Caterina Petrolo: A Tenacious Advocate’s Fight for Indigenous Rights in Canada
In the year 2023, it might be surprising to some that Canada’s Indigenous peoples are still grappling with battles that should have been resolved long ago. One such issue is the frustratingly complex process of obtaining certificates of status, a seemingly straightforward task that often turns into a decades-long struggle for many. One remarkable case shines a light on this ongoing injustice, as well as the unwavering determination of an advocate named Caterina Petrolo.
Caterina Petrolo, a paralegal and former prosecutor in Toronto, found herself thrust into the fight for Indigenous rights through her common-law partner’s 28-year battle to obtain his Certificate of Status. This ordeal not only highlighted the bureaucratic hurdles that Indigenous individuals face but also raised questions about how many others have endured similar challenges, denying them the opportunity to fully embrace their Indigenous communities and cultures.
Petrolo, a relentless champion of justice, refused to stand idle in the face of this injustice. Her mission extended beyond securing her partner’s rightful status; she aimed to shed light on Indigenous cultures, their hardships, and the urgent need to repair historical relationships for the sake of future generations.
The 28-Year Struggle for Aboriginal Status
Petrolo’s journey into the world of Indigenous rights began when she met her partner in 2003. At that time, he had already been on an 11-year quest to secure official Aboriginal status. His initial application, filed in 1992 at the age of 20, would not be approved until 2020. Throughout these years, he missed out on essential experiences with his community and countless opportunities that can never be reclaimed.
One of the primary obstacles in Petrolo’s partner’s path was his adoption as a newborn. Raised by a white family on Canada’s east coast, he experienced a loving and nurturing upbringing. However, his Indigenous heritage was undeniable, evident in his physical appearance. Surprisingly, his adoptive family was unaware of his biological roots.
At the age of 19, while volunteering with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), his police officer mentor encouraged him to apply for Aboriginal status. He embarked on this journey but found himself confronted with numerous barriers imposed by the Canadian government, thanks to his adoptee status.
His attempts to prove his Indigenous identity were met with repeated denials and frivolous, unethical requests from the “Indian Northern Affairs – adoption unit.” Despite diligently filling out numerous forms and complying with all their demands, his quest remained fruitless.
Petrolo entered the picture in 2009, determined to unravel the mystery of her partner’s Aboriginal status. Yet, she faced the same roadblocks he had encountered for nearly two decades. She even went the extra mile, submitting a statutory declaration from his biological mother confirming his Indigenous heritage. However, the file remained dormant.
In October 2020, Petrolo adopted a more assertive stance, making it clear to the adoption unit that they could not continue to deny her partner’s rightful status. Finally, after 28 years of struggle, his Certificate of Status was issued.
A Champion of Change
Now, Petrolo is committed to streamlining the process for other Indigenous individuals facing similar challenges. She enrolled in an Indigenous Studies course at the University of Alberta to deepen her understanding of Indigenous communities and their struggles.
“I am interested in social justice; these courses can help deepen my understanding of the ongoing struggles for Indigenous rights and could potentially help provide a framework for advocating for Indigenous peoples’ rights and contribute to the world,” Petrolo explains.
Petrolo is adamant that other Canadians should join the fight for fairness. She recommends exploring the 8th Fire series, available in audio DVD and book formats, which delves into Aboriginal peoples, Canada, and the path forward, serving as an educational starting point for those interested in Indigenous issues.
With unwavering determination, organization, and a clear mission, Petrolo is on a mission to improve the treatment of Indigenous peoples in Canada. Beyond the administrative challenges, she is deeply dissatisfied with the living conditions on reservations, including issues related to healthcare, clean water, and housing.
Recognizing the significant work that lies ahead, Petrolo willingly shoulders the burden, especially since the Canadian government has failed to adequately address these pressing issues facing Indigenous communities. While the road ahead is long and arduous, Caterina Petrolo is charting the course for a brighter future, where Indigenous peoples’ rights and well-being are finally given the attention and respect they deserve. In her unwavering commitment to justice, Canada’s Indigenous peoples have found a steadfast ally in Caterina Petrolo.