A woman who acquired Indian status within the meaning of the Indian Act through marriage does not lose registered status as a result of divorce. Powley does not require courts to apply the Powley factors each time a person purporting to be Indian within the meaning of the Indian Act comes before the court.
In Rosemary Lamb, the Queen’s Bench of New Brunswick considered whether Ms. Lamb, a Caucasian woman who had acquired Indian status within the meaning of the Indian Act through marriage to Mr. Augustine, an Aboriginal man, continued to retain such status following her divorce. Prior to their marriage Ms. Lamb had two children with Mr. Augustine. The two were subsequently married in 1984 and divorced shortly thereafter. In 2017, Ms. Lamb was convicted for hunting moose out of season. Ms. Lamb contended that she continues to have hunting rights that flow from her Indian status with the Burnt Church First Nation. Overturning the trial decision, the Court held that her Indian status had been obtained in 1979 when she married Mr. Augustine, and continues even after divorce.
The trial court held that the Powley criteria must be applied to the evidence to determine the Aboriginal identity at law. The criteria includes Aboriginal ancestry, cultural awareness and community acceptance. Ms. Lamb, a self-represented litigant, did not provide any meaningful evidence of Aboriginal ancestry nor was she meaningfully connected to the Burnt Church First Nation community. Since she could not prove Aboriginal ancestry or cultural awareness, the trial court determined that Ms. Lamb was not an “Indian” within the meaning of the Indian Act.
In this appeal, however, the Court held that the trial court had made an error of law resulting from an incomplete legislative history. After reviewing the history of statutes governing Aboriginal identity at law (omitted here), the Court observed that as the wife of a person entitled to be registered, pursuant to s.11(1)(f) of the Indian Act, Ms. Lamb continues to be registered as an “Indian” within the meaning of the Indian Act even after her divorce. The general principle in Bernard asserts that Aboriginal rights are to be governed by the existence of a historic and present community and may only be governed by virtue of an individual’s ancestrally-based membership in the present community. It was also noted that the Bernard case allows for Aboriginal rights to be provided where an ancestral connection can be made out based on “other means”. In the Court’s opinion, marriage falls into this category. Failing to see any removal of membership provision of the Indian Act that provides for the removal of people from their Aboriginal rights, the Court concluded that Ms. Lamb must continue to retain her Indian status and the guilty conviction was set aside.