registration (and) membership,” Duncan said after a Senate committee meeting earlier this week.
But Jean Crowder, the NDPs Aboriginal Affairs critic, says the Federal Government has a credibility problem. It already has the positions and information from the five national Aboriginal organizations from previous consultations. She says the Federal Government wants to find another way to get what it wants despite Aboriginal objections.
Sharon MacIvor doesn’t think much of Bill C-3 or anything that will will merely postpone – again and to another generation – the denial of Indigenous rights to define their own citizenship and membership for themselves. MacIvor’s taken her complaints to the United Nations Human Rights Commission.
The government is “not clear with people what they are going to do with this exploratory process. They’re not clear with how they’re going to include people, they’re not clear if legislation is going to be developed, how First Nations are going to be included,” said Crowder.
“This is another way of making the problem go away for a period of time – which they also don’t clarify – and then we’ll deal with it sometime in the future.”
Why is this such a bad idea? Because there’s a smell in the air. It stinks like collaboration. If Duncan and Indian Affairs could find some way to get the national Aboriginal organizations to discriminate on Ottawa’s behalf by devising their own discriminatory rules to deny Indigenous people of their rights, well wouldn’t that be just ducky.
It would be like the former apartheid government of South Africa asking coloureds, Blacks, and every other classification in between to help the government re-define those very classifications that made them second- and third-class people.
Help us, Duncan seems to be saying, to find new and interesting ways to oppress you, to label you as second-class, to categorize your children and their children and so on in ever-increasingly bizarre ways that lead to only one outcome: No status for all.