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Retired senator Lillian Eva Dyck said she is not convinced that the federal government has “significantly or sufficiently” expedited its process for First Nations peoples to apply for status under the Indian Act, which is a requirement for First Nations peoples to access their rights.

Ottawa has internally acknowledged that it created a complicated and lengthy process to apply for status and that it is not well understood, as The Globe and Mail reported recently. That process is typically not quick: The federal government says waiting times for simple cases are between six and eight months, and, in complex cases, up to two years.

Speaking to a Senate committee Tuesday, Ms. Dyck also raised issues with what’s known as the second-generation cut-off. The federal rule, which took effect in 1985, legislates that after two consecutive generations of mixed status relationships – where one parent has status, and the other does not – children can no longer receive status.

“It is critically important to eliminate the second-generation cut-off,” Ms. Dyck said.

In a June, 2022, report, the Senate committee on Indigenous peoples made nine recommendations to address discrimination in provisions around Indian status, particularly against women, as well as existing difficulties in the application process.

For more than 100 years, up until 1985, federal laws mandated that any First Nations woman who married a non-status man be stripped of her status. Legislative changes that year, as well as over the past decade, have attempted to remedy the harms of past laws, allowing certain people to be newly registered.

The Senate committee has been focused on one such amendment, Bill S-3, which made changes in two stages, in 2017 and 2019. Bill S-3 allows descendants of First Nations women who had their status taken away – as early as 1869 – to register for status. The federal government estimates that several hundred thousand people became newly eligible for status as a result. Yet, so far, it has only led to the registration of around 39,500 people.

Ms. Dyck, who championed Bill S-3 ahead of her retirement in 2020, said the government is not providing clear information about who is eligible to register, citing concerns from confused applicants.

Advocates who testified Tuesday took issue with the federal government’s response to the committee’s recommendations, which Ottawa provided in late February. For instance, the government rejected a recommendation to repeal non-liability clauses that currently prevent the possibility of compensating women whose status was taken from them.

Ottawa also did not take up the committee’s recommendation to repeal the second-generation cut-off, saying instead, that Indigenous Services Canada would launch a consultation process over it. Ms. Dyck called this response “disconcerting,” but not surprising.

In her testimony, Shelagh Day, chair of the human rights committee at the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action and advocate to end sex-based discrimination in the Indian Act, reminded the committee of a 2019 report on registration issues by Claudette Dumont-Smith, which also called for a consultation process around ending the second-generation cut off.

“That’s four years ago – nothing has happened. Why is that? There’s a reluctance, here, to do anything about it,” she said.

Ottawa created the second-generation cut-off in 1985, when it ended provisions that took away the status of First Nations women who married non-status men. It meant that children born after 1985 to one parent with status and another without would receive a status designation known as 6(2). If a person with 6(2) status later has a child with someone without status, their child is not eligible to have status.

Sharon McIvor, who won a legal case over sex discrimination in the Indian Act, which resulted in legislative amendments in 2011, told the committee that it is unacceptable that processing timelines for Canadian passports and for status cards do not match up. (As of late February, it took an average of three months for applicants to receive a secure status card, according to Indigenous Services.)

She also addressed delays with the government’s application process to receive status.

“We have women that have been waiting for years – and they’re dying before they get their status,” she said. “I’m getting old now and I’ve been working at this for a long, long time, and small steps forward were made, but delay, delay, delay.”

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