WINNIPEG – Who determines your ‘Indianness’? After your application to the Department of Indian Affairs goes in, who makes the determination as to whether you or I are ‘Status Indians’? The fact that we don’t know, says that we are denied the right to identity. The fact that we don’t know says that we have allowed the nation state of Canada to rob us of our rightful freedoms as indigenous peoples in favour of a prescribed identity under the Indian Act delegation, rooted in s.91(24) of Canada’s Constitution. This is not unique. It has happened consistently in other colonized areas around the world. Your ‘status Indian’ certificate is not your ‘treaty rights’ card. It has nothing to do with Treaty.
Recently, under the treaty alliance initiative, we began to ponder the impacts of the Indian Act prescribed identity on treaty renewal initiatives. For instance, ‘treaty gas’ requires an Indian Act card. But why? There are many indigenous peoples who are not ‘status Indians’, but are treaty people and do not get to claim a discount. This denies them the right to tax exemptions that their ancestors were part of negotiating at treaty time. This should not be. What of the treaty descendant who does not have a ‘status indian’ card when he/she is pulled over with meat or fish in their vehicle? The treaty right is not in their status card, its in their legacy as treaty people. The problems with the indefensible assumptions today are vast and need to be addressed.
We have begun building a new ‘Treaty identification card’ and we are now in the early designs of a template card that can be used for those who want to remove the Indian Act card in favour of an empowered identity process.
The difficulty is not in designing a card though. The difficulty is in designing a numbering and application system outside of the Indian Act.
A process to determine eligibility for the card, and a process to have the cards recognized amongst ourselves in our communities is our effort. If we won’t recognize our own cards, who else will? It is critically important that we begin this process. In the next few decades, the ‘status Indian’ is facing extinction because of the way s.6 of the Indian Act is designed. Not only that, the status Indian application process has violated the rights of women and children in our families. We must begin the work now.
If you believe that this idea has merit, then you may be a member of #treatyalliance.
Grand Chief Derek Nepinak
Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs