Upon signing the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human
Rights in December 1948, Canada's government was forced to re-examine
its treatment of Aboriginals
for the first time. Voting rights were extended in 1960, and Aboriginal
civil rights became an ongoing concern in the 1970s. While there
were still many Aboriginal grievances, they would make significant
gains during this period.
Topics in this section:
Indian Act Revisions,
The Right To Vote, 1960
White and Red Papers, 1969 - 1970
Drybones Case, 1970
Calder Case, 1973
Berger Commission, 1974 - 1977
James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement,
Other Interesting and Important Documents
Indian Act Revisions, 1951
In 1951, the Indian
Act was changed so that many of the most oppressive laws banning
key customs - including potlatches, pow-wows or other cultural ceremonies
- were no longer effective. Aboriginals were also now allowed to
possess and drink alcohol for the first time, but only on their
Just as significant were changes made to the act allowing Aboriginals
to sue the government over land claims. The provinces gained an
increased role in determining Indian
status. However, ultimate control over the Aboriginal peoples
still resided (and still resides) with the federal government.
The Right to Vote, 1960
In 1958, Prime Minister John
Diefenbaker named James
Gladstone, a member of Alberta's Blood
tribe, as the first Native Senator.
Then, in 1960, he gave non-enfranchised
Aboriginals the right to vote in federal elections. Despite these
moves, though, the federal government was still opposed to the idea
of Aboriginal self-government.
In March 1959, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police was sent into
Reserve near Brantford, Ontario, which, until 1924, had been completely
self-governed. The police were there to evict Iroquois
chiefs and clan mothers after traditionalists on the reserve seized
control and, for all intents and purposes, declared the reserve
separate from Canada.
White and Red Papers, 1969 -
The year following Prime Minister Pierre
Trudeau's rise to power in 1968, his government issued a White
Paper on Aboriginal policy that argued that Canada shouldn't
negotiate any further treaties with the Native peoples. Trudeau
believed treaties were something only signed between sovereign nations.
His government also did not agree with Aboriginal land
right claims, either, because they were too broad and unspecific.
Aboriginals feared this stance would undermine their special rights
and status within Canadian society.
Aboriginals responded with their own document, named Citizens Plus,
in 1970. This became more commonly known as the Red
Paper. The Red Paper countered all of the proposals of the White
Paper. An Aboriginal delegation, backed by other Canadian citizens,
met with the government and successfully convinced it to radically
change its policies and positions.
The Drybones Case, 1970
In 1969, an Aboriginal man named Joesph Drybones was found
drunk in a Yellowknife hotel lobby and was arrested. While the Indian
Act now allowed Aboriginals to drink, they could only do so
on reserves. At the time, no reserves existed in the Northwest Territories.
Drybones fought his case all the way to the Supreme
Court of Canada, who found that the police had discriminated
against him because of his race when they charged him with drunkenness.
This ruling effectively caused the no-drinking clause in the Indian
Act to fall into disuse.
The Calder Case, 1973
Arthur Calder, a member of the federal
Cabinet, sued the British
Columbian government over land claims issues outstanding in the
province with the Nisga'a
tribe. The issue went to the Supreme Court
of Canada, which ruled that aboriginal rights to the land did exist,
particularly under the
Royal Proclamation of 1763 and subsequent government
implementation of that proclamation.
This ruling forced Pierre Trudeau's government to reconsider its
federal Aboriginal policy once again, which opened the door to discussion
on the intent and meaning of all Indian
The Berger Commission, 1974 - 1977
During the 1960s, new natural gas reserves were found in the Beaufort
Sea in the Arctic, and oil companies began to express interest in
building a pipeline straight through the fragile ecosystem of the
northern Yukon and Mackenzie River Valley. In the mid-1970s, the
led by Thomas
Berger, examined the effects of this proposed pipeline. Aboriginals
in the region were particularly opposed to the pipeline, for several
- Environmental concerns
- Skepticism about the motives and interests of big business
- Perceptions that it infringed upon their land rights and special
Ultimately, the pipeline was never built.
The James Bay and Northern Québec
James Bay Agreement Treaty
This was, notably, the first major land cession deal signed
since the early twentieth century. It gave
in northern Québec significant amounts of money - $225 million
- and hunting and fishing rights to land that was to be surrendered
to the provincial government. The Québec provincial government
wanted large portions of land in the northern half of the province
for the purposes of building hydroelectric dams.
Other Interesting or Important Links: