Indian, the term used by Europeans to identify Indigenous people of South, Central, and North America, is believed to have originated with Christopher Columbus, who thought he had reached Asia when, in fact, he had arrived in the Caribbean.
Indian, the term used by Europeans to identify Indigenous people of South, Central, and North America, is believed to have originated with Christopher Columbus, who thought he had reached Asia when, in fact, he had arrived in the Caribbean. The term persisted and has been used indiscriminately to refer to all Aboriginal peoples on these continents with the exception of the INUIT of the Canadian Arctic and the Greenland and Alaska Eskimo.
The Government of Canada, in section 35(2) of the Constitution Act of 1982, defines 3 groups of Aboriginal people in the Constitution: Indians, Inuit and MÉTIS. Indians are categorized as status (also referred to as registered), non-status and treaty Indians. According to the INDIAN ACT, legislation which was first passed in 1876 but which stemmed from similar pre-Confederation laws, a status Indian is registered as an Indian under the Indian Act, and a non-status Indian has not registered under the Act. A treaty Indian is a status Indian who belongs to a First Nation that signed a treaty with the Crown.
Many Indians in Canada self-identify using traditional terms from their own languages. For example, Siksika replaces BLACKFOOT, Anishinabek replaces OJIBWA, Chippewa, and Salteaux, and INNU replaces Naskapi. To some people "Indian" is somewhat pejorative and as a result many Indians are more comfortable with terms such as native people, Aboriginal people, Indigenous people or FIRST NATIONS for self-reference. There is no single, widely-accepted term that is used to identify the first peoples of Canada.
Enfranchisement is the term used to describe an Indian who has lost his or her status either by choice or by circumstance. There were several processes by which Indians could lose their status. Before 1985, a status Indian woman lost her status if she married a man who did not have status; children from these marriages also "lost" their status. The Indian Act, until 1955, forced many status Indians to enfranchise, but some status Indians chose to enfranchise or voluntarily surrender their legal status. Before 1955 status Indians who graduated from a college or university were among the many categories within the Indian Act for whom enfranchisement was imposed. Also, any status Indian who resided outside of Canada for 5 years or longer resigned his or her status.
All status Indians are recorded on a registry maintained by the federal government. They are divided into 2 groups: treaty Indians and registered Indians outside treaty areas. Treaty Indians are people or ancestors of people who "took treaty." A treaty is an agreement between the Crown and a specific group of Indians who are held to have surrendered their land rights for specified benefits (seeINDIAN TREATIES). The register contains the names, birthdates, death dates, and marriage and divorce details, as well as records of persons transferring from one band to another, for all status Indians. Registered Indians are people who reside in areas of Canada where treaties were never made, or people of Indian status in treaty areas who, for a variety of reasons, have not taken treaty.
With the exception of specific promises contained in treaties, treaty Indians and registered Indians outside treaty receive identical benefits and privileges from the federal government. For example, all status Indians are exempt from paying income tax on any income they earn on a reserve and the personal property of a status Indian cannot be seized if it is situated on a reserve. Status Indians are subject to the regulations contained in the Indian Act and only then can "own" land on a reserve. Non-status Indians are people of Indian ancestry who are not entitled to registration, or have lost their legal status while retaining their Indian identity. Status Indians and non-status Indians are located in every province and territory. In 2005 approximately 53% of Aboriginal people lived on reserves, 3% lived on crown land, and 44% lived off reserve; however, there has been a significant migration to urban centres, and by 2006 the census indicated that more than half of all Aboriginal people lived off-reserve. In 2010 there were 615 First Nation communities comprised of more than 50 nations.
Since the 1860s many people had lost their Indian status because of unfair terms in the Indian Act. In 1985 the federal government introduced Bill C-31 which changed the Indian Act by enabling Indian women who had lost their legal status through marriage to men who did not possess Indian status to regain their status. Bill C-31 also enabled all first-generation children of these marriages and any Indians who had enfranchised to regain their legal status as Indians. For the individuals in many of the First Nations, the population who are eligible for membership within a band can differ from inclusion on the Indian registry.
There were more than 719 000 status Indians in 2003, of whom approximately 114 000 became status Indians as a result of Bill C-31 which amended the Indian Act. The 2006 census reported that approximately one million people, or 4% of the Canadian population, identified themselves as Aboriginal, and that of those people, 53% were registered Indians, 30% were Métis, 11% were non-status Indians and 4% were Inuit. In 2010 there were approximately 800 000 registered Indians and this number is expected to increase to 920 100 by 2026.
J. Frideres, R. Gadacz, Aboriginal Peoples in Canada (7th ed, 2005); P. Cumming and N. Mickenberg, Native Rights in Canada (2nd ed, 1972); B. McCardle, Indian History and Claims: A Research Handbook (1982).