An overview of events leading up to and after the bringing in of The Indian Act.
Any First Nations male who was free of debt, literate and of good moral character could
be awarded full ownership (owned but not to be sold) of 59 acres of reserve land. He would then be considered enfranchised and would have to cut all ties to his band and cease to be an Indian.
In 1869, the Canadian Government introduced the voting system for chief and
council which took place every two years. This system replaced the traditional forms
of choosing First Nations leadership. Band council systems of government reinforced the rules and regulations created under the Indian Act.
This act increased government control of on-reserve political systems. The First Nations’
participation in their own governance was minimal and the Superintendent-General of Indian Affairs determined when and how First Nations elections of governance would take place.
The Indian Act was not part of any treaty made between First Nations peoples and the British Crown. The sole purpose of the act was to assimilate and colonize First Nations peoples.
o By 1880 the Department of Indian Affairs was created to administer the
Government of Canada’s responsibilities under the Indian Act.
o Indian agents were appointed to regulate and enforce the Indian Act.
o Indian agents provided for agricultural or trade-training for men. Women were
taught domestic skills.
o Indian agents had decision-making powers over every aspect of First Nations lives.
In 1889, First Nations peoples were banned from conducting or participating in First Nations spiritual ceremonies.
Provisions to this act in 1894 provided for compulsory school attendance of First Nations children.
Industrial schools ran from 1883-1923. After 1923 these schools became known as “residential schools.”
Part of the federal government assimilation policy focused on eliminating First Nations children’s cultural beliefs and practices.
First Nations parents were fined or jailed if they did not send their children to residential schools.
The 1951 amendments removed some of the provisions in the legislation, including the banning of dances and ceremonies and the prohibition on pursuing claims against the government. First Nations peoples were now permitted to hire lawyers to represent them in legal matters.
Bill C-31 was introduced which allowed First Nations women to marry non- Status or non-First Nations men without losing their Indian status. It also allowed First Nations women who had previously lost their status through marriage and First Nations individuals who had lost their status through enfranchisement to apply to have their status reinstated.