Part 1: Dark Chapter
Chapter 1: The Beginning
So far I’m really enjoying “21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act.” In comparison with my experience reading the Indian Act of 1876, it’s much more informative and I’m rarely left with unanswered questions. Bob Joseph does a fantastic job breaking the Indian Act down and pointing out how it all relates to current Indigenous-settler relations. For this reason, I’ve decided that it would be more beneficial for me to finish reading this book before I continue reading the original document. My blog posts from now on will summarize each chapter.
… to wean them by slow degrees, from their nomadic habits, which have almost become an instinct, and by slow degrees absorb them or settle them on the land. Meantime, they must be fairly protected.
JOHN A. MACDONALD, 1880
i. Imposed the elected chief and band council system
Before the arrival of settlers, Indigenous nations had their own distinct political institutions, traditions, leadership systems, economies, cultures, and control over territories and resources. However, in 1969 European-style elections were introduced to undermine all Indigenous forms of governance and augment assimilation. The role of elected chiefs was reduced to administering the Indian Act, while the majority of control concerning reserves (ie. land, resources, finances) was passed over to the Department of Indian Affairs.
ii. Denied women status
I touched on this briefly in a previous post. But I love the following quote that Bob Joseph shares in this section because it really puts into perspective just how vital Indigenous women were to their families and communities:
Nothing is more real, however, than the women’s superiority. It is they who really maintain the tribe… In them resides all the real authority: the lands, the fields, and all their harvest belong to them; they are the soul of the councils, the arbiter of peace and war… they arrange the marriages; the children are under their authority; and the order of succession is founded in their blood.
JOSEPH-FRANCOIS LAFITAU, 1742 (French missionary and ethnologist)
Details explaining how the Indian Act discrimnates against women are too complex to include in this post, but I encourage interested readers to dig deeper into this topic. After all, the Indian Act is the primary cause of the vulnerability of Indigenous women today. 1 in 10 women in Canada are abused by their partner, whereas nearly 1 in 3 Indigenous women are abused; and yet domestic violence is only one of many injustices Indigenous women face.
iii. Created reserves
Again, I have an entire post dedicated to understanding reserves. In short, by confining Indians thus hugely limiting their land access, it was very difficult for them to sustain themselves. Among other things, resulting in malnourishment and disease.
iv. Encouraged voluntary and enforced enfranchisement
The purpose of enfranchisment was to “get ride of the Indian problem”, the problem being financial responsibility on behalf of the government. Voluntary enfranchisement was promoted as a means for Indians to become civilized by trading in their Indian Status for personhood, thereby gaining full rights of colonial citizenship. Only one man took up this offer. Consequently, in 1880 compulsory enfranchisement was applied to any Indians who obtained a degree or became a clergyman. In 1920, a board of examiners enfranchised Indians over the age of 21 as they deemed fit. In 1951 (until 1985), Indian women who married non-Indian men were enfranchised. Finally, Indians who joined the military were also enfranchised (leaving them homeless after returning from WWII).
Until Chapter 2!