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Civil rights

Canada on verge of ending legal gender discrimination against indigenous women

By WITW Staff on November 16, 2017

Thanks in part to a 22-year-long court battle fought by an indigenous woman, the Canadian Senate has approved legislation that would finally provide First Nation women with the same rights as First Nation men — including the right to pass down their indigenous status to their children.

Under the Indian Act of 1876, a law whose long-reaching ramifications are still felt today, the Canadian government ruled that if a female member of the First Nation, a term for indigenous Canadians, married a non-indigenous man, then she would lose her First Nation status as well as the right to pass down said status to her children. Male members of the First Nation, conversely, were subject to no such restrictions. For Lynn Gehl, a 55-year-old writer whose grandmother belonged to the Pikwakanagan First Nation, this meant that she was deprived of the chance to vote for her indigenous government and to live on land reserves, as well as tax breaks and expanded health coverage that she would otherwise have been entitled to receive. After 22 years fighting in the courts, she was able to win partial Indigenous status, but thanks to the Indian Act, she remained unable to pass her status down to her children.

“I should be able to pass on my status but I can’t because of gender discrimination,” said Gehl.

After a 2015 court ruling ordered the government to amend the Indian Act to eliminate gender discrimination, Canada’s Senate approved a measure that would have removed all gender discrimination in the act. But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government balked at the prospect of granting First Nation status to as many as two million more people, leading to the current legislation, which would grant more than one million people official status and the corresponding rights should it pass the House of Commons. First Nation activists, however, are concerned about the bill’s lack of a deadline to provide such rights — as well as a provision that some rights would only be granted after consultation with indigenous group, some of which have objected to the legislation. If the consultation isn’t completed before the next federal election in 2019, activists warn, the new government could decide to break with the agreement.

Read the full story at The New York Times.


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