PRESS RELEASE: NWAC Applauds the Long-Awaited Elimination of Sex Discrimination in Indian Act Initiated By Government

July 28, 2016 (Ottawa ON) – The Native Women’s Association of Canada recognizes the Government’s stated commitment to end the sex-based discrimination that is embedded in the Indian Act.  Building from the Descheneaux case, the federal government has taken the opportunity to end sex discrimination in the entire Indian Act.

“We commend this commitment and would caution the Government about the timeline. We are currently in the middle of the summer, children are off school, and it is the time for berry picking, harvesting and fishing. Indigenous women have multiple priorities at this time and a short timeline for an issue that has been this longstanding could result in missed opportunities to build our collaboration relationship and ensure that we deal with the nuanced and explicit forms of sex discrimination in the Indian Act,” President Lavell-Harvard said.

The Government of Canada announced that they will have a two-staged approach in response to the Superior Court of Quebec decision in the case of Descheneaux et al., v. Canada.‎

A complete overhaul by the Government will be in direct contrast to the individualized, piecemeal approaches that have been done since the 1960’s and has required Indigenous women to go to court, and sacrifice their private life in order to achieve justice and fairness.  We take this opportunity to acknowledge and recognize the women who pursued individual court cases including Sharon McIvor, Jeanette Corbiere Lavell, and Yvonne Bedard and the many women behind Bill C-31.

The two-part process, as described by the Government of Canada, is to be “in full partnership with Indigenous peoples to first eliminate all known sex-based discrimination in the Indian Act.”  The Government’s plan in the coming weeks is to launch a formal engagement for legislative amendments to the Indian registration provisions under the Indian Act which will respond to the specific facts in the Descheneaux decision. These changes must be in place by February 3, 2017.  At that time the Government will also try to address “all other known sex-based discrimination in registration under the Act.”

The second phase is described by the federal government as a “collaborative process to examine the broader and systemic issues related to Indian registration and membership not covered in stage one.”   NWAC is particularly looking forward to addressing not only the systemic issues but the impact those issues have had on Indigenous women including our personal sense of identity; the lack of belonging and recognition by some communities when women want to return to their community; the undermining of Indigenous women’s governance roles and the connection to the violence we see in our families when women and men do not maintain their balanced governance roles.

As a National Indigenous Women’s Organization that has spent ten years being undermined, ignored and having our funding cut by 60% by the federal government, NWAC is in a process of actively rebuilding our capacity to substantively respond and coordinate a national response within short timelines. Our current rebuilding status needs to be factored into engagement processes at this time and should not be used as a way to undermine our participation in these key discussions and decisions.

We would ask in the spirit of that relationship they consider our noted concerns and, also, lift the Government’s opposition to Sharon McIvor’s petition at the UN Human Rights Committee which seeks full 6(1)(a) status for herself and her son.

NWAC will work with the Government of Canada to end the sex-based discrimination that has been part of the Indian Act since 1876.

For more information on the Descheneaux et al., v. Canada. case: http://www.firstpeopleslaw.com/database/files/library/Descheneaux_c._Canada_(Procureur_Gnral)_2015_QCCS_3555_(CanLII).pdf

 

The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) is founded on the collective goal to enhance, promote, and foster the social, economic, cultural and political well-being of First Nations and Métis women within First Nation, Métis and Canadian societies.  As a national organization representing Aboriginal women since 1974, NWAC’s mandate is to achieve equality for all Aboriginal women in Canada.

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Dan Peters
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