Status Update

I have a card in my wallet that says I’m an “Indian”. I was 13 years old when my parents gave me my first status card to carry on my own. I was accumulating other government-issued identification like a health card and my social insurance number, so they figured I was responsible enough to have it all in a wallet on me at all times. It was a proud moment and it was almost like getting a new toy; I’d be able to use my status card at the stores in town to get the tax taken off my purchases. As far as I was concerned in my adolescent naivete, this was a perk of being an Indian from the rez.
The benefits of being a Status Indian didn’t end there, but they really didn’t extend much further. As I got older, the novelty of provincial-sales-tax-exempt CDs quickly wore off as I learned about what the whole status designation was really about. Canada’s Indian Act defines what a Status Indian is and designates who gets to be one. It is both a blessing and a curse, affording Aboriginal people certain rights, while traditionally stripping them of some fundamental human ones. And those of us deemed status are granted the right to carry a card with us that says so, effectively setting us apart from other Canadians in many political, legal, and symbolic ways.
The treaties many First Nations were coerced into signing by British settlers defined land rights and benefits. Once Canada was established as a country, the Indian Act defined what an Indian is in the eyes of the government. If you fit the bill, you were deemed “status”. It’s a complicated definition that continues to stymie both Aboriginal people and the authorities today, but basically if you had a direct connection to a First Nation band (or “reserve”), you were status. 
But under the Indian Act, that also meant that you couldn’t leave the reserve without the permission of a federally-appointed Indian Agent. You couldn’t congregate in large groups with other Status Indians. And you definitely couldn’t partake in any traditional ceremonies. These clauses obviously aren’t enforced today, but they were in place just decades ago to ensure First Nations people were a subordinate culture/society.
Fortunately I never had to endure any of those oppressive and racist official measures in my lifetime. And on the plus side, a status right I exercised is access to funding for post-secondary studies. That paid for my tuition and some of my living expenses when I went to university, and without it I wouldn’t have been able to afford my bachelor’s degree. More and more young people from our communities are exercising this right and it’s very inspiring to see them get their education.
However, outside of the education funding and the tax exemption at the till, being a Status Indian has had few other positive impacts on my life. If anything, seeing my status card in my wallet reminds me of some of the obscene inequalities the Indian Act imposed on Canada’s First Nations people. Many of those social imbalances endured through recent generations and continue to polarize Aboriginal people today. 
It’s impossible to touch on all of these problems in a short blog post, and there’s much more to explore, like how individuals who left reserves to start careers had to relinquish their status, and how First Nations women who married non-Native men lost theirs. In some cases, status has been recently reinstated for some of these people thanks to new laws introduced by the federal government, but these official practices often pitted families and communities against each other. This colonial legacy of abuse is difficult to overcome, and as long as there’s a “status” designation, there will always be a disconnect between First Nations people and the rest of Canada.
That raises some important questions. Is there a solution to move beyond the “status” system while maintaining the rights it provides? Can First Nations be a distinct culture without it? Is it fair that people with status enjoy rights other Canadiansdon’t? Should the Indian Act be abolished altogether? Are enough Canadians aware of what the Indian Act and status are?
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19 thoughts on “Status Update

  1. I think to move beyond the “status system”, the government could also focus and put more effort on taking actions themselves to show the people in Canada just how big a problem prejudice towards aboriginals are. With the media we have today, this could be easily done, they could use commercials, news, books, give speeches themselves, and the list goes on. They could also fund aboriginal schools and organizations. They could provide aboriginal movements with more access to the world, and expose them to the world themselves. I believe that without the support the aboriginals would not be able to remain a distant culture. while these rights is not the perfect way to tackle the problem, it’s much better than nothing.The aboriginals would have extra weight and problems such as not enough money for education or for the family if the support was taken away , this could lead to addictions. Also, without the education, the aboriginals wouldn’t be taught how terrible drugs are for you. if they do end up with addictions, they would abandon their culture, therefore they cannot keep the culture without the support unless they had another better way.Which brings me to the next idea. I think there is a better way. The government is tackling the problems of the aboriginal people in a wrong way. this problem is prejudice. there are many reasons they can’t support themselves, for example, it’s hard to get work. if they solved the injustice, the support wouldn’t be needed. The government give them other benefits instead of solving the original problem itself, and it actually makes the problem worse, giving them extra rights separates the two cultures even more. It’s unfair that the aboriginals are not respected for their ways, and it’s unfair that the canadians did not get the same rights. No, I don’t think they should abolish the indian act altogether, because it does contribute to helping them rid of the prejudice of first nations people, and while they still have these injustices, they should get their extra rights.Last of all, i don’t think enough Canadian citizens are aware of what the indian act and status are, but i think they should be more educated on going against the prejudice towards first nations people.

  2. Forgive me if I mistake something I do not fully understand this whole “status” concept, I am only commenting on what I understand from this blog post. I believe that it is horrible to segregate a culture like this and to make them feel as if they are not the same as every other Canadian but I believe that there is an effective solution to move beyond the “status” system while maintaining the rights it provides. I have no ideas of how this can happen or when it will happen but I believe if people really want to find a way to move beyond the “status” system while maintaining the rights it provides they will find a way. Yes First Nations can be a distinct culture without the “status” system, in my opinion the First Nations people are already a distinct culture because when I think of First Nations people the first thing I think of is not that they are “status Indians”, it is of a great people with their own unique culture and way of living. So even without the “status” system they will still be a distinct culture. No I do not feel that it is fair that people with status enjoy rights other Canadians don’t this is for a couple of reasons first of all Waubgeshig Rice said that he feels “as long as there’s a “status” designation, there will always be a disconnect between First Nations people and the rest of Canada.” In my experiences connections for me tend to come the best when the person I am connecting to is similar to me and we are near equals. So I do not understand how he expects to make that connection when First Nations people are getting extra rights that the rest of Canada does not posses. I am not fully sure how to explain my whole thought but I think this is the general idea.

  3. My name is Nathan. I just finished reading about your experiences. The last couple of years I have been interested in reading and learning more about Canada’s First Nations, but never have I actually had a real exchange with a member of the Aboriginal community. This is was very cool!After reading your blog, I have a couple of questions for you. I am curious about what university was like for you. What courses did you take, and did you find it difficult to fit in with others? Were you treated well, or singled out? I am also wondering if you are living on the reserve right now, and if you are not, whether you keep in close contact with people who are on the reserve. What your plans are for the next 5 or 10 years?You stated how when you were 13, your parents gave you your first status card. You talked about how it was like getting a new toy, but was it much more than that? Was it really frustrating having a card in your pocket reminding you that you are different than everybody else? It sounds like maybe it was. I look forward to finding out the answers to some of these questions, and learning more about your life experiences. It would also be good to know if there’s something I can do to help encourage more Aboriginals to follow your path to university. It seems that a good education is the key to solving so many problems.Thank you,Nathan

  4. In my personal opinion, I do think that Indian’s will remain a distinct culture even if there were no ‘status.’ I did not know about it, and I always believed they were a distinct culture for many reasons. However, I’m not sure that there is a way to get rid of the ‘status’ while maintaining the things it provides. From what I understand, the status is mainly there to grant aboriginals those rights and freedoms. Without the status, the rights and freedoms, it seems, would be taken away. I think to maintain the rights and freedoms that the Indian act provides; the aboriginal should have to prove that they would use it to its full advantage. For example, taking advantage of the fact that it helps pay for secondary education. I don’t think it’s very fair that Canadian’s don’t get these rights and freedoms. Some Canadians aren’t able to afford secondary education and aren’t given financial assistance. To my understanding, even though all Indian’s are given this privilege, they don’t all use it. In my opinion, if they don’t take advantage of it, why should they be given it? There may be other people who would take great advantage of the opportunity, but aren’t given it. However I don’t think the Indian act should be abolished because plenty of people probably do take advantage of it, but I think you have to prove you’ll use it, to receive it. I don’t think that enough Canadians are aware of what the ‘status’ is, and it would good for them to be educated. My opinion right now is only based off this one article, because I have no further knowledge about the Indian act. It is a very interesting case though, and I appreciate you writing about it.

  5. I believe the there is a solution to move beyond the status system but it is hard to predict whether the rights could be maintained. I also believe that if we do change to the status system that the First Nations would still be a distinct culture as many people from the older generation still would think of the First Nations people to be “the other”. I believe that it is unfair for the First Nations with Indian status to have different rights then all other people in our country, though I also believe it that is goes both ways. I do not understand why we share the country, land, food, water and other resources yet cannot share the same rights. About the Indian Act and abolishing it, though it did have some bad things occur because of it I also believe that there was some good from it too. So to abolish it you would be losing both good and bad. As well I do not think Canadians know sufficient amount about what the Indian Act and status are.

  6. I believe the there is a solution to move beyond the status system but it is hard to predict whether the rights could be maintained. I also believe that if we do change to the status system that the First Nations would still be a distinct culture as many people from the older generation still would think of the First Nations people to be “the other”. I believe that it is unfair for the First Nations with Indian status to have different rights then all other people in our country, though I also believe it that is goes both ways. I do not understand why we share the country, land, food, water and other resources yet cannot share the same rights. About the Indian Act and abolishing it, though it did have some bad things occur because of it I also believe that there was some good from it too. So to abolish it you would be losing both good and bad. As well I do not think Canadians know sufficient amount about what the Indian Act and status are.

  7. I believe the there is a solution to move beyond the status system but it is hard to predict whether the rights could be maintained. I also believe that if we do change to the status system that the First Nations would still be a distinct culture as many people from the older generation still would think of the First Nations people to be “the other”. I believe that it is unfair for the First Nations with Indian status to have different rights then all other people in our country, though I also believe it that is goes both ways. I do not understand why we share the country, land, food, water and other resources yet cannot share the same rights. About the Indian Act and abolishing it, though it did have some bad things occur because of it I also believe that there was some good from it too. So to abolish it you would be losing both good and bad. As well I do not think Canadians know sufficient amount about what the Indian Act and status are.

  8. The term "Status" is both good and bad. Do the positives really out weight the negatives? In a world where we are suppose to be equal why is it that we are still segragating cultures. I believe this is not the best way to educate younger generations. Although the "Status System" is there to do good, is it really changing anything? Or is it just hiding reality and putting back the consequences. I would like to know if the "Status System" is there to give the First Nations a chance at finding out their rights and freedoms and finally becoming a citizen like me or if it is just a way of brushing away the hard times and giving them the small things that'll make their lives different. When really, are things going to be that different?

  9. Just before posting anything, I'm gonna clear something up. So, if the government chooses who's "status Indian", then they'd probably pick those on reserves. It seems that the government is trying to cover up the negatives by using the positives. However, tax exemptions and paid-for post-secondary education isn't actually helping as much as it should. First of all, I'm sure that most people here would agree that rights are about as important as money, if not more. However, what if some of this money couldn't even be used? What if "status Indians" were forced to choose between education and culture? Actually, they are. For example, here in Manitoba, many people on reserves aren't even given proper access to schools. Schools are either too far away, and the roads are not being cleared for the Winter, or not properly funded. In fact, schools near reserves aren't funded as much as the schools not in or near reserves. Poor working conditions in schools means a lower efficiency of education, and in turn means that they may not even graduate. This means that the money for post-secondary education might not even be used, which is common. Now, let's say that someone on a reserve decides to send their child to a school in a city. The child would then be influenced in a way outside of their culture. So, by getting the "standard" education, they would be sacrificing some of their culture. So realistically, it's quite clear that "status Indians", would be forced to choose either their culture, or education.

  10. Moving beyond the “status” system while maintaining the rights itprovides is something that would be difficult, but not impossible. Itwould be difficult because, as this blog has stated, ‘as long asthere’s a “status” designation, there will always be a disconnectbetween First Nations people and the rest of Canada’. In my opinion,this means that to provide the rights of the “status” system wouldmean an automatic segregation between the First Nations people and therest of Canada. Moving beyond the “status” system would not beimpossible, however, because the government has the power to take away“those oppressive and racist official measures” that continue topolarize Aboriginal peoples today. I do think that the First Nationscan be a distinct culture without the “status” system as Aboriginalpeoples have traditions, beliefs, and practises just like any culturethat may exist in among the multi-culture of Canada. Taking away the“status” system will not strip First Nation’s people of the traditionsthat have been passed down through generations of Aboriginal peoples.I do not think it is fair that people with status enjoy rights thatother Canadians don’t because, as Hannah has stated below, somepeople, whether First Nation or not, would abuse the rights, whileothers would use it wisely. I think rights should be given to thosewho need it the most and not because someone is of status, though Iagree that there are First Nations people that use their rights wiselyfor things like education. I do not think that the Indian Act shouldbe abolished all together as it does still provide First Nationspeople with positive advantages that could not be provided in anyother way, though some parts of the Indian Act are not just towardsAboriginal peoples. In my opinion, there aren’t enough Canadians awareabout the Indian Act and status, but Canadians should be educated onit because it is a part of our country’s history and is very importantas a part of every single one of our identities. I have learned quitea bit from this post, more than when I began reading, and I am lookingforward to learning more about status and the Indian Act!Sincerely,Maryam

  11. I believe that being a status Indian has both pros and cons. On the good side, Aboriginals are given many benefits such as not paying taxes and having to pay less for post-secondary education. On the bad side status Indians can’t leave their reserve without permission. Waub, I believe I can answer your first question but I feel I only have a limited knowledge of the whole status Indian thing. You asked, if there is a solution to move beyond the “status” system while maintaining the rights it provides. I believe we can do that by taking away those cards saying status Indian. There are many First Nations who need the card however there are many who don’t need it. Therefore as a solution, there should be a meeting determining which people according to their circumstances need these rights and which ones don’t. Therefore like child care these people will be given extra help and not every Status Indian but the ones who really need it. The reason why I purposed this is because by having a Status Indian card that gives benefits, it creates a negative effect on Status Indians as a whole. Society will think Status Indians are the poor ones because of their benefits such as not paying taxes. There are successful Status Indians but they too will get this negative (or poor) image because of the card. Doctors don’t wear white beaters to work because it gives them a bad image (or poor image), well sadly in the same way, by having this card, in my opinion, will give the same jive. I’m not saying that people in poverty are bad people but people who are successful do not want to be grouped with the poor people. The ones who need help will be given a card but not a card that says status Indian because that creates a negative effect on Status Indians as a whole. Also I would like to comment on what Nathan said. He said that Waub must’ve felt he was different from everyone else by having that card in his pocket. I believe this is true and connected with what I’m saying because by having a card that says “Status Indian” Status Indians will feel they are different from everyone else and not in a good way which is why I think the name of the card should change.Sincerely,Vaelan

  12. I agree with what Vanessa, Xander, and many others have said. Please excuse any assumptions and/or mistakes I have made, as I am not very knowledgable in this particular subject.As Vanessa mentioned previously, I think that to move beyond the “status system”, a certain degree of awareness has to be raised. Many people, schools, businesses, etc. may have false conceptions about people who are First Nations, and that may prevent them from advancing in their lives. Having more exposure to media, such as being in the news and giving speeches, would a a start, though I’m not sure how large of an effect that would have. To me, I think that the people themselves should take the initiative to challenge these limitations, to go out in the world and be successful, and to give themselves a good rep. Given, it is most likely extremely difficult, but the more effort you put into something, the greater the benefits will be. Leaving things the way they are and being unhappy with it is never the way to go. Things will always change for the better, eventually.As for the second question, “Can First Nations be a distinct culture without it?”, I would say “yes”. Xander said, “…in my opinion the First Nations people are already a distinct culture because when I think of First Nations people the first thing I think of is not that they are “status Indians”, it is of a great people with their own unique culture and way of living…” I could not have put it better myself. Being a “status Indian” is not the first or even second, third, or fourth thing I would think of, and I’m sure that this is true for many others as well. I believe that First Nations is already a distinct culture.Moving on to the third questions: “Is it fair that people with status enjoy rights other Canadians don’t?” I do not believe that this is fair. At least, not permanently. If one truly wants to fit in with a group of other people, one has to be on equal ground with them. That is to say, having additional rights (as well as limitations) only differentiate between groups of people. It isolates them, and makes it harder for everyone to be grouped together as one group of “Canadians”.To conclude with the last two questions, I don’t think that there is enough knowledge of what the Indian Act and status are. To reduce assumptions and ignorance, I believe that other Canadian citizens should be educated more and gain awareness.

  13. I do not believe that if the "status" was taken away the Indian culture, they would keep their certain rights and freedoms that "status" grants them. However, the Indian culture will still remain a culture, just without the status part of their culture. I am not quite sure if all the advantages of being a status Indian are greater than the disadvantages, for example: if you have "status" you are not allowed to leave the reserve without special permission from a "federally appointed Indian agent". True taxes are taken off and you could apply for funding to pay your tuition to get a certain degree, which would help to get a job. However even if the schools are paid for the schools can be to far away so the people cannot get to them! or the schools have not received enough money. The cons of the discussion are also of decent size. You are also not allowed to congregate with the other people who have "status". Ou are also not allowed to join traditional ceremonies! By having "status" you get education, without it you may or may not have education, you are though aloud your culture. It seems that that is the choice one has to make. Thanks- Malcolm Prescott

  14. In my opinion, it wouldn’t necessarily difficult for Indians to move beyond the “status” system while maintaining the rights it provides, because even if they didn’t have any “status” cards, they would keep their culture and rights the same way they have obeyed before. It would be hard for Indians to rearrange the rights and changing their culture would be a really bad impact on the Indians. They cannot celebrate their holidays and do all their celebrations because the government will prohibit it. So it wouldn’t matter if the “status” was gone and they would keep their rights the way it was. The first nations still definitely can have a distinct culture even without a status card. But why give them a status card instead they can qualify for the Canadian citizen? Isn’t that fair? After all, they were the ones who created the culture of Canada and let other people live there too. But they got betrayed. The foreigners cut them up and left them to survive. They did not return the deed of letting themselves into the first nations country. They have the positivity of the status and the negativity of it also. It is because they get tax free or giving them their own rights. But they don’t get to have the entire freedom like all of us Canadians do. They don’t get to have houses like we do, or sometimes they choose to live the way they are, but they also live on a reserve, which is not owned by them because they are just living there, but it’s the governments. They can take it away whenever they want to, because it’s theirs. If they choose to leave the place, they don’t have anywhere to go except there is the cold pavement waiting for them. The Indian Act should NOT be abolished because if they were to abolish the Indian Act, the first nations would lose all their rights, reserves and the registered Indians. Who would want to lose their rights? I certainly don’t. This abolishment would severely damage the Indian’s appearance, now that they aren’t part of anything, they can’t even be Canadian citizens! How unfair could that be? All immigrants can register for citizenship if they have lived over 3 years in the country. It just doesn’t seem right to me that the first nations cannot be true citizens. I feel really bad for them. Most Canadians won’t know that Indian statuses are and the Indian Act. Because either they didn’t learn about it, or they just choose to hate or dislike the Indians because maybe they always see them drunk and begging for money. But they aren’t like that in their real lives. They didn’t choose to live on the streets, maybe some did, but it’s because they lost their reserves or the whole family itself. Most people in Winnipeg would think that Indians are a bunch of scary gangs, or just drunk beggars. They wouldn’t have a clue what statuses are and the Indian Act. Also, maybe the teachers that teach the students teach about Indians the negative way or just don’t teach about them at all. But all I have to say is they deserve what they need and worked for.Steven Kim

  15. I’m not sure if there is a solution to move beyond the “status” system while maintaining the rights. To determine this I would have to do more research which I have yet to do. But from my understanding, being a “status Indian” has pros and cons. First Nations have never been treated fairly or given the rights they deserved in the past and even now, but on the other hand they have other privileges that other Canadians do not. I think that if we were to abolish it would have a good side and a bad side, just as it would to keep it. Do the pros outweigh the cons? Or vice versa? I’m not sure where I stand with this topic. Even without the Indian Act, I think First Nations would still be looked at as a distinct culture, just as any other is. People seem to have an already developed opinion on Aboriginals or ideas even though it may not always be the case. To determine whether the Indian Act should be abolished is a difficult thing to determine and I’m sure many people aren’t certain. I had never heard about “status Indians” before and I don’t think that many Canadians are aware or are as educated as necessary on this topic. What would educating people about this do anyways? I think it would help people form an opinion.

  16. I think that there is a way to move on beyond the "status" while still maintaining rights but it is very hard to come up with a clear explanation to it. In the blog that was posted it is very clear that there is pros and cons to being a status Indian. Me, I don't think that this system of the status card is right because in my opinion I think that no matter what race you are you should have the basic human rights. It is sad to see that the basic rights were taken away and traded just for the status card. A questions that I have for everyone reading this is do the pros and cons of having, a status Indian card balance out or does one win. I really think that If the Indians had their rights taken away it really wouldn't matter because what this all sums down to is choice. Do the Indians have a choice and voice on what goes on?

  17. The concept and idea of being a status Indian may seem simple, but I think it goes much further that just having a card in your wallet. I believe it is much more symbolic and harder to understand than that. It is a confusing concept, and I still am not completely sure what my own feelings are for it. On one hand, there are many positives of being status, but there are also many negatives that I do not quite understand why they are in place. The status also holds an almost racial history, if you were “status” years ago, this meant you could not do things such as leave the reserve, or practice traditional ceremonies. I believe that by giving the First Nations peoples some rights, the government used the rights as a sort of bribe, to make the First Nations do what the government wanted, while getting little in return. Of course, the rules have changed greatly, but I think the same reasoning behind the “Indian Act” still applies. I am still not very knowledgeable about this topic, but from what I know so far, I think that “status” system can not be abolished but people to be able to maintain the rights and freedoms that were granted by it. I think this because If there was no such thing as “status”, firstly how would the government determine who would get certain rights? The idea of being “status” is that you have to meet the standards the government has made of being “Indian”, basically having some kind of relation to a First Nation reserve. But if that is all that you have to do to fit the bill, why is there a need for one? I think that if you ask any First Nations person what makes them who they are in their culture, the last reason they would give you is because they were “status”. If a First Nations person is not “status”, does that make them any less First Nation then someone who is “status”? The answer is no, and that is why I believe that First Nations can be a distinct culture without the “status” system. Many other cultures do not have systems like this, but they are all distinct cultures even without it. Can’t the same rule apply for First Nations? All cultures are distinct even without the government saying so just because all cultures are different and unique. We all do our own way of doing things, all have our own way of thinking, our own traditions and so on. This is why I think that yes, the First Nations will still be a distinct culture even without the “status” system. The next question is a difficult one to answer. “Is it fair that people with status enjoy rights other Canadians don’t?” Well, it is and it isn’t for many reasons. Firstly, people with “status” get a different set of rights and freedoms than other Canadians, and I think this symbolizes that they are somehow different than other Canadians, which they are not. This brings up the idea of “the other”. How “other” people are different from us, when really, they are no different. We are all Canadians. How can we change people who are considered “the other”, to be just people like us? I don’t think that is quite fair, and that all Canadians should all have the same rights. Secondly though, I think that if we did take away the rights that come with being “status” that many bad things would happen. For example less people would be able to afford secondary school, causing more people to be out of work. So, it is fair, and it isn’t.

  18. I am still unsure of where I stand with the idea of “status”, so I do not know whether I think it should be abolished or not. There are many pros and cons with being “status”, but the problem is trying to determine which overrides the other. No, I don’t think many people are quite knowledgeable about this topic. I think that most people have a vague idea of what it may be, but I don’t think many have a great understanding of it. If people were more knowledgeable about the topic, they could form opinions about it. If Canadians were taught about this more, and had more opinions about it, I think more would be done about changing being “status”, or not changing it. In the end, being “status” and “The Indian Act” are very debatable topics, that I find hard to fully understand. I would like to know more about this though, so I can be more aware of what is happening in our country. -Caitlin

  19. Yes, I personally believe that there is a solution beyond the “status” system but I am not 100% sure that the rights would be maintained. To me the right to ownership needs to be included within the “status” system. The reason being is because First Nations people are given things but they do not own them, which means that they don’t properly learn how to take care of them. Yes, I think its pretty fair that the people with the “status” rights get to enjoy rights that other Canadians don’t because while the First Nations have some privileges like not having to pay taxes, they also have to deal with racial stereotypes on a day to day basis that most other Canadians don’t have to take. People who depend on certain types of status as a crutch, tend not to be as successful in life. One has to learn how to take pride in ones self achievement and that in turn would help build a stronger individual thus enhancing the community.In your opinion would ownership help create a better community?

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