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Ontario Native Women's Association welcomes Indian Act changes

A family of activists cheers the end of 'discrimination by gender'
ONWA
Jeannette Lavell-Corbiere and her daughter Dawn Lavell-Harvard had advocated for Ottawa to enact Bill S-3 to remove sex discrimination from the Indian Act. (Submitted photo)

THUNDER BAY — The Ontario Native Women's Association has issued a statement welcoming the "long overdue" enactment of Bill S-3 as a positive step toward reconciliation.

Past provisions within the controversial federal Indian Act meant women lost their status when they married non-Indigenous men, while men who married non-Indigenous women retained their status.

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett announced Friday that Indigenous women will now be treated the same as men under the Indian Act, enabling them to obtain the same status and category of membership as their male counterparts and their descendants,

With the remaining provisions of Bill S-3 now coming into force, descendants born before April 17, 1985, who lost their status or were removed from band lists due to marriages to non-Indigenous men dating back to 1869 can now be registered as First Nations members.

An activist and founding member of ONWA, Jeannette Laval-Corbiere, has been at the forefront of the movement challenging the Indian Act's discrimination by gender.

Her landmark case progressed all the way to the Supreme Court in 1973. Although it did not succeed, ONWA says it paved the way for momentous change.

"I am totally happy and grateful to witness the passing of Bill S-3 and to be reinstated to the full status that I had prior to 1970. It has taken 49 years, and with the support and help of my Indigenous sisters, friends and family across Canada, the discrimination and inequality in the Indian Act towards Indian women is finally removed," Laval-Corbiere said from her home in Wikwemikong on Manitoulin Island.

Laval-Corbiere's daughter, Dawn Lavell-Harvard, is the ONWA board president and the director of First People's House of Learning at Trent University.

She said the passage of Bill S-3 will improve the lives of Indigenous women and families.

"These warrior women who fought for half a century deserve to celebrate and be celebrated for their courage to continue the struggle long after others would have given up," Lavell-Harvard said.

"With the removal of the 1950 cut off and the reinstatement of our Grandmothers, we can finally see the way forward as this represents the beginning of true reconciliation in this nation," she added.

Lavell-Harvard's daughter, Autumn–a member of the ONWA Youth Council–joined her mother and grandmother in celebrating the government's announcement.

"My family and my community will be whole again. Women are the heart of our nations. The removal of our mothers, aunties and grandmothers had left a gaping wound in our nations...that can finally begin healing," she was quoted as saying in the ONWA statement.