Indian Status is the legal status of a person who is registered as an Indian under the Indian Act. Under the Indian Act, Status Indians, also known as Registered Indians, have certain rights and may be eligible for a range of benefits, rights, programs and services offered by the federal and provincial or territorial governments. Status is often required to get band membership, but this is not always the case as it depends on the Nation.

Who receives Indian Status depends on a number of different factors including whether the individual is a descendant of someone entitled to status, as well as the dates of birth and marriage of them and their ancestors.

For people born after April 17, 1985 and whose parents never married or got married  after April 17, 1985, the “second generation cut-off” applies. This rule creates two categories of Status. Status under section 6(1) of the Indian Act is given to people who have two parents with Status. Status under section 6(2) of the Indian Act is given to people with only one parent with 6(1) Status. Individuals who only have one parent with 6(2) Status and the other parent is non-status do not get Status. The effect of this rule is that where a person only has one Status parent, and that parent only has one Status parent, they will not qualify for Status.

There has been a long history of discriminatory rules excluding First Nation individuals from Status. One of these rules that affected many individuals was the “marrying out” rule where First Nation women lost Status when they married a non-Status man.

From 1869 until 1985 (116 years), if an Indigenous woman married a non- Indigenous man, she and the children of the marriage were denied Indian status. In 1985, the Indian Act was amended by the passage of Bill C-31 to remove this rule, in order to be consistent with Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. But discrimination was not completely wiped out. Bill C-31 also introduced the “second generation cut-off” rule and applied it even to people born before 1985. As a result, women who lost their Status by marrying out got their Status back, but many of their descendants still could not get Status.

In 2011, in response to a court challenge to the Indian Act Status provisions brought by Sharon McIvor, Canada amended the Indian Act through Bill C-3 to entitle the grandchildren of women who lost their Indian status through marriage to register. This still left some descendants of women who “married out” without status.

On December 12, 2017, in response to a case called Descheneaux v. Canada, Bill S-3 was passed into law. This allows some new people to get status including:

  • Individuals born before April 17, 1985 or whose parents were married before April 17, 1985, whose female ancestor lost status due to marriage to a non-status man, when that marriage occurred before April 17, 1985.
  • Women who were born out of wedlock of status fathers between September 4, 1951,and April 17, 1985.
  • Minor children, who were born of status parents or of a status mother, but lost entitlement to Indian status because their mother married a non-status person after their birth but before April 17, 1985.
  • Some of the descendants of the above individuals.