The Indian Register is the official record identifying all Status Indians in Canada. Status Indians are people who are registered with the federal government as Indians, according to the terms of the Indian Act. Status Indians are also known as Registered Indians. Status Indians have certain rights and benefits that are not available to Non-Status Indians or Métis people. These may include on-reserve housing benefits, education and exemption from federal, provincial and territorial taxes in specific situations.
The Indian Register contains the names of all Status Indians. It also has information such as dates of birth, death, marriage and divorce, as well as records of persons transferring from one band (or First Nation community) to another. Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) is responsible for maintaining the Register (see the following section called “The Registrar”).
The Register’s beginnings
As early as 1850, the colonial government in British North America began to keep and maintain records to identify individual Indians and the bands to which they belonged. These records helped agents of the Crown to determine which people were eligible for treaty and interest benefits under specific treaties.
Between 1850 and 1951, government agents continued to maintain lists of the names of Indians who were members of a band. In 1951, changes to the Indian Act included a change to create an Indian Register.
The Indian Register brought together all of the existing records of persons who were recognized by the federal government as members of an Indian band. It served as the main record of the people registered as Indians under the Indian Act.
The main thing a person needs in order to be included in the Indian Register is evidence of descent from persons whom the Canadian government recognized as members of an Indian band in Canada. However, other terms in the Indian Act may also be factors in determining whether a person is a Status Indian.
Loss and restoration of Indian status
In 1985, the federal government changed the Indian Act by passing Bill C-31. These changes ended various forms of discrimination that had been ongoing since the 1860s. Many people over the decades had lost their Indian status because of unfair terms in the Indian Act. Since the passing of Bill C-31, the names of more than 100,000 people who lost their status as a result of these terms have been added to the Register.
Before Bill C-31, there were several ways a person could lose his or her Indian status under the terms of the Indian Act then in place. These included:
- Marriage to a non-Indian—if a registered Indian woman married a non-Indian, she automatically lost her Indian status. She was no longer considered to be an Indian within the meaning of the Indian Act; neither were any of her children if they were born after her marriage.
- Enfranchisement—before April 17, 1985, a person could apply to give up their Indian status for various reasons including the right to vote in a federal election. Until 1960, the only way Indians could vote in federal elections was to give up their Indian status.
- Foreign residence—an Indian who lived outside of Canada for more than five years lost his or her Indian status.
Bill C-31 allowed people in these situations to apply to have their status restored or to be registered for the first time and to have their names entered in the Indian Register. Bill C-31 also enabled people in the following categories to apply to be registered:
- Persons removed from the Indian Register because of protest based on non-Indian paternity.
- Children of people whose status was restored may be eligible to register for the first time, if one parent is registered or entitled to be registered under Section 6(1) of the Indian Act. Children are also eligible to register for the first time if both of their parents are registered or entitled to be registered under Section 6 of the Indian Act.
Under the Indian Act, the Registrar—an employee of INAC—is responsible for maintaining the Indian Register. The Registrar is the sole authority for determining which names will be added, deleted or omitted from the Register. In order to determine who is entitled to be registered as a Status Indian, the Registrar must be able to confirm that the person is descended from people who were recognized as members of an Indian band. The Indian Act defines the categories of people who are eligible for registration as Indians.
It is possible to protest either a removal, omission or an addition of a name to the Indian Register. Protests must be submitted to the Registrar in writing within three years from the date of the Registrar’s decision. The Registrar then reviews the protest, along with the original file and any new documentation, to determine if the original decision was correct. Once the Registrar has made a decision on the protest, the affected person is notified. If the person concerned disagrees with the Registrar’s decision, he or she can take the matter to court.
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