Where Are Reserves?
Reserves are lands set aside for the exclusive use of registered or status INDIANS (Aboriginal people registered under the Indian Act) and only status Indians can "own" land on a reserve, but not all Aboriginal bands have reserves. Many communities prefer the term First Nation rather than Band in self-reference, however BAND is the term used by the federal government to describe "a body of Indians" in a community, residing on one or more reserves. In 1982 there were 577 Bands in Canada and the number has gradually grown to 615 in 2010 representing more than 50 nations. A majority of bands in Canada have fewer than 1000 members; in 2006 there were approximately 800 000 registered Aboriginal people in the 615 bands. The two largest Bands are the Six Nations of the Grand River and the Mohawks of Akwesasne, both located in Ontario.
In June 1985 Parliament passed Bill C-31, which, among other changes to the INDIAN ACT, removed some discriminatory clauses and allowed many disenfranchised people to claim Indian status. Between 1982 and 2005 the number of registered Indians in Canada more than doubled. In the NWT, Nunavut and the Yukon, where few reserves have been established, the bands have been gathered into communities known as settlements, which are generally on CROWN LAND, but these bands and settlements do not have reserve status. There are reserves in most parts of southern Canada, but about 53% of the Aboriginal population lives on reserves in areas designated "rural" or "remote" (see NATIVE PEOPLE, DEMOGRAPHY). In 2005 approximately 53% of Aboriginal people lived on reserves, 3% lived on Crown Land, and 44% lived off-reserve but there has been a significant migration to urban centres and by 2006 the census indicated that more than half of all Aboriginal people were living off-reserve.
The Indian Act stipulates that only registered band members may reside permanently on a reserve unless the band has adopted a residency bylaw that regulates the right to live on the reserve. About 40% of bands control their membership lists. Many bands have leased or otherwise disposed of portions of their reserve lands to non-Aboriginal people for various purposes including natural-resource development, rights of way for transportation or transmission, farming, ranching, and recreational land use. Within the reserve, the band may lease the land and use it to develop economic opportunities for band members. Reserve bylaws only apply within the boundaries of the reserve, however, most provincial laws apply to the residents of the reserve. Generally, provincial laws govern all residents of that province or territory, on and off a reserve.
Although many Aboriginal people believe that reserves are legally their property, the Indian Act states that the title to reserves is vested with the Crown. This legal relationship with the federal government concerns Aboriginal people, who believe that the status of Aboriginal lands is in jeopardy as long as legal title remains outside the control of Aboriginal people. The Indian Act forbids the "surrender" and sale of reserve land by an Aboriginal person or a band to anyone other than the Crown.
Individual Aboriginal people who occupy particular plots of land in a reserve cannot obtain an ordinary deed or title to the land, but they may acquire certificates of possession (CPs) giving them varying degrees of protection from claims by other parties. This individual title or "location" may be transferred among members of the same band. Land in a reserve that is not assigned to individuals is held as common property for the benefit of the entire band.
Social conditions in most reserves reflect the historical and political neglect that Canada has shown toward people of Aboriginal ancestry (see NATIVE PEOPLE, SOCIAL CONDITIONS). The isolated and remote locations of most reserves have contributed to the high rate of unemployment among Aboriginal people (see NATIVE PEOPLE, ECONOMIC CONDITIONS).
Physical and Spiritual Home
In spite of these and other conditions that have contributed to a host of problems among people who reside on reserves, the reserves, especially in the southern regions, remain the physical and spiritual home for many Aboriginal people. Aboriginal reserves have often been labelled rural ghettos or retreats by many critics who view reserves as enclaves where Aboriginal people can escape the demands of modern society. People who perceive reserves in this way believe that without reserves Aboriginal people would be forced to assimilate into Canadian society and that with assimilation, many of the problems that affect reserve populations today would vanish. This view ignores the political and legal status that reserves have in Canada and overlooks the fact that most Aboriginal people do not want to be assimilated. It also ignores the situation in the Northwest Territories, the Yukon and northern Québec, where status Indians who do not live on reserves still maintain a separate identity, language and culture.
Recent federal and provincial social policies in the area of health, economic development and education have resulted in new and expansive services on many reserves. Increased services have led to new employment and economic opportunities, which have stimulated interest by reserve residents in training and post-secondary education options (see NATIVE PEOPLE, EDUCATION). The JAMES BAY AND NORTHERN QUEBEC AGREEMENT has enabled the James Bay Cree in northern Québec to develop a social and civil infrastructure for the 9 Cree reserves and the Cree regional government. The development and evolution of similar infrastructure for Aboriginal reserves will enable many reserve residents to achieve economic and social standards that were previously considered unattainable. Other reserves throughout Canada are also embracing economic development of their lands or surrounding territory. Notable examples include the Osoyoos First Nation in BC, the Wendake First Nation in Québec, the Membertou First Nation in Nova Scotia, and the Siksika and Enoch First Nations in Alberta.
LAND CLAIM settlements in many provinces and territories and Treaty Land Entitlement negotiations in Saskatchewan and Alberta are increasing the overall size of many Aboriginal reserves and territory (see INDIAN TREATIES). The existence of numerous land claims (categorized by the federal government as either specific or comprehensive land claims) indicates the degree to which indigenous lands were either unfairly taken, or promised but never delivered.
To many Aboriginal people, reserves represent the last tangible evidence that they were the original people of Canada. Reserves nurture a sense of Aboriginal history and culture where indigenous language, spiritual beliefs and values are shared (see NATIVE PEOPLE, LANGUAGES; NATIVE PEOPLE, RELIGION). Although conditions of extreme poverty, poor health, insufficient housing and impoverished social and health services still exist in many reserves, the reserve and the traditional values and the kinship affiliation it nurtures contribute to an Aboriginal people's sense of identity and sense of self. For many Aboriginal people, the reserve is a physical and spiritual home, despite the privations that exist there.
Author HARVEY MCCUE
Links to Other Sites
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.
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.
New Ojibway reserve opens in northern Ontario
A CBC news article about the establishment of the Animbiigoo Zaagi'igan Anishinaabek (Lake Nipigon Reserve) in Ontario.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada
The website for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, an investigation into the history and operation of residential schools for Aboriginal people in Canada.
Architecture of Hope Revisited
View an online photo gallery depicting innovative First Nations school buildings conceived by Patkau Architects. From TheTyee.ca.