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A history of the discriminative treatment of the white settlers towards first nation people

Throughout history it has been highly invasive and paternalistic, as it authorizes the Canadian federal government to regulate and administer in the affairs and day-to-day lives of registered Indians and reserve communities.

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This authority has ranged from overarching political control, such as imposing governing structures on Aboriginal communities in the form of band councils, to control over the rights of Indians to practice their culture and traditions. The Indian Act has also enabled the government to determine the land base of these groups in the form of reserves, and even to define who qualifies as Indian in the form of Indian status While the Indian Act has undergone numerous amendments since it was first passed in 1876, today it largely retains its original form.

The Indian Act is a part of a long history of assimilation policies that intended to terminate the cultural, social, economic, and political distinctiveness of Aboriginal peoples by absorbing them into mainstream Canadian life and values. The origins of the Indian Act: A history of oppression and resistance The Indian Act came to be developed over time through separate pieces of colonial legislation regarding Aboriginal peoples across Canada such as the Gradual Civilization Act of 1857 and the.

In 1876, these acts were consolidated as the Indian Act. In this sense the act was a failure, as only one person voluntarily enfranchised. The Act also severely restricted the governing powers of band councils, regulated alcohol consumption and determined who would be eligible for band and treaty benefits. It also marks the beginning of gender-based restrictions to status. For a closer look as to why this is, see our section on the marginalization of Aboriginal women.

The confederation of Canada presented the federal government with the challenge of uniting distinct and separate Aboriginal groups under one law. Therefore, despite the diversity of experiences and relationships between Aboriginal peoples and settlers across the country, including strong military and economic alliances in certain regions, Confederation established a very different relationship between these two groups by disregarding the interests and treaty rights of Aboriginal peoples and uniformly making them legally wards of the state.

Systems of control that had been established in prior legislation were now newly defined under one act, the Indian Act of 1867.

This act effectively treated Aboriginal people as children—a homogenizing and paternalistic relationship. Since the first pieces of legislation were passed, Aboriginal peoples have resisted oppression and sought active participation in defining and establishing their rights.

Early on, Aboriginal leaders petitioned colonial leadership, including the Prime Minister and the British monarchy, against oppressive legislation and systemic denial of their rights. The legislation against Aboriginal peoples did not stop Aboriginal practices but in a history of the discriminative treatment of the white settlers towards first nation people cases drove them underground, or caused Aboriginal peoples to create new ways of continuing them without facing persecution.

The potlatch was one of the most important ceremonies for coastal First Nations in the west, and marked important occasions as well as served a crucial role in distribution of wealth. Non-native colonists and missionaries saw the sharing of wealth and food at potlatches as excessive and wasteful, but ultimately they knew how integral it was to sustaining First Nations cultures.

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Indian Agents and missionaries felt it interrupted assimilation tactics. They wanted Aboriginal people to shift from an economic system of redistribution to one of private property ownership—seemingly impossible as long as the potlatch existed. The outlawing of the potlatch severely disrupted these cultural traditions, although many groups continued to potlatch.

To celebrate a wedding, Cranmer hosted a six-day potlatch over Christmas, 1921. Indian Agents interrupted the potlatch and arrested approximately 50 people. The jail term was to be several months, but Indian Agents offered reduced sentences for anyone who would surrender their potlatch items, such as valuable masks, costumes, and coppers.

Judge Alfred Scow describes some of the impacts of the Potlatch Law: This provision of the Indian Act was in place for close to 75 years and what that did was it prevented the passing down of our oral history.

It prevented the passing down of our values. It meant an interruption of the respected forms of government that we used to have, and we did have forms of government be they oral and not in writing before any of the Europeans came to this country. We had a system that worked for us. We respected each other.

We had ways of dealing with disputes. When Aboriginal political organizing became more extensive in the 1920s and groups began to pursue land claims, the federal government added Section 141 to the Indian Act. Section 141 outlawed the hiring of lawyers and legal counsel by Indians, effectively barring Aboriginal peoples from fighting for their rights through the legal system.

Eventually, these laws expanded to such a point that virtually any gathering was strictly prohibited and would result in a jail term. These amendments presented a significant barrier to Aboriginal political organizing and many organizations had to disband. Saskatoon Law Centre, 1981. After the Second World War, Canadian citizens shocked by the atrocities of the war became more aware of the concept of human rights.

Many Canadians recognized that Aboriginal people in Canada were among the most disadvantaged in the country. The more oppressive sections of the Indian Act were amended and taken out.

It was no longer illegal for Indians to practice their customs and culture such as the potlatch.

Prejudice and Discrimination in Canada

Indians were also now allowed to appear off-reserve in ceremonial dress without permission of the Indian Agent, to organize and a history of the discriminative treatment of the white settlers towards first nation people legal counsel, and Indian women were now allowed to vote in band councils.

The Royal Commission of Aboriginal Peoples RCAP points out, however, that by taking away some of the more oppressive, and ultimately unsuccessful, amendments, the government simply rendered the Indian Act more similar to the original act of 1876.

Indians would essentially become like other Canadian citizens. They wanted to maintain a legal distinction as Indian people. Due to this widespread resistance against the white paper, the policy was eventually abandoned by the federal government. In fact, scholar John Milloy pinpoints the proposed white paper policy of 1969 as the turning point when the federal government finally abandoned their policy of assimilation for a policy geared toward establishing constitutionally protected rights for First Nations.

Legislation stated that a status Indian woman who married a non-Indian man would cease to be an Indian. She would lose her status, and with it, she would lose treaty benefits, health benefits, the right to live on her reserve, the right to inherit her family property, and even the right to be buried on the reserve with her ancestors.

However, if an Indian man married a non-status woman, he would keep all his rights. Even if an Indian woman married another Indian man, she would cease to be a member of her own band, and become a member of his. If a woman was widowed, or abandoned by her husband, she would become enfranchised and lose status altogether.

Alternatively, if a non-native woman married an Indian man, she would status. They lost their case at the Supreme Court of Canada. In 1981, Sandra Lovelace resumed the fight and took her case to the United Nations. When the Canadian Human Rights Act was passed in 1977, Section 67 originally subsection 63 2 was created specifically to prohibit First Nations people from filing an official complaint that the Indian Act was a human rights violation.

The government allowed itself three years to change any law that was not in line with the new constitution and Charter. After consultations and negotiations, the Indian Act was amended in 1985, and Bill C-31 passed so that those who had lost their status could once again regain it. However, Bill C-31 is still seen by many as unconstitutional, as those who have their status reinstated can only pass it on for one generation. This was very recently put before the courts when Sharon McIvor challenged Canada that this was not in line with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The government is currently in the process of amending the Indian Act. For further information on this topic, please see Bill C-31 and the marginalization of Aboriginal women in Canada. The Indian Act is a very controversial piece of legislation.

The Assembly of First Nations describes it as a form of apartheid. These groups claim that the Canadian government does not have the right to unilaterally extinguish Aboriginal rights —something the government could legally do to status Indians up until 1985 through the process of enfranchisement, and can still control through status. Yet despite controversy, the Indian Act is historically and legally significant for Aboriginal peoples.

It acknowledges and affirms the unique historical and constitutional relationship Aboriginal peoples have with Canada. For this reason, despite its problematic nature, efforts to outright abolish the Indian Act have been met with widespread resistance. See, for example, the White Paper, 1969. As Harold Cardinal explained in 1969, We do not want the Indian Act retained because it is a good piece of legislation.

It is discriminatory from start to finish. But it is a lever in our hands and an embarrassment to the government, as it should be. No just society and no society with even pretensions to being just can long tolerate such a piece of legislation, but we would rather continue to live in bondage under the inequitable Indian Act than surrender our sacred rights.

Any time the government wants to honour its obligations to us we are more than happy to help devise new Indian legislation. The Indian Act legally distinguishes between First Nations and other Canadians, and acknowledges that the federal government has a unique relationship with, and obligation to, First Nations.

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At the same time, any changes to the Indian Act through history have historically been proposed or established unilaterally by the government. Although there are many differing opinions on how to confront the issues presented by the Indian Act, Aboriginal leaders widely agree that if any alternative political relationship is to be worked out between First Nations and the government, First Nations will need to be active participants in establishing it.

A Century of Dishonour, 1869-1969. Looking Forward, Looking Back.

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The Royal Proclamation and the Indian Act. Pearson Prentice Hall, 2008. This article can also be found in: University of Toronto Press, 1991. The Indian Act and Amendments 1868-1975 — an indexed collection. Endnotes 1 Lawrence, Bonita. Looking Forward, Looking back.

The Indian Act

Thursday, November 26, 1992. Available online courtesy of the University of Saskatchewan Archives: Looking Forward, Looking Back, 1996. A Century of Dishonour. In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with the other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practise their own religion, or to use their own language.