Indian Status: 5 more things you need to know

Is a status card like a credit card or a free pass for everything in Canada? Let’s clear up some myths around status cards — as simply as possible.

Dispelling commonly held myths around First Nations and status cards

A First Nations status card inserted into a debit machine.
Although a status card allows "registered Indians" access to some benefits, it's not a credit card and it's not a free pass. (Wawmeesh Hamilton)

A status card is government ID that identifies someone as a "status Indian" as defined by the federal Indian Act.

Although a status card allows "registered Indians" access to some benefits, it's not a credit card and it's not a free pass.

Let's clear up some myths around status cards — as simply as possible.

Not all Aboriginal Peoples are status card-carrying 'Indians'

The Indian Status card is not a credit card. (Indigenous Services Canada)
Not all indigenous people in Canada are eligible for a status card. The Inuit and Métis do not have status cards because they are not an "Indian" as defined by the Indian Act — at least not yet.

In the case of Daniels v. Canada, the Federal Court recognized them as "Indians" under the Constitution. The federal government appealed that ruling.

In 2014, the Federal Court of Appeal upheld part of the decision. It ruled that while Métis should remain "Indians" under the Constitution, extending that recognition to "non-status Indians" should be done on a case-by-case basis since it is a separate issue. The case is now before the Supreme Court.

There are "Indians" who don't qualify for a status card but are still indigenous to this country. The government just doesn't recognize the lineage to their family lines. However, their home communities, called "bands," recognize them as members.

Let's just say that if you are a card-carrying "status Indian" and you have a child with a non-status person. Your child would still have status.

However, if that child went on to have a child with a non-status person, their children may not be eligible for a status card. This is just one example of the complicated process of how the government has decided who is and isn't eligible for status.

P.S.: Even though a status card is official government ID, we still are not allowed to use it as ID to vote in elections.

It's an income tax free-for-all

This one drives a lot of indigenous people crazy. Yes, some of us don't pay income taxes. (I'm not one of them, unfortunately.) In order to benefit from this, you have to live and work on reserve.

There is one exception where "status Indians" are tax-exempt on the income they've earned while living off reserve. They have to work at a registered First Nations government organization; that organization has to have its head office on reserve land, which can be an urban reserve. The organization's main objective has to be the "social, cultural, educational or economic development of Indians who for the most part live on reserves. If the duties of employment are in connection with non-commercial activities carried out exclusively for the benefit of Indians who for the most part live on reserves," according to a Law Now article

We pay GST, PST and the HST. Except when we present our status card to on-reserve gas stations. Except when goods are purchased and delivered on-reserve. Except when we purchase cigarette and tobacco products on-reserve. Except in Ontario, where we are exempt from paying the PST portion of the HST. Then we are tax-exempt. There may be a few other examples, but these are the biggies.

What about all that free stuff?

No, we don't get free houses, free braces, free gas (despite what Justin Bieber so famously stated in a Rolling Stone interview), free trucks or free money when we turn 18. We also don't get free Slurpees. (Yes, someone out there actually believes that.)

We also don't all get free university.

The whole "free university" debate is a contentious one. I use the word "debate" because it is an ongoing myth that we keep needing to correct.

Each band gets a certain amount of money each year for post-secondary education. It doesn't equate into enough for everyone who wants to attend. Also, you can't just show up at the band office, asking for funding.

There are hoops, people! And grade point averages to maintain. Also, you have to reapply every year. There is no guarantee that you will get funding from year to year. This isn't whining. This is a fact.

Your status card is like a passport, right?

"So what you're telling me is you'd be a real Canadian?!"

This has actually been said to a friend of mine. The person quoted believed that if people live on a reserve that they are not Canadians. But we are real Canadians, arguably the First Canadians.

Did you know "status Indians" actually need a Canadian passport in order to fly out of the country?

However, we are still allowed to drive over the border with a status card.

The sky's the limit for health care

Actually, there is a ceiling for what is covered and what isn't. Each year, that health care coverage gets more and more limited as to what Aboriginal Affairs will cover for prescription medicines, dental care, eye care and medical devices.

We can't flash a status card and get a golden crown placed on a molar. We can't flash a status card and get the latest Prada lenses.

Unlike the American Express credit card, membership doesn't have its privileges. At least, it doesn't have the privileges the myths would have you believe.


Kim Wheeler is an Anishinabe/Mohawk. She is a writer and an award-winning producer living in Winnipeg. Her work on the CBC radio series ReVision Quest garnered a New York Festival silver medal and two ImagineNative awards. Wheeler currently works as an associate producer for the CBC Aboriginal Digital Unit and Unreserved on CBC Radio One.