Timeline: The Impact of the Indian Act
Over the years, the Indian Act has legislated extreme changes in the lives of Indigenous Peoples. The timeline below provides some examples.
Federal government assumes responsibility for all “Indians and lands reserved for Indians”
Canada became a country with the passing of the British North America Act. In Section 91(24) the federal government (Canadian government) was assigned responsibility for all “Indians and lands reserved for Indians.”
Indian Act becomes law
The Indian Act became law, and Indigenous governance systems were replaced with elected or appointed Band Councils. Women were not allowed to participate.
Residential schools become official policy
Residential schools became the official government policy for educating First Nations children. Residential schools forcibly removed First Nations children from their families and communities to attend distant schools, where many died and many more suffered abuse.
The Indian Act banned ceremonies such as the potlatch, ghost dance, and sun dance. People were arrested for performing them and their ceremonial materials were taken away by the government. The effects of this prohibition are still felt today.
Reserve land taken from bands without consent
The government could take reserve land from bands without their consent and (between 1918 and 1951) could also lease reserve land to settlers without the band’s agreement.
Traditional and ceremonial clothing banned
It was illegal for Indigenous Peoples to wear their traditional and ceremonial clothing.
Status Indians barred from seeking legal advice, fundraising, or meeting in groups
It was illegal for Status Indians to hire lawyers or seek legal advice, fundraise for land claims, or meet in groups. Many had to stop organizing, but others continued to do so secretly to fight for their rights.
Political organizing and cultural activities legalized
It was no longer illegal for Indigenous Peoples to organize politically to fight for their rights. And performing cultural activities was no longer illegal.
First Nations people no longer forced to give up their “status”
It was no longer possible for the government to force people to give up their “Indian status” and lose their Indigenous rights. In the past, First Nations people could lose their Indian status through marriage, for example. And before 1960, a person had to give up his or her Indian status in order to vote federally.