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This section contains resources relating to who classifies or identifies as Aboriginal, and what their legal rights are.
Last Updated: Jun 27, 2017 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

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Overview of Aboriginal Identity & Treaty Rights

Aboriginal identity is intrinsically tied with the treaties that were signed between European settlers and the various Aboriginal peoples that led to the formation of Canada as we know it. While many Aboriginals have status (affording them specific rights and benefits) tied with the signed treaties, a number of Aboriginals are without status.

On this page, you will find resources about the various treaties and other legislation that form a significant part of their identity. Be sure to navigate to the subsections on taxation and treaty rights by clicking on the tabs above.

Benefits Available to Aboriginal Canadians

The following links provide detailed information on the various benefits available to different Aboriginal groups in Canada.

  • You Wanted To Know: Federal Programs And Services For Registered Indians
    A comprehensive guide from Indian and Northern Affairs Canada to programs and services for Registered Indians (commonly referred to as Status Indians), including eligibility criteria, which departments/ministries deliver each program, and more.
  • Your Health Benefits: A Guide For First Nations To Access Non-Insured Health Benefits
    This guide produced jointly by Health Canada and the Assembly of First Nations lists the services covered under the Non-Insured Health Benefits (NIHB) program, which includes dental, vision and eye care, prescription drugs, and others. The document describes how registered First Nations people can access these services.
  • Benefits, Services, and Resources for Aboriginal Peoples
    "This booklet explains the benefits, services, and resources that may be available to registered Indians who live on or off reserve, and provides information on how to apply for these benefits. "
  • Non-Insured Health Benefits for First Nations and Inuit
    "This section contains information on the various types of non-insured health benefits, who is eligible, how to access them, options for making an appeal when a benefit is denied, as well as how we safeguard clients' personal health information in our possession. There are also links to important resources and contact information to help answer your questions about the Non-Insured Health Benefits Program."
  • Your Health Benefits - A Guide for Inuit to Access Non-Insured Health Benefits
    Non-insured health benefits programs provide Inuit with several health-related goods and services that are not insured by provincial, territorial or private insurance plans. These benefits include coverage for specific drugs, dental care, vision care, medical supplies and equipment, short-term crisis intervention mental health counselling and medical transportation to access medically necessary goods and services not available in the
    community of residence.

    NOTE: This link is an excerpt. The full document is available upon request from Health Canada.

Studies On Aboriginal Identity

Identity is intrinsically linked to legal status for Aboriginals in Canada. The following reports take a look at aspects of Aboriginal identity concerned with the classroom, adoption, and other issues.

Hover your mouse around the document for more information.


Indian Status Redefined

From the January 9, 2013 broadcast of CBC's "Power and Politics" discussing the ruling of Daniels v. Canada Federal Court of Canada's decision that persons who are Metis or non-status Indians are "Indians" as the term is used in the Constitution Act, 1867.

For an extended look at the fight for Treaty Rights among all Aboriginals in Canada, check the CBC Digital Archives for a suite of video and audio that address this issue through the years.


The New Constitutional "Indian"

Taken from a lecture at the University of Alberta's Centre for Constitutional Studies.

"Challenges, Controversies and Consequences of Daniels v Canada. Who is responsible for the more than 600,000 aboriginal peoples across Canada who are either Metis or live off-reserve -- Ottawa or the provinces? This lecture explores this question."


American Indians Confront "Savage Anxieties"

From the December 26, 2014 broadcast of Moyers & Company, legal expert Robert A. Williams Jr. says stereotypes about American Indians have been codified into laws and government policies, with devastating consequences.

An extended web conversation is also available for viewing.



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Other Guides to Check Out

For other relevant guides, please check out the following.

Duty To Consult
by Stefanie Varze - Last Updated Jun 27, 2017
This section focuses on the Crown's obligation to consult with Aboriginal communities who may be affected by new legislation or development projects.
3 views this year

Primer on Aboriginal Status and Identity

Terminology and the ins and outs of Indian status (or lack of status) can be very complex. The following resources help explain different terms to describe the various Indigenous identities and what having status in Canada means.


Understanding Aboriginal Identity (BearPaw Media)

'Understanding Aboriginal Identity explores the complex issue of self-identification for Aboriginal people. Today, Aboriginal identity remains inextricably linked with past government legislation and the continued stereotyping of Aboriginal people in the media and Canadian history. From a Metis farm in rural Alberta, to the offices of Canada's leading scholars, Understanding Aboriginal Identity examines the factors that shape who we are.

To order this video go to"


Status Requirements & Defintions

These documents explain the different terms associated with Aboriginal peoples and how it effects their legal status.

Applications & Web Links

These resources will help the visitor navigate what is available for Aboriginals depending on their status.

  • Indian Registration and Band Lists
    This link provides forms for those wishing to register as Status Indians and receive benefits and rights offered by Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada.
  • Band Employee Benefits
    "The purpose of this program is to provide funding to eligible First Nation, Inuit or Innu employers to support the cost of the employer's share of contributions to pension plans for eligible employees. These may include the costs of employer sponsored pension plans, the Canada/Quebec Pension Plan and additional non-statutory employee benefits."
  • FAQ About Native Status
    Compiled by the Assembly of First Nations, this list of frequently answered questions on who is eligible to receive benefits, education, housing, health, and other matters.
  • Aboriginal Rights
    From the University of Alberta's Centre for Constitutional Studies, this article outlines how the 1982 Constitution impacted the rights of Aboriginal peoples in Canada.
  • Gender Equity in Indian Registration Act
    As of January 31, 2011, Bill C-3: Gender Equity in Indian Registration Act came into force. Bill C-3 will ensure that eligible grand-children of women who lost status as a result of marrying non-Indian men will become entitled to registration (Indian status). As a result of this legislation approximately 45,000 persons will become newly entitled to registration.

    This link provides information on the registration process, who is effected, and other frequently asked questions.
  • Indian Status (Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada)
    An individual recognized by the federal government as being registered under the Indian Act is referred to as a Registered Indian (commonly referred to as a Status Indian). Status Indians are entitled to a wide range of programs and services offered by federal agencies and provincial governments.

Aboriginal and Treaty Rights Cases in Canada. Academics as Expert Witnesses

Taken from York University's Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies "Research Matters"

"In this interview, Professor Wicken discusses his experiences over the past 18 years as an expert witness in various court cases, which have focused on the treaty and aboriginal rights of Canada's Aboriginal people. He discusses the potential pitfalls of testifying in court and the sometimes, thin line that separates objectivity from partisanship. As well, he explains how the courtroom for the academic is both a friendly place and a difficult one. In response to questions from the audience, he analyses how the courts affect current relationships between government and aboriginal communities."


Selected Titles From The BearPaw Library

The following is a listing of select titles on this topic that can be borrowed from our library.

Treaty Rights in the Constitution of Canada - James (Sa'ke'j) Youngblood Henderson
Call Number: 342.710872 HEN 2007
ISBN: 9780779813223
Publication Date: 2007

Entitlement to Indian Status and Membership Codes in Canada - Larry Gilbert
Call Number: 342.710872 GIL 1996
ISBN: 0459254138
Publication Date: 1996
"Entitlement to Indian Status and Membership Codes in Canada is the only book that deals exclusively with this complex subject.

This book eliminates the uncertainty surrounding the rules governing entitlement to Indian status. It offers:

* a thoughtful, critical approach,
* historical background,
* recent enactments and cases, and
* extensive examples

Whether you are an individual applying for registration as an Indian, a lawyer practicing in Native law, or a First nation developing and implementing a membership code, you will find this book to be an invaluable resource full of practical advice."

Native Rights in Canada (2nd edition) - Peter A. Cumming; Neil H. Mickenberg
Call Number: 3423.71 CUM 1972
ISBN: 077361012X
Publication Date: 1972
With compelling logic based on tightly organized facts, this book challenges the legal and historical assumptions behind many of the injustices stemming from Canada's deals and treaties with its Indian, Eskimo, and Metis populations. The authors bring into sharp focus the claims - sometimes ignored, often denied - of Canada's native peoples. In many cases, under the pressure of colonization for lands and territories ceded to white settlers. Successive governments, displaying little foresight and even less humanity, postponed by one means or another the settlement of these issues which now test the conscience of the nation and demand a fair resolution.


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