Vision Statement

NWAC envisions a gender-equal society free of discrimination that provides equal circumstances, conditions and opportunities for all Indigenous men, women and gender diverse people. A gender-equal society is one that respects the self-determination, diversity and uniqueness of all Indigenous nations.

Residential Young Boy

Summary

The Indian Act was created to assimilate Indigenous peoples and their communities. Over the years, its amendments have been complex and purposefully confusing, enforcing sex-based inequities. In December 2017, Bill S-3 was passed with the purpose of fixing sex-based discrimination registration provisions within the Indian Act. Known problems within the Indian Act were fixed but several discriminatory issues remain unaddressed. Discrimination of women remains present in hierarchy of status between men and women, unstated parentage, band membership issues and situations relating to sperm donors, surrogacy and fertility treatment. Equal rights of men and women are guaranteed under section 35 of the Constitutional Act, 1982 and recognized under article 44 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) yet the Indian Act provides different circumstances and conditions for Indigenous men and women.

The federal government has completed a collaborative consultation process with Indigenous peoples to address the known sex-based inequities and broader issues of discrimination in Indian registration 1 as required by Bill S-3.2

On June 12, 2019, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs, Carolyn Bennett, tabled her report on the government’s consultations under Bill S-3 to Parliament. While the Minster’s Special Representative’s final report, annexed to the Minster’s report, called for the immediate coming into force of the provisions of Bill S-3 that would remove the 1951 Cut-off, the “Next Steps” of the Minister’s report stated only that the government would develop an implementation plan for the removal of the 1951 Cut-off.3

NWAC continued to call for the timely implementation of the remaining provisions of Bill S-3 and on June 18, 2019, Minister Bennett committed to implement those provisions before the next federal election.1

The impending removal of the 1951 Cut-off is an important success for the rights of Indigenous women and their families; however, inequities under that Indian Act remain. NWAC continues to advocate for legislative and policy reforms to eliminate these injustices and for the ultimate replacement of the Indian Act with UNDRIP-compliant relationships based on the principles of reconciliation, respect and nation-to-nation relationships.

Through these legislative changes, the government can meet its commitment of fully implementing UNDRIP and passing legislation which will conform all of Canada’s laws with the declaration. This presents significant challenges for the continued existence of the Indian Act as it is unlikely the act will survive the reform process required to implement UNDRIP domestically. Despite the colonial and discriminatory nature of the Indian Act, there are also rights and interests of Indigenous Canadians set out under that legislation that must continue to be respected post-Indian Act.

Recommendations

1. Amend sex-based discrimination and other issues in the Indian Act which remain unaddressed by Bill S-3.

2. Implement NWAC’s minimum standards and recommendations while undergoing multi-pronged national consultations to eliminate discrimination under the registration provisions of the Indian Act.

3. Fully implement UNDRIP and conform all of Canada’s laws with the declaration while maintaining the rights and interests of Indigenous Canadians set out in the Indian Act.

  1. CIRNAC, “Collaborative Process on Indian Registration, Band Membership and First Nation Citizenship: Consultation Plan” < https://www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/eng/1522949271019/1522949383224>.
  2. Bill S-3, An Act to amend the Indian Act in response to the Superior Court of Quebec decision in Descheneaux c Canada (Procureur general), 1st Sess, 42nd Parl (2017) cl 11(1) (Royal Assent, 12 December 2017).
  3. CIRNAC, “Collaborative Process on Indian Registration, Band Membership and First Nation Citizenship: Report to Parliament June 2019” < https://www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/eng/1560878580290/1560878705449#9>.
  4. House of Commons Debates, 42nd Parl, 1st Sess, No 436 (18 June 2019) at 29348 (Hon Geoff Regan) < https://www.ourcommons.ca/DocumentViewer/en/42-1/house/sitting-436/hansard>.