Chief Rick O’Bomsawin of Odanak, Que., is urging a House of Commons committee to pass Bill S-3, which would give First Nations women full equality with men. But much more – and much less, financially – must be done before we are all treated equally.
In 1985, tens of thousands of women were given Indian status, but S-3 would grant it to as many as two million more people. Indian status gives people many valuable tax breaks, as well as post-secondary education and supplementary health benefits that most Canadians must pay for.
Metis and non-status Indians also want admission to this exclusive club. These are very large groups.
A few years ago when the federal government opened up applications to Newfoundlanders claiming aboriginal ancestry, they were stunned by the response – the government offices were swamped with applications. Now they’re trying to find a way to stem the tide.
It’s difficult to blame these millions of people for wanting these very rich Indian status benefits. A person who can prove that an ancestor was aboriginal can have their children’s very expensive university education completely paid for, even if they are wealthy. A person with Indian status might never have to pay income tax, and they can pass this million-dollar exemption on to their descendants. Prescription drugs, eye glasses, hearing aids and other pricey items are absolutely free, simply based on having a bit of the right kind of DNA.
Most of us would jump at the chance to board this gravy train, rather than being on the list we’re on – the list of people not entitled to any of the advantages, but the people who pay for those who are on the gravy train, even if they earn more money than we do.
The system is spectacularly unfair, and things are going to get a whole lot worse as more and more people are added to the list of the entitled.
John Ralston Saul argues – convincingly – that by now all Canadians are really Metis or can be considered to be so. Even those few of us who are not lucky enough to claim some aboriginal ancestry are, nevertheless, so influenced by the merging of cultures over the last 500 years that indeed we are still able to say that we’re Metis now.
So give aboriginal benefits to Metis because it will happen soon enough even if the government resists. The federal government should declare all of us Metis, and then every Canadian will be entitled to all the benefits available to status Indians.
The country will be able to afford that for about five minutes, at which time we’ll have to make a rational decision about which benefits the nation can afford to give every Canadian.
Finally, this modest proposal will mean that everyone will be treated the same. Now, that would be progress.
Brian Giesbrecht is a retired judge and a senior fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy,a Winnipeg-based think-tank.