Developed by Renee Racette. Revised by Nicole Wegner, Department of Political Studies, University of Saskatchewan.
This module provides students with a survey of the central political and governance issues relating to the federal Indian Act. The module begins with a presentation of the historical background of Canadian federal Indian policy. The second section considers the impacts of the Indian Act on the governance of First Nations communities, with reference to leadership selection and membership and status provisions. The third section contains an overview of the Royal Commission’s perspectives of Indian Act reform. The final section examines historical and contemporary policy changes related to the Indian Act and discusses why abolishment of the Act is a contentious issue. Overall, this module presents a detailed examination of the complexities involved in federal policy and First Nations. This module will expose students to the Act and demonstrate that there are no easy solutions to the governance and political dilemmas posed by the Indian Act.
Self Test and Answers
Quiz yourself by writing down responses to each of these questions below. When finished, click each question to reveal the suggested answer. Doing the Self-Test in this way will help you prepare for the Midterms and Final Exam.
Band: A body of Indians for whose collective use and benefit lands have been set apart or money is held by the Crown, or declared to be a band for the purposes of the Indian Act. Each band has its own governing band council, usually consisting of one chief and several councillors. Community members choose the chief and councillors by election, or sometimes through custom.
Enfranchisement: A tenet of most federal policies towards First Nations persons post-Confederation. Enfranchisement is the legal process in which status Indian title and rights were terminated in exchange for full Canadian citizenship and assimilation into Canadian cultural society.
Gradual Civilization Act: Or An Act to Encourage the Gradual Civilization of the Indian Tribes in the Province and to Amend the Laws Respecting Indians; a bill passed by the Province of Canada in 1857 introducing the concept and option of enfranchisement for First Nations persons.
The Indian Act: A Canadian statute that dictates governance and policies over registered Indians, Indian bands, and Indian reserves. The Act defines who is considered “Indian” and controls the legal rights of status Indians.
Patrilineality: A system where an individual’s descent is traced through the father’s lineage. Often this system involves taking a father’s last name or their cultural identity being tied to that of their father’s ancestry.
Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples: Established in 1991, the Commission was conducted to deal with discontent from Indigenous groups, exemplified through the Oka Crisis and the Meech Lake Accord. RCAP was published in 1996, setting out a 20-year plan for implementing change between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples and governments.
UNDRIP: The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a General Assembly declaration not legally binding in international law. The UNDRIP was adopted in 2007 by a majority of states with the exception of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States. In 2016, Canada retracted its objector status, although noted that while Canada supported the doctrine in principle, there were a number of legal and Constitutional impediments to full implementation.
White Paper 1969: This was a paper describing a policy deriving from the 1969 Trudeau government, which rejected the supposed ongoing “special status” provided to First Nations people within Confederation. The government proposed eliminating legislation such as the Indian Act, which theorized the production of a homogenous Canadian body having the same rights and responsibilities. Many critics note the Trudeau government’s argument that Indigenous and treaty rights were a thing of the past ignored that the very poverty that plagued most First Nations was rooted in the denial of Indigenous and treaty rights.
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Clatworthy, Stewart. Re-Assessing the Population Impacts of Bill C-30. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba, 2001.
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International Covenant on Political and Civil Rights. Adopted and opened for signature, ratification and accession by General Assembly resolution 2200A (XXI) of 16 December 1966. Entry into force March 1976, in accordance with Article 49. Available online at: http://www.unhchr.ch/html/menu3/b/a_ccpr.htm
Royal Proclamation, 1763. Available online at: http://www.solon.org/Constitutions/Canada/English/PreConfederation/rp_1763.html
The Gradual Enfranchisement Acts, 1869. Available online at: http://www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/DAM/DAM-INTER-HQ/STAGING/texte-text/a69c6_1100100010205_eng.pdf
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Lavoie, Josie, and Evelyn L. Forget. “Legislating Identity: The Legacy of the Indian Act in Eroding Access to Health Care.” The Canadian Journal of Native Studies 31, no. 1 (2011): 125-138.