Part Three of the Indian Act: Assimilation Reinforced

Part Three of the Indian Act: Assimilation Reinforced

Part Three of the Indian Act: Assimilation Reinforced

The Indian Act from 1876 to 1951 – Since its introduction in 1876, the Indian Act has undergone several amendments and reforms. The following provides a summary of key changes to the Indian Act during the period 1876 to 1951.

Between 1876 and 1950, the purpose of the Indian Act was to strengthen the philosophy of civilization and assimilation underlying the first Act. Moreover, many of the changes to the Act granted the government greater powers to move Indigenous and expropriate their lands for the purpose of non-Indigenous use.

Key amendments to the Indian Act during this period include:

1876: Defining Indian as non-person of Canada.

  • The creation of an officer, the Superintendent General.
  • Crown Control of Band Funds: the proceeds arising for the sale or lease of any Indian lands, or from timber, hay, stone, minerals or other valuables thereon…, shall be paid to the Receiver General for the credit of the Indian fund.
  • Control of Band Membership. Defining who is Indian.
  • Band reserves as an instrument for segregation of Indians from Canada. (“No Trespassing” signs were posted on the boundaries off reserves).
  • Attacking historic status of women as leaders.

1880: Development of Indian Affairs.

  • Enfranchisement Act (Attacking the educated, Indian Status and Treaty Rights)
  • Minister the power to dispose any Chief or Headmen.
  • Indian Agents made Justices of the Peace to control every aspect of Indians and their lands.

1884: A criminal offense for a band member to move to a reserve of his choice.

  • Suppressing Indian disorder (3 or more Indians gathered is inciting riot).
  • Disarming First Nations.
  • Compulsory attendance to residential schools (mandatory for Indigenous children from the age of 5 to the age of 17).

1885: Prohibition of several traditional Indigenous ceremonies.

  • Pass system on reserves. Indians had to pay a fee to an Indian Agent and to get his permission to leave the reserve.
  • Indians are not allowed to use modern machinery for agricultural use.

1888: Implementing a permit system regulating control what Indians could buy, sell or transact.

1889: Attacking and eliminating traditional tribal governance systems. Introducing Colonial Band Elections.

1894: Removal of band control over non-Indigenous living on reserves. This power was transferred to the Superintendent General of Indian Affairs.

  • Attacking Culture, Language on Reserves: Prohibition of traditional Indigenous ceremonies, such as potlatches, give-aways, dancing, and traditional gatherings.

1905: Power to remove Indigenous Peoples from reserves near towns with more than 8,000 Peoples.

1911: Power to expropriate portions of reserves for roads, railways, and other public works, as well as to move an entire reserve away from a municipality if it was deemed expedient.

1912: Power to override Treaties.

1914: Requirement that western Indians seek official permission before appearing in Indian “costume” in any public dance, show, exhibition, stampede, or pageant.

  • War measures powers of crown, Band funds spent without Indian consent, lands leased without a surrender.
  • All dances and ceremonies outlawed.

1918: Power to lease out uncultivated reserve lands to non-Indigenous if the new leaseholder would use it for farming or pasture.

1920: Unilateral Enfranchisement of Band Members, attacking the educated and war veterans.

1927: Prohibition of anyone (Indigenous or otherwise) from soliciting funds for Indigenous legal claims without special licence from the Superintendent General. This amendment granted the government control over the ability of Indians to pursue land claims and, or defend themselves against government’s laws.

  • Forbade Indigenous Peoples from forming political organizations.
  • Denied Indigenous Peoples from speaking their native language.

1930: NRTA: Transfer of natural resources to provincial governments to further distances First Nations from their Lands and Territories. A clear violation of Inherent Rights and the treaty. This is another racist act, Canada off loaded to a party not included in treaty.

  • Prohibition of pool hall owners from allowing entrance of an Indigenous who “by inordinate frequenting of a pool room either on or off an Indian reserve misspends or wastes his time or means to the detriment of himself, his family or household.”

1951: Revision of the Indian Act: The Act is revised to allow some freedoms. Minister of Indian Affairs is granted broader discretionary powers over the implementation of the Act as well as the daily lives of Indians on reserves (from birth to the grave). Parliament would allow that provincial law to apply to Indians on reserves.

In the late 1940s, Canada established a Joint Committee of the Senate and House of Commons to examine Indigenous policy. While recommending broad changes to the Indian Act, the Joint Committee nevertheless continued with the previous philosophy of transitioning Indians from wardship to citizenship.

In response to the Joint Committee’s report, Canada instituted some changes to the Indian Act in 1951 (although, overall, the new Act continued with many of the practices under the previous legislation).

In regard to general administration, the 1951 Act assigned responsibility for Indigenous to the minister of Indian Affairs, with broad discretionary powers over the implementation of the Act as well as the daily lives of Indians on reserves. The Act also maintained the government’s power to expropriate Indian lands, albeit in a significantly reduced manner.

Concerning the definition of Indian status, the 1951 Act instituted some limited reforms. The Act maintained Canada’s power to define Indian status and band membership, instead of transferring this power to Indians themselves. However, the new Act abandoned the criterion of “Indian blood” in favour of a system of registration with strong biases in favour of descent through the male line.

The 1951 Act continued with the band council system, with some small alterations. Band council authority was still limited. However, under the new Act, bands that reached “an advanced stage of development” could acquire additional powers, such as authority to tax local reserve property. The new Act also allowed the full participation of Indian women in band democracy.

The practice of enfranchisement was kept in the 1951 Indian Act. Voluntary enfranchisement was still permitted, as well as the compulsory enfranchisement of Indian women who married non-Indian men was continued and Indians who received a university degree or who became a doctor, lawyer or clergyman. Moreover, the 1951 Act introduced the double-mother rule, which provided for the compulsory enfranchisement of persons whose mother and grandmother had obtained Indian status only through marriage to a man with status. However, under the new Act, the minister could only enfranchise an individual or band upon the advice of a special committee established for that purpose.

The new Act removed many of the prohibitions on tradition Indigenous practices and ceremonies, such as potlaches and wearing traditional “costume” at public dances, exhibitions, and stampedes. The Act, however, continued many of the paternalistic elements of earlier versions. For example, the Act made it an offence for Indigenous to be in the possession of intoxicants or to be intoxicated.

One of the more important reforms concerned the application of provincial law to Indigenous. Previously, Canada had asserted exclusive jurisdiction to legislate in the context of Indigenous. Changes made in 1951, however, provided that whenever a provincial law dealt with a subject not covered under the Indian Act, such as child welfare matters, Parliament would allow that provincial law to apply to Indigenous on reserves. This opened the door to provincial participation in Indigenous law making.



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