The Indian Act is the law that still governs the federal government’s relationship with First Nations.  It has been updated and amended several times since it was first enacted in 1876.  The original 1876 Act consolidated existing laws regarding First Nations.  Since then, the law has laid out the power of the federal government over different economic, political, cultural, and social aspects of First Nations life.

The Gradual Civilizations Act of 1857: Pre Indian Act and “Enfranchisement”

  1. What does ‘enfranchisement’ mean?

  2. What are the ‘benefits’ of enfranchisement here?

  3. What are the negative consequences?

Any Indian of the male sex, and not under twenty one years of age, (who) is able to speak, read and write either the english or the french language readily and well, and is sufficiently advanced in the elementary branches of education and is of good moral character and free from enfranchised under this Act; and the provisions of the third section of the Act aforesaid, and all other enactments making any distinction between the legal rights and liabilities of Indians and those of Her Majesty's other subjects, shall cease to apply to any Indian so declared to be enfranchised, who shall no longer be deemed an Indian, with the meaning thereof.

Every Indian enfranchised under this Act shall be entitled to have allotted to him by the Superintendent General of Indian affairs, a piece of land not exceeding fifty acres out of the lands reserved or set apart for the use of his Tribe, and also a sum of money equal to the principal of his share of the annuities and other yearly revenues receivable by or for the use of such tribe...and such sum of money shall become the absolute property of such Indian, and such land shall become his property, subject to the provisions hereinafter made, but he shall by accepting the same forego all claim to any further share in the lands or moneys then belonging to or reserved for the use of his Tribe, and shall cease to have a voice in the proceedings thereof.

The wife, widow, and lineal descendants of an Indian enfranchised under this Act, shall be also enfranchised by the operation thereof, and shall not be deemed members of his former tribe, unless such widow or any such lineal descendant being a female, shall marry an Indian not enfranchised and a member of such tribe, in which case she shall again belong to it and shall no longer be held to be enfranchised under this Act.

The Indian Act: A Definition of the Main Terms

  1. Pay close attention to the language used and to the

  2. How does this legal definition of places and people reflect the bias of the writers?

  3. Why are they so anxious to define their terms?

Indian:       Any male person of Indian blood reputed to belong to a particular band , any child of such person, any woman who is or was lawfully married to such person
Exceptions:   Any Indian woman marrying any other than an Indian or a non-treaty Indian shall cease to be an Indian in any respect within the meaning of this Act.

Reserve:    Any tract or tracts of land set apart by treaty or otherwise for the use or benefit of or granted to a particular band of Indians, of which the legal title is in the Crown, but which is unsurrendered, and includes all the trees, wood, timber, soil, stone, minerals, metals, or other valuables thereon or therein.

Indian Lands: Any reserve or portion of a reserve which has been surrendered to the Crown.

Section 2: The Powers and Rights of the Act

  1. What are the promises made below?

  2. When thinking about what you have learned so far, did the Government of Canada honour the promises made below?

No person, or Indian other than an Indian of the band, shall settle, reside or hunt upon, occupy or use any land or marsh, or shall settle, reside upon or occupy any road, or allowance for roads running through any reserve belonging to or occupied by such band...

If any person or Indian other than an Indian of the band, without the license of the Superintendent-General (which license, however, he may at any time revoke), settles, resides or hunts upon or occupies or uses any such land or marsh ; or settles, resides upon or occupies any such roads or allowances for roads, on such reserve… (the Crown shall) command him forthwith to remove from the said land or marsh, or roads or allowances for roads, or lots or parts of lots...or to cease using as aforesaid the said lands, marshes, roads or allowances for roads ; and the expenses incurred-in any such removal or notification shall be borne by the party removed or notified, and may be recovered from him as the costs in any ordinary suit...

If any person or Indian other than an Indian of the band to which the reserve belongs, without the license in writing of the Superintendent-General or of some officer or person deputed by him for that purpose, trespasses upon any of the said land, roads or allowances for roads in the said reserve, by cutting, carrying away or removing therefrom any of the trees, saplings, shrubs, underwood, timber or hay thereon, or by removing any of the stone, soil, minerals, metals or other valuables off the said land, roads or allowances for roads…(they list a bunch of fines here).

Payment When Indian Lands are Sold or Resources From Indian Lands Are Sold

  1. Who is doing the buying and the selling?

  2. Who decides what to do with the profits?

The Governor in Council may, subject to the provisions of this Act, direct how, and in what manner, and by whom the moneys arising from sales of Indian lands, and from the property held or to be held in trust for the Indians, or from any timber on Indian lands or reserves, or from any other source for the benefit of Indians shall be invested from time to time, and how the payments or assistance to which the Indians may be entitled shall be made or given, and may provide for the general management of such

moneys, and direct what percentage or proportion thereof shall be set apart from time to time,

The proceeds arising from the sale or lease of any Indian lands, or from the timber, hay, stone, minerals or other valuables thereon, or on a reserve, shall be paid to the Receiver General to the credit of the Indian fund.

Voting in First Nations Government

  1. Who gets to vote?

  2. Why might the Canadian government want to make rules about this?

At the election of a chief or chiefs, or the granting of any ordinary consent required of a band of Indians under this Act, those entitled to vote at the council or meeting thereof shall be the male members of the band of the full age of twenty-one years ; and the vote of a majority of such members at a council or meeting of the band summoned according to their rules, and held in the presence of the Superintendent General, or an agent acting under his instructions, shall be sufficient to determine such election, or grant such consent...


The situation of First Nations in many parts of Canada (and particularly British Columbia) is different from that of most First Nations in Central Canada because of the absence of any formal treaties about land claims.  As a part of the Treaty process, the Crown, or government of Canada gave legal recognition to the First Nations ownership of some land.