Readers recount the hassles faced while using, or trying to use, an Indian status card

Even though a status card is a form of government-issued ID, many report having issues using it as identification or to claim their sales tax exemptions.

'It's embarrassing when they say that they're not willing to accept it'

Gisele Rickard and Jessie James drove an hour and a half with the dealership salesperson to a reserve to get a tax exemption on their truck. (Submitted by Gisele Rickard and Jessie James)

Jasmine Kabatay is one of two recipients of the 2018 CJF-CBC Indigenous Journalism Fellowships, established to encourage Indigenous voices and better understanding of Indigenous issues in Canada's major media and community outlets.

When Gisele Rickard and Jessie James went to buy a new truck in Orangeville, Ont., they met with the dealership, went through all the paperwork and everything was going great — until they pulled out a status card for the salesperson.

"The first thing that came out of his mouth was 'Oh, this is going to cause a lot of problems,'" said James.

Status cards are a form of government-issued identification that prove a person is registered as a status Indian under the Indian Act. They provide access to services including health benefits and certain tax exemptions.

But even though a status card is a form of government-issued ID, many report having issues using it as identification or to claim their tax exemptions.

In Ontario, status Indians are eligible for an exemption from the provincial sales tax at the point of purchase. But for an exemption from GST, items have to be delivered to a reserve.

For Rickard and James, their truck purchase turned into a two-day process. They and the salesperson had to drive to the closest reserve, an hour and a half away near Orillia, to take a picture with the sign and the truck to earn their tax exemption.

"I said "Why do I need this to be on a reserve? I have proof. We have a status card; we don't need to do that," but they said they were following the rules," said Rickard.

James said he has bought other vehicles before and used his status card and never had to go through that process, with one salesperson in Hamilton encouraging him to use his card.

"I pulled out all my ID and somehow my status card fell out on the counter and she says 'hey slow down there, give me your status card I'm going to save you some money,' And I said OK. I pulled it out and she just wrote down the number and that was it."

James said in Orangeville the dealership owner came out to apologize for the extra steps they went through.

"He said his hands were tied and he was sorry but he was abiding by the federal government rules," said James.

Strange looks

Shady Hafez in Quebec, who is half-Anishinaabe and half-Syrian, said despite having the new, secure version of the card he constantly has to explain himself to people while using his card because he looks Syrian.

"If it's not a verbal comment, I get a really strange look," said Hafez.

"If I do get a verbal comment … people will be like 'how does someone like you get this card?'"

Shady Hafez says he has trouble using his secure status card while crossing the border. (Submitted by Shady Hafez)

He gets questioned the most when he uses his card to cross the border.

"I was travelling with my [regalia], and they had pulled us over and they were looking through the car and I had all my feathers and stuff, and he was like 'Do you have a status card to carry all this?'

"I said 'Yeah totally,' so I pulled it out and he examined it and he looked at my girlfriend who was visibly Native, and he was like 'I know in some communities you can marry in and get one of these, is that what's going on here?'"

'I don't like people rolling their eyes at me'

Barb Dawson tried to use her status card as identification in Kelowna, B.C., at a Telus location and was told by the worker that Telus didn't accept status cards as ID.

"The experience of her denying the status card — her rolling her eyes, her sense of superiority — I had to leave the office and wait outside because I was getting very upset, angry," said Dawson.

When Dawson reached out to Telus on Twitter about her experience, she felt they downplayed the situation by the response they gave, which was that the Telus location already told her what identification was acceptable.

"I just don't like people rolling their eyes at me because of me trying to use a piece of legitimate ID as my ID. That's crazy to me."

But according to Telus representative Liz Sauvé, their locations do accept status cards as identification.

"While a status card is accepted as identification and it's one of the accepted IDs that we take, it has to be accompanied by another piece of ID that can then be used as a credit card assessment, so like a SIN card or a driver's licence or a passport or something like that," said Sauvé.

Though it was an unpleasant experience for Dawson, she still uses her card every chance she can get.

"If I have to go through the process of getting a status card, which is like, ridiculous, and people question it on top of that? I mean, of course I'm going to try and use it as much as I can," said Dawson.

'It's been how many years?'

Jenny Kay Dupuis got her status card in 2011. When she went to use it at Canadian retailer Rudsak that year, at a store in Toronto, she was told they did not accept status cards for point of purchase exemptions on provincial sales tax.

"They indicated that their systems do not accommodate the point of sale exemptions; they also said their systems are considered older and was just not able to process it," said Dupuis.

Jenny Kay Dupuis has tried to use her status card for a point of purchase tax exemption at Rudsak locations without success. (Submitted by Jenny Kay Dupuis)

She contacted the head office and told them that wasn't acceptable for a Canadian company, and they said that when they update their systems in the future they would look into it. Near the end of September this year, she went to use her card at a Rudsak location and was told again by the cashier they didn't accept status cards.

"It's been how many years later?" said Dupuis.

"I really thought when I walked into the store 'OK, for sure it would have been updated by now' and when I got told again it was kind of like… it doesn't feel right.

"It's embarrassing when they say that they're not willing to accept it, especially when other people are standing around."

According to Ady Ohayon, manager for customer experience at Rudsak, they are still operating on an old point of sale system and can't do tax exemptions but are in the process of updating it.

"I'm thinking it's a process because it has to sync with our inventory, so in all likelihood it's an eight to 12-month process. So by then we should be able to accept them," said Ohayon.

According to the Ontario Ministry of Finance website, vendors don't have to provide the exemption at point of purchase. If they don't, the consumer can apply to the government by mail with the original receipts for a refund on the tax paid.

'Sometimes I just don't want to use it'

Matt Ward in Edmonton has tried to use his status card as a proof of age at bars, and says even that can be a headache.

Matt Ward says using a status card is often a lot of work. (submitted by Matt Ward)

"You show your ID and the person at the door checks it and then taps the person next to them and they come over and they're staring at it, and then they radio one of the staff to come out and then they're radioing the manager to come out to double check and I'm standing there for 10 minutes by myself trying to go in to meet my friends feeling like 'Oh my god, am I even going to get in?'"

He said he doesn't use his status card unless it's absolutely necessary.

"I definitely defer to other documents if I can, mostly because dealing with the headache of the extra half hour or whatever it takes people to cross reference and make sure it's accepted there is a lot of work," said Ward.

Hafez agrees.

"I would say that sometimes I just don't want to use it, just to not deal with the hassle of it," he said.


Jasmine Kabatay is an Anishinaabe journalist from Seine River First Nation in northwestern Ontario. She is based in Thunder Bay and has also written for the Toronto Star, and VICE News.