A Regina attorney is drafting what he hopes will be a class-action lawsuit claiming that 45,000 grandchildren of aboriginal women who lost their status by marrying non-natives have been wrongfully denied government benefits for years.
In aggregate these grandchildren are owed C$2.7 billion, attorney Tony Merchant said in a Jan. 12 court filing.
“Claims are being issued all across Canada in this case of ongoing injustice,” Merchant said in a statement.
At issue are amendments to the Indian Act passed in 1985 that reinstated Indian status for aboriginal women who had married non-native men, the Canadian Press reported. Before 1985, such a woman would lose her status but a man marrying a non-native person wouldn’t. Thus she, her children and grandchildren were ineligible for government benefits, according to Merchant’s press release.
Men marrying non-natives, on the other hand, would lose none of those benefits, and a child descended from such a union could receive Indian status through the paternal line, as would his or her children, the news service said. In December 2010, legislation was enacted extending that status to the grandchildren of aboriginal women.
Merchant said the bill essentially granted 45,000 people Indian status with all its attendant government assistance and tax breaks. People in this position are owed back taxes and have been cheated out of benefits such as post-secondary funding and housing opportunities, as well as a range of health coverage including dental, vision care and prescriptions, he said.
He also plans to address what he calls the continuing discrimination, which is that the children of women who are granted status by Bill C-3 still cannot pass that on to their children, while if they had inherited the status from their grandfathers and not their grandmothers, their children would be eligible for status.