This may come as a surprise in 2023, but Canada’s Indigenous peoples are still fighting battles that should long be a thing of the past. Simple requests, like certificates of status, that should be issued after submitting the appropriate paperwork, are unfortunately anything but simple to receive. In one well-documented case, an Aboriginal man who was adopted at birth waited an astonishing 28 years to be issued his Certificate of Status.
In this particular case, the man in question is the common law partner of a paralegal and former prosecutor in Toronto, Caterina Petrolo. Without her involvement, legal knowledge, and persistence in the case, he might still be waiting today – or have given up altogether. The entire process left Petrolo wondering how many other Indigenous people have been asked to jump through hoops while being robbed of experiencing their Indigenous communities and cultures.
Not one to stand around and do nothing when she’s confronted with an injustice, Petrolo sprang into action – not just on behalf of her partner, but for Indigenous peoples across Canada. With a long-term goal of sharing insight into indigenous cultures, hardships, and the importance of repairing relationships in the future, Petrolo is striving to bring hope to future generations.
The 28-Year Battle for Aboriginal Status
As is often the case with battles for social justice, Petrolo’s story started at home. When she met her partner in 2003, he was already 11 years into his quest for official Aboriginal status. After initially filing in 1992, at the age of 20, it would take until 2020 for him to finally receive his Certificate of Status. In the meantime, he missed out on years with his community and numerous opportunities that can never be recovered.
One of the major hold-ups for Petrolo’s partner was that he had been adopted as a newborn baby. A white family from the east coast of Canada raised him, in a loving and nurturing home. There was no hiding his Aboriginal roots, as his appearance was starkly different from that of his peers. His adoptive family never heard the truth about his biological family from him.
At 19, when volunteering with the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police), the man’s police officer mentor suggested he apply for his aboriginal status. He did, but his experience as an adoptee led him to countless barriers erected by the Canadian government.
After being directed to the “Indian Northern Affairs – adoption unit,” he found that none of his acknowledgments of his Indigenous status were adequate. Despite filing numerous repetitive forms and responding to all of their frivolous unethical requests, he was denied over and over again.
It was in 2009 that Petrolo stepped in, certain that she would find the key to unlocking his Aboriginal status. Instead, she met the same roadblocks that her partner had encountered for the previous 17 years. Petrolo even took the step of submitting a statutory declaration from his biological mom stating he was born to Indigenous parents, but the file continued to go dormant.
In October 2020, Petrolo took a much more aggressive approach, conveying to the adoption unit that they would not be taking no for an answer. Finally, 28 years later, her partner’s Certificate of Status was issued.
Now, Petrolo is determined to make the process easier for other Indigenous peoples. She enrolled in an Indigenous Studies course at the University of Alberta to further her understanding of the communities and their struggles.
“I am interested in social justice; these courses can help deepen my understanding of the ongoing struggles for Indigenous rights and could potentially help provide a framework for advocating for Indigenous peoples’ rights and contribute to the world,” Petrolo explains.
Adamant that other Canadians should get involved in this fight for fairness, Petrolo recommends reading or listening to the 8th Fire series, which is available on audio DVD and book. The series talks about Aboriginal peoples, Canada, and the way forward, and is a starting point for education on Indigenous peoples.
By being strong-willed and persistent, staying organized, and having a clear mission, Petrolo is on her way to improving the treatment of Indigenous peoples for years to come. Outside of their administrative challenges, she is entirely dissatisfied with their living conditions on reservations, including the handling of their health, clean water, and housing.
With so much work to do, Petrolo has her hands full. But since the Canadian government has failed to address the severity of these issues for Indigenous peoples, Petrolo is happy to shoulder the burden on their behalf. It’s a long road ahead, but Petrolo is charting the course for a better future. Canada’s Indigenous peoples have a valuable asset in Caterina Petrolo.