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Discriminatory Laws Lifted

Deanna Wuttunee

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 1980      v10 n09&10 p16  
The Federal government has tentatively suspended a section of the Indian Act which discriminates against Indian women who marry non-Indian men, and their children.

John Munro, Minister of Indian Affairs, announced recently that the sections of the Act in question will be suspended where Indian Bands request it.

The target is the controversial section 12 of the Indian Act which strips native women of their status and accompanying benefits if they marry non-Indian men. There is no such penalty for Indian men. On the contrary, their spouses gain status while their own status remains unaffected.

"This situation has come under attack from many quarters, both among Indian people and among non-Indians," said Munro in the announcement.

Following the July recess of Parliament, 23 female MPs and senators, dropping their party affiliations for the first time in history, formed a coalition to fight for the equality of Indian women.

Calling themselves `sisters of all women in Canada', the parliamentary women zeroed in on the discriminatory clause. They called for an immediate freeze on the application of that section of the Indian Act, adding such a moratorium should have the approval of Indian bands across Canada.

Further, they called for an amendment of that section of the Act in the fall session to entrench the moratorium in law.

Speaking for the coalition were Montreal Liberal Celine Hervieux-Payette, Kingston PC Flora MacDonald and Vancouver New Democrat Margaret Mitchell, flanked by Indian women's rights leaders Mary Two-Axe Early of Quebec and Jenny Margetts of Alberta.

Federal funding, housing, land and burial rights are the benefits lost by Indian women marrying nonIndian men.

The formation of the coalition was precipitated by a complaint of discrimination lodged by Sandra Lovelace of New Brunswick to the United Nations. A hearing was scheduled for July.

A few days before the coalition announcement, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau told the Commons he considered the section discriminatory but refused to make any changes, however socially progressive, over the heads of the Indian community. But, Trudeau said, the government will consider unilateral impostion of the change if approval was not forthcoming from the National Indian Brotherhood in a year or two.

Two-Axe Early and Margetts, representing the feminist organization Indian Rights for Indian Women, declared Trudeau was not decisive enough and that the Indian Act was imposed on Indian people without their approval in the first place.