The Indian Act and its Effect on Modern Society
The Indian Act is one of the most outdated and irrelevant pieces of legislature ever written. In 1876, the Crown consolidated all existing laws pertaining to Indians, and called this new document the Indian Act. They did not solicit input from Aboriginal people and in fact, at that time, Aboriginal people were not even allowed to vote for or against the politicians who were creating this Act. If this Act was written in 1876, what effect could it possibly have on anyone today? The answer to this is complex and requires an analysis of what is contained within the Act. Many Aboriginal people have lost all they had and have been disadvantaged because of the Indian Act and the theories of why it was written are weak at best. One theory is that the policies were will-intentioned but misdirected. Many of the scholars who believe this look at the policies as a measure to protect "Indians and Indian lands" from exploitation and encroachment by other new settlers. They also contend that Canadian government policy was supposed to help Aboriginal people to "progress" and transform from wards of the state into citizens. However, what the Crown refused to acknowledge is that Aboriginals did not want to be citizens. They had a very different culture and way of looking at things and the Canadian government's way of doing things was contrary to their belief systems. Over time, the measures originally intended to protect the land base were progressively loosened to open up reserve lands for farming, settlement and other purposes (as the Crown saw fit). There were also treaty provisions created which permitted the federal government to take up reserve lands for public works of Canada. When Aboriginals complained that their rights were being ignored, they tried to make land claims so the Canadian government simply made it illegal for them to get a lawyer or legal advice. Other people argue that reserves were created simply to isolate Aboriginal people in federally controlled areas in order to facilitate assimilation. They also allege that government policies represented a deliberate attempt to destroy traditional forms of government to stop any initiative for independent political action. If they could cut off Aboriginals from their culture, the Canadian government would be able to assimilate them into Canadian culture and they would have to depend on the government for support. This will be discussed in more detail later. No matter which of these theories was believed, they were both based on racist and ethnocentric assumptions that Aboriginal people had it all wrong. It was almost as if the Canadian government believed Aboriginals were not living before the Canadian government got here, simply surviving. And, it seems that the government felt that the Aboriginals were doing a poor job of surviving. Therefore, to help the Aboriginal people out, the Crown wrote the Indian Act. It contained 12 major sections. The first was about "Indian land". This section says that the Crown held all land titles and bands could not make decisions regarding their land. Further amendments were made so that the superintendent general had more power over reserve lands and bands had less. At a later date, the Crown gave itself the power to give away Aboriginal reserve land as it saw fit. When the Aboriginals complained, the Crown simply arranged it so that Aboriginals had no access to legal advice and they were therefore unable to make any land claims. The second section of the Indian Act talks about law-making power. Originally, politicians passed the Indian Act without any input from Aboriginal people. In fact, Aboriginals could not even vote for or against the politicians passing the act! Band councils were the only form of officially recognized government but they were forced to elect a new Chief and band council every two years, regardless of their traditions. This caused many problems and inconsistencies...
Bibliography: Cassidy, F., and B. Kavanagh. 1998, Political Science 311: Aboriginal Politics and Governments – Study Guide. Athabasca, ON: Athabasca University .
Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. 1996, "The Indian Act and Indians: Children of the State" and "The Indian Act: Oppressive measures." In Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, Volume 1, Looking Forward, Looking Back, pp. 276-300. Ottawa: The Commission.
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