The Gradual Enfranchisement Act of 1869, in defining those eligible for Indian status, had excluded women who married non-Indian men from eligibility for treaty and other benefits. In 1985, this portion of the Act was finally repealed with Bill C-31, a somewhat controversial measure that granted women the right to maintain their Indian status upon marriage. The bill also reinstated that status to those who had lost it by acquiescing to the enfranchisement process, obtaining a university degree, or by serving in the armed forces during the Second World War. Within six years of the bill's passage, over 69,000 individuals had been granted their Indian status once again, but this did not mean that all were accepted back onto the reserves they had left. Many bands saw this legislation as another legal creation of the federal government without input from Native people and a measure that created as many problems as it solved. Several reserves were already overcrowded, with too many people sharing too few resources. Wealthier bands, with profits from resource-leasing revenues, feared opportunistic claims from individuals more interested in the monetary benefits of Indian status than in maintaining Native culture. A band from northern Alberta pressed its opposition to the measure in a federal court case, but the decision in Sawridge Band v. Canada upheld the legislation. The dissension that Bill C-31 caused among Natives prompted the government to relent somewhat, devising yet a new category of "Indians" in the process. In essence, the government has established procedures to allow bands to determine their own membership lists, with the result that "Bill C-31 Indians" now exist as a subgroup within the larger body of Status Indians.

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Chinook Multimedia

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