Proposed bill to end sex-based discrimination in Indian Act a long time coming: FSIN chief

If passed the bill will make it easier for Indigenous women to pass their status on to their children.

Bill S-3 would restore full legal status to some First Nations women and their descendants

FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron said the process has been frustrating. (CBC)

The chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations says in the time of reconciliation and other "fine and dandy words,"  a federal bill amendment that would make it easier for Indigenous women to pass their status on to their children is a long time coming.

"We've been stating this for many, many decades. Past leaders have stated the same thing. Past chiefs have died stating the same thing," said Bobby Cameron. 

Last year, the federal government agreed to address sex-based discrimination that exists within the Indian Act.

But it did not change the clause stating people fathered by status men before Sept. 4, 1951, would get status, while status women who married non-status men could not pass on their status. This is known as the 1951 cutoff.

On Tuesday, the government made the first steps to address this. Bill S-3 would restore full legal status to all First Nations women and their descendants who lost status prior to the 1985 amendment known as Bill C-31.

Cameron said the process has been frustrating, questioning why a court order was required and why it's only now that this issue is being taken seriously. 

"Here we have the government, if they were truly sincere about amending the Indian Act, then our First Nations should be fully involved in this federal policy review," he said.

Senator Lillian Dyck has long been pushing for this change. (Jason Warick)

Lillian Dyck, a Saskatchewan senator,  has long been fighting for this change and others to the Indian Act.

Dyck's mother lost her status in 1943, which meant Dyck was unable to attain status until 1985. If the senator had grandchildren, they would not be eligible for status since Dyck is a woman, she said. 

"I'm feeling very optimistic," said Dyck. "A group of First Nations women that were descendents that were excluded because of an artificial date of 1951, they are in the bill."

Dyck said that if the bill passes there has been consideration paid as to how they will deal with many now eligible people claiming status. A consultation period will take place and Indian Bands will be given estimates as to how many people will be joining them. 

As for how many people will be affected by Bill S-3, estimates range from 80,000 to one million, according to demographer Stewart Clatworthy. 

Cameron said early estimates show 50,000 to 200,000 people in Saskatchewan could be affected by the bill passing.

But if the bill passes, people will still have to go through the existing channels to attain status.

The motion introduced in the senate will have to go to the House of Commons, providing it is passed on Thursday. From there, Dyck is hoping the process will conclude by mid-December. There is also a court imposed deadline of Dec. 22. 

With files from CBC Radio's The Afternoon Edition