First Nations Citizenship

First Nations Citizenship – A Fiscal Perspective

Canada must engage with Manitoba First Nations on a Nation-to-Nation basis, respecting the Honour of the Crown and the Treaty relationship by recognizing self-governance over citizenship in their Nations.

AMC Alternative Budget (2023)

First Nations have inherent jurisdiction over citizenship matters for their Nations. Canada, through the definition of “Indian” under the Indian Act, intrudes on this jurisdiction. Past colonial administration of Indian Status eligibility has resulted in loss of status entitlement for First Nations citizens and even the “de-listing” of a band, as was the case for Arrows Lake Band, the Sinixt Nation of British Columbia. Loss of entitlement for First Nations and citizens seriously undermines the exertion of Treaty rights, results in the loss of federal funding for on-reserve programming, and outright delisting creates the risk of Canada converting Treaty and Reserve land to Crown land. Canada must engage with Manitoba First Nations on a Nation-to-Nation basis, respecting the Honour of the Crown and the Treaty relationship by recognizing self-governance over citizenship in their Nations.

Through resolution OCT-11.07, the AMC Chiefs-in-Assembly directed the AMC to seek commitment from Canada to support the development of a First Nations Citizenship Recognition Act. Through this act, Manitoba First Nations would be meaningfully consulted in a manner consistent with the principles of free, prior, and informed consent.

Required Spending

$9.2M per year ongoing for five years to support the administration and development of Nation- specific policies around First Nations Citizenship. This includes the development of a First Nations
Citizenship Recognition Act through meaningful consultation with Manitoba First Nations consistent with the principles of free, prior, and informed consent. Funding will support determination of what
is required to meet the needs of any additional status membership as a result of legislative changes, including costs for mandatory program areas such as housing, education, social services, and
reserve lands.


Further inquiry can help clarify where Indigenous peoples in Canada fit regarding the Indian Act and First Nations frameworks for understanding and identifying citizenship. Doing so would help to ameliorate historical injustices, namely the denial of status as a means to justify the non-delivery of services stipulated in Treaties with the Canadian government.

Recommended Reading: 2023-24 Manitoba First Nations Alternative Federal Budget

Recommended Reading: Reclaiming Our Identity Band Membership, Citizenship and the Inherent Right, by the National Centre for First Nations Governance.

First Nations Citizenship Workshop, 2018

In 2018, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs hosted a pivotal event: the First Nations Citizenship Workshop. This gathering brought together a diverse group of participants, including First Nations band membership managers, clerks, and portfolio councillors.

The primary goal of this workshop was two-fold: first, to discern the types of support required by First Nations communities in their quest to define citizenship independently of the Indian Act; and second, to outline a unique Manitoba First Nations approach for the collaborative process between First Nations and the Crown, specifically pertaining to matters of Indian registration, band membership, and First Nations citizenship.

The essence of First Nations identity is intricately woven from three distinct strands: kinship, membership, and citizenship, each carrying its own set of eligibility criteria, rights, and responsibilities. These elements also bear profound implications for the well-being of future generations. Among these implications, one stands out as both urgent and highly significant: the concerning decline in the number of First Nations individuals and their descendants who are eligible for registration under the Indian Act.

The AMC Chiefs Committee on Citizenship approved the workshop approach to utilize the federal “collaborative approach” as a means to implement Manitoba First Nations leadership direction per AMC resolution OCT-11.07, Manitoba First Nations Citizenship Recognition Legislation.

The “collaborative process” is understood as involving two components:

(1) Transitional Plan – involving (a) development of federal “First Nations Recognition Act” (i.e. AMC resolution); and (b) supporting First Nations in what they need to transition towards First Nations Citizenship Laws [regardless of proposed legislation].

(2) First Nations Citizenship Laws – developed by individual First Nations.

READ: AMC First Nations Citizenship Workshop, Final Report

READ: Collaborative Process on Indian Registration, Band Membership and First Nation Citizenship: Report to Parliament June 2019

History of First Nations Citizenship in Canada

Since 1869, the Indian Act has played a pivotal role in determining legal recognition of individuals as “Indian.” Initially, this legislation declared that any Indian woman marrying a non-Indian would lose her Indian status under this Act, and her children from such a union would not be considered Indians. The first Indian Act, enacted in 1876, introduced a redefined concept of an Indian, encompassing:

  1. Any male individual of Indian heritage associated with a specific band.
  2. Any child born to such a person.
  3. Any person who was, or had been, lawfully married to such an individual.

This Act also outlined a process called enfranchisement, through which Indians could attain full Canadian citizenship by relinquishing their ties to their community. The definition of enfranchisement initially appeared in 1876, stating that an enfranchised Indian was:

“Any Indian, along with their wife and minor unmarried children, who had received letters granting them ownership of a portion of the reserve allocated to them, their spouse, or minor children by their band, or any unmarried Indian who had received letters patent for an allotment of the reserve.”

Enfranchisement entailed giving up Indian status, cultural heritage, traditions, and any land-related rights. This transformation made one a “citizen” of Canada, granting them the right to vote in federal elections and freedom of movement within the country. Furthermore, certain conditions, such as pursuing a career as a lawyer, doctor, clergyman, obtaining a university degree, or joining the military, could also lead to enfranchisement. Losing one’s status also meant forfeiting the right to reside on the reserve and any associated benefits.

The federal government considered enfranchisement as a means of “civilizing” and assimilating Indigenous peoples. In 1951, an amendment to the Indian Act introduced Section 12(1)(b), which stipulated that an Indian woman marrying a non-Indian would not be entitled to registration, nor would her children from the marriage. In contrast, Section 11(1)(f) was added, stating that the wife or widow of a registered Indian man would be entitled to Indian status, irrespective of her non-Indigenous background. This marked the initiation of legislated discrimination targeting Indian women.

In summary, the government has developed different definitions of “Indian” over the past century and a half, primarily for various administrative reasons:

  • 1850: Any individual deemed to be of Aboriginal descent by birth or blood, those reputed to belong to a specific band or group of Indians, and individuals who married Indians or were adopted by them.
  • 1876: Any male individual of Indian heritage associated with a specific band, their children, and any woman who was or had been lawfully married to such a person.
  • 1951: Individuals registered or entitled to be registered in the Indian Register. This led to complex eligibility rules, retaining a focus on male lineage and resulting in the loss of status for many due to discrimination against Indian women and illegitimate children.
  • 1985: Individuals registered or entitled to be registered in the Indian Register based on the revised Indian Act rules.

It’s important to note that Indian Act registration categories were never based on cultural criteria, despite the misconception that Indian registration would provide individuals with a cultural identity. Instead, these categories aimed to restrict the Indian population due to financial obligations.

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