The Indian Act and why you need to know about it

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Before Canada became a country, leaders from Britain made some statements. These statements were similar to rules. They spoke these rules to the Native people. These people lived on Turtle Island. Turtle Island is the name that the Native people use for the place we now call North America. The rules they made decided where people would live. They also decided how people would behave towards each other. In these rules, the Native Peoples were seen as equal to the people from Europe.

Map showing First Nations and Treaty Areas in Manitoba

From the Government of Canada site

How did the Canadian Government treat Indigenous Peoples?

Canada became a country in 1867. After this happened, King George gave a job to the Canadian government. This job was to keep a good friendship with the Indigenous Peoples for England.

Sadly, the Canadian government did not do what King George had promised to the Indigenous Peoples in the deals. In 1876, the Canadian government created something called The Indian Act. In 1887, the leader of Canada at that time, Sir John A MacDonald, said that they wanted to sop the tribal system. They wanted to make Indigenous Peoples the same as the other people living in Canada when they are ready to change.

what is the Indian Act?

These rules are about the first people who lived in Canada. The rules talk about different parts of life. They talk about traditions, family, and work. You can learn more about these rules in 21 Things you may not have known about the Indian Act . This link will show you a list. The list is about limits and effects on the First Nations people.

The Indian Act was a guide. It was a guide for the Canadian government. It put limits on the lives of the first people. It also tried to take away their traditions. For example, people called Indian Agents were chosen. Indigenous people had to ask their Indian Agent if they could leave their land. This land is known as a reserve. A reserve is a large piece of land. They often had to travel far to talk to their Indian Agent. Sometimes, the Indian Agent was not at their home on the land. When this happened, the trip would be wasted.

Changes to the Indian Act led to the creation of Residential Schools. These schools were for Indigenous children aged four to 16. The goal was to make them more like the main culture. Parents had to send their children to these schools for 10 months every year. In these schools, children could not speak their own languages. They were told that their culture was bad. Besides these limits, many children were hurt by the people who cared for them.

In 2008, Stephen Harper said sorry to the first people for the Canadian government. He used to be the leader of the country. He said: The Residential Schools system had two main goals. One was to take children away from their homes, families, traditions and cultures. The other was to make them part of the main culture. These goals were based on the belief that Aboriginal cultures and spiritual beliefs were less important and not equal. Some people even tried, as it was famously said, ‘to kill the Indian in the child’. Today, we understand that this policy of making them the same was wrong. It has caused a lot of harm, and it has no place in our country (Statement of apology to former students of Indian Residential Schools).

What can you do about the Indian Act?

The Indian Act is a rule. This rule has brought a lot of hurt to many native people over time. This rule is still being used today. Even if we can’t stop using this rule, there are many ways we can help native people.

Knowing the past of Canada is very important. Knowing the past of the native people is also very important. This is the first step to understanding their problems. When we learn more, we don’t judge. We might even understand that we have the same past and problems as the native people of this land. This helps us to really understand and respect them.

Don’t forget that native people have had hard times in the past. Even with all these problems, they are still strong. They keep trying to move on from what has happened to them.

Sources: 21 things you may not have known about the Indian Act, Indigenous Corporate Training, Inc.; and Indian Act, The Canadian Encyclopedia. Accessed June 23,2023.

Further reading:

By Nastashya Wall

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