The Indian Act in Canada was enacted to recognize the rights of registered Indians, their bands and the system of the Indian reserves. The Act mandated the federal government of Canada with an exclusive authority to govern Indian Status, resources, Land, band administration and education. The current Act enacted in 1951 repealed the 1859 Act. The provisions of the 1951 Act are based on Royal Proclamations and colonial ordinances.
The 1859 Act was aimed at regulating transactions of trade between Non-Indians and Indians within the territories of Canada. Before the Act was amended, it majorly described entitlement to live in Indian communities. The initial laws restricting Aboriginal people from voting and or leaving their residential reserves without permission are now repealed. The provisions of the current Act do not allow for discrimination.
Initially, Indian status was a transitional status which protected Indians as they settled on the land. It promoted assimilation of the Indians among the native communities. During this time, the Indian cultural practices were eroded. The Act also provided that Indian women lost Indian status on marrying non-Indians. This, however was to change later through a constitutional Act. This Act allowed Indian women to retain Indian status and band membership.
Amendments on the current Act in 1988 provided bands with greater powers to tax land interests in their reserves and permitted lessees to mortgage their leaseholds. This has been an obstacle to economic development in these communities since the reserve does not provide financial security on property.
The Aboriginal people from the other hand viewed the Indian Act as an extension of colonialism and paternalism by Canada. They faulted the Canadian government for enacting the law which brought untold disruptions to their cultural practices and other social aspects. As a result of this extensive discontent on the Act, the federal government has been forced to amend the Act over time so that it assimilates the expectations of the majority. The government has been given authority to receive and hold band monies for the benefit of the band unless otherwise stated. This has been criticized by the Aboriginal persons. Indians, for instance, were not allowed to produce and sell any agricultural commodity unless they first obtained permission from a local reserve agent. Mismanagement of the band and complaints made the government to consider amending the Act occasionally. This would capture the dynamics unfolding in the society. There was growing need for efficiency in administration and fair management of Aboriginal affairs.
The Indigenous people felt that the influx into their communities by the Indians was suppressing their values and rights as first people. They therefore expressed their discontent by pushing for amendments of the Act to guarantee them of their individual rights, democratic governance and accountability. The band government, however, has consistently exercised control over the peoples’ land and property generally. This has been possible through shifting of roles from one level of governance to another.
The current Act is undergoing radical changes through treaties. This treaties are aimed at promoting economic development through providing financial security to Indians in Canada, provision of land titles, ensuring cohesiveness in the society, accountable and democratic governance of the Aboriginal people and sound management of public resources. These treaties promote social justice where the Indians will have rights to participate in electoral process, be able to produce and sell agricultural commodities in the market without restrictions.
The transition from federal controlled governance under the Indian Act to self-governance has been slow. However, once proper political and institutional structures are put in place, a system of governance reflecting the ideals of the Aboriginal people shall come into force.