The June 16 story has now been followed up with the June 19 story that indicates that Ottawa will likely appeal the BC court ruling (see the two stories below) ...
Indian status can be traced through mother, court rules
BILL CURRY - June 16, 2007
VANCOUVER -- The B.C. Supreme Court has wiped out one of the most contentious aspects of the federal Indian Act, striking down part of Ottawa's definition of a status Indian and opening the door to hundreds of thousands of new applications for native services.
The court rejected part of the existing legal definition on the grounds that it discriminates against Canadians who trace their aboriginal roots through their female relatives rather than their father or grandfather.
The ruling alters the federal law that has long created two classes of aboriginals in Canada: the 767,000 who fit the definition of status Indian and the several hundred thousand more who don't.
The 2001 census found 976,000 Canadians who self-identified as aboriginal and more than 1.3 million who said they had aboriginal ancestry.
Many aboriginals who failed in their requests for status will now have a much better chance of success, said Beverley Jacobs, the president of the Native Women's Association of Canada.
"This opens the floodgates," she said. "I don't think we could have asked for a better judgment."
Aboriginals with status qualify for prescription drug coverage and can apply for postsecondary assistance.
Status Indians are also exempt from paying taxes on income earned on reserves. But Sharon McIvor, who successfully challenged the law with her son Jacob Grismer, argued in court that status also carries a huge social value in native communities that can mean the difference between acceptance or rejection.
In an interview yesterday, Ms. McIvor, a professor and lawyer who lives on the Lower Nicola Indian Band, where she traces her native lineage to her matrilineal grandmother, predicted the decision will have a major impact.
"Conservatively, we're looking at probably 200,000 people [who could now qualify for status that did not before the ruling]," she said. Before contact with Europeans, many native tribes operated under matrilineal power structures in which women were the community leaders. After Confederation, male-dominated ruleswere imposed on those communities through the Indian Act that meant only men could pass along native status.
The federal government claimed to have addressed the long-standing discrimination in 1985 though Bill C-31, which added about 175,000 more people to the Indian registry. But the B.C. Supreme Court said that bill did not go far enough and created problems for future generations.
"I have concluded that the registration provisions embodied in [Section 6] of the 1985 Indian Act continue the very discrimination that the amendments were intended to eliminate," wrote Madam Justice Carol Ross. "The provisions prefer male Indians and their descendants to female Indians and their descendants."
Federal government lawyers urged the judge to suspend her decision for 24 months to give Parliament time to consult aboriginal groups and draft new legislation. Judge Ross rejected that argument, meaning that Section 6 of the Indian Act - which is the entire section outlining how someone can qualify as a status Indian - "is of no force and effect insofar, and only insofar, as it authorized the differential treatment of Indian men and Indian women." The federal government is still reviewing the ruling and has not decided whether to appeal.
The Assembly of First Nations, which represents status Indians who belong to reserves, has been increasingly concerned about the rules governing status. The National Chief of the AFN, Phil Fontaine, has warned discrimination against descendants of native women is just one of many problems caused by Bill C-31.
With estimates that more than half of all natives now marry non-natives, the current law's "second-generation cut-off" means an increasing number of natives are unable to pass on their status to their children.
"The McIvor decision puts pressure on the Government of Canada for policy and legislative reform. The Government of Canada will no doubt appeal this decision," Mr. Fontaine said in a statement yesterday. The national chief of the main off-reserve and non-status group, the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, said the ruling supports his organization's long-standing argument that thousands of natives are being unfairly denied access to services.
"I don't think that the majority of Canadians are aware that there are over 400,000 non-status Indians in this country who unfortunately can't access any programs and services," said Patrick Brazeau, who urged Ottawa not to appeal. "More and more people are becoming non-status Indians, so it's a question of liability and therefore a question of dollar signs."
Appeal of native ruling likely, Ottawa says
BILL CURRY - June 19, 2007
OTTAWA — Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice said his government will likely appeal a major court ruling that would expand the number of aboriginals qualifying for services by hundreds of thousands.
In a statement released by his office yesterday, the minister said he would need a ruling from a higher court than the B.C. Supreme Court, which released the judgment last week.
"I expect that the decision will be appealed, although that decision has not yet been made," Mr. Prentice said. "The [B.C. Supreme Court] decision is a significant one and it is reasonable to expect that the final decision will have to be made at a higher appellate level."
The appeal would come in spite of recently released internal documents showing Ottawa has been fighting the issue in court fully expecting to lose.
The B.C. Supreme Court decision could transform the way Ottawa deals with aboriginals. It struck down part of a 1985 change to the Indian Act called C-31 on the grounds that it discriminates against natives who trace their roots through their female forebears. The court also raised concern about what is known as the "second-generation cutoff" in which many grandchildren of people who were status Indians in 1985 are now being denied status due to marriages with non-natives.
For the most part, Ottawa has limited its legal obligation to "status Indians," a term it created that currently applies to about 700,000 people. That leaves out hundreds of thousands of Canadians with aboriginal heritage.
Indian Affairs documents obtained by NDP MP Jean Crowder show the department was bracing for "disruption" and rising costs after an expected defeat.
Ms. Crowder said the documents show it is time for Ottawa to stop the legal battles and craft a way forward with aboriginal groups, several of whom have also urged Ottawa not to appeal. "This government has been talking about how it's a champion of human rights, so if they appeal that decision, I wonder how they are going to justify that," she said, in reference to a bill introduced by Mr. Prentice to allow the Human Rights Act to apply on reserves.
Liberal Indian affairs critic Anita Neville agreed. "I'm disappointed he's appealing," she said. "More taxpayers' dollars should not go into fighting aboriginal women after the years of discrimination they've endured."
Hope amid a tragedy - An exchange trip to Shamattawa opens the door to an enduring friendship
By Alexandra Paul - Jun 17 2007
A group of 15 Ontario students visiting the remote Cree First Nation of Shamattawa last week saw an RCMP SWAT team, camouflaged and carrying rifles, search the streets for an alleged gunman, and then pitched in to help a devastated community cope with the suicide of a 12-year-old boy.
You'd think these teens from the Mississauga New Credit First Nation near Toronto would want out of the troubled community.
And you'd be wrong.
Shamattawa is fighting its way out of the grip of a solvent abuse epidemic in Canada's North that dates back decades. Five years ago, a despairing chief declared a state of emergency after three suicides in eight days. Even police are wary there.
But for the Ojibway students from southern Ontario on a trip north to see their friends in a student exchange program, the violence was eased by "tonnes" of great food, pristine scenery, fishing and great warmth from their hosts.
"We had a hard time leaving. We wanted to scoop up all the kids and bring them home with us," chaperone Veronica Jamieson, one of two adults with the 15 teenagers from southern Ontario, said from her home, 70 kilometres southwest of Toronto, this week.
For a send-off, the whole community got together with the visitors for a rally and a feast. Tina Keeper, the area's MP, flew in for the event and visited privately with the family of the boy who died. The bonds she saw impressed her.
"There was tragedy but in the middle of it all was this culture (with the kids). They were an impressive group, solid. These were teens meeting teens. Their experience together was give and take and it was really generous," Keeper said.
The groups got so close that one Shamattawa teenager got permission from her family to fly back with the group.
"I brought one of the girls home for the summer," said the chaperone, who raised six kids of her own, now all in high school or university. The teenager was part of a Shamattawa exchange visit to New Credit last month. Shamattawa teachers had previously pegged her as one who "could make it" outside the reserve, thinking she'd leave when she went south to high school.
The suicide made the teen seize the moment.
The chaperone said they'll never forget the week-long trip north, part of an exchange program run by the YMCA-YWCA to promote anti-bullying in schools.
"It was eye opening for the kids from Ontario to go up there. Some of the kids are still crying. I think it's still sinking in, the difference in the environment (up north). The kids are so thankful for what they have here," Jamieson said.
The group arrived for a week on Saturday, June 2. Overnight Sunday, the RCMP detachment reported hearing half a dozen gunshots ricocheting off the detachment's exterior walls. Three officers on duty huddled on the floor until daybreak. Then, they cautioned everyone to stay indoors and took action.
The RCMP flew three planeloads of officers from Winnipeg and Thompson. They painted their faces in camouflage colours, wore camouflage gear and searched the streets of the town with armed rifles.
No gunman turned up; no arrests have been made to date.
Shamattawa chief and council say they're skeptical there were any gunshots. They discovered a girl was throwing rocks at a building next door the same night. "We're saying, 'They jumped the gun'," Chief Jeffrey Napoakesik said, with dry humour. He's lodged complaints with RCMP headquarters over the reaction.
Shaune Rice, the guidance counsellor at the Shamattawa school who helped arrange the exchange student trip through the YMCA-YWCA said the arrival of the SWAT team was like something on TV, and confusing, too.
"It was unreal. It was like warriors circling with guns. It was like an Oka crisis," Rice said.
Then, Thursday night, two youngsters stumbled across the body of a troubled boy. He'd hanged himself from a tree in a backyard. Practically in plain sight. Attempts to resuscitate him at the nursing station failed.
"The thing with suicide is you hear about it all the time, but then, we were right in the middle of it," Jamieson said.
The community is devastated by the loss, the chief said this week.
"He had to have had bad feelings to do this kind of thing," the chief said in a phone interview, almost at a loss for words to explain boy's violent death. On Tuesday, one of the boys who'd found the body hanging from the tree was so distraught he, too, tried to kill himself. He was maybe nine, or perhaps 11, the chief said. Somehow, the little boy blamed himself for the other boy's death, the chief said. "He was crying and I told him it was not his fault," Napoakesik said.
YOUTH suicide rates soar among First Nations. But not this young. Not even in Shamattawa. This is a place where leaders are trying hard to make life better. The exchange trip was the latest in a couple of excursions over the past few years designed to give youngsters a taste of the world beyond the isolated reserve.
Right now, the local Awasis child and family service agency is investigating the suicide and there's speculation the boy hanged himself out of a repressed despair.
"He lived with his grandpa. His father had married (again) and his mother had passed away a few years ago. She committed suicide as well," the chief said.
So, last Thursday, it was midnight, an hour after the boy was cut down from the tree when news of the death swept the community like a wild fire. The chaperones and the students from New Credit and Shamattawa swung into action, together.
Rice said he took a group of kids home where he keeps a hand drum. They got through the night with talking and singing.
Jamieson said she did the same with four local kids and more of her students, staying in the teacherage.
They, too, talked most of the night. For both groups, the violent events helped them forge an amazing bond, like comrades who survive wartime.
"True friendship is meaningful when atrocities are confronted and shared," Rice said.
Jamieson said she and her students worked hard to cheer up their new friends by telling them how they worked hard to make a better life in New Credit.
"We have our talking circles and our kids are active in singing and dancing (culturally). We said you can change things. You can make it a better place to be. It just takes a small group," Jamieson said.
"We said if you want to do a powwow (later on) we'll help you."
A Shamattawa snapshot
The site of a former trading post for the Hudson's Bay Company, Shamattawa First Nation was established as a permanent Cree community in 1950. It is 720 kilometres north of Winnipeg, on the north shore of God's River where it meets Echoing River, south of Hudson Bay and close to the Ontario border. It is one of Canada's most remote communities.
* 1,270 registered population; most living on reserve.
* Fly-in community; no permanent road. Winter road is 200 kilometres long.
* Sewage treatment plant supplies water.
* Nearest bank is 320 kilometres away in Thompson.
* Volunteer fire department and fire hall.
* Governed by a chief and four councillors, elected according to custom to indefinite terms.
* Total annual federal funding of $12,786,134 in 2005, the last year for which audited statements are available.
* RCMP detachment with eight full-time officers, covering shifts 24/7.
* Nursing station staffed by three nurses. Fly-in doctor available four days a week.
* Abraham Beardy Memorial School, nursery to Grade 10, 250 students
* Three Christian denominations, the Full Gospel Church, the Pentecostal Church, the Anglican Church. Plus traditional cultural beliefs.
* Most residents, including youth, are fluent in Cree and use it more than English.
* Unemployment rates soar to 98 per cent.
* Alcoholism and sniff (solvent abuse) rates are also high. Drinkers make do with their own home-brew, a cocktail described as packing a punch that will put you out, but good.
* Crime rates are rising for break-ins, acts of vandalism and various forms of violence.
* Some 200 children under age 18 are under the care of Awasis child and family services. Agency has five workers on staff in the community. Most kids in care are boarded off-reserve in foster homes scattered from Winnipeg to Thompson.
Sources: Chief Jeffrey Napoakesik, Beardy Memorial School, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada,