Gender discrimination against Aboriginal Women

In June of 2007 Sharon McIvor of the Lower Nicola Valley First Nation won a historic case in the B.C. Supreme Court. Up until 1985, a woman that had Indian status under the Indian Act that married a non-status partner, was no longer an Indian as defined by the Act. An Aboriginal man, however, not only retained his status if he married a non-status woman, but his wife gained status in the process. An amendment to the Indian Act in 1985 remedied that, almost.

Within months of the amendments, McIvor applied along with her children for registration as Status Indians of Lower Nicola Valley band. In February 1987, she learned that she, the daughter of an Indian woman and a Non-status Indian man, could be recognized as a Status Indian, but her children could not. Thus began her lengthy ordeal in the courts.

In June 2007, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Carol Ross rendered her decision. Ross agreed with McIvor’s stance of so many years: the 1985 Indian Act status provisions, she found, contravene the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, discriminating on the basis of sex and marriage.

Throughout this lengthy process, Ms. McIvor’s challenge was supported by the Court Challenges program, a non-profit organization set up to provide financial assistance for important court cases that advance language and equality rights guaranteed under Canada’s Constitution.

Enter Stephen Harper’s Conservative Government. Not only did the Attorney General of Canada make the decision to challenge Ms. McIvor’s victory, but they also scrapped the Court Challenges program.

That didn’t stop Sharon she took on the challenge and won again – but with one major drawback. The BC Court of Appeal applied a narrower interpretation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms than her original case. This gave parliament an excuse not to take the necessary steps to get rid of the sexism contained in the Indian Act.