Indian Act

The Indian Act is a piece of document that outlines past policies relating to First Nations people, as it describes reserves and relates to almost all other assimilationist policies.

Many First Nations people despise the Indian Act, but there has been intensive attempts to disobey or remodel the Indian Act. This Act has constrained the First Nations to a very high degree, but this piece of document also has recognized that First Nations are special and gives them a special status. With this status, it as guaranteed them at least some recognition and protection by the Canadian public and Canadian government (this can be at times positive and negative).

The Indian Act describes how ever reserve has administered, and everything relating to reserves is strictly under the control of Indian Agent. Indians were not permitted to leave the reserve without written permission for multiple years. They weren’t even permitted to leave to hunt, fish, or visit other family members on other reserves. Aboriginals were prohibited to hire a lawyer or raise money to commence a legal proceeding between 1927 and 1951.

None of the land belonged to any First Nations. All of it was owned by the Crown, and the Indian Agent was the only person given the authority to sign contract relating to reserves. Even today, the Indian Act doesn’t allow First Nations to own the land, making it impossible for them to use the land as a method for economic development. This is an extremely limited situation and angers many First Nations.

The Act discarded the traditional First Nations governing patterns, and made the Band Council the only of formal government. It also mentioned that elections will occur every 2 years. The Indian Act states how the Minister of Indian Affairs have all the control over the band government, and for several years, he/she was able to call and set the agendas of Band Council meetings.

The Amendments that occurred in the 1800s and 1890s continued the assimilation of the First Nations. Traditional social and religious institutions, such as Pacific Coast potlatch were banned by the Crown. The Minister of Indian Affairs, at that time period, had power over all Band Council enactments, any decisions regarding finances required his approval, and any ideas or resolutions suggested by the Councils were generally approves or rejected by the Crown based on the Minister’s recommendations. Even today, the Indian Agent has much power.

The Indian Act has had significant resistance by multiple First Nations peoples, and changes to this piece of document have been continually made. Ever since the creation of the Indian Act, there has been various vital amendments to the document, such as changes in the powers of  Band Councils, in taxation policies, and regarding membership in First Nations. Some of the harsh and evidently unfair regulations have been erased from the Act. Many people still find the Act to be an insufficient basis for the First Nations governments.

There are essentially 2 sides of the story regarding the Indian Act. Some believe the government had good intentions but it was simply misdirected. For instance, many people argue that reserves were intended to protect “Indians and Indian lands” from misuse and intrusion by new settlers and that Canadian government policy was established to help the First Nations develop from wards of the state into citizens. However, on the other hand, many believe the government built reserves to isolate the First Nations under federal government surveillance and for them to assimilate the First Nations. They also argued that government policies were an intentional attempt to eliminate traditional forms of government. By doing this, it prevents any independent political actions from occurring.

Regardless of the fact that the policies issued by the Crown were ill intentioned or not, it is believed that the rules and regulations were based upon wrong and ethnocentric assumptions about the “backwardness” of First Nations peoples. The policies have affected the First Nations unbelievably, and it continues to affect them today. First Nations have faced various challenges because of the arrival of Europeans to what is presently known as North America, and through the expansion of Canadians social, religious, economic, and political systems for over 300 years.