System That Rewards Status Indians is Spectacularly Unfair

Commentary, Aboriginal Futures, Brian Giesbrecht

Chief Rick O’Bomsawin of Quebec is urging a Commons Committee to pass Bill S-3, which would give Indian women full equality with men. 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.

At the present time, other groups of people are also lobbying to obtain the same benefits. Metis and non-status Indians 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 literally swamped with applications, and now they are trying to find a way to stem the tide.

It is hard 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 that we are now on – the list of people who are 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 present 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.

So, here is a modest proposal:

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, we are, nevertheless, so influenced by the merging of cultures that has taken place over the last five hundred years that indeed we are still able to say that we are 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 this expenditure for about five minutes, at which time we will have to collectively make a rational decision about which benefits the country can afford to give every Canadian from that point on. 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.