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The INAC office on Hargrave Street in Winnipeg has been closed to the public since 2016. (Jasmine Kabatay/CBC) Jasmine Kabatay is one of two recipients of the 2018 CJF-CBC Indigenous Journalism Fellowships, established to encourage Indigenous voices and better understanding of Indigenous issues in Canada’s major media and community outlets.

Gord Bluesky remembers the Indigenous and Northern Affairs Office on Hargrave Street in Winnipeg as a busy spot.

Manitoba has 63 First Nations in the province, with more than 148,000 registered First Nations members. Winnipeg has the highest number of Indigenous people in any major city in Canada.

Bluesky remembers lots of people at the INAC office filling out their applications for status cards and taking numbers for service. There was a constant stream of people in and out, he said.

But it’s a completely different scene now. The doors are locked, service is by appointment only and you have to talk with security guards through plate glass before you can get in.

The Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada office in Winnipeg has been "temporarily" closed to the public for two years.

In April 2016, Occupy INAC was a movement that spread across Canada to bring awareness to Attawapiskat’s suicide crisis. Offices in Vancouver, Regina, Gatineau, Que., and Toronto were occupied by protesters for days, while Occupy INAC in Winnipeg lasted for weeks.

This resulted in the closure of the Winnipeg offices to the public. INAC said at the time this was "out of concern for the safety of staff and the public." By appointment only

According to Jeff Solmundson, an INAC spokesperson, it is unknown when the offices will be open to the public again. To apply in person for a status card, applicants have to call the office to get an appointment at a different address that’s not publicly disclosed.

Solmundson said most information about status cards is available online.

"The only thing that’s not publicly given out is the address of where they would meet off-site," said Solmundson.

"I think it was just out of an abundance of caution, and really it shouldn’t be much of an inconvenience for people. It is a little bit unfortunate you have to call first, but then they are given the address."

An emailed statement from INAC said "These solutions will remain in place as we develop a long-term service delivery approach."

When Bluesky was at INAC recently, he got the address where to apply for a status card in the city and shared it on Facebook. His post was shared more than 500 times.

"In a lot of ways I feel it’s almost like a punishment, like a ‘don’t ever do this again or it’s gonna get worse.’ That’s how it feels like," said Bluesky. Long waits

He has been trying to get status for his daughter since the beginning of February, and just recently received her status number at the end of September.Before that, he went to get a prescription for his daughter and because he hadn’t received her status number, he called INAC to see if they could give it to him over the phone. He said a staff member told him there were only two people dealing with the status applications and status Indian requests in all of Manitoba.According to INAC, the Manitoba Regional Office has four full-time positions that deal with status and status card applications.Before someone can get their status card, they have to apply and be approved to the Indian Register at Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, which records the number of status Indians in Canada. After that, they are able to apply for their card at an INAC regional office, their band office, or […]

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