Sask. First Nations will write own 'citizenship' rules

Saskatchewan's First Nations chiefs voted Wednesday to start writing their own set of aboriginal 'citizenship' laws.

Saskatchewan's First Nations chiefs voted Wednesday to start writing their own set of aboriginal "citizenship" laws.

A special assembly of chiefs of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations met in Prince Albert to discuss issues related to Indian status and citizenship within First Nations communities.

Their goal is to have citizenship acts written for every First Nation in the province.

That would be a departure from the current system, where matters of aboriginal status are handled through the federal Indian Act.

Lawrence Joseph, chief of the FSIN, told reporters that First Nations should determine their own membership.

"It's not their right to grant anything," Joseph said, referring to federal bureaucrats who administer the Indian Act. "They're just basically responsible under the charter — under Section 35 of the charter —  to respect and implement our inherent rights and treaty."

Local decisions

Joseph added that he hopes the federal government will respect local decisions relating to membership.

"We can do this in co-operation and collaboration with governments," Joseph said. "Or, of course, litigation is an option. And we really don't want to go there at this time."

The FSIN decision followed a recent court case in British Columbia that, if followed as a precedent for the rest of Canada, could give thousands of people First Nations status.

Joseph said that case had no bearing on the chiefs' decision Wednesday.

He said the FSIN had been developing its own framework to determine who should have Indian status.

"We should be very, very careful not to be discriminatory," he said. "And we should not be gender-based."

Joseph described the Indian Act as a sinking ship.

In April, the B.C. Court of Appeal gave the federal government a year to change parts of the Indian Act that the court said violate the rights of some aboriginal women and their children.

The ruling stemmed from the case of Sharon McIvor of Merritt, B.C., and her son, Charles Grismer. McIvor lost her Indian status when she married a non-aboriginal man.

Even after reforms reinstated status to an entire generation, Grismer was still barred from passing on Indian status to children that he had with his non-aboriginal spouse.

McIvor fought for 20 years to reinstate herself and her son after the Indian Act was amended in 1985. Before 1985, if two generations of status Indian men married non-Indian women, the next generation lost its Indian status at age 21.