Indian Act 1876

  1. When it was adopted in 1876, the Indian Act (formally An Act to amend and consol- idate the laws respecting Indians)7 brought together all the laws dealing with Indians into a single piece of legislation. It contained the following key provisions.

    It defined Indians: An Indian was a male of Indian blood belonging to a tribe. His wife and children were also Indians. Indian women lost their status as Indians under the Act if they married a non-Indian. Furthermore, her children by such a marriage would not have status. is discriminatory provision ignored traditional Aboriginal marriage practices and was to have a long-lasting disruptive impact on Aboriginal families and communities.

It defined Indian bands: A band was de ned legally as a body of Indians holding land or a reserve in common “of which the legal title is vested in the Crown,” or for whom funds were held in trust.

It regulated the sale of Indian lands: Reserve lands were held in trust by the Crown and could not be mortgaged or seized for debts. is land could be surrendered only to the Crown and only if a majority of male adult band members approved of the sur- render at a special meeting. Each surrender required the approval of the minister. As a disincentive for the band to surrender land for immediate gain, no more than 10% of the sale money was paid directly to the band and the rest was held in trust.

It defined acceptable forms of band government: Despite the fact that Aboriginal people governed themselves in a wide variety of ways across the country, the Indian Act sought to establish a system of an elected chief and council on reserves. Although hereditary chiefs (or “life chiefs,” as the Act described them) living at the time of the Act could hold their position until death or resignation, the minister could dis- miss the band council or councillors for dishonesty, intemperance, immorality, or incompetency. Much like municipalities, band councils were given responsibility for roads, bridges, schools, public buildings, granting of lots, and suppression of vice on reserves.

It placed limitations on Indian people: For example, they could not acquire home- steads in Manitoba or the North-West Territories.

It sought enfranchisement as an ultimate goal: Under the Act, a band member seeking enfranchisement had to have band approval and been granted an allotment of land from his or her band. e individual would also have to convince Indian A airs of his or her “integrity, morality and sobriety.” At the end of a three-year probationary period, such a person would (if their conduct were judged to be satisfactory) receive reserve land. Also, a band member who earned a university degree, qual- i ed as a doctor or lawyer, teacher, or was ordained as a Christian priest, was to be enfranchised.

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