Campaign for Government Recognition
In the 1890s the NISHGA in BC began their campaign to obtain government recognition of their Aboriginal land rights, while in 1906 the chief of the Capilano Band travelled to England to place a LAND CLAIMS petition before King Edward VII. A new organization, the Allied Tribes of British Columbia, was formed in 1915 in an unsuccessful attempt to force a judicial decision on land claims by the British Privy Council. Following the government's rejection of the Allied Tribes' land claims in 1927, the organization folded, only to be succeeded in 1931 by the Native Brotherhood of British Columbia, an organization that arose out of Aboriginal labour-oriented activities in coastal industry.
Aboriginal Political Organization
Attempts to create a national political organization for Aboriginal people first began in Ontario and Québec during the FIRST WORLD WAR (WWI), when the American-based Council of Tribes began a short-lived but energetic campaign to expand into Canada. In 1919 the League of Indians of Canada was formed in Ontario by F.O. Loft, a returning veteran and member of the Six Nations Reserve who advocated resolution of a set of grievances common to Aboriginal people across Canada: loss of reserve lands and the failure to recognize Aboriginal land rights; restriction of Aboriginal people's hunting and trapping rights; educational policies and administrative practices that sought to eliminate indigenous languages and customs; and the generally poor economic and health conditions on reserves - issues that remain relevant today.
Loft's efforts in the early 1920s to bring western Aboriginal people into the league were surprisingly effective, despite the opposition he encountered from senior officials of the Department of Indian Affairs who attempted, among other measures, to revoke his legal INDIAN. In view of the difficulties of uniting geographically separated and ethnically, linguistically and religiously divided bands in a national Aboriginal organization, the league's eventual failure was less remarkable than its initial success.
During the late 1930s and 1940s there was an increase in Aboriginal political organization, especially at the regional and provincial levels, with the formation, for example, of the Indian Association of Alberta and the Saskatchewan Indian Association in 1944. The creation of the North American Indian Brotherhood in 1945 by Andrew PAULL, a BC Aboriginal leader, was another attempt to establish a national organization of Canadian Aboriginal people, but it failed, partly because of the suspicion it was an organization primarily for spreading Catholicism among Aboriginal people.WHITE PAPER policy marked the germination of national political organization that would define the national political landscape for Aboriginal people during the contemporary period. The federal government's 1969 proposals to abolish both the Indian Act and the Department of Indian Affairs (now ABORIGINAL AFFAIRS AND NORTHERN DEVELOPMENT) and to transfer administrative responsibility for Aboriginal people to provincial governments sparked a dramatic increase in the scope and intensity of political organization and activism among Canada's indigenous population. Opposition to the government's proposals led to the creation of several new provincial associations, and the transformation of some existing groups into active political organizations, that began to receive political recognition from governments. Working with luminaries such as Harold CARDINAL, the NIB, in concert with various regional bodies, garnered sufficient political momentum to defeat the formal adoption of the White Paper in the early 1970s, although many First Nation leaders believe the intent of the policy paper still exists.
Beyond the provincial level, the National Indian Brotherhood (which became the ASSEMBLY OF FIRST NATIONS, representing 90% of chiefs across Canada in 1980) and the Native Council of Canada (representing Métis and non-status Indians; see ABORIGINAL PEOPLE, THE CONGRESS OF) pursued changes in government policies with respect to ABORIGINAL RIGHTS, economic development, education and many other fields (see ABORIGINAL PEOPLE, GOVERNMENT PROGRAMS). Between 1978 and 1982 Aboriginal, Métis and non-status organizations, along with the INUIT TAPIRISAT OF CANADA, intervened in the repatriation of the Canadian constitution to ensure legal enshrinement of their Aboriginal rights. Since the 1970s Canadian Aboriginal leaders have also become leading participants in international minority indigenous peoples' organizations such as the Inuit Circumpolar Conference and the World Council of Indigenous People, founded at a conference in Port Alberni, BC, in 1975. Its international secretariat was located in Lethbridge, Alta, and moved to Ottawa in 1984.
While not directly related, but in keeping with the political advances that had been made nationally, in 1973, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled on the first land claims case to be advanced by a First Nation in Canada, now referred to as Calder. Named after the late Frank CALDER, the case was brought forward by the Nishga in the mid-1960s, to seek recognition of their continuing Aboriginal title. While the Calder decision represented a technical loss legally, it amounted to a significant political victory for all First Nations in Canada who were seeking comprehensive land claim settlements. Among other things, the Supreme Court decision led the federal government to adopt a comprehensive land claims policy that could be used, albeit in a very limited fashion.
The contemporary context for Aboriginal political organization and activism can therefore be defined according to two central themes: (1) the emerging political recognition implied by Canada's adoption of a policy that seemed to lead to the negotiation of new "modern day" treaties with Aboriginal groups that had not already entered into treaties with Canada; and (2) a growing legal system in Canada (and other Commonwealth Nations) that could potentially redefine the relationship between Aboriginal people and the nation-state.
Aboriginal Rights and Title
The recognition of "existing Aboriginal and treaty rights" in section 35 of the Constitution Act of 1982 set the stage for indigenous peoples to define their place within Canada's constitutional democracy. While efforts remain elusive, political advocacy and litigation continue to characterize contemporary political organization. The failed constitutional conferences that followed the patriation of the Constitution have been followed by extensive legal sparring regarding the constitutional right to benefit from lands and resources (e.g., SPARROW, MARSHALL, Taku), as well as political recognition (e.g., DELGAMUUKW, HAIDA), particularly in BC, and efforts to establish appropriate political mechanisms for the negotiation of Land Claim and SELF-GOVERNMENT agreements.
The political activism of Canada's indigenous peoples since the Second World War has afforded them increasingly greater access to various levels of political decision making and has substantially altered some aspects of Aboriginal communities. For example, the passage of Bill C-31 in 1985 removed the most offensive aspects of gender discrimination from the Indian Act, although it created new forms of discrimination that continue to be the subject of legal and political debate. As well, Elijah HARPER, an Ojibwa member of the Manitoba Legislature, played a key role in preventing adoption of the MEECH LAKE Accord in 1990. Notwithstanding the election of Aboriginal candidates to Parliament, provincial legislatures and territorial councils, Aboriginal activism has mainly been conducted outside the bounds of electoral politics.
Reporting in 1996, the ROYAL COMMISSION ON ABORIGINAL PEOPLES made many recommendations, including calling for major structural changes to the relationship between First Nations and the Crown. Though the commission failed to achieve all of its goals, its formation following the 1990 confrontation at OKA, Québec, reaffirmed the significance of Aboriginal advocacy and activism.
After years of advocacy, Prime Minister Paul MARTIN agreed to host a first ministers meeting on Aboriginal issues in late November 2005, in Kelowna, BC. While the potential outcomes from the meeting were unrealized due to a sudden federal election called in the days that followed, the meeting was unique in that it brought together a wide range of parties-all 13 provincial and territorial premiers, the prime minister, and representatives of the five national Aboriginal organizations.
Indigenous advocacy has continued to shape the national political landscape since the White Paper. The adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) by the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in 2007 was at first opposed by Canada. The UNDRIP represented two decades of work on the part of indigenous peoples from around the world, and where Canada had initially supported this work, its rejection caused a ripple of unrest among indigenous groups.
When, in 2008, Prime Minister Harper issued a formal apology to former students of Aboriginal RESIDENTIAL SCHOOLS in the House of Commons, many Aboriginal leaders highlighted the inconsistency that was apparent given the government's position on UNDRIP. In 2010, Canada ultimately reversed its position on the UNDRIP, signalling its endorsement as an inspirational document.
Author NOEL DYCK Revised: TONIO SADIK
N. Dyck, What is the Indian 'Problem': Tutelage and Resistance in Canadian Indian Administration (1990); D. Culhane Speck, The Pleasure of the Crown Anthropology, Law and First Nations (1998); A. Cairns, Citizens plus: Aboriginal peoples and the Canadian state (2000); R. Day and T. Sadik, "The BC land question, liberal multiculturalism, and the spectre of Aboriginal nationhood", BC Studies (2002); J. Borrows, Canada's Indigenous Constitution (2010).
Links to Other Sites
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.
Assembly of First Nations
The official website of the Assembly of First Nations.
Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples
The website for the "Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples." Click on the links for feature articles about Canada's many multicultural communities, access to their extensive digital archives collection, learning modules, and much more. From "Multicultural 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.
English: Contemporary Aboriginal Voices
Learning activities in which students analyse the relationships depicted by Aboriginal writers, with specific reference to cultural, spiritual, and societal interaction. From the website for Curriculum Services Canada.