The federal government is hoping to make it easier for First Nations couples whose marriages break down to divide the matrimonial home and land on reserves equally, but not everyone agrees with the proposed changes.

Currently, provincial laws governing the fair division of assets when marriages fail do not apply on First Nations reserves. The federal Indian Act, which governs most aspects of reserve life, does not address the subject.

Outside of reserves, when a married or common-law couple splits up, the house and belongings can be split 50-50.

But under the Indian Act, on the reserves, only the person issued the band house is in control, which can result in one partner left with nothing.

Bill S-2 aims to allow spouses living both on and off reserves the same rights to claim a share of the family's assets in the event of a marriage breakdown.

The Conservative bill passed third reading in the House of Commons on Tuesday and now needs the approval of the Senate in order for it to become law.

Edna Nabess, who was recently married in a traditional ceremony, has a blanket as a symbol of the union between her and her husband.

But when it comes to divorce, Nabess said it's not as pretty as getting married.

"What do you do when that happens? Rip the blanket in half, rip the kids in half. If you're living on a remote reserve, the house belongs to band, it does not belong to the couple," she said.

'Long struggle for aboriginal women'

The federal Conservative government had introduced a similar bill in 2008, proposing changes to matrimonial property laws on reserves.

Five years later, a newer version of that bill has passed through the House of Commons, and now needs the approval of the Senate to become law.

"It's been a long time, a long struggle for aboriginal women to get equal rights," said former Manitoba MP Brian Pallister, who is now the province's Progressive Conservative leader.

Critics of the bill have said the government is being too paternalistic in designing the legislation, while the government says opposition parties are delaying crucial protections for aboriginal women.

The Assembly of First Nations says something needs to be done about the issue, but First Nations would like to be the ones to create their own divorce laws and handle things internally.

"I think that it is redundant because we know how to govern ourselves, we've done it since time immemorial," said Chief Garrison Settee of the Cross Lake First Nation.

But Nabess welcomes the changes, saying she hopes this will help one of her cousins who is getting divorced.

With files from The Canadian Press