During the 1970s, much public attention focused on the statutory rule that an Indian woman lost status on marriage to a non-Indian. A 1973 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada was widely criticized when it held that this rule did not discriminate against women even though Indian men kept their status if they married non-Indians (see Jeannette LAVELL). Equality provisions in the CONSTITUTION ACT, 1982, finally led government to amend these provisions. Those who had lost status through marriage were reinstated as Indians and as band members. Their children gained Indian status, but would not gain band membership for 2 years. This interval was intended to give Indian bands time to enact their own membership codes, which could exclude the children, but not their mothers. If such a code was not enacted prior to June 1987, the children gained band membership as well.
The effect of this amendment was to increase substantially the number of status Indians in Canada, placing pressure on band budgets and their limited land resources. While the total area of Indian reserves did not change appreciably, the status population nearly doubled in the 10 years after 1985. The ability to enact a membership code remains, but persons already on a band list cannot be removed.
Constitutional challenges arising from the 1985 amendments have already been brought in cases such as Twinn (1995) and Corbiere (1993), both before the federal court of appeal as of 1996. These amendments, which also provided for greater band regulation of liquor and residency on reserves, fell short of the kind of SELF-GOVERNMENT Aboriginal people have argued for (see ABORIGINAL RIGHTS).
Further amendments to the Act in 1988 afforded bands greater powers to tax land interests in their reserves and permitted lessees to mortgage their leaseholds. The general prohibition against property on reserve as security for financing has been seen as an obstacle to economic development in many communities.
Indians remain concerned that the unilateral increase of their numbers, coupled with general government austerity and increasing involvement of provinces in Indian issues, signal a general lack of commitment to their special needs and rights. Parliament has been notably reluctant to exercise the full scope of its legislative powers over Indians, and despite acknowledged shortcomings, the Indian Act remains an essentially Victorian statute that continues to resist change. The Chrétien government (1993-2004) stated that it was prepared to abolish the Act, continuing a line of similar commitments made for over a century, but it remains unclear which laws or whose law-making powers would fill the void.
Section 88 of the Act incorporates provincial laws (treaties) that affect Indians specifically and which do not contradict the provisions of the Act. Also, provincial laws are subject to the terms of any applicable treaty, and only the federal government can override treaty rights.
Author WILLIAM B. HENDERSON
R. Bartlett, The Indian Act of Canada (1980); S. Imai and D. Hawley, The 2003 Annotated Indian Act (2003); J. Leslie and R. Maguire, eds, Historical Development of the Indian Act (2nd ed, 1978); S. Weaver, Making Canadian Indian Policy (1981); J. Woodward, Native Law (1994).
Links to Other Sites
Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada
The official website of Canada's Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, which is responsible for meeting the Government of Canada's obligations and commitments to First Nations, Inuit and Métis.
The website for the Historica-Dominion Institute, parent organization of The Canadian Encyclopedia and the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada. Check out their extensive online feature about the War of 1812, the "Heritage Minutes" video collection, and many other interactive resources concerning Canadian history, culture, and heritage.
Canadian Aboriginal Writing and Arts Challenge
The website for the Canadian Aboriginal Writing and Arts Challenge, which features Canada's largest essay writing competition for Aboriginal youth (ages 14-29) and a companion program for those who prefer to work through painting, drawing and photography. See their guidelines, teacher resources, profiles of winners, and more. From the Historica-Dominion Institute.
The site contains historical research reports, images, maps, bibliographies and other resources pertaining to the more than 70 historic treaties negotiated between 1701 and 1923. From Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada.
The Making of Treaty 8 in Canada's Northwest
This site, which features poignant oral histories and archival material, commemorates the signing of Treaty 8 in the 19th Century and considers the complex issues relating to past, present, and future First Nations treaty negotiations in Canada. From the Virtual Museum of Canada.
Four Directions Teachings
Elders and traditional teachers representing the Blackfoot, Cree, Ojibwe, Mohawk, and Mi’kmaq share teachings about their history and culture. Animated graphics visualize each of the oral teachings. This website also provides biographies of participants, transcripts, and an extensive array of learning resources for students and their teachers. In English with French subtitles.
Glossary: Aboriginal Studies
This glossary is adapted from Alberta's Aboriginal Studies 10–20–30 program. The terms and definitions, while not prescriptive, take into consideration Aboriginal diversity and also relate to the overall generic understandings of Aboriginal historical chronology. A Government of Alberta website.