A Collective Noun
Historically, “Indian” has been used in Canada to refer to Since the Canadian government accepted the
United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples without
qualifications in 2016, the term “Indigenous” has been used widely in Canada to refer to First Nations, and peoples.
While “Aboriginal” has fallen out of favour, in part due to the negative connotation some suggests it carries, the term is used in section 35 of the
Section 35(2) of the
First. Any male person of Indian blood reputed to belong to a particular band;
Secondly. Any child of such person;
Thirdly. Any woman who is or was lawfully married to such person.
These categories have changed over time to become more inclusive, particularly of the women (and their children) who lost their status after marrying Non-Status men. Regardless of such amendments, the Act continues to define Indian status. All people who fit the Act’s description are classified as Registered Indians (also known as Status Indians) and appear on the Indian Register — the official record of Registered Indians in Canada, maintained by the. The register contains the names, birthdates, death dates, and and details, as well as records of persons transferring from one to another, for all Registered Indians.
Status Indians are registered under the Indian Act, and are therefore also known as Registered Indians. Status Indians and Registered Indians have the same meaning. People with status are issued identification cards (known as status cards) that contain information about their identity, band and registration number.
According to the federal government, “under the Indian Act, Status Indians may be eligible for a range of benefits,
Having status does not necessarily guarantee certain rights, such as the ability to live on reserve. Non-Status people can also live on reserve in some cases, depending on community bylaws. Status also does not guarantee membership in a
Treaty Indians are Status Indians who belong to a
The term also applies to First Nations who have
Non-Status Indians are First Nations peoples who are not registered with the Indian
Act. In other cases, Non-Status Indians have lost their status as a result of to a Non-Status person, or other legal restrictions. (See also
Not legally recognized under the Indian Act, Non-Status Indians do not enjoy the same
In April 2016, the Constitution, includes Non-Status Indians, as well as the .
However, this does not mean that Non-Status people are now Status Indians. The Indian Act, which continues to define Indian Status, was not changed by this ruling. This 2016 judgement means that Non-Status people fall under the legislative jurisdiction
of the federal government.
Métis and Inuit Peoples
Indian Status is held only by Indigenous peoples who are defined as such under the
As of the 2016
Within the First Nations population, 83.9 percent (820,120) were Registered (Status) or Treaty Indians, and 2.83 per cent (232,380) identified as Non-Status. Among the Status and Treaty Indian population (744,855), 44.2 per cent lived on
Indian Act Amendments Affecting Status
Since 1876, many Status Indians have lost their status because of patriarchal and assimilationist terms in the
Before 1985, a Status Indianalso lost her status if she married a man who did not have status; children from these marriages lost their status as well. At times, the loss of status severed peoples’ ties to their ancestry and community. Federal amendments to the Indian Act have restored status to many people who lost it because of exclusionary rules and narrow definitions of Indian.
Bill C-31 (1985)
In 1985, Bill C-31 revised section 6 of the
6 (1) – those who can pass Indian status to their children;
6 (2) – those who have Indian status, but cannot pass their status to their children unless the other parent also has status.
These amendments allowed some women who had lost their status through marriage to Non-Status Indian men to regain it. Bill C-31 also enabled first-generation children of these marriages and individuals who were enfranchised to regain their legal status.
More than 117,000 people gained or regained Indian status as a result of Bill C-31. (See
Bill C-31 also separated Indian status from
Some critics of Bill C-31 have argued that the amendments did not fully remedy the sexism and racial
Bill C-3 (2010)
Sharon McIvor — a
Dissatisfied with this outcome, McIvor took the
As a result of the McIvor v. Canada case, the federal government introduced legislative amendments — known as Bill C-3 — in 2010 that ensured Indian status to eligible grandchildren of women who had lost status as a result of marrying
Non-Status men before 1985.
Bill S-3 (2016)
In 2015, the Descheneaux case demonstrated that, despite the gains made by the McIvor case, sex-based discrimination still existed in the Indian Act, particularly as it relates to the way status is passed to cousins and siblings.
In that year, the Quebec Superior Court struck down several provisions of the Indian Act (concerning section 6) that it determined violated equality rights under the
Bill S-3 — the government’s proposed amendment to the Indian Act — aimed to remove sex-based discrimination in the Act. It came into effect on 22 December 2017. Among
other provisions, the amendment enables more people to pass down their status to their descendants and reinstate status to those who lost it before 1985. For example, it provides ways to register people with unknown paternity and who were unmarried minors
between 1951–85 and affected by registration rules in place at the time.
Part of the bill — related to restoring status to women and their offspring who lost status before 1951 — is still in the consultation phase. The federal government has stated that, after consultation with
Debate: Keep or Eradicate Status?
Some As David Newhouse, the director of the
Chanie Wenjack School for Indigenous Studies at Trent University, explains, “[The Indian Act] provides the structure
for local community governance and community life. Reforming the Act in one fell swoop, or repealing it, would be enormously disruptive to First Nations.”
Other Indigenous peoples argue that, since Indian is a legal identity defined by the As Assembly of First Nations chief Perry Bellegarde stated in 2018, “We all
want to move beyond the Indian Act’s control and reconstitute ourselves as Indigenous peoples and Nations with fundamental inherent rights.” Critics also point to the fact that the Act has been used to disadvantage many people, particularly women
and their children. They argue that it upholds a paternalistic relationship between Indigenous peoples and the Canadian government, one in which Indians are “wards” of the state who require control and direction.
Furthermore, critics contend that the government has used the
Indian Act (as well as other legislation) to assimilate Indigenous peoples to White, colonial Canadian and
, contributing to a change in government-Indigenous relations. Critics generally argue that cultural authenticity
and status are not connected, and that legal definitions of Indian are nothing more than government impositions.