1876 - 1877: The Indian
Act, 1876 and Numbered Treaties Six and Seven
important events happened in 1876 that had an effect on Aboriginal
history in Canada. One was the signing of Numbered
Treaty Six, which was arguably the most important and controversial treaty
signed during the 1800s. It allowed, for the first time, an Indian agent to keep
a medicine chest in his home, a move some Aboriginals later interpreted as a promise
by the government to provide free health care. The second was the passing of the
Indian Act, which effectively made all Aboriginals wards of the state.
in this section:
The Indian Act, 1876
Treaty Number Six, 1876
Number Seven, 1877
Other Interesting or Important
The Indian Act, 1876
Once a majority of Aboriginals living on the Prairies had signed
the Numbered Treaties, the federal government introduced and passed an act to
amend and consolidate previous laws concerning the Aboriginals. Notably, this
act turned the Aboriginals into legal wards of the state.
The Act also spelled out conditions for being an Indian
under the eyes of the law. For instance:
- Any woman that married an
Aboriginal man could be considered an Indian and could be allowed to live and
even be buried on a reserve. These women also received other cultural and social
benefits by gaining Indian
status. However, any Aboriginal woman who married a white, European male was
now considered to be a bona fide member of Canadian society. She lost her Indian
status and every right that came with it.
- All "half-breed"
Indians, like the Métis,
were not entitled to Indian status. This included Métis who had received
scrip - transferable land or cash allowances that were issued on paper certificates.
Sir John A. Macdonald summed up the government's position nearly a
decade later in 1885 when he said, "If they are half-breed, they are [considered
by the government to be] white."
This position was maintained until
September, 2003, when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the Métis
were entitles to the same rights as Aboriginal peoples.
The terms of the Indian Act also set out instructions regarding
the sale of Aboriginal lands. It allowed the government to set licenses allowing
timber to be cut and removed from these properties. This confused many Aboriginals,
who thought they were given away land for settlement purposes only and did not
understand that the government could take resources - their forests - away from
Additionally, Aboriginals who broke the law could now be charged
under the Criminal Code of Canada. As of 1876, there were legal punishments for
Natives who left reserves
or sold liquor on reserves.
The act was rewritten in 1951 and revised again
in 1985. However, many provisions - including ones prohibiting Aboriginals from
living on land outside of reserves or from drinking - have since been repealed
or have simply fallen into disuse.
Following the 1876 Indian Act, Aboriginals who lived on reserves
were forced to carry an identity card, like a passport, every time they stepped
off reserve land.
Number Six, 1876
Treaties Number Six and Seven
At a first glance, Treaty Number Six,
signed by the Plains and Woods
and Plains Cree Aboriginals,
is very similar to the five that preceded it. In exchange for yielding their land
on the Prairies in current day Alberta and Saskatchewan, the Aboriginals received
smaller tracts of reserve land, cash, farm animals and tools (and so on) from
the government. As with the other treaties, they had to promise to not drink alcohol
and maintain law and order on the reserves.
This time, however, the government
faced more resistance. Aboriginals had new concerns: European settlers were moving
onto the Prairies at an alarming rate, and, as they moved westward, they displaced
Aboriginals from their land. The buffalo had virtually disappeared from this region
as well, and other big game animals like deer were not as plentiful. More and
more Aboriginals were now facing starvation. On top of this, diseases like smallpox
were decimating Aboriginal populations.
a famous Cree chief, refused to sign the treaty at first since he felt that the
government was trying to grab land from his nation unfairly. He is quoted as saying:
is our land! It isn't just a piece of pemmican to be cut off and given in little
pieces back to us. It is ours and we will take what we want."
December 1882, however, he had no choice. The buffalo were so scarce his people
were starving. As the best hope for survival lay in accepting government money
and resources, he allowed his people to be moved onto reserve land.
Treaty Number Six was unique as it was the
only treaty of its sort with an implied provision for health care. It allows a
medicine chest to be kept in the home of an Indian
agent for the use and benefit of the Aboriginals. Some Aboriginals have interpreted
this provision as extending to all who signed the Numbered Treaties. It is also
interpreted by some as an promise by the federal government to provide free health
care to every Aboriginal person in Canada - forever.
Treaty Number Seven, 1877
This treaty was signed by a number of Aboriginal bands,
including the Blackfoot
and Stoney Indians, among
others, in present-day southern Alberta. It is very similar to the ones that preceded
it, with some exceptions. There was no health care provision as there had been
in Treaty Number Six; however, these bands were successful in negotiating
for more money and supplies than in previous treaty negotiations. This would be
the last Numbered Treaty signed between the government and the Aboriginals until
Other Interesting or Important Documents: