Mary Two-Axe was a well-known advocate who challenged Canada's discriminatory Indian Act which took Indian status away from Indian women if they married a non-Indian. Jeanette-Corbiere Lavell and Yvonne Bédard took Canada all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada to challenge these marrying-out provisions and lost. This gave Sandra Lovelace the opportunity to go straight to the United Nations and argue her case and win. The United Nations decided that Canada cannot enact legislation that denies Indian women and their children the right to enjoy their culture together with their communities.
However, the Bill C-31 amendments, while reinstating some Indian women, still discriminated against many others. Sharon McIvor dedicated 25 years to the court system to challenge this residual discrimination. She also won, but the court left it up to Canada to amend the Act. This resulted in Bill C-3, which remedied some of the discrimination for Indian women, but added more discriminatory provisions to the Act, which forced McIvor to take her case to the United Nations as well. While we wait for the decision in that case, Lynn Gehl has put in over 20 years trying to seek justice for Indian women and their children in terms of unstated paternity.
Gehl’s case focuses on what is known as unknown or unstated paternity – Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada's (AANDC) policy to automatically presume that an unknown or unstated father is a non-Indian - even if the father is, in fact, an Indian. Unstated or unknown paternity manifests in a variety of ways. For example, AANDC will unilaterally determine that the father is non-Indian if:
AANDC is not legally required to process applications with the presumption that an unstated father is a non-Indian. This is a clear policy choice made by AANDC to reduce the number of Indians over time. Prior to 1985, there was a legal presumption of Indian paternity for unwed mothers – there was no mad dash to try to scam the system and register non-entitled children. Thus, there is no reason why AANDC cannot presume Indian paternity in the absence of documentation. At the end of the day, the child is born to, will live with and be raised by his/her Indian mother, family and community.
However, such a policy does not correspond to Canada's ultimate objective regarding Indians. AANDC’s policy objective has always been “the final solution of the Indian problem” i.e., to ensure “there is not a single Indian in Canada”. In fact,
Canada is the last remaining country to determine who is an Indigenous person based on racial characteristics (descent through male blood). It is a racist formulation based on outdated views about biological characteristics of "races" and debunk sciences like eugenics and phrenology which sought to eliminate "undesirable" human populations.
AANDC is the federal government department which created the rules to determine who can be registered as an Indian (status). Indian status confers not only program benefits like education and health care, but also determines who can be a band member; live on the reserve; vote or run for office in a First Nation; and often who is and is not a treaty beneficiary. Just like Canadian citizenship determines whether or not a Canadian can access education and health services from their province, Indian status determines eligibility on the federal side. So, its not that Indians get anything "more" from status in terms of programs, its just the source of the benefits.
AANDC has done an incredible job of misinforming Canadians about the impacts of registering Indians. They often make comments about "floodgates" (i.e. everyone will become an Indian) and "costs" (this will be burden on taxpayers). The truth is, in terms of registrations, it would not have a significant impact.. While the Bill C-31 population projections (Indian women being reinstated to Indian status) ranged from 20-40% increase, the projected increases for unstated paternity are relatively small - approximately 2%. This does not substantiate the fear-mongering around population increases.
Similarly, if the only concern here is money - there is no increased burden on taxpayers. For every person that is registered as an Indian they will get less money for education, health care, housing, food, water, and less child and family services. Status Indians are the most impoverished people in Canada. Plus, its the wealth from Indigenous lands and resources that pay for our programs and services and also subsidizes the programs and services of Canadians - not the other way around. Therefore, there is no financial argument to made against affording equality to Indian women and their children.
This federal policy purposefully, systematically and disproportionately impacts Indigenous women who are most often the primary caregivers of their children and statistically more likely to live in poverty. This is especially true of young, teenage Indigenous mothers – 80% of whom were found to live in households making less than $15,000 a year. These mothers, often lone parents, depend on the federal programs and services associated with Indian status to care for their children.
Other recommendations for change from Indigenous women have included:
Selection of sources on Unstated Paternity: