Beating the Drum on Who is What

Beating the Drum

Beverly Blanchard is an Ojibway First Nation from Northern Ontario. She holds a degree in Economics. During the last twenty-two years, she has worked as a consultant to First Nation and Inuit organizations in a variety of disciplines including: homelessness, suicide prevention, violence prevention, childcare, HIV/AIDS, women’s issues, business planning, and economic development. She has also designed and delivered Aboriginal awareness and stress management workshops to Federal government employees. Currently, Ms Blanchard is a life strategy coach, author and energy healer in Ottawa.

First Nations 101

Defining who is a registered First Nations

By Beverly D. Blanchard
True North Perspective

1 February 2013 — Over the course of the past month, I have once again found myself in the position of trying to educate people on the subject of First Nations. I have received emails from people asking me to explain situations, and I have also taken the time to sit down with people and answer their questions.

There are a myriad of opinions out there and as I comb through the various articles and comments posted online, I have come to the conclusion there are significant misunderstandings regarding First Nations. Some of these are based on myths and stereotypes that are perpetuated by both non-First Nations and First Nations themselves.

Because I once delivered Aboriginal Awareness workshops, I now decided it was time for me to pull out all my materials and provide those who are interested with a brief Aboriginal awareness course.  So with this article I will begin with the basics.

Usually when I meet people I am met with some form disbelief. They look at my blonde hair and tell me, ‘You can’t be First Nations. First Nations do not have blonde hair’. Yes they do. Some also have red hair and some blue eyes and fair skin. There are some who even have black skin. Although my blonde hair is not genetically produced let me assure you I am a status First Nation registered under the Indian Act. I am a member of the Batchewana Band which is located on the periphery of Sault Ste. Marie. I have never lived on the reserve and am the product of an Ojibway mother and Canadian/Belorussian father.

Yes, you read that right. I am mixed. Now at this moment you are probably thinking that makes me Métis. You are wrong and let me explain why.

In the early 1800s, the definition of a First Nation person included any person of First Nation birth or blood, any person reputed to belong to a particular group of First Nations, and any person married to a First Nation or adopted into a First Nation family. Over time, however this definition of who was considered to be a First Nation became narrower. The first of these definition changes came in 1869, when it was deemed that First Nation women who married non-First Nations men would lose status as a registered ‘Indian’. In addition, their children would not be entitled to be registered as First Nations.

In the 1867 Constitution Act, First Nations and lands reserved for the First Nations became a federal responsibility. Under this federal authority, parliament consolidated existing legislation into the Indian Act of 1876. The definition of ‘Indian’ in the 1876 Act was changed to emphasize male lineage and a First Nation person was defined as any male person of Indian blood reputed to belong to a particular band; any child of such a person; and any woman lawfully married to such a person.

Now let us jump forward to 1954 when my Ojibway mother married my non-First Nation father. On that day my mother lost not only her status as a First Nation but also lost her membership in the Batchewana Band. My uncles on the other hand, retained their status when they married non-First Nation women and the children from their marriage were all registered as First Nations. In addition, their non-First Nation wives also were registered as First Nations.

In 1985 after years of First Nation women fighting for equality through the various judicial systems, the federal government amended the Indian Act. The legislative change became known as Bill C-31 and provided the amendments which were intended to remove discrimination, restore status and membership rights, and increase control by bands over their affairs. This change in legislation was not enthusiastically greeted by some of the First Nation reserves, and many felt that it would be detrimental to their communities. In addition, Bill C-31 did not fully rectify the discrimination. Essentially, the discrimination was moved to the third generation.

Now at this point, you may be asking how my children would be discriminated against under this legislation. To understand this, we need to go back to the example of my uncles. They retained their status no matter who they married and their children were also registered as First Nations. Under the Bill C-31 legislation, my cousins’ children would be entitled to be registered as First Nations under the Indian Act regardless of who my cousins married. If I had children, however, they would have no entitlement to be registered as First Nations.

So once again it was back to the courts and in 2010, the legislation was amended to reinstate the children of second generation parents who had been reinstated under Bill C-31. This ruling removed the gender discrimination and thus my children would now be entitled to be registered as First Nations. If my children chose to marry non-First Nations individuals, their children would no longer be eligible to be registered under the Indian Act.

Since Bill C‑31 was passed in 1985 Aboriginal Affairs have received approximately 232,928 requests for registration. By December 2000, 114,512 had gained First Nations status based on Bill C-31 amendments, while 44,199 applications had been denied.  

Tune in next time when we will look at the issue of record keeping and further aspects of the Indian Act.