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Our Native Land: Indigenous women fight for equal rights

The Story

The 1876 Indian Act stipulated an Indigenous woman who married a non-Indigenous man would lose her Indigenous status. But when an Indigenous man married a non-Indigenous woman, she would be granted Indigenous status. This discrimination lasted for 109 years until Parliament passed Bill C-31. As the bill is introduced in Parliament, Our Native Land airs this report. Sandra Lovelace, who took her case to the United Nations' court, talks about being labelled a "trouble-maker" by her band. And the chief of the Assembly of First Nations says the legislation is just an "attempt to satisfy white women ... that have no business whatsoever in the affairs of Indians."

Medium: Radio
Program: Our Native Land
Broadcast Date: March 2, 1985
Guests: David Ahenakew, Louis "Smokey" Bruyere, David Crombie, Cliff Gazee, Marilyn Kane, Leslie Kohsed-Currie, Sandra Lovelace, Jim Manley, Jenny Margetts, Theresa Nahanee, Keith Penner
Host: Brian Maracle
Duration: 24:29
This clip has been edited for copyright reasons.

Did You know?

• The 1876 Indian Act's aim of assimilating Indigenous people into white culture, coupled with Victorian notions that women were the property of their husbands, were behind Section 12 (b) of the Act, which stripped Indigenous women of their status upon marriage to a non-status Indian as defined by the Act. Any children produced by that marriage did not have Indian status.

• Mary Two-Axe Earley organized one of the first women's groups to fight for removal of Section 12 (b) after witnessing her friend being kicked off the Kahnawake reserve because she married outside the band. Two-Axe Earley, who married a non-Indian, was barely allowed back on her reserve after her husband died, describing herself as "a guest in my own house." In 1967, Earley and Jenny Margetts founded Equal Rights for Indian Women, which worked with the nascent National Action Committee on the Status of Women to press the issue in Ottawa. At 73 years old, Earley was the first person to regain her Indian status, a tribute to her pioneering work on the issue.

• Jeannette Lavell contested her loss of Indian status in the Supreme Court of Canada in 1973. In the wake of the death of the 1969 white paper, which proposed ditching the Indian act entirely, national Indigenous associations, run almost exclusively by men, feared the case could threaten the act again. Lavell, who argued the discriminatory Section 12(b) violated the Canadian Bill of Rights, lost her case.

• In another case, Sandra Lovelace and her children returned to the Tobique reserve in New Brunswick after Lovelace divorced her American husband. Lovelace and her children were denied housing, health care and education. In 1977, she appealed to the UN Human Rights Committee. When called by the committee, the Canadian government said it wanted to change the law but it was hamstrung by divisions within the First Nations community over the issue. In 1981, the UN Committee ruled that Canada had broken the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

• Even after Parliament passed Bill C-31, the legislation remained controversial in the First Nations community. Some band leaders were afraid they wouldn't have the funds to support a flood of new members, while the women argued discrimination still existed because their children were not automatically granted status - unlike the children of a status Indian and his non-Indigenous wife.


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