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.
The NWAC Legal Unit works on a variety of issues and cases impacting our communities. This includes:
The Indian Act
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 condition for Indigenous men and women.
The federal government has committed to a comprehensive consultation processes with Indigenous peoples to address the known sex-based inequities and broader issues of discrimination in Indian registration. The government has stated that they will not act unilaterally before making any further legislative amendments that may impact registration provisions of the Indian Act. If the government has already decided on its response to the consultation processes, the meaningfulness of the consultation may be brought into question.
In January 2018, the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) and the Board of Directors (the Board) reviewed and discussed discrimination under the registration provision of the Indian Act and the government’s next phase of consultation. Through open and frank discussions, and surveys provided by NWAC, the Board was able to provide valuable information on consultation requirements. NWAC determined that consultations must be undertaken in good faith by providing safe, accessible and culturally appropriate opportunities, places and methods. The objects of consultation must eliminate discrimination of sex, age and marital status. The consultations serve the purpose of recognizing a nation-to-nation relationship between Canada and Indigenous peoples while representing the voices of the individuals and groups most directly affected by the legislation, particularly women. They will provide Indigenous women with the opportunity to be heard in their communities, in urban areas, on campuses and in institutions.
Through these changes to legislation, the government can attain their commitment of fully implementing UNDRIP and to pass 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 bigoted 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.
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.