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Indian Status: Playing the race card, literally

Friday August 8, 2014
Indian Status: Playing the race card, literally

I remember being a child, walking into this office seeing the flashing lights of a camera and this woman working at a desk with an old fashioned typewriter, being as careful as can be when typing on a small piece of paper.

The wait time ahead of me was fast, with people going in and out usually laughing with the woman. Then, it was my turn. Photo taken, old-fashioned typewriter, and five minutes later I was finished. In my hand was the most prominent document I held and never realized what it was: my status card.

We’re all aware of it, even people who have never seen one. This piece of plastic, with our picture, name, date of birth, and band number. Photo identification. Useful, yes, but necessary? Probably not.

Status cards are a government issued card Aboriginal Canadians use as a way to identify that we are, in fact, an Aboriginal person of Canada. Why yes, we have to prove to the country and government of Canada that we are who we say we are. This hard plastic card is what identifies us as this certain race, nothing else.

According to the Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development website, status cards are “documentary evidence provided to registered Indians to facilitate access to a wide range of services and benefits administered by federal and provincial governments and other private sector program and service providers.” Which is just a fancy way of saying we can do things other people can’t.

So if we have a card that proves we’re Aboriginal, why don’t other races have cards to prove that they’re Filipino or Spanish or whatever other race? Passports don’t count in this case. What makes us so different from the rest of the world?

In fact, some Aboriginals have chosen not to even bother with a status card, claiming that status cards are a clear example of “systematic racism” and some have even gone as far as attempting to “de-status” themselves. Some have even experienced racism when purchasing retail items, and of course we all know what the majority of Canadian citizens think: Natives don’t pay taxes. Which is very untrue, but it would be very nice to not have to pay taxes.

Of course, the benefits of a status card cannot be argued with. Free medication, education, taxes off of select purchases, and who can argue with the five dollars on treaty day? Some Aboriginals say that status cards give them a sense of belonging and their status card is an affirmation of their ancestors.

Regardless of the benefits this little card has, there is one thing for certain: I don’t need a card to prove I’m Native.

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