I can't decide if I hate or love my Indian status card: Kabatay
On one hand, I get weird looks and the same questions every time I use it, along with ignorance. On the other hand, I’m glad to have the benefits the status card gives.
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For as long as I can remember, I’ve carried around a piece of plastic that was created to make me different from everyone else.
It’s called an Indian status card and, to this day, I can’t decide if I hate it or love it.
Formerly called Certificate of Indian Status, the card is a government ID that gives “registered Indians” access to benefits, such as dental care and tax exemptions on-reserve for certain purchases. They were created under the Indian Act in 1876 that was designed to control everything Indigenous peoples did.
It covered Indian status, land, education, resources, wills and so on. It was meant to assimilate First Nations and punish them for living their traditional ways. In the act’s earlier days, women who married non-status men or people who earned a university degree would lose their status.
There are times I think my status card is useless and nothing but a race card because it was made from an act designed to oppress Indigenous peoples. Most of what I’ve ever really got from it are the stereotypes and confusion that come with it.
When I was a teenager buying clothes at the mall in Thunder Bay, I was checking out in a busy store and took out my status card. Immediately, I heard a loud sigh complete with an eye-roll from a white woman behind me. Then, when I turned 19, I tried to use it to get into a bar and was denied because they didn’t accept it as a form of identification.
What is more of an annoyance than anything is the mix of questions that comes with trying to use the card, whether it’s at the mall or a pharmacy.
There’s usually a hesitance or a “what do I do with this?” look that comes across the store clerk’s face when I present it. Some businesses don’t know what to do with it at all and I’ve been told plenty of times that places simply “don’t accept them.”
I’ve been asked the same stereotypical questions time after time: Do you have to pay taxes with your card? Do you get free education? What can you get for free?
If we were getting everything for free, wouldn’t there be fewer problems for First Nations communities instead of the problems that have been around for years?
But then, there are the benefits. There have been times when the card has helped me — even when I didn’t realize it could.
One time when I was getting a prescription filled, I was prepared to pay out of pocket until the pharmacist asked me if I had a status card. When I gave it to him, he handed it back to me along with my prescription and said, “Have a nice day.”
When I wanted to cross the U.S. border in the town near where I grew up, I didn’t have to use my passport — I could use my status card with ease.
For these reasons, I’m conflicted. On one hand, I get weird looks and the same questions every time I use it, along with ignorance. On the other hand, I’m glad to have the benefits the status card gives. At this moment in my life, being able to get some free stuff has made my life a little easier.
Seeing my status card is a constant reminder of the history of this country, as well as the present. After all, the act that made status cards a thing and was designed to control Indigenous peoples still remains in place.