GARDEN RIVER FIRST NATION, ON, May 27 /CNW/ – Jeannette Corbiere-Lavell, who led a Supreme Court challenge of the federal government’s system of determining Indian Status, is the first Anishinabek Nation Commissioner on Citizenship.

“It is important that we distinguish between Indian Status and Citizenship,” Grand Council Chief John Beaucage said in announcing the appointment at the E-Dbendaagzijig (“those who belong”) conference. “Our new commissioner carries with her all our confidence in assuming a leadership role in our citizenship initiative.”
“I am honoured to have been chosen to undertake this urgent commission at this appropriate and opportune time,” said Commissioner Corbiere-Lavell. “This issue has caused too much hurt and division in our communities and it is time we did something about it. I commend the Anishinabek leadership, in all our communities, for taking this brave and unprecedented step.”

Ms. Corbiere-Lavell is a central figure in the pursuit of fairness and recognition for First Nations women and children, especially those who have lost their Indian status due to provisions of the Indian Act. Aside from lack of access to social and treaty benefits that are attached to Indian status, the loss of status can also carry a stigma in First Nation communities.

In April of 1970, the citizen of Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve married David Lavell, which resulted in the loss of her Indian Status and citizenship rights. Corbiere-Lavell began her struggle to ensure that the rights of Indian women were equal to the rights of Indian men under the Indian Act. In 1973, the Supreme Court of Canada heard Ms. Corbiere-Lavell’s case, now known as the Lavell case, but it was lost by a single vote from the bench.

When the Indian Act was revised in 1985, Bill C-31 created new criteria for Indian Status. Section 6 (2) states that only children of two parents with Indian status can pass Indian status on to their children. The rule, sometimes called the ‘two-generation cut-off’, could mean the extinction of so-called “status Indians” within six generations. In some Anishinabek Nation communities, it is predicted that the last status Indian will be born as early as 2012.

“We reject outright the concept of Indian Status,” said Grand Council Chief Beaucage. “I can think of no other issue as crucial for our future or as fundamental to our Nation as citizenship. It is not my status card that tells me I am Anishinaabe. The legacy of my forefathers, and my connections with my family, my community and my Nation tell me who I am.”

As the Anishinabek Nation Commissioner on Citizenship, Ms. Corbiere-Lavell will consult with Anishinabek Nation leaders and citizens across Anishinabek territory, provide expert advice to the Grand Council Chief and the Chiefs Committee on Governance, and deliver a final report that will aid in the development of the Anishinabek Nation Citizenship Law. In June
2007, the Anishinabek Grand Council unanimously endorsed a resolution giving Grand Council Chief Beaucage the mandate to develop the law.

The Anishinabek Nation incorporated the Union of Ontario Indians as its secretariat in 1949. The UOI is a political advocate for 42 member First Nations across Ontario. The Union of Ontario Indians is the oldest political organization in Ontario and can trace its roots back to the Confederacy of Three Fires, which existed long before European contact.