The Inside Agenda Blog

Guest Post: Canada's Indian Act: One Woman's Personal View

Wednesday January 23, 2013

The following post was written by Peggy Tupper, from Oakville, Ontario.

I have been doing genealogy for over 10 years. I started in a quest to find my aboriginal roots. I knew that "somewhere" our family had Indian ancestors, but things were never spoken and questions were not answered. When I look back at photos of my father, he looked like James Bartleman, and my grandmother looked like a female version of Chief Dan George. Although the math is a stretch, my grandmother was born in 1872 in Deseronto, Ontario. The Indian Act was passed in 1876, four years after my grandmother was born.

I found a huge ancestral heritage of French Canadians all the way back to the early 1600s in Quebec. The first child born in Canada of two French parents was Hélène Desportes, born on July 7, 1620. She was my 10th great-grandmother. The French side makes me a distant cousin to people such as Pierre Trudeau, Celine Dion, and Louis Riel.

Studying genealogy is actually studying history. One becomes immersed in the times and the lifestyles. Although the French side was fascinating, I really wanted to know about the aboriginal connection. I also had to study tribes and history of aboriginal people in Quebec and Ontario.

I provide this background to you so that you are aware that my opinions were not formed by media spin or the view of a "staunch conservative."

Because of Idle No More, I read the Indian Act. In 2013, it does seem very "racist." When read with the mindset of a legislator in the late 1800s, it is not racist at all. In the 1800s, many "white" adults could not read or write and certainly aboriginal people could not. At that time, aboriginal people were semi-nomadic. Indians had no concept of land ownership. The land was there just like air and water and they could not comprehend owning it. Everything they owned, they could carry. Their lifestyle was collective and socialistic. A tribe's survival depended on the hunt being shared with the band. Everything was shared. It was a one for all and all for one system.

The Indian Act was written to protect the lifestyle of aboriginal tribes. The act prevented one person from catching fish and selling them, rather than sharing them with the band. The act prevented land ownership so that one person could not sell to a non-aboriginal and slowly reduce the size of a reserve. Even the section about wills would have been to protect the interests of the band. A white person who could not read or write would have, even in the 1800s, the street smarts to pay a lawyer, but Indians were naive and lacked the knowledge needed to protect themselves when it came to contracts, agreements, or legal matters. The Indian Act does not prevent an Indian from making a will, but it could be overturned if some unscrupulous person tried to take advantage. We are all aware of elderly people being scammed by Internet fraud, or some other method of fraud. Fraud and scams existed in 1876 and Indians would have been an easy target.

Without a doubt, the Indian Act must be eliminated; it fulfilled its purpose and is no longer needed. Aboriginal people can now read and write. They no longer live nomadic lifestyles. They no longer depend on hunted food. The entire act could be and should be eliminated with one exception, and that is land ownership. The only method of property ownership that would work would be where a home is owned by an individual but the land belongs to the band. If Indians owned land on a reserve, it would only take one generation and there would be no reserve left. Think of the land leasing in Bill C-45, which the original founders of Idle No More had issues with.

Treaties are agreements but the Indian Act is not an agreement. It was written and passed by white legislators without consultation with any band. Undoubtedly, eliminating it will be more challenging than changing the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. There are only 10 provinces but over 600 bands.

By the way, I did eventually find my aboriginal roots. I have distant relatives living on the Alderville First Nation reserve near Roseneath, Ontario. They are descendants of the Crowe Indians who lived in Hastings County. The Crowe Indians were a band within Mississauga who lived on the north shore of Lake Ontario.

Image credit: Darryl Dick, The Canadian Press, via The Ottawa Citizen.