Indigenous people sue the Canadian government over the tragedy of enfranchisement and loss of status

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jerrym
Indigenous people sue the Canadian government over the tragedy of enfranchisement and loss of status

A growing number of indigenous people are suing the federal government over the process of enfranchisement that their ancestors were forced to go through to obtain "the right to vote, own property and keep their children out of residential schools by renouncing their Indian status and treaty rights". Considering the discrimination involved and what we now know about the avalanche of deaths at residential schools, as well as its goal of removing the Indian from indigenous people, this should be granted without having to go to court to win back what rightfully belongs to these people. Claiming the act of enfranchisement was voluntary when it was done under extreme coercion would not be recognized in any international tribunal. The court case also involves those women who lost their status because they married a non-status man, while indigneous men could marry non-status women and keep their status. Although this law has been changed since the 1980s, those indigenous women and their descendents who lost their status before the change have not had their status reinstated. 

In 1944, Nadia Salmaniw's great-grandfather Wilfred Laurier Bennett faced a choice: send his children to residential school or renounce his Indigenous heritage. Knowing first-hand the cruelties of the mandatory boarding school system, Bennett chose to give up his First Nation status. ...

Enfranchisement was a process through which First Nations people could obtain Canadian citizenship. By renouncing their Indian status and treaty rights, they obtained the right to vote, own property and keep their children out of residential schools. The act was considered voluntary by the federal government. The plaintiffs argue their families were coerced into enfranchisement.  ...

The enfranchisement policy was adopted in 1857 under the Gradual Civilization Act in the Province of Canada and continued after Confederation under the Indian Act of 1876. Enfranchisement remained in place until amendments were made to the Indian Act in 1985 to bring it in line with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. ...

The plaintiffs argue that the consequences of that defunct policy violate their rights to liberty and security under the charter. Even though Salmaniw has Haida citizenship under the laws of the Haida Nation and is a citizen of the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Tribes of Alaska, she continues to be denied Indian status because of the Indian Act's registration provisions. 

"To receive a rejection letter saying that you're not Indigenous when you know that's part of who you are is deeply, deeply impactful," Salmaniw said. "I believe that just opened up the old wounds and continued to reinforce the harm that was inflicted on my great-grandfather at the time of residential school ... What an ultimate act of colonization." ...

The court challenge is also taking aim at what the plaintiffs say is a lingering element of sexual discrimination in status law. Under the old Indian Act, when a status Indian woman married, she lost the right to decide what happened to her status. If she married a non-status man, she automatically lost her status. If she married a status Indian man and her husband was enfranchised, she and any unmarried children were automatically stripped of their Indian status as well.  Ottawa gradually allowed women and their descendants to regain status lost by marriage through a series of legislative changes — the latest coming in 2017 with Bill S-3, An Act to amend the Indian Act in response to the Superior Court of Quebec decision in Descheneaux c. Canada. But the descendants of women who lost status because their status Indian husbands were enfranchised are still barred from reclaiming status.

"It's plain as day that that's sex-based discrimination," said Vancouver-based lawyer Ryan Beaton from the firm Juristes Power.  "It's being imposed on descendants today in the same way it was imposed on the other category of descendants. It's hard to understand why Canada has not yet decided to address this issue." ...

The federal government has not yet filed a response to the constitutional challenge in court.

https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/charter-challenge-bc-supreme-court-stat...