Would you use a Status card, if you had one?

- Editor-in-chief Neil Godbout



Glacier Media



No white person would change places with me,” the American Black comedian Chris Rock said in a comedy special more than 20 years ago. “And I’m rich.” Then and now, it’s the “shut your face because your racism is showing” line to anyone complaining about the benefits – real or imagined – that people of colour receive. In Canada, the most notorious symbol of “how come they get special treatment?” is the Indian Status card. For many Canadians for many years, that card represents ongoing Indigenous entitlement to get lots of stuff for free at the expense of everyone else. So let’s apply the Rock observation. If you received a Status card in the mail today with your name on it, would you actually use it? Would you identify as Indigenous in public, just so you could get a tax break, cut into a lineup or buy some stuff at a reduced price? Based on a report from the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, many Status card holders don’t, simply to avoid the discrimination that comes with it (see story, page 12). The title of the study - “They Sigh or Give you the Look: Discrimination and Status Card Usage” – says it all. Nobody wants to expose themselves to that kind of scrutiny and public disdain. Or worse. The first-of-its-kind study, with input from the National Collaborating Centre for Indigenous Health at UNBC, was prompted by the unlawful arrest and detention of Maxwell Johnson and his granddaughter when they presented their federal status cards to open a bank account at a Vancouver BMO location in December 2019. “The media and schools have failed to educate people on the history of status cards and why First Nations peoples have them,” said UBCIC Grand Chief Stewart Philip. “The burden of educating people on status cards is unjustly on First Nations people when the government has been negligent in providing the proper and relevant resources to educate public service workers and the public about the legality and legitimacy of status cards as government-issued identification,” added Chief Marilyn Slett, Heiltsuk Nation. The reality of the Status card is that the devil is in the details and it’s a typical government benefit with plenty of small-print qualifiers. And even if it conferred all of those gravy train stereotypes, would you use it if you had one? Chris Rock says you wouldn’t. And I’m no better.