Okanagan Mainline Regional Network Logo
Aboriginal Education
    Project Rationale
    Resource Directory
    Teacher Preparation and Sensitivity
    Lesson Outlines
    UCC Student Projects
Curriculum Resources
Professional Development
Contact Us
FNSS Curriculum Integration Project Click here to download this lesson.
Bob Gronowski (MS-Word format.)

Grade: 11
Lesson 2: Background on the Indian Act
Time: 1 hour

Topic: Defining paternalism under the 1876 Indian Act

Rationale: The Indian Act of 1876 has caused inequities between Native and non-Native people. Self-government would help to alleviate the inequality.

Materials and Resources:

  • 3 dictionaries
  • Vocabulary sheets
  • Overhead projector
  • "Indian Act of 1876" (notes for transparency included)
  • "Self Government Agreements" (notes for transparency included)

Main concepts:

  • The Indian Act was imposed on aboriginal people.
  • It has been a hindrance to Native culture and economic development.
  • Self government would help provide stability and allow for self-reliance

Intended Learning Outcomes:

  • Demonstrate awareness of the provisions of the Indian Act and its impact on the citizenship of Aboriginal Canadians
  • Demonstrate understanding of the history and present status of Aboriginal land claims and self-government in Canada
  • Recognize connections between events and their causes, consequences, and implications
  • Identify elements that contribute to the regional, cultural, and ethnic diversity of Canadian society
  • Develop and express appropriate responses to issues or problems
  • Reassess their responses to issues on the basis of new information
  • Describe the role of Canada's First Nations peoples in shaping Canadian identity
  • Demonstrate the ability to think critically, including the ability to:
    1. Define an issue or problem
    2. Develop hypothesis and supporting argument
  • Communicate effectively in written and spoken language or other forms of expression, as appropriate to the social sciences

Vocabulary (in Material):

  • Assimilation
  • Colonialism
  • Impose
  • Ward
  • Indian Act
  • Indian Agent
  • Paternalism
  • Self-Government
  • Enfranchise

Planned Learning Activities:

  • Collect homework assignment from last lesson for later evaluation.
  • Discuss paternalism and student's examples.
  • Introduce vocabulary words.
  • Discuss the definitions and relate to issues as shown with definitions.
  • Provide historical background notes of The Indian Act. (overhead notes provided)
Homework assignment: Study vocabulary words for a quiz next day.


  1. Assignment: Define paternalism in your own words and give an example. (assigned at conclusion of previous lesson)

Gifted Student Activities:

  • Research self-government issues in Australia, Africa, or South America.
  • Research current federal government interest in making changes to the Indian Act and possible motivation may be researched.

Special Student Activities:
What is the difference between being told what to do and choosing what to do? Is it better to choose or have choices? Write, draw or talk about examples: cleaning your room, doing chores, etc.

Other Integration Opportunities:

  1. Voting rights and legal representation in Parliament.
  2. Violation of democratic ideology.
  3. Discussion of political ideology.

Resources Used and Supplementary Materials Available:

  1. The Indian Act and What It Means, Union of B.C Indian Chiefs, 700-73 Water St., Vancouver, B.C., V6B1A1
  2. Shaking off paternalism, Darshan Lindsay, A3-A4, Capital News, May 4th, 1994, 2495 Enterprise Way, Kelowna, B.C., V1X 7K2
  3. The Inherent Right to Self-Government, Fred R. Fenwick, 40-41,Law Now, Feb/Mar. 1999
  4. What's the deal with treaties? B.C Treaty Commission 2000 (video and booklet) 203-1155 West Pender St. Vancouver, B.C. V6E 2P4
  5. Course Manual, First Nations Study 1, Open Learning Agency
  6. Bringing BC Together, The Nisga'a Treaty, Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs, Victoria BC, 1998

Web Sites

  1. Aboriginal Self-Government in Canada, Denis Wall, Ph.D. www.ualberta.ca
  2. Negotiations Completed on Westbank First Nation Self-Government Agreement www.ainc-inac.gc.ca
  3. Indian Act, Department of Justice, laws.justice.gc.ca
  4. Canada's Native Peoples, About Canada, www.pch.gc.ca

NOTE: Indian Act Information Transparency information below

General Features Of The Indian Act of 1876

  • the first of many versions
  • determines who was "Indian"
  • status meant that you qualified under the Act
  • losing status meant losing your community

Defining "Status Indian"

  • any male person of First Nations blood belonging to a band
  • the children of such a person
  • his wife
  • women lost status by not marrying a status person
  • status could be lost if born out of a legal marriage
  • status could be lost if you were out of the country for more than 5 years


  • under the Act a First Nations person could not vote
  • could vote if, after a three year probation period, they:
    1. became literate in English or French
    2. were free of debt
    3. had strong moral character
  • could vote if they earned a university degree or:
    1. became a doctor
    2. became a lawyer
    3. became a priest
    4. became a teacher
  • given the vote meant that full rights as a citizen also applied:
    • could own land
    • could consume alcohol
  • given a portion of home reserve land to own
  • this meant that the Indian Act no longer applied to them
  • they could not go home to live with their families
  • this section of the Act was repealed in 1985

Band Government

  • replaced any traditional governments the band may have had
  • chief and counsel elected under supervision of the Indian agent
  • chief could be thrown out of office by the Canadian government for dishonesty, intemperance, immorality or incompetence

Powers of the Band Council

  • the care of public health
  • observe order and decorum at assemblies
  • repression of intemperance and profligacy
  • prevent trespass by cattle
  • maintenance of roads, bridges, ditches and fences
  • construction and repair of school houses and public buildings on reserves
  • establish pounds and appoint a pound keeper

Indian Lands

  • reserve lands are property of the Canadian government
  • are held "in Trust"
  • couldn't be sold, mortgaged, leased or seized without governemt consent

Indian Agent

  • Canadian government appointed representative
  • controlled everything the Indian Act dealt with
  • could veto band decisions
  • issued passes to allow Natives to leave the reserve
  • agents were gradually phased out
  • Potlatch/Sundance ceremonies outlawed in 1884 through an amendment to the Act

Pursuit of Claims

  • was made illegal for a lawyer or anyone else to accept money for:
    • pursuit of land claims
    • pursuit of any issue involving First Nations people

General Government Policy

  • main thrust was assimilation
  • wanted to replace Native culture
  • the main tool was the residential school

Self-Government Vocabulary

the absorption of a minority group into a main culture (immigrants)
a system of controlling a foreign colony for profit (United States)
to force upon another (friends)
Indian Act
in 1876, that Act of Canadian Parliament, which regulated all aspects of the lives of most Native people living in Canada (laws)
Indian agent
an official appointed by the Canadian government to locally oversee the implementation of the Indian Act (school teacher)
a system of controlling, as a father might control his children (already discussed)
government of a group by it's own elected members (student council)
someone unable to manage their own affairs and put under the care of a guardian (children without parents)

Self-Government Agreements Introduction
Self-government may be in included in the treaty process, as in the Nisga'a treaty, or negotiated separately, as the Westbank First Nation has done. In the Nisga'a treaty, land claims and implementation procedures have been agreed to. A phase in period of all aspects of the treaty is established. The WFN self-government agreement does not deal with land claims. The preferred term for treaty is now "agreement". But the distinction between the two shown here is considerable even though they are both agreements. The land claims of the Nisga'a agreement will not be discussed here.

There are those who believe that self-government means "above the law". This is not true. The Federal criminal code, Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and Provincial statutes will still apply. An individual will not "get away with murder" because of First Nation self-government.

A fair comparison of self-government would be municipal government; whereby local government is responsible for local affairs.  Now, a government official in Ottawa is responsible for many aspects of local life of First Nations people living on reserves. Fair treatment is all that is really wanted.

The main goal of the Indian Act in 1876 was assimilation. It was not intended to stay on the books for 125 years. The government of the day intended to make Native issues non-existent by now.  This hasn't happened.  There have been some changes to the Indian Act, but not nearly enough. The Indian Act is a throw back to colonialism.

Those were the days of European superiority. Native people were seen as savages and heathens by some. The whole point of the Indian Act was to assimilate, or absorb the Native people so that their own culture would disappear.

The Act sets up the federal government in a paternalistic role.  That is, the government looks out for the well being of Native people and doesn't trust them to make decisions for themselves.  They were, and for the most part still are, wards of the government.

Summative Criteria

Criteria Ratings Comments
Student demonstrates an understanding of the important ideas about the topic (through interaction and activities) 4 3 2 1  
The student uses effective communication throughout the discussions 4 3 2 1  
Group participation and cooperation 4 3 2 1  
Is able to appreciate another perspective and value its worth 4 3 2 1  
Class discussion of definitions demonstrates a clear understanding of concepts studied 4 3 2 1  
Examples, ideas, and detail were offered as solutions demonstrating a deeper understanding of the topic 4 3 2 1  
Homework assignment is completed with a minimum of 2 examples given 4 3 2 1