AFN Praises Sharon McIvor on October 6th, 2008, First Nations Women's Day

OTTAWA, Oct. 6 /CNW Telbec/ - AFN National Chief Phil Fontaine and AFN Women's Council Chair, Kathleen McHugh are calling on women across Canada to celebrate First Nations Women's Day by making donations to support, "one of the longest standing and important human rights cases in Canadian history."

McIvor's case, which will be heard by the BC Court of Appeal on October, 14th, 2008, could restore the right to Indian Status to more than 30,000 First Nations women and children. Thousands of First Nations women and their children do not have the legal right to vote in band elections or to own or inherit property on reserve because of a clause in the Indian Act that continues to discriminate against First Nations women by removing their ability to pass Indian Status onto their children. The clause has existed in varying forms in the Indian Act since 1869.

Sharon McIvor, a descendant of the Lower Nicola Valley band, first launched her case in 1989, hoping to win Indian Status for her own children. Shortly before her case reached the courts in 2006, the federal government agreed to restore status to McIvor's children.

"Sharon could have dropped the case at that point, once her own children were granted their rights. Instead she pushed forward on behalf of all First Nations women and children," says AFN Women's Council Chair, Kathleen McHugh. "She is a true champion and heroine."

McIvor has had trouble funding the case since October 2006, when the federal government cancelled the Court Challenges program. The government's decision came just after McIvor won her preliminary case in the B.C. Supreme Court, and just before the government decided to appeal her victory. The AFN Women's Council has led several fund-raising events among chiefs to support McIvor's case.

"This is not only a First Nations issue, and it is not only a woman's issue. It's an issue of fairness and human rights that I believe all Canadians care about. Our preference always is to negotiate rather than litigate to achieve resolution. However, by choosing litigation the federal government denies our peoples the full expression of our fundamental human rights," said AFN National Chief Phil Fontaine.

Donations to McIvor's case can be made by contacting the AFN Women's Council.

October 6th was declared First Nations Women's Day following a resolution by chiefs at AFN's Annual General Assembly in July 2005 as part of Women's History Month.

The AFN Women's Council ensures the perspectives of First Nations' women are included in all AFN policy directives and activities, as well as ensuring that the AFN is an effective advocate on behalf of First Nations women. The Assembly of First Nations is the national organization representing First Nations people in Canada.

Backgrounder:
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  • 1850 - The first legal definitions of the term "Indian" began with the introduction of legislation governing Indians. Early definitions who belonged to a First Nation and their spouses.
  • 1869 - The Indian Act was amended to exclude First Nations women who married non-native men and their children. First Nations leaders were not consulted in the drafting of the Act and it was seen as inconsistent with many First Nations cultural traditions.
  • 1872 - The Grand General Council of Ontario and Quebec Indians wrote to the Minister of Indian Affairs asking the Indian Act be amended: "So that Indian women may have the privilege of marrying when and whom they please, without subjecting themselves to exclusion or expulsion from their tribes and the consequent loss of property and rights..."
  • 1951 - Amendments to the Indian Act in 1951 established a centralized registry of all people registered under the Act. Despite objections, the government excluded First Nations women who married non-native men from the registry. Non-status women lost their legal right to live on reserve, vote in band elections, share in band monies, and own or inherit property on reserve. At the same time, women who married men with Status were themselves granted Indian Status, and this was passed on to their children.
  • 1973 - The issue of whether section 12(1)(b) of the Indian Act violated the Canadian Bill of Rights came before the courts in the Lavell case. A ruling by the Federal Court of Appeal concluded that the section violated the rights of First Nations women as individuals entitled to equality before the law. However, the Supreme Court reversed the decision.
  • 1979 - Women from the Tobique First Nations organized the "Native Women's Walk" from Oka to Parliament Hill, to publicly protest and raise awareness about the issue. 1979 - Sandra Lovelace, a non-status women from Tobique brought the issue to the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations
  • 1981 - The Human Rights Committee of the United Nations found Canada in breach of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
  • 1985 - The federal government amended the Indian Act, through Bill C-31, restoring legal status to women who married non-natives. However, in many cases women could still not pass status onto their children.
  • 1985 - British Columbia law student Sharon McIvor, the daughter of a status Indian woman and a non-status Indian man, applied to regain her status. She is told her children cannot qualify for status.
  • 1987 - McIvor wrote a letter requesting a review of the decision.
  • 1989 - McIvor received a reply upholding the denial of Indian status to her children. She launched a court case challenging the Indian Act.
  • 1999-2005 - Chiefs in Assembly passed resolutions calling on government to restore equal status to First Nations women.
  • 2006 - Sharon McIvor's case is first heard in court.
  • October 2006 - The federal government canceled the Court Challenges Program which was funding McIvor's Case.
  • 2006-2008 - The AFN Women's Council and Chief's-in-Assembly hold a variety of fund-raising events to help support the McIvor case.
  • June 2007 - B.C. Supreme Court Justice Carol Ross rendered her decision in favour of McIvor.
  • July 2007 - The federal government announces it will appeal the decision
  • October 14, 2008 - Sharon McIvor's case scheduled to go before the BC Court of Appeal.

For further information: Karyn Pugliese, AFN Health Communications, (613) 292-1877, [email protected]