SIMCOE – A twenty-five-year-old Ojibwa mother of two, Heather Harnois, finds herself neither an Indian or a Canadian after being denied a social insurance number, health-care coverage and child tax benefits.
Heather Harnois, lived in Chippewa of the Thames for several years after coming to the community as a young teen with her Ojibwa mother.
Although one of her two children was born in Canada, according to Ottawa, she does not qualify as status Indian. What’s more, she doesn’t qualify as a Canadian citizen either.
Harnois, is now living in Halliburton, Ontario, was born in the American side of the white man’s boarder to an Ojibwa mother and a non-status father, whom she never knew. She legally came to the Chippewa of Thames reserve, near London, Ontario, with her mother when she was in her early teens, and therefore, came as a dependant of a status Indian.
Even though she can trace her Onkwehon:we heritage through her mother’s lineage back several generations, Harnois finds herself in a similar situation as First World War vets who came home from the war only to find they were considered neither Canadian, nor Indians by the Canadian government.
Harnois’ fight for her stolen identity began in 2009 when Ottawa revised Canada’s Citizenship Act. She is now ineligible for Indian status due to a “second generation cut-off” rule that prevents Indian women who have had offspring with non-
Native men, from passing on their status under Harper’s Bill C-3, which was amended with C-37 in 2010.
What’s more, she is also not considered a Canadian citizen.
Victoria, B.C.-based aboriginal lawyer Christopher Devlin believes it’s in the government’s interest to deny Indian status to aboriginals who marry and have children with non-aboriginals. He warns that within 100 years, under this policy, there will be very few, if any status Indians left, which would result in less funding for aboriginal communities and fewer treaty obligations for the government to deal with.
“As long as the government defines what it is to be an Indian by procreation and generation and not by other measures of culture and ethnicity, then you’re going to run into these problems and there’s going to be people who very much identify with their aboriginal past but are going to be cut off from legally being Indians,” he said in an interview with the Vancouver Sun.
Devlin is also on record saying that Canada will have gotten rid of their “Indian problem” by defining Indians out of existence in a gradual, but relentless way to eliminate Canada’s responsibility towards aboriginal people.
But the frustration caused by Harper’s actions goes beyond Onkwehon:we people and is impacting thousands of people who lived their lives believing they were Canadians, but because of a 2009 Act of legislation, are suddenly something else.
Harnois is part of a much broader, nationwide movement known as the “Lost Canadians”, which includes non-Native Canadians who have also been striped of their rights as Canadian citizens by the Harper government, despite having grown up in Canada, having children here and even fighting with a Canadian flash on their shoulders in World War ll and Korea.
Simcoe resident Mary Vamiers, has also found herself in the state of limbo Harper has created, which was designed to tighten Canada’s citizenship requirements.
She and Harnois are now women without a country. Vamiers is one of about 37,000 war babies who Harper has erased from Canadian citizenship and the benefits that come with that despite living here and paying taxes to Canada since WW ll.
“My father and mother met and fell in love in England during the war,” says Vamiers. “At that time, a service man or service woman could not marry without permission.”
That permission was not granted. Her mother became pregnant and after having Mary, out of wedlock, they went back to Canada to wait the war out. Her father returned and married her mother in Canada and they lived a long and happy life in southwestern Ontario, until 2009 when she applied for a passport and was denied.
When Vamiers inquired why she was being denied, she discovered that she was a “bastard” as the government referred to her, because she was born out of wedlock and therefore was not a Canadian citizen and could not be granted a
“As an older person and a proud Canadian, I was shocked to hear myself being referred to as a ‘bastard’,” says Vamiers.
The situation presents two possibilities, one bad and one worse. The bad one is that both Vamiers and Harnois share the negative results of the same shortsighted and clumsy legislation pushed through by Harper. But the worse scenario is that the Harper government knows exactly what it is doing and see the ultimate financial benefits of disallowing people, both Native and non-Native, their rightful benefits as Canadians or Natives.
Both women are members of a Canadian-wide organization, known as the “Lost Canadians”, which was started by Don Chapman and has received significant press from McLean’s Magazine and other publications.
There is a case before the Supreme Court of Canada, filed earlier this year by lawyers representing Jackie Scott, a 68-year-old war child, whose story closely parallels that of Vamiers.
Scott considered organizing a class-action suit, however with the help of her legal council, decided to go at it seeking a judicial inquiry instead, which they say will accomplish the same ends, which they hope will help thousands of others regain their identities and the benefits they justly deserve.