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History of the Indian Act – Part Three

History of the Indian Act – Part Three

1951: Revision of the Indian Act: The Act is revised to allow some freedoms. Minister of Indian Affairs is granted broader discretionary powers over the implementation of the Act as well as the daily lives of Indians on reserves (from birth to the grave). Parliament would allow that provincial law to apply to Indians on reserves.

1951: Revision of the Indian Act: The Act is revised to allow some freedoms. Minister of Indian Affairs is granted broader discretionary powers over the implementation of the Act as well as the daily lives of Indians on reserves (from birth to the grave). Parliament would allow that provincial law to apply to Indians on reserves.

 

In the late 1940s, the federal government established a Joint Committee of the Senate and House of Commons to examine Indigenous policy. While recommending broad changes to the Indian Act, the Joint Committee nevertheless continued with the previous philosophy of transitioning Indians from wardship to citizenship.

In response to the Joint Committee’s report, the federal government instituted some changes to the Indian Act in 1951 (although, overall, the new Act continued with many of the practices under the previous legislation).

In regard to general administration, the 1951 Act assigned responsibility for Indigenous to the minister of Indian Affairs, with broad discretionary powers over the implementation of the Act as well as the daily lives of Indians on reserves. The Act also maintained the government’s power to expropriate Indian lands, albeit in a significantly reduced manner.

Concerning the definition of Indian status, the 1951 Act instituted some limited reforms. The Act maintained the federal government’s power to define Indian status and band membership, instead of transferring this power to Indians themselves. However, the new Act abandoned the criterion of “Indian blood” in favour of a system of registration with strong biases in favour of descent through the male line.

The 1951 Act continued with the band council system, with some small alterations. Band council authority was still limited. However, under the new Act, bands that reached “an advanced stage of development” could acquire additional powers, such as authority to tax local reserve property. The new Act also allowed the full participation of Indian women in band democracy.

The practice of enfranchisement was kept in the 1951 Indian Act. Voluntary enfranchisement was still permitted, as well as the compulsory enfranchisement of Indian women who married non-Indian men was continued and Indians who received a university degree or who became a doctor, lawyer or clergyman. Moreover, the 1951 Act introduced the double-mother rule, which provided for the compulsory enfranchisement of persons whose mother and grandmother had obtained Indian status only through marriage to a man with status. However, under the new Act, the minister could only enfranchise an individual or band upon the advice of a special committee established for that purpose.

The new Act removed many of the prohibitions on tradition Indigenous practices and ceremonies, such as potlaches and wearing traditional “costume” at public dances, exhibitions, and stampedes. The Act, however, continued many of the paternalistic elements of earlier versions. For example, the Act made it an offence for Indigenous to be in the possession of intoxicants or to be intoxicated.

One of the more important reforms concerned the application of provincial law to Indigenous. Previously, the federal government had asserted exclusive jurisdiction to legislate in the context of Indigenous. Changes made in 1951, however, provided that whenever a provincial law dealt with a subject not covered under the Indian Act, such as child welfare matters, Parliament would allow that provincial law to apply to Indigenous on reserves. This opened the door to provincial participation in Indigenous law making.

Miigwetch, White Spotted Horse

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