Vivian Hermanson heard story after story from First Nations people around Campbell River, B.C., experiencing years-long delays in registering children for Indian status and delays in receiving their secure status cards from Indigenous Services Canada.
“I was hearing the biggest need of all was coming out of the young parents generation, waiting two to three years sometimes to have their child registered,” she said.
Hermanson, a member of the Snuneymuxw First Nation, launched a petition to the House of Commons last month that calls on the government to take no longer than the time needed to process a Canadian passport — 20 business days — to process status cards and to find solutions to do this such as hiring more staff.
Indigenous Services Canada’s website says the processing time for a secure status card is 16 weeks. It says registering for Indian status takes six to eight months, or in “complex cases,” up to two years.
The petition says current wait times are an example of systemic racism being perpetuated by the Canadian government.
“Our systems don’t recognize the systemic racism that is built into them, or if they recognize it, they’re unable to interact with it in a meaningful way,” Hermanson said.
She said she doesn’t have a lot of knowledge about petitions but felt she had to do something.
“When we’re in community and things are happening, we participate in supporting. If there was something that I could do based on the stories I was hearing, then that’s what my teachings tell me.”
‘It’s almost like doing a passport, but worse’
Kelly Shopland shared her story with Hermanson and also signed the petition. The mother from K’òmoks First Nation didn’t expect she’d have to apply for a Secure Certificate of Indian Status card for her infant when he was born or that it would be four years before he finally received one.
“It’s a very frustrating process,” said Shopland.
“It’s almost like doing a passport, but worse because you’re not getting the feedback quick.”
The old Certificate of Indian Status cards are still being produced at some First Nations offices. They are laminated paper templates manually typed out by an Indian registration administrator who verifies an individual’s information in the Indian registry.
Secure Certificate of Indian Status cards, which have security features included in them, were introduced in 2009. They are administered through Indigenous Services Canada and printed by a third party.
In April 2017, with the assistance of an Indian registration administrator at her community’s band office, Shopland sent her baby’s application for status to Indigenous Services Canada and received a response that was hard to understand in terms of what was missing or what the next steps were.
She said they returned his long form birth certificate and indicated that he would be entitled to status under Bill C-3.
She put the application for her baby’s SCIS card on the back burner while on maternity leave, picked up the process in early 2019 and finally received her son’s secure status card in January 2021.
She’s not looking forward to having to renew it when it expires.
“That’s leaving everyone with a period where they may not have a valid status card for whatever reason they may need it, whether that’s in businesses or for tax exemptions or for health benefits.”
‘This is systemic racism’
NDP MP Rachel Blaney, who represents a riding in B.C. with over 20 First Nations, introduced Hermanson’s petition to the House of Commons on Apr. 30.
“This is systemic racism, whenever there are systems that target a particular group of people because of who they are,” she told CBC News.
“We need to make sure that the government is responsible for the actions that they’re taking and the implication it has on families and communities.”
During the 30 days the petition was open, 1,164 people signed it from across Canada.
“We continue to have a government that steps in that place between the community and their own people,” said Blaney.
“We’re asking them to create a meaningful solution that makes sure that people get acknowledged.”
Denis Poirier, director of the Individual Affairs Branch at ISC, said the department is working to help with the application process through partnerships and with the introduction of a new app.
“When we launched the photo app, basically what we were trying to do is make the service more accessible,” he said.
“I think for us, what’s important is to give the most timely feedback to applicants, to make sure that they get the services that they applied for and it’s also important for us to be able to issue the cards to those who who want them as quickly as possible, so that the process has to be streamlined and as simple as possible.”
Danielle Shaw, elected chief councillor for the Wuikinuxv Nation in B.C., has been their Indian registration administrator for over eight years and started when the secure cards began rolling out.
She said she thinks there were good intentions behind the department providing a legitimate looking piece of ID but she signed the petition because she feels providing the service hasn’t been made a priority.
“We’re not looking for anything more than what any other demographic gets access to when issuing any sort of identification,” she said.
Once a petition is tabled in the house, the government is mandated to respond within 45 days.