Arrival of Strangers - The Last 500 Years

Intergovernmental Relations


A Royal Proclamation issued in 1763 established principles that the Crown was to respect when dealing with Aboriginal people in North America. Today, Section 25 of the Constitution Act, 1982 reaffirms the principles of the Royal Proclamation. Section 35 of the Act recognizes the Aboriginal people as including the Indian, Inuit and Métis populations.

Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (French version) (reproduction)
Canadian Museum of Civilization, 2002-I0038-45

Issued by King George III following the fall of the French regime in North America, the Royal Proclamation expressed principles related to the continuity of Aboriginal rights. These are entrenched today in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and elsewhere in the Canadian Constitution.

Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms - 2002-I0038-45

Prior to 1876, separate legislation provided for the administration of Indian affairs in each colony. The first appearance of "Indian" as a legal definition appeared in Lower Canada in 1850. The Indian Act, first passed in 1876, is the legislation by which the federal government exercises its responsibility for Indian affairs in Canada. The Indian Act applies only to Status Indians; it does not apply to Inuit and Métis Canadians. Métis and Inuit may be the subject of separate provincial or territorial legislation, including Alberta's 1938 Métis Betterment Act, and the 1993 Nunavut Act.

Indian Act (1985 version) - 2002-I0038-25 Basil Paul - 30640 - CD95-895-005
(left) Indian Act (1985 version)
Government of Canada
Canadian Museum of Civilization, 2002-I0038-25

Prior to Confederation, numerous pieces of legislation in the colonies gave governments the legal mandate to administrate Indian affairs. At Confederation, Section 91(24) of the British North America Act made "Indians, and lands reserved for Indians" a federal responsibility. The first federal Indian Act was passed in 1876.

The Indian Act made it compulsory for children to attend day, industrial or residential schools run by the Churches. The schools were designed to distance children from their Aboriginal cultures and indoctrinate them with values and beliefs typically associated with the Christian work ethic.

(right) Basil Paul, wearing Indian timber bailiff badge, 1915, photograph by James Teit
Canadian Museum of Civilization, 30640, CD95-895-005

Basil Paul was a Secwepemc (Shuswap) band member from central interior B.C. He is pictured here wearing his badge as a government-appointed Indian timber bailiff, responsible to the Dominion government for the management of timber resources located on his reserve.

Access to resources located on Indian reserves was controlled by the Crown through the federal Indian Act. Timber resources were especially valuable, and selected band members were given authority over them by the Department of Indian Affairs. Native people thus became stewards over the land on behalf of the Crown.

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