A national group representing Indigenous people living off-reserve has filed a lawsuit against Ottawa over the exclusion of Indigenous Peoples who do not have status under the Indian Act from post-secondary education benefits.
A news release issued by the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples follows:
July 7, 2023 (OTTAWA)— Today, the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples (CAP) filed a landmark federal lawsuit against the Minister of Indigenous Services and the Attorney General of Canada to stop the discriminatory exclusion of non-status Indians from post-secondary education benefits. These educational benefits are administered by Indigenous Services Canada.
“This groundbreaking federal lawsuit highlights that the federal government has discriminated against our Indigenous people and violated section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms by effectively impeding access to post-secondary education. This is part of an ongoing discrimination and colonialism, and we are left with no choice but to ask the federal courts for relief,” stated national chief of CAP, Elmer St. Pierre.
The lawsuit also calls for the federal courts to ensure Ministers meet their obligations under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act. “This lawsuit demands that the current federal government respects the Constitution, the Charter of Rights and our UN obligations in access to post-secondary education,” added National Chief St. Pierre.
Today’s lawsuit builds on the Supreme Court of Canada CAP-Daniels decision which was also filed by the leadership of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples. CAP is again going to the courts to seek basic fairness for non-status Indians who the Supreme Court recognized as “far more exposed to discrimination and other social disabilities...they are the most disadvantaged of all Canadian citizens.”
Prior to launching litigation, CAP undertook many measures to inform Indigenous Services of this discrimination and provided research and information to demonstrate the inequity.
The lawsuit specifically calls out Canada’s colonial and assimilationist policies and discriminatory laws, as many Indigenous people who are referred to as “Non-Status Indians” lost their status or never had status under the Indian Act and have little or no connection to reserve-based First Nations governments or communities. Of the approximately 1.6 million Indigenous people in Canada more than half do not have status under the Indian Act.
The lawsuit also focuses on the longstanding history of discrimination baked into the Indian Act that deprives our Indigenous peoples of programs, services, and rights which are extended to status Indians.