On August 15, 2019 the Government of Canada proclaimed into force the remaining provisions of Bill S-3 which eliminate the pre-1985 sex discrimination from the Indian Act. From 1876 to 2019, the Indian Act’s status provisions discriminated on the basis of sex, denying First Nations women and their descendants’ status in circumstances where First Nations men and their descendants were entitled to status. The nearly-century and a half of discriminatory treatment of First Nations women and their descendants under the Indian Act has had a profound, inter-generational impact on them, as well as on their families and communities. The impugned provisions of the Indian Act have effectively functioned as a tool in Canada's settler colonial, assimilationist project. The provisions enabled the Crown to define certain groups of First Nations women as “non-Indian”, disentitling them from the recognition, benefits and forms of community membership that have come to accompany status, and displacing Indigenous ways of identifying community belonging. Domestic and international human rights adjudicators have long found the Indian Act's discriminatory treatment of First Nations women and their descendants to be unconstitutional and contrary to Canada’s international human rights obligations. The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have also recognized that the discrimination is a root cause of violence in the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada.
The decades long struggle to eliminate the sex discrimination under the Indian Act is well-documented in myriad domestic and international legal briefs and decisions, press releases, civil society reports, academic articles and government consultation papers. An online collection of these documents is now accessible as part of the Bora Laskin Law Library’s Special Collections at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law: https://library.law.utoronto.ca/node/2759
The collection is a living collection of documents that continues to be updated.
The collection includes the cases brought before domestic and international courts by First Nations women from 1977 to 2019. The recent repeal of the discriminatory provisions in the Indian Act was the culmination of years of efforts on the part of Indigenous women leaders. Together with their allies, these women have fought hard in courtrooms, international human rights fora, and on Parliament Hill for First Nations women to be entitled to status on an equal footing with First Nations men. As stated by Dr. Pam Palmater:
"The credit for this victory goes to Mary Two-Axe Early, Jeanette Corbiere Lavell, Yvonne Bedard, Sandra Lovelace, Sharon McIvor, Susan & Tammy Yantha, Stephane Descheneaux, Lynn Gehl, Jeremy Matson and the many, many Indigenous women who fought their entire lives, together with their human rights allies, to end sex discrimination against First Nation women and children. Despite all of the struggles, resources and effort it took to advocate for their rights, they persisted. These warrior women need to be acknowledged for their sacrifices and victories fighting Canada in domestic and international courts. Sharon McIvor can well be considered the grandmother to thousands of babies who would never have been registered or included in their First Nations but for her persistence in the face of repeated federal denial of her rights and breach of Canada’s own constitution. Their hard work will mean a big difference for thousands of First Nation children."
In response to Bill S-3, the Government of Canada is in the process of revising the application process to register for status under the Indian Act. The process has been plagued by delays and there is currently a backlog of applications. If your application was denied in the past, you can reapply and may now be eligible for status as a result of Bill S-3 and the elimination of the pre-1985 sex-discrimination in the Indian Act.
Please contact Lara Koerner Yeo for more information on the impacts of Bill S-3 on status eligibility and the registration process. Please also direct any questions or comments to Lara relating to the collection of documents at the Bora Laskin Law Library, and how to add documents to the collection.