Got Status? Indian Status in Canada, sort of explained.


It has been my experience that many Canadians do not understand the difference between Status and membership, or why so many different terms are used to refer to native peoples.  The confusion is understandable; this is a complex issue and the terms used in any given context can vary greatly. Many people agree that the term ‘Indian’ is a somewhat outdated and inappropriate descriptor and have adopted the presently more common ‘First Nations’.  It can seem strange then when the term ‘Indian’ continues to be used, in particular by the government, or in media publications.  The fact that ‘Indian’ is a legislative term is not often explained.

As a Métis, I find myself often answering questions about whether or not I have Status, which invariably turns into an explanation about what Status means in the Canadian context. The nice thing is, as time passes, fewer people ask me this because…

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14 responses to “Got Status? Indian Status in Canada, sort of explained.

  1. Jules, in my native land, Guyana (South America), the indigenous peoples are known as ‘Amerindians’ (American Indians). This differentiates them from East Indians (from India) and West Indians (from the Caribbean Region).

    • Rosaliene: Thanks for the visit and read. Amerindians is a term that enjoyed usage in the US for a while during the decades immediately after WWII until the 1970s. As I recall the main reason it faded from usage was ethnic preferences. The vocal members of the tribes here more-or-less demanded they be called Native Americans, which doesn’t really describe anything with more accuracy than Amerindians, but does perform the rhetorical trick of grabbing the moral high ground in terms of duration of residency. At the time people who’d been called Mexicans and other Hispanics chose to be called Chicano, though that faded from use mostly. And folk who’d been called ‘negro’ or ‘colored’ in polite terminology decided briefly they wanted to be called ‘Black Afro-Americans’, then just ‘Black’, then African Americans. I believe African American is the current preference. I’m obliged you visited. Jules

  2. Jules, Is there something wrong with me? Or is their reasoning off the wall? It clearly makes no sense at all.

    • Mary: I’m going to have to be careful because I don’t want to put words into the mouth of the lady who wrote the piece. But I’ve had a couple of days to think about what she wrote and I’ll offer some thoughts labelled ‘distinctly mine’ as opposed to attempting to say what I think she’s said.

      Seems to me what’s going on with the language in this arena is partly about identity from a personal perspective, which can’t be expected to be understood by reasoning. It’s about the personal perception human beings adopt about themselves and in this instance involves a surgically accurate awareness of bloodlines and ethnicity.

      But another part of it is an official recognition of an historical and genetic condition that doesn’t get discussed much in the US among whites, probably not among tribal members, either. It lies in the truth that in Canada an awfully lot of individuals are of mixed ancestry.

      In the US, except among the Zuni and Hopi, there’s a middling likelihood no ‘pure’ tribal blood exists anywhere. Particularly among the Rio Grande tribes of New Mexico, the Laguna and Acoma tribes, and all tribes located east of the Missippi River at the time of the arrival of Europeans. European and tribal blood mixed over most of the continent by marriage, by mutual consent, by rape, by captivity, by slavery, by kidnapping, by sale, and all the other alternatives I haven’t named, for a long, long while before anyone began trying to sort it out.

      So the reality is, it seems to me, that the tribes in Canada have openly recognized a group of descendants of tribal members are of mixed blood, and assume ‘pure’ bloodlines also exist and are distinct from mixed ones.

      In the US the only identifier is the Tribal Census Number, which is legal and has nothing whatever to do with bloodlines, pure or otherwise.

      Sheeze. I’ve gone on and on. Thanks for coming by. Jules

  3. The picture of the chickens at the top of the page are absolutely beautiful birds. I raise chickens and appreciate a beautiful one. Mary

  4. There’s nothing like bureaucrats to create confusion, only to make it exponentially more confusing with each subsequent amendment.

  5. Ed: Maybe. I’m more inclined to think history creates the confusion and bureaucracy feeds on the manure second-harvest style. There’s plenty of precedent in other species to lend strength to the premise. Gracias, Jules

    • Yeah, I’ll go with your image. Having encountered a large number of Natives of various tribal affinities here in Oklahoma, it seems rather similar to a great many other debates over how to treat this or that ethnic minority. For not a few, it’s the question of who claims the privileges which attach to such identity out of various budgets. They say so themselves. Right now, some of my relatives are trying to get a ticket for that gravy train, and their claims are probably legitimate under the current system.

      I’d rather think there are a goodly number of folks who have more substantive considerations in mind, but I simply haven’t run into very many who say so. Maybe I’m not in the right place to meet them. Then I wonder how much of that ticket-seeking comes from how various government officials have dealt with them in the past. I just imagine I’ll never really understand.

      • Hi Ed. I think a lot could be said about the whole double-helix issue of personal identity as it’s driven by personality needs on the one spiral and legal status/financial incentive on the other. One follows paths to fill voids, the other is a push-pull trail defined by the perception of furthering physical betterment.

        Inside a context as complex as that honesty can’t find a place to live. But the fact it exists in the goldfish bowl of this particular set of ethnic groups certainly needn’t be shaved off and examined as though it’s an isolated phenomenon. Every ethnicity I can think of indulges it to one degree or another, whites included. Israel and Ireland come to mind.

        I’m obliged you came by and offered some observations. Gracias, Jules

  6. I’ve got to be honest and say my eyes glazed over about one-third of the way through the linked piece. However, when I got to the bottom, I read the following bit under information about the author: “Passions: education, Aboriginal law, the Cree language, and roller derby.” I at least got a laugh out of that.

    • Morning Kevin: The blog captured my attention and dropped me into a lot of thinking I wouldn’t have done if I hadn’t encountered it. I pondered it a longish while before I decided to reblog it. Never had any illusions every reader would respond to it as it did. Thanks for the visit and the read. Jules

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