BC’s Court of Appeal ruled April 9 – in Sharon McIvor’s favour – that the Indian Act still discriminated against women by denying Indian status to the grandchildren of Aboriginal women, but not those of Aboriginal men.
Sharon McIvor was a law student when she first challenged the act. That was in 1985. The Merritt BC woman is a grandmother now.
The Indian Act McIvor first challenged in 1985 had itself been the subject of a court challenge because it stripped women of their Indian status if they married non Aboriginal men. Meanwhile, non-Aboriginal women who married men with Indian status got status themselves.
McIvor’s grandmothers were both Indians, but their husbands were not.
So when the federal government changed the Indian Act to comply with a 1983 Supreme Court ruling that Indian women who married non-Indian men should maintain their status, McIvor applied for Indian status.
The letter she got back from the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs offered her Indian status, but not her children.
Two years later, her internal appeals exhausted, McIvor took the case to court.
It took 17 years to get in front of a judge.
In June 2007, two years after the first hearing, BC Supreme Court Justice Carol Ross sided with McIvor, arguing the law implied that “one’s female ancestors are deficient or less Indian than their male contemporaries. The implication is that one’s lineage is inferior.”
The federal government appealed Ross’s ruling, but lost. The government has 60 days to file an appeal with the Supreme Court of Canada.
If - as expected - the Harper government appeals the decision, McIvor’s quest for justice will take another three years and at least $250,000.
McIvor has got this far in part because of the Court Challenges Program. The Harper government - which seems to have no difficulty finding money for its costs - cancelled the program in 2006.
To lend your support to McIvor’s efforts, visit the Support for Sharon McIvor’s Court Action group on Facebook.