First Nations women and their descendants need 6(1)(a) status 'all the way,' says advocate

An Algonquin Anishinaabe advocate is calling on Canada to implement delayed Bill S-3 amendments to eliminate residual sex-based discrimination within the Indian Act before the end of June.

Campaign lobbies for full Bill S-3 implementation before summer

Lynn Gehl, an Algonquin Anishinaabe advocate, has launched a campaign to raise awareness of residual sex-based discrimination in the Indian Act and get the remaining clauses of Bill S-3 implemented. (Samantha Moss)

An Algonquin Anishinaabe advocate is calling on Canada to implement delayed Bill S-3 amendments to eliminate residual sex-based discrimination within the Indian Act before the end of June.

Lynn Gehl, who fought a decades-long legal battle to receive Indian status, has launched "6(1)(a) all the way," a 16-week campaign in response to the federal government's consultation process on Indian registration, band membership and First Nation citizenship that is expected to wrap this month.

The most recent amendments to the Indian Act to eliminate sex discrimination came into law December 2017 through Bill S-3, with the exception of a string of clauses delayed until the government completes its consultation process.

"You don't need to consult on rights," said Gehl, who said she did not participate in the consultation process. 

"A right is a right. If you have to consult on it, it's not a right."

Different status categories

Prior to 1985, Indian status was passed down almost exclusively through men. That year, it changed to a system of counting status grandparents and everyone who had status or was entitled to status before the new rule was categorized under section 6(1)(a).

Women who had lost status as a result of marriage and got it back were categorized under 6(1)(c), and some of their descendants are categorized as 6(2).

Aboriginal law lawyer David Schulze said the difference can affect whether the children, grandchildren or even great-grandchildren of Indigenous women who lost status are eligible for status.

"The fact that we still have 6(1)(a) — it is still reserved for everyone who had Indian status under the old discriminatory rules pre-1985 —  it still gives a boost to Indian men who married non-Indian women to the disadvantage of their sisters who lost their status when they married non-Indian men."

'Crucial time' to implement delayed clauses

The delayed clauses of Bill S-3 include the removal of a practice of linking registration reform to the date of 1951 (commonly known as the '51 cut-off), as well as providing 6(1) status to all descendants, born prior to April 17, 1985, of women who lost status.

"They did consultations after the Sharon McIvor amendment in 2011; they also did consultations in 1985," said Gehl.

"I think they're just stalling and refusal to eliminate the discrimination."

Her campaign calls on the government to implement the clauses before cabinet breaks for the summer. She is asking people to support the campaign by emailing the prime minister, the minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and the minister of Women and Gender Equality.

Gehl plans to spend every Tuesday until June 30 outside of Minister of Women and Gender Equality Maryam Monsef's constituency office in Peterborough, Ont. 

"It's a crucial time to have those dormant clauses put into law because Trudeau will be moving into platform mode and then off for the summer," she said.

The office of the minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations said it will be reporting to Parliament in June on the implementation plan and next steps. 

"Gender equality is a fundamental human right, and that was why it was a priority of our government to finally eliminate all sex-based discrimination from the Indian Act through Bill S-3," read a statement issued by the office. 

"We have appointed Ms. Dumont-Smith as a Ministerial Special Representative to work with our partners on an implementation plan for the remaining parts of the bill and broader reforms to registration, membership and First Nation citizenship."


Ka’nhehsí:io Deer is a Kanien’kehá:ka journalist from Kahnawà:ke, south of Montreal. She is currently a reporter with CBC Indigenous covering communities across Quebec.