First Nations women finally to be treated equally under Indian Act: Bennett

OTTAWA — First Nations women will finally be treated the same as men under the Indian Act, enabling them to obtain the same status and category of membership as their male counterparts and their descendants, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett said Friday.

Past provisions within the long-controversial Indian Act meant women lost their status when they married non-Indigenous men, while men who married non-Indigenous women kept their status, Bennett said.

But with the remaining provisions of the legislation known as S-3 coming into force, descendants born before April 17, 1985, who lost their status or were removed from band lists due to marriages to non-Indian men dating back to 1869 can now be registered as First Nations members.

When a modern registry was created in 1951, registries from individual Indian Act bands were merely folded into the modern registry so the women who lost their status were not contained within it, Bennett said.

“What we are saying now is that … there will be now gender equality for all of the women even before the registry was created and their descendants,” Bennett said in an interview.

On Friday, the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action thanked Bennett for “finally removing the sex discrimination in the Indian Act.”

On Twitter, the group said the move amounts to a “great first step” towards implementing the recommendations from the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, and it is looking forward to working on a national action plan to respond to the inquiry’s calls to action.

Registration in the Indian Act affords First Nations individuals federal benefits and services, including access to post-secondary education funding and non-insured health benefits.

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