On Feb. 10, a clerk at Kiki & Co refused to recognize McGill Institute for the Study of Canada (MISC) Lecturer Orenda Boucher’s Indian status card, denying her the sales tax exemption that is granted to the Mohawks of Kahnawake, to which she belongs, by the Province of Quebec.
According to Boucher, the store clerk did not believe that the photo on the status card was a picture of her. The sales clerk claimed that Boucher did not look indigenous and accused her of procuring the status card dishonestly.
Spokesperson for the Council of Kahnawake Joe Delaronde said that the sales tax exemption is part of the Sectoral Agreements agreed between the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake and the Province of Quebec in 1999. According to Delaronde, the agreements were intended to improve the relationship between Quebec and the Kahnawake, but the Quebec population’s awareness is lacking.
“[The sales tax exemption] is on the [Revenu Québec] website,” Delaronde said. “So, any retailer […] can look it up on Revenu Québec. But I think most businesses have an understanding of [how to allow customers the exemption].”
Hadley Friedland, assistant professor of law at the University of Alberta, assisted in organizing McGill’s Aboriginal Law Course and said that the terms of “Indian status” are declared by the Federal Government and provides certain rights for people of indigenous ancestry.
“A status card indicates the Federal Government recognizes the carrier as having ‘Indian status’ under the rules of the federal Indian Act,” Friedland wrote in an email to The McGill Tribune. “In order to have Indian status, a person must have at least one parent who has Indian status [….] Band status—individual bands can decide on membership criteria that is different from the Indian Act—or residency does not change someone’s Indian status, or anything that flows from having Indian status, like a point of sales tax exemption.”
According to Delaronde, the sales tax exemption does not have any cost to the retailers.
“[Retailers are] remitting tax to the government and if it’s indicated on the bill that the customer didn’t pay tax for whatever reason, they’re not liable for it,” Delaronde said. “It doesn’t really hurt them at all. If anything, it brings people into their store.”
According to Paige Isaac, a coordinator at the McGill First Peoples’ House, the confusion surrounding status cards may be related to more deep-rooted issues related to indigenous stereotyping and prejudice.
“Stereotyping Indigenous people is very real,” Isaac wrote in an email to The McGill Tribune. “It happens quite often. Dispelling these stereotypes is an ongoing job and many people are making efforts to raise awareness [….] The lack of education and knowledge of ‘Indian’ status and the use of the status card is also an issue. Some people only associate it with the benefits and don’t associate it with treaty rights and colonialism.”
Friedland also said that racial profiling is the cause of many issues surrounding the use of status cards.
“I am sad to say I have witnessed non-Indigenous people personally attack or question Indigenous people’s identity and ‘right’ to have a status card or live on a reserve, based on their racialized conception of Indigenous people,” Friedland wrote.
Friedland also blames incidents, such as the one experienced by Boucher, on individuals’ ignorance towards indigenous societies.
“Canadians are undereducated about Indigenous peoples, treaty relationships, and the Indian Act,” Friedland wrote. “We need more education and public awareness if we want to promote a greater understanding and dispel myths.”
According to Isaac, it can be challenging to access certain services—such as prescriptions, dental care, eye exams, and sales tax exemptions—due to issues regarding the acceptance of status cards. The First People’s House will be making a list for members of their community of places that accept and know how to process the card, which will be available later this semester.