Enfranchisement was the most common of the legal processes by which native peoples lost their INDIAN status under the INDIAN ACT.
Enfranchisement was the most common of the legal processes by which native peoples lost their INDIAN status under the INDIAN ACT. The term was used both for those who give up their status by choice, and for the much larger number of native women who lost status automatically upon marriage to non-native men (see Jeannette LAVELL). Only the former were entitled to take with them a share of band reserve lands and funds, but both groups lost their treaty and statutory rights as native peoples, and their right to live in the reserve community.
The right to vote, often confused with "enfranchisement" in the technical sense discussed here, was only one of the supposed advantages of loss of status before native people acquired the federal vote in 1960. From its first enactment in 1857 up to at least the 1960s, voluntary enfranchisement was the cornerstone of Canadian Indian policy (see NATIVE PEOPLE, GOVERNMENT POLICY).
By enfranchising, a person was supposed to be consenting to abandon native identity and communal society (with its artificial legal disabilities) in order to merge with the "free," individualistic and non-native majority. There were in fact relatively few such enfranchisements over the years; a law to force enfranchisement of natives whom the government thought should be removed from band lists (in force 1920-22, 1933-51) was unpopular and a failure.
A 1985 amendment to the Indian Act eliminated the idea of enfranchisement as used here: as well as eliminating the Act's discriminatory section, the government gave individual bands the right to decide their own conditions for membership.
DIAND, The Historical Development of the Indian Act (1978), Indian Acts and Amendments 1868-1950 and Contemporary Indian Legislation, 1951-1978 (1981).