Native People, Native Lands: Canadian Indians, Inuit and Metis

Confederation comes at a cost: Indigenous peoples and the ongoing reality of colonialism in Canada
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Inuit are not covered by the Indian Act. It requires some research but it will be worth the effort. You can watch this Vancouver Board of Trade video here to get my pro tip for research on this topic. If you're looking for more information on terminology grab yourself a copy of this little ebook by simply clicking the book cover icon. We have hundreds of articles loaded with tips, suggestions, videos, and free eBooks for you. Happy reading! Indigenous Corporate Training Inc.


Readers looking for more detailed information, or who have questions, can sign up for our fee-for-service training. Also, ICT encourages everyone who reads this information to use their best judgment given their own circumstances, vulnerabilities, and needs, and to contact a consulting or legal professional if you have more specific questions. However, a few settlers and Company men did remain in the area and lived in the Interior year-round. Eventually, these people helped form a more established community along the Red River. This close-knit community merged and adopted European and First Nations customs and lifestyles to meet the needs of the growing frontier settlement.

As First Nations' military role in the colony waned, British administrators began to look at new approaches to their relationship. In fact, a new perspective was emerging throughout the British Empire about the role the British should play with respect to Indigenous peoples. This new perspective was based on the belief that British society and culture were superior; there was also a missionary fervour to bring British "civilization" to the Empire's Indigenous people.

In the colonies of Upper and Lower Canada, the Indian Department became the vehicle for this new plan of "civilization. Indian agents accordingly began encouraging First Nations to abandon their traditional lifestyles and to adopt more agricultural and sedentary ways of life. As we now know, these policies were intended to assimilate First Nations into the larger British and Christian agrarian society.

Starting in the s, colonial administrators undertook many initiatives aimed at "civilizing" First Nations. A group of Anishinaabe were encouraged to settle in a typical colonial-style village where they would be instructed in agriculture and encouraged to adopt Christianity and abandon hunting and fishing as a means of subsistence. But because of poor management by the Indian Department, chronic underfunding, a general lack of understanding of First Nations cultures and values, and competition between various religious denominations, the Coldwater-Narrows experiment was short-lived and a dismal failure.

Despite initial problems, the "civilization" program was to remain one of the central tenets of Indian policy and legislation for the next years. One of the first such pieces of legislation was the Crown Lands Protection Act , passed in This Act made the government the guardian of all Crown lands, including Indian Reserve lands. The Act responded to the fact that settlement was occurring faster throughout the s than the colony could manage.

Squatters were already settling on unoccupied territory, both Crown lands and Indian reserves. The statute was thus the first to classify Indian lands as Crown lands to be protected by the Crown. The Act also served to secure First Nations interests by limiting settlers' access to reserves.

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More legislation protecting First Nations interests were passed in , limiting trespassing and encroachment on First Nations reserve lands. This legislation also provided a definition of an "Indian", exempted First Nations from taxation and protected them from creditors. In , the British administration introduced the Gradual Civilization Act. This legislation offered 50 acres of land and monetary inducements to literate and debt-free First Nations individuals provided they abandoned their traditional lifestyle and adopted a "civilized" life as a "citizen".

This Act transferred authority for Indian affairs to the colonies, enabling the British Crown to dispense with the last of its responsibilities towards its former allies. However, colonial responsibility for the management of "Indians and Indian lands" very soon became a federal responsibility with the creation of the new Dominion of Canada under the British North America Act. The new nation continued the centralized approach to Indian affairs used by the British. The new Dominion was now responsible for addressing the needs and claims of First Nations from the Atlantic to the Rocky Mountains.

On the West Coast, the relationship between European settlers and the region's First Nation inhabitants developed quite differently from that between settlers and First Nations in the Great Lakes basin. For nearly 50 years, the commercial aspirations of the Hudson's Bay Company had overshadowed settlement in the West. With a trade monopoly for the entire British half of the Oregon territory, the HBC was content to keep its diplomatic dealings with the West Coast First Nations restricted to commercial matters relating to the fur trade.

Under these treaties, the First Nations surrendered land required for settlement around various HBC posts in exchange for lump sum cash payments and goods, and the continued right to hunt and fish. The creation of the colony of British Columbia in and the rise of local control over colonial administration had a deep and lasting impact on First Nations in the region. Led by colonial surveyor and later lieutenant governor, Joseph Trutch, the colonial assembly slowly retracted the policies established by Douglas during the s. Treaty making did not continue after because of British Colombia's reluctance to recognize First Nations land rights, unlike all other British colonial jurisdictions.

This denial of Aboriginal land title persisted even after British Colombia joined Confederation and ran contrary to the Dominion's recognition of this title in other parts of the country. Between and , Canada undertook a series of land surrender treaties throughout its new territories.

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The objectives of these surrenders were to fulfil the requirements under the transfer; to secure Canadian sovereignty; to open the land for settlement and exploitation; and to reduce possible conflict between First Nations and settlers. Adhering to the form of the Robinson Treaties , the Crown negotiated 11 new agreements covering Northern Ontario, the Prairies and the Mackenzie River up to the Arctic. As in the Robinson Treaties, these Numbered Treaties set aside reserve lands for First Nations and granted them annuities and the continued right to hunt and fish on unoccupied Crown lands in exchange for Aboriginal title.

Also included in these new treaties were schools and teachers to educate First Nations children on reserves; farming, hunting and fishing equipment; and ceremonial and symbolic elements, such as medals, flags and clothing for chiefs. First Nations were not opposed to this process and in many cases pressured Canada to undertake treaties in areas when it was not prepared to do so. First Nations signatories had their own reasons to enter into treaties with the Crown. On the whole, First Nations leaders were looking to the Crown for assistance in a time of great change and upheaval in their communities.

Facing disease epidemics and famine, First Nations leaders wanted the government to help care for their people. They also wanted assistance in adapting to a rapidly changing economy as buffalo herds neared extinction and the HBC shifted its operations to the North. Throughout the negotiations and in the text of the Numbered Treaties, First Nations were encouraged to settle on reserve lands in sedentary communities, take up agriculture and receive an education.

The Treaty Commissioners explained that the reserves were to help First Nations adapt to a life without the buffalo hunt and that the government would help them make the transition to agriculture. These 11 treaties included land surrenders on a massive scale. The Numbered Treaties can be divided into two groups: those for settlement in the South and those for access to natural resources in the North. Treaties 1 to 7 concluded between and , led the way to opening up the Northwest Territories to agricultural settlement and to the construction of a railway linking British Columbia to Ontario.

These treaties also solidified Canada's claim on the lands north of the shared border with the United States. After a year gap, treaty making resumed between and to secure and facilitate access to the vast and rich natural resources of Northern Canada. In , the government introduced another piece of legislation that would have deep and long-lasting impacts on First Nations across Canada.

The Indian Act of was a consolidation of previous regulations pertaining to First Nations. The Act gave greater authority to the federal Department of Indian Affairs. The Department could now intervene in a wide variety of internal band issues and make sweeping policy decisions, such as determining who was an Indian. Under the Act , the Department would also manage Indian lands, resources and moneys; control access to intoxicants; and promote "civilization.

It would carry out this responsibility by acting as a "guardian" until such time as First Nations could fully integrate into Canadian society. The Indian Act is one of the most frequently amended pieces of legislation in Canadian history. It was amended nearly every year between and The changes made were largely concerned with the "assimilation" and "civilization" of First Nations. The legislation became increasingly restrictive, imposing ever-greater controls on the lives of First Nations. In the s, the government imposed a new system of band councils and governance, with the final authority resting with the Indian agent.

The Act continued to push for the whole-scale abandonment of traditional ways of life, introducing outright bans on spiritual and religious ceremonies such as the potlatch and sun dance. The concept of enfranchisement the legal act of giving an individual the rights of citizenship, particularly the right to vote also remained a key element of government policy for decades to come.

As very few First Nations members opted to become enfranchised, the government amended the Act to enable automatic enfranchisement. An amendment, for example, declared that any First Nations member obtaining a university degree would be automatically enfranchised.

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An amendment empowered the government to order the enfranchisement of First Nations members meeting the qualifications set out in the Act , even without such a request from the individuals concerned. In , the government added yet another new restriction to the Act. In response to the Nisga'a pursuit of a land claim in British Columbia, the federal government passed an amendment forbidding fundraising by First Nations for the purpose of pursuing a land claim without the expressed permission of the Department of Indian Affairs.

This amendment effectively prevented First Nations from pursuing land claims of any kind. In , Indian Affairs policy on First Nations education focused on residential schools as a primary vehicle for "civilization" and "assimilation".

Reserve demographics and locations

Through these schools, First Nations children were to be educated in the same manner and on the same subjects as Canadian children reading, writing, arithmetic and English or French. At the same time, the schools would force children to abandon their traditional languages, dress, religion and lifestyle. To accomplish these goals, a vast network of residential schools was established across Canada by the Catholic, United, Anglican and Presbyterian churches in partnership with the federal government. More than , Aboriginal children attended residential schools between and Despite decades of difficult and painful living conditions for First Nations under the restrictive regulations of the Indian Act , many First Nations answered the call to arms during both World Wars and the Korean War.

By the late s, social and political changes were underway that would mark the start of a new era for First Nations in Canada. Several First Nations leaders emerged, many of them drawing attention to the fact that thousands of their people had fought for their country in both World Wars. First Nations across the country began to create provincially based organizations that forcefully expressed their peoples' desire for equality with other Canadians, while maintaining their cultural heritage.

In , a special joint parliamentary committee of the Senate and the House of Commons undertook a broad review of Canada's policies and management of Indian affairs. For three years, the committee received briefs and representations from First Nations, missionaries, school teachers and federal government administrators. These hearings brought to light the actual impact of Canada's assimilation policies on the lives and well-being of First Nations. The committee hearings were one of the first occasions at which First Nations leaders and Elders were able to address parliamentarians directly instead of through the Department of Indian Affairs.

First Nations largely rejected the idea of cultural assimilation into Canadian society. In particular, they spoke out against the enforced enfranchisement provisions of the Indian Act and the extent of the powers that the government exercised over their daily lives. Many groups asked that these "wide and discretionary" powers be vested in First Nations chiefs and councillors on reserves so that they themselves could determine the criteria for band membership and manage their own funds and reserve lands.

While the joint committee did not recommend a full dismantling of the Indian Act and its assimilationist policies, it did recommend that unilateral and mandatory elements of the Act be scaled back or revised.

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The committee also recommended that a Claims Commission be established to hear problems arising from the fulfilment of treaties. Despite the committee's recommendations, amendments to the Indian Act in did not bring about sweeping changes to the government's Indian policy, nor did it differ greatly from previous legislation. Contentious elements of the Act such as the involuntary enfranchisement clause were repealed, as were the provisions that determined Indian status.

However, the amendments did introduce some changes. For example, sections of the Act banning the potlatch and other traditional ceremonies, as well as a ban on fundraising to pursue land claims, were repealed. Bands were also given more control over the administration of their communities and over the use of band funds and revenues. National pension benefits and other health and welfare benefits were to be extended to First Nations.

While the Act did limit some of the authority of the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development over individual bands, the government continued to exercise considerable powers over the lives of First Nations. Despite the fact that the Indian Act still limited First Nations' control over their own affairs, by social and economic conditions on reserve began to improve.

That year First Nations were at long last extended the right to vote in federal elections, another recommendation of the joint committee. First Nations veterans played a big role in this important advance, pointing out that, despite having fought for Canada in two World Wars, they were still deprived the right to vote. Other improvements for First Nations included the provision of better healthcare services in the mids.

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The changing roles of native women, devices for assimilation, the re-birth of the Metis: these are among the issues examined in this collection of provocative e. Canadian Indians, Inuit and Metis of native women, devices for assimilation, the re-birth of the Metis: these are among the issues Wildlife, Land, and People .

With these improvements, the Status Indian population increased rapidly. In addition, many more First Nations children had access to schooling, including secondary and post-secondary education. In general, however, the living conditions of First Nations still fell far short of the standards of other Canadians. In , the government began to examine a radically new approach to its Indian policy. This approach was based on the view that all Canadians held the same rights regardless of ethnicity, language or history.

Arguing that the "special status" of First Nations and Inuit had put them at a disadvantage, and that both of these groups should be fully integrated into Canadian society, the government tabled a policy paper commonly known as the White Paper. This paper called for a repeal of the Indian Act , an end to federal responsibility for First Nations and termination of special status. It also called for the decentralization of Indian affairs to provincial governments, which would then administer services for First Nations.

The White Paper further recommended that an equitable way be found to bring an end to treaties. In this way, the government hoped to abolish what it saw as a false separation between First Nations and the rest of Canadian society. First Nations overwhelmingly rejected the White Paper. The complete lack of consultation with the people who would be directly affected—First Nations themselves—was central to their criticism.

It became apparent that while many people regarded the Indian Act as paternalistic and coercive, the Act nevertheless protected special Aboriginal status within Confederation and therefore specific rights. In the face of such strong negative reaction not only from First Nations, but also from the general public, the government withdrew the White Paper in The government's attempt to change its relationship with First Nations created a new form of Aboriginal nationalism. First Nations leaders from across the country united in new associations and organizations determined to protect and promote their peoples' rights and interests.

These organizations proposed their own policy alternatives. The Indian Association of Alberta, for example, argued in a paper entitled Citizens Plus that Aboriginal peoples held rights and benefits that other Canadians did not. Rallying around this concept, First Nations leaders argued that their people were entitled to all the benefits of Canadian citizenship, in addition to special rights deriving from their unique and historical relationship with the Crown. The federal government slowly began to change its approach and scale back its paternalistic presence in the lives of First Nation, for example, by withdrawing all Indian agents from reserves.

The government also began to fund Aboriginal political organizations. This funding allowed these groups to focus on the need for full recognition of their Aboriginal rights and the renegotiation of existing treaties. As First Nations organizations such as the National Indian Brotherhood later the Assembly of First Nations increasingly challenged the government's Indian policy, the courts also began to weigh in on the issue. In the early s, three landmark court decisions brought about an important shift in the recognition of the rights of First Nations in Canada.

In Northern Quebec, a proposed hydro-electric project in the James Bay region announced in became a focal point for Cree and Inuit protests. Arguing that the lands of Northern Quebec were not covered by any existing treaties and that they still held Aboriginal rights over those lands, the Cree Nation and Inuit of Northern Quebec filed for an injunction to block the project until their claim of rights and title was addressed. In an unprecedented decision in Canadian law, in the Superior Court of Quebec ruled in favour of the Cree and Inuit, deciding that there remained an unfulfilled obligation to resolve Aboriginal title in Northern Quebec.

That same year, the courts once again brought the issue of First Nations claims under public scrutiny. After decades of persistence, the Nisga'a people in British Columbia succeeded in bringing their case before the Supreme Court of Canada. In their decision in the Calder case , six of the seven Supreme Court justices ruled in favour of the Nisga'a, confirming the legality of Aboriginal title.

In a third court case in , the Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories ruled in what has become known as the Paulette Caveat that Canada had not fulfilled its obligations under the terms of Treaties 8 and 11 in the Territories. As such, Aboriginal rights and title could not be fully relinquished to the Crown. The Department's new Comprehensive Claims Policy , the aim of which was to settle land claims through a negotiated process, was announced in August Through this new policy, Aboriginal rights and title would be transferred to the Crown by an agreement that guaranteed defined rights and benefits for the signatories i.

The first agreement under this new policy was with the Cree and Inuit of Northern Quebec. Soon after the James Bay ruling, the Cree, Inuit and the federal and Quebec governments began negotiations in an attempt to settle Aboriginal claims and allow the hydro-electric development project to resume. The Cree and Inuit also received tracts of community lands with exclusive hunting and trapping rights, the establishment of a new system of local government on lands set aside for their use, and First Nations control over their education and health authorities.

In addition, the agreement set out measures relating to policing and the administration of justice, continuing federal and provincial benefits, and special social and economic development measures. Since , the Comprehensive Claims Policy has been modified in response to Aboriginal concerns and positions.

Most notably, new options were added in relating to the transfer of rights and title as well as a broader scope of rights and other issues.

Indigenous Peoples in Canada

A cap on the number of ongoing negotiations was lifted in The negotiation of comprehensive claims is a long and painstaking process, requiring many years to complete. From to , there were 22 comprehensive claims agreements, commonly known as "modern treaties," concluded across Northern Quebec, the Northwest Territories, Yukon and British Columbia. Two of the most important agreements concluded are the Nunavut and Nisga'a agreements. Signed in , the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement was the first treaty with Inuit in Canada and laid the groundwork for the creation of the Territory of Nunavut on April 1st, One year earlier in British Columbia, after over a century of claims and 24 years of negotiation, the Nisga'a Agreement was ratified by the Nisga'a, Canada and the province of British Columbia.

While the idea of addressing specific First Nations claims was first proposed in the joint committee report, it was not acted upon until From this point forward the Comprehensive Claims Policy would deal with issues stemming from claims to Aboriginal title, whereas the Specific Claims Policy addressed claims relating to the failure to fulfill any "lawful obligations" flowing from the Indian Act or existing treaties.

To accompany the policy, the Office of Native Claims was created to guide claims through the process. However, the claims process proved difficult and cumbersome, leading many First Nations to complain it was ineffective and inefficient. After amendments to the policy in the mids and again in the early s, the government created the Indian Specific Claims Commission to review AANDC 's decisions regarding claims and to make recommendations.

While these changes to the policy did allow for more claims to be addressed, the complexity, volume and diversity of the claims were increasingly difficult to manage.


Lengthy delays were common. In , the Senate Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples recommended that the government establish a dedicated fund for the payment of specific claims settlements and an independent body with a mandate and power to resolve specific claims.

As a result, in the Specific Claims Tribunal Act created an independent adjudicative tribunal with the authority to make binding decisions on the validity of claims and on compensation. The federal government entered into constitutional discussions with provincial premiers between and to reform and repatriate the Constitution.

Aboriginal political organizations tried unsuccessfully to get a seat at the negotiations table. When a constitutional proposal was announced, Aboriginal and treaty rights were excluded. At conferences held between and , attempts were made to define "existing Aboriginal and treaty rights. At that time, Indigenous people comprised many sovereign nations, all of which had very different political, economic, and social structures. They were self-governing, with sophisticated land and resource management regimes.

This access would diminish after Confederation. In Indigenous constitutions and Indigenous laws were rooted in a deep and reciprocal relationship with the land that prioritized people, place, animals, nature, and respect for the earth. Indigenous scholar Kiera Ladner contends that, despite Canadian claims of sovereignty, Indigenous constitutional visions did not simply disappear.

Indeed, the opposite: Indigenous lands were and remain central to the Canadian Confederation project. Mired in colonial mindsets and European Christian values, the men in attendance at the debates were concerned about matters of race, by which they meant Irish, Scottish, French, and English.

They considered issues of jurisdiction and the division of powers between the new provinces and a central government. They debated whether to form a unitary or federal nation. Ultimately, they were blind to their own prejudice and ignorance. Indeed, settlers believed so firmly in their own superiority and civilization that they were unable to see the importance of the contributions of their Indigenous hosts. The politicians saw these territories as obstacles to be overcome rather than the rightful territories of Indigenous peoples to be negotiated and acknowledged — this, despite the fact that in King George III had proclaimed that all Indigenous territories remained the land of Indigenous peoples unless otherwise ceded, surrendered, or purchased.

The Royal Proclamation was issued to prevent the unlawful theft of Indigenous lands throughout the new empire. In practice, in large parts of Canada, particularly the Maritimes and British Columbia, government officials and legal authorities assumed that European settlement superseded Indigenous rights to territory.

Upon Confederation, the Constitution of assigned exclusive responsibility for Indians to the federal government. Known as the gradual civilization act, the legislation was broad. I do not think as a matter of fact, that the country ought to continuously protect a class of people who are able to stand alone. The Indian Act has been amended many times over the past years, but it remains in existence today. It is the only piece of colonial legislation enduring today that specifically aims to assimilate and control a specific group of people.

No settler group, no newcomer to Canada, is subject to such scrutiny and control by the state as Indigenous peoples are. This is one of the ways we perpetuate an inherently disrespectful relationship.