The Indian Act and the Status of Women

In 1850, the first elements of what was to become the Indian Act were established by the ruling British empire. At the time, the government created the first reserves of the English regime. In order to determine who could live on these reserves, Indian status was defined.

In 1876, various laws with implications for the First Nations were grouped together, leading to the creation of the Indian Act. The Act governed all aspects of the lives of Status Indians, but it had a particular impact on the Ikwe.

Under the Act, a female Ikwe who married a non-Native male lost both her status and her privileges. In addition, her children could in no case obtain Indian status. On the other hand, an Indian male who married a non-Native female could pass on his status not only to his children but also to his wife. In order to change this provision, Canada adopted Bill C-31 in 1985. The Bill denounced gender inequality in the Act and made it possible for more than 449,000 members of the First Nations to restore or receive their Indian status.

Although Bill C-31 addressed the issue of gender inequality in the Act, it included concepts and regulations that continued to discriminate against women even after its adoption. In this matter, the McIvor affair made headlines in 1999 when Sharon Donna McIvor claimed that the Indian Act was not equitable with respect to eligibility for registration as an Indian.

Further to Ms. McIvor’s remonstration, Bill C-3 appeared several years later. In response to the objections raised in the McIvor affair, the Bill made other changes to the Indian Act.  After the adoption of Bill C-3 in 2011, Indian status could be passed on to the fourth generation, but restrictions still applied. The problems have not all been resolved, and the Act thus remains discriminatory.

The Indian Act is very complex. At the outset, the Act was supposed to be a temporary measure. However, it still exists and continues to this day to control many aspects of the lives of “Status Indians.”


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