What is Indian status?
Learn more about Indian status and the Indian Register.
What is Indian status?
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, may be eligible for a range of benefits, rights, programs and services offered by the federal and provincial or territorial governments.
If you think you might be eligible for Indian status and are ready to apply, start by consulting the eligibility requirements under Are you eligible to apply. You may also wish to research your family history to help determine which application form you need to fill out. This will save time in the processing of your application.
If you are registered as a status Indian under the Indian Act, your name will be added to the Indian Register.
What might you be eligible for as a status Indian?
What is the Indian Register?
The Indian Register is the official record identifying persons registered as status Indians under the Indian Act. According to section 5 of the Indian Act, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) is responsible for maintaining the Register.
Registered Indians, also known as status Indians, have certain rights and benefits not available to non-status Indians, Métis, Inuit or other Canadians. These rights and benefits include on-reserve housing, education and exemptions from federal, provincial and territorial taxes in specific situations.
There is no federal register within INAC for Inuit or Métis. If you self-identify as Métis, you may register as a member of your local Métis organization. If you are Inuit, you may already be a member of a land claim agreement.
To be included on the Indian Register, you must have successfully applied for Indian status and be eligible under the provisions of the Indian Act, as determined by the Indian Registrar.
Who is the Indian Registrar?
The Indian Registrar is the only authority under the Indian Act who can determine a person’s eligibility for Indian status. The Indian Registrar is an INAC employee in charge of the Indian Register and the band lists that are maintained at INAC.
The Indian Registrar makes the following decisions for the Register and band lists that are maintained at INAC:
- to add a person's name
- to delete a person's name
- to omit (not add) a person's name
INAC maintains certain band lists under section 11 of the Indian Act. Bands also have the option of determining their own membership or leaving the decision to INAC. Find out more by visiting How does a band assume control of its own membership.
What are the key changes to the Indian Act relating to registration?
In 1985, the Government of Canada passed An Act to amend the Indian Act (Bill C-31), which ended various forms of discrimination that had been present in the Indian Act since the 1860s.
The unfair terms of the Indian Act prior to 1985 caused many people to lose their status. Since Bill C-31, the names of more than 117,000 persons who had lost their status because of those terms have been added to the Indian Register.
Before Bill C-31, there were several ways a person could lose their Indian status as defined by the Indian Act.
- marriage to a non-Indian man
- If a registered Indian woman married a non-Indian man, she automatically lost her Indian status. She and her children born after the marriage were no longer considered status Indians under the Indian Act.
- Before April 17, 1985, a person could apply to give up their Indian status for various reasons, including the right to vote in a federal election. Until 1960, the only way Indians could vote in federal elections was to give up their Indian status.
- foreign residence
- If a status Indian lived outside of Canada for more than five years, that person’s name was deleted from the Indian Register.
Bill C-31 allowed persons in those situations to apply to have their status restored or to be registered for the first time and have their names entered on the Indian Register.
Bill C-31 also enabled persons in certain categories to apply to be registered:
- persons whose name was removed from the Indian Register because of a protest to the Indian Registrar based on non-Indian paternity
- children of persons whose status was restored, if one parent is registered or entitled to be registered under subsection 6(1) of the Indian Act
- children whose parents are both registered or entitled to be registered under section 6 of the Indian Act
To continue building on the 1985 changes to the Indian Act, the Government of Canada passed the Gender Equity in Indian Registration Act in 2011.This act amended provisions of the Indian Act that the Court of Appeal for British Columbia found to be unconstitutional in the case of McIvor v. Canada.
In July 2016, the Government of Canada implemented a two-staged approach to eliminate known sex-based inequities in Indian registration. Find out more by visiting Collaborative process on Indian registration, band membership and First Nation citizenship: consultation plan.
How do you prove you are a status Indian?
If you need to prove you are a status Indian and don’t have a status card, you can:
- apply for a status card
- call Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada Public Enquiries and ask for a Temporary Confirmation of Registration Document until you receive your status card