How the Indian Act Made Indians Act Like Indian Act Indians

What is the Indian Act?

The Indian Act is a law first passed by Canada in 1876. It imposed government control over all Natives, covering many aspects of daily life. It focused on 3 main areas, however: band councils, reserves, and status (membership). Its primary purpose was (and is) to control Natives & assimilate them into Canada. It was always intended as a temporary set of laws until Native peoples were successfully assimilated.

What is a Band Council?

Under the Indian Act, 1876, a band is a “group of Indians for whom reserve land has been set aside and money is held by the Crown” (the government of Canada). A band council is comprised of a chief and a certain number of councilors, usually elected by band members.

The band council corresponds to a municipal town or village council, and the chief to a mayor. Band councils were used to replace traditional forms of social organization. Many of the first band councils were organized by missionaries, who used them to exert control over communities.

A band council derives its authority to govern from the Indian Act, and is subject to both provincial & federal laws, as well as the Department of Indian Affairs. It gains power from the money & resources provided by the government, which is used at the discretion of the chief & council. This provides it with a great amount of control & influence over the community (as intended).

What is a Reserve?

Under the Indian Act, 1876, a reserve is “Crown land set aside for use by an Indian band.” The land belongs to Canada but is “reserved” for use by Indians. Like the Indian Act, reserves were meant to be temporary; the land was to be used for housing & establishing economic self-sufficiency (a necessary part of assimilation).

What is the Department of Indian Affairs?

The DIA (presently titled Indian & Northern Affairs Canada, INAC) is the federal department responsible for administering the Indian Act over some 609 bands across Canada. It has an annual budget of some $6 billion, some of which is distributed to band councils as both a form of control and to ensure government policies are carried out. The first Indian Department was formed in 1755 as part of the British military in N. America. Many of its first ministers were military officers.

What is the Government’s Strategy Re: the Indian Act?

The strategy of the government is to remove the Indian Act & all special legal status for Natives & reserve lands. This has always been its long-term goal, for it would mean the legal (& political & economic) assimilation of Native peoples was complete. In 1969, Canada proposed abolishing the Indian Act & DIA (the ‘White Paper’) but was met with strong opposition from Natives. Today, both government & chiefs call for an end to the Indian Act, which they claim is now an obstacle to economic progress. Of course, how can Natives be assimilated if they continue to have special legal status (including reservations)?

What is Self-Government?

Self-government is the current government plan for assimilation. It involves transforming band councils into municipal governments, with similar powers & responsibilities. Under self-government, bands gain more control over land, resources, finances, and local governance. Selling or leasing land, resource exploitation & taxation are seen as the primary means for bands to attain economic self-sufficiency. In this way, self-government will really be the self-administration of our own oppression.

What is the ‘Aboriginal Business Elite’?

The Aboriginal business elite are Natives who have gained wealth, status & power through their involvement or association with the Indian Act system. Much of the Native elite’s wealth comes from government funding & corporations.

Today, many bands handle multi-million dollar budgets and double as Native corporations involved in many diverse businesses (logging, mining, leasing of reserve land, garbage dumps, airlines, water bottling, etc.). Yet, less than a century ago, bands were directly administered by DIA & its Indian Agents. What changed?

In the 1960s, Indian Agents began to be phased out. They were replaced by chiefs & councilors trained by the DIA to implement government programs & to administer the band councils.

As well, in the 1970s, thousands of Natives began attending colleges or universities. By the 1980s, as many as 30,000 Natives may have gone to university to study economics, political science or law, skills which became valuable as they returned to their reserves and began their careers in the Indian Act system.

In return for their collaboration, many chiefs & councilors enjoy lives of material wealth & luxury. Their collaboration involves enabling corporations to better exploit natural resources, & maintaining a system of oppression over Natives.

What is Assimilation?

Assimilation is the merging of one entity, or group, into another. In N. America, this has involved the destruction of traditional Native culture & social organization, and their replacement with European forms.

In order to accomplish this, Native peoples first had to be weakened through biological warfare & military violence. After this, they were forced onto reservations where they were then subjected to policies of assimilation.

These policies included Christian-ization & Residential Schools (run by the Churches). Until the 1970s, generations of Native children & youth were forced into Residential Schools, where they were forbidden to practise their culture (inc. language) and indoctrinated with European values & ways of life.

Today, this assimilation continues through the educational system as well as the corporate media & entertainment industries. Through these, our views, beliefs & values are shaped by the system.

The success of assimilation can be measured in how much a person accepts these values & beliefs as their own, which is reflected in their way of life. Today, many assimilated Natives see getting a job, having money & material items, etc., as positive life goals.

Posted on February 11, 2011, in Colonization, Indian Act Indians and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.

  1. The issue for First nations women in this apsectg is that no First nations person must at this time permit any conytact bewteen Police Childrene sServices or an RCMP meber with their child or allow them to entrper the hoime without a warrant. IgoF a erson arrives without an entry watrrrant then they must considuct their business out side with whoever they are there to collect., They have no right to entry and they must bjmnnevber be allowed to speak tot a child. They can speak to a child in a recorded interview with counsel present. Since ven babys are ebing treateed as criminals the attacks on them are to be the subject of an immdeicate hearing with a demnd to give evidence which can not be supplied by any parent who shoyuld not speak to them at all but allow a lawyer to talk to them No co-opertaion to the Police or to childrene sservices shoiuld be given and they should bjmnever be allowed in and assume you need a lawyer even as the vistgims or witness. Do not speak to them without a lwayer present and any person who is contracted by them is to be considered their agent.

    • Dear Annie Fox:

      Education is empowerment. You must use the white man’s (I mean white man; white women did not create the Indian Act) tools such as laws, statutes, acts, regulations, rules, policies, procedures et cetera against the white man). How do you do that? By getting a western education, by going to law school, and by applying what you learnt.

      I am very sorry, but it seems like the Canadian courts and governments do not recognize Aboriginal law, which is criminal. Personally, I prefer Aboriginal law. As far as I know (before the white man arrived and ruined everything) North American Aboriginals did not have to contend with jails and prisons because they did not have any.


      Linda Meyer, A.A.B.A.P.B.D.
      A word warrior

      • Under section 718.2 of the criminal code:
        718.2 A court that imposes a sentence shall also take into consideration the following principles:

        (e) all available sanctions or options other than imprisonment that are reasonable in the circumstances should be considered for all offenders, with particular attention to the circumstances of Aboriginal offenders.

        When an aboriginal person is in court, even though they have this right, some decide not to use it. They have their own reasons for it.

        Not all courts have a Gladue court but they do have Aboriginal court workers who help the offenders in any way they can. The courts have to recognize this now.

  2. The Indian Act has done so much damage to many Indians such as myself. First of all my ancestors were status Indians having signed with bands with treaties 6&7. In 1885 when the Half-Breed Land Scrip legislation came into effect the Indian agents signed all 4 of my great grandparents out of treaty, Having signed out of treaty they were intitled to recieve the land scrip which beyond their knowledge extinguished the male side of their decendents of ever having the chance of regaining treaty status. My Father regained his status from his mother who had remained a band member of the Ermineskin Cree Nation. I was refused my full status by the registrar in Ottawa by a section of the Act because my great grand father had opted out of treaty. The registrar urged me to apply for band status on my fathers reserve ,advising me that the band had set up their band rules.This was in 1985 and my application has yet to be presented to the chief and council by the membership comittee. I’m on the Bands general list but was told I cannot take up residence on reserve land. I have to admitt the Indian Act succeeded in assimilating me but I feel I am being cheated out of my birthright to be included on the band list.

  3. Well I don’t want to comment anything all I want to know is answer to my question, I’m not a first nation but I been working for the first nation for 13 years in the different band but this time I been employed for 4 years I see the worst one the problem that my employer encountered is the chief and council, his business been on reserve for 17 years , his band member running the convenience store and gas the chief and council wants to barakage the business since the store not paying the cigs/tobacco/gas refund but he started paying $9000.00 everymonth my question is did the Chief and Council has right to take away his business anytime they want ? pls response , chief and council wants him to sign agreement if he doesnt signed by Monday March 12 our store will be barakage and take away the business we have 12 employee depending in the store 11 is band member. thank you.

  4. After I initially left a comment I seem to have clicked the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and now every time a comment is added I receive 4 emails with the same comment. Perhaps there is a way you can remove me from that service? Cheers!

  5. so are these Indian affairs and the councils aiming for bad or good causes toward the natives?

  6. Yes and no. I think it depends on individual’s who want changes. I think no matter what the consequence there is no turning back; we must live forward, even if its an evil precept from mankind. However, I do believe we must change the bad to good, for whatever how long it’ll take. Sorry, but this is just my perspective view.

  7. Many acts that affected our lives, as First Nation. I wrote a book on it. Called “Our Past, Our Present, Our Future”. They are sold by Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and many other sites. Just key in my name, Clifford W.C. Morgan at google, and these sites come up. Some sell my books for $18.00 and some at $23.00 or so. The other book is called “First Nation Adventures and Love of Sport”. Our history in 87 and 110 pages.

    • Ernie Yellowhead

      Us Indians should start somewhere to have a group of Indian to have a government of our own, stop fighting among ourselves, the white government is laughing behind our backs cause we can’t even form a Indian government so Indian leaders act now or we’ll be control for years to come,

  8. Thank you for the information but not what I was looking for…

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