The Federal Court of Appeal has ruled that Metis are “Indians” under the Constitution, but what does that mean for Canada?

At a news conference reacting to the decision, Betty Ann Lavallee, national chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, said many Canadians don’t understand the term “Status Indian” and what benefits are, and are not, offered to those who qualify for the designation.

Indeed, pop star Justin Bieber once mistakenly claimed two years ago that because he’s “part Indian, I think Inuit or something,” he gets free gas in Canada.

The federal government spends more than $10 billion annually on administering programs and services for Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples, most of that for Status Indians.

Programs, services and tax exemptions for Status Indians vary widely between the provinces and territories.

Who qualifies?

To receive benefits under the Indian Act, an individual must be registered in the Indian Register. The rules for eligibility have changed over the years, and as such there are a number of people who are eligible to reclaim status as a Registered Indian. This includes women who lost their status after marrying a man who is not a Status Indian, and children who lost their status due to their mother’s marriage.

“You may also be eligible to be registered as an Indian if one or both of your parents are eligible for registration,” says Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada.


Status Indians “are subject to the same tax rules as other Canadian residents” unless income is eligible for an exemption under Section 87 of the Indian Act.

“That exemption applies to the income of an Indian that is earned on a reserve or that is considered to be earned on a reserve, as well as to goods bought on, or delivered to, a reserve,” the CRA states on its website.

Properties on reserves are exempt from tax, as are businesses if the income-earning portion of activity is conducted on a reserve.

While tax-exempt income is also exempt from CPP contributions, it is subject to employment insurance premiums. Businesses on reserves can choose to opt-in to CPP.

While Status Indians pay excise duties -- taxes paid by a manufacturer or distributor and included in a product’s retail price -- they do not pay GST or HST on goods bought on a reserve.

Health Care

The provinces and territories administer physician and hospital services, while the federal government provides treatment and public health services.

Eligible First Nations and Inuit are also covered by the Non-Insured Health Benefits (NIHB) Program, which provides health coverage “to support them in reaching an overall health status that is comparable with other Canadians.”

The program provides coverage for “a limited range of medically necessary goods and services” that are not covered under other plans or programs. These include vision and dental care, some medications, medical supplies and other services.


Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development provides some funding to support on-reserve housing, including construction of new homes and renovation of existing structures.


Children with Indian Status can attend schools operated on reserves operated by the First Nation community or by the federal government, or an off-reserve school run by the province.

Students can apply to Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development for financial aid to attend a post-secondary institution.