More Nation members, but no more money

Wed. Apr. 6/11
More Nation members, but no more money
Mark Kiemele

Significant, but not enough… That pretty much what summed up reaction from First Nation leaders to the proposed legislation to the Indian Act that will give 45,000 more people status without any clear idea of where funding will come from for Nations to deal with all those new members.

The government was forced to create Bill C-3 that promotes gender equity in response to the Court of Appeal for British Columbia decision in McIvor v. Canada. The legislation gives the grandchildren of women who have married or will marry non-natives ‘Indian status’. The court gave Ottawa a deadline of April 6, 2010, to change the law. The government has applied for an extension until the end of the current parliamentary session.

But how quickly the bill moves through Parliament may depend on how the McIvor appeal goes through the Supreme Court of Canada.

Chief Doug White of Snuneymuxw First Nation was one of the first leaders to respond to news of the legislation. He told the Nanaimo Daily News that about 100 women in his community whose grandmothers married non-status Indians would have their status reinstated.

"This is significant legislation because it recognizes that women in our community who have been continually discriminated against because of who their grandmothers married will now be welcomed back into our community.It will bring back a generation of females who had been excluded from our community.

"There are a lot of people who will be able to feel like full-fledged members of our community who have previously been told they are not the same people as other family members."

But White said the legislation still does not address the core obstacle within the Indian Act. "It will not address what the Supreme Court of Canada has said and that is that aboriginal people have the right to determine who they are."

Once Bill C-3 becomes law, people with status will become entitled to the wide range of programs and services offered by federal agencies, provincial governments and the private sector. So, too, will First Nations.

But when the legislation was announced in early March, there was no news of increased funding for Nations to provide on-reserve programs and services for all their new members.Overall needs would increase for housing, infrastructure, school facilities and other community services.

Indian and Northern Affairs Canada has said that program and service policies should apply to new First Nations members in the same way as they apply to other members. But INAC also said that some First Nations councils could also pass by-laws relating to residency.