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Indigenous History Month: The Indian Act – The North Grenville Times

Hanging over every indigenous individual and community in Canada is the unavoidable shadow of the federal Indian Act, a piece of legislation that was introduced in 1876 and has been amended, augmented and altered many times in the decades since. Although its effects on native life have been almost universally negative, it is often pointed out by critics that most indigenous people and the various groups that represent them, are opposed to abolishing the Act, proving, they say, that it is not nearly as oppressive as has been claimed. This view point is based on a misreading of the history that lies behind this legal cage that has been built around one sector of Canada’s population. The irony is that the Indian Act, and its pre-Confederation predecessors, was originally designed to protect First Nations from the baleful influence of settlers in the nineteenth century.

In 1830, the British Imperial Government introduced what they called the “Civilisation Policy”, a plan by which Indians in Canada could be integrated into the wider society, leaving behind their traditional ways and lifestyles. The idea was to establish settlements, in which the aboriginal people could learn to live in houses, educate their children, and become farmers. The European belief was that only cultivating the land could make a people “civilised”, and traditional nomadic lifestyles were, therefore, “uncivilised”, savage.

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