By Frank Larue
Sharon McIvor must be smiling. A professor of Aboriginal law who fought for changes in the Indian Act for 20 years, she was responsible for helping women who married non-Natives to retain their status along with their children, but not their grandchildren. Now the Conservative government has agreed to extend the Indian status for one more generation, which means an estimated 45,000 people will be recognized as status Indians.
The effects of the decision can only be truly understood by someone like Carol Scott who was interviewed by CBC. Her grandmother had married a non-Aboriginal man, which meant her grandmother and her children couldn’t live on-reserve and were denied health and education benefits. Carol said it cut even deeper than being ostracized. “It’s almost like you’re lost,” she said. “You’re in limbo. You don’t know where you belong anymore. And that’s so important, to belong. We want what belongs to us. It’s our birthright. I’m an Aboriginal person, I’m proud of it, and I want my son to be proud of it, too.”
The fact that the Federal government has the right to determine who is or is not a Native has been a stumbling block for over a century. Harper’s government hasn’t always been supportive to First Nations attempting to rectify the Indian Act. The federally funded Court Challenges program, which funded court cases that supported language and equality rights guaranteed under Canada’s constitution, was cancelled by Harper. This meant that any Native person who challenged the Indian Act would have to handle court costs unassisted, a sure way of discouraging First Nations protesters from implementing changes that should have been made a long time ago.
John Gordon, National President of the Public Service of Canada, has supported Sharon McIvor in her battle and has told the media, “We will be persistent in our efforts to correct the tremendous inequalities that exist for Aboriginal peoples, and I urge all members to take an active role in making that happen.”
AFN director Shawn Atleo has reservations about allowing government the right to define citizenship. “And so here we are again with potentially the federal government acting in isolation and unilaterally in defining who is or who isn’t a member of a community when it really rightfully belongs to the indigenous nations to do so,” he pointed out. Shawn said he welcomes any changes that make the rules fairer for Aboriginal women and their descendants.