1850s - 1914

illustration depicting Natives negotiating Manitoba treaty of 1871

When the framers of Confederation met to negotiate the shape of the new Dominion, no Aboriginal people were at the conference tables and Aboriginal issues were scarcely on the minds of the participants. In the end, the British North America Act of 1867 contained only a single line about Native peoples...


1914 - 1945

Photo showing some of the File Hills Indian Colony volunteers

The First World War brought a new set of challenges to Aboriginal people in Canada as a series of policy decisions indicated that, once again, the interests of First Nations were clearly secondary to the perceived national interest. Although some...


1945 - 2000

Residential schools operated in Canada until 1996.

Since the early twentieth century, many Aboriginal communities in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island had been struggling with desperate poverty. A smallpox epidemic in the 1890s and a major migration to the United States had redu...



At the end of the twentieth century, Canadians find themselves caught in a dilemma over Aboriginal affairs. We have inherited a legal structure and bureaucracy that is rooted in the policies of the nineteenth century, with their racist assumptions about "primitive" people that most Canadians no longer find palatable. In some regions, we have a legacy of treaties that are interpreted by Natives to mean one thing and by non-Natives to mean another. And we have the thorny central issue of Aboriginal rights. Do Native people have special rights because they were here before the European colonizers? Is our society to be based on the philosophy of equal rights for individuals, or on the philosophy of different rights for different groups or collectivities? How can we best negotiate the answers to these questions?

Clearly, the issue of future government policy for Aboriginal affairs is one that strikes at some fundamental questions of the nature of Canadian society.

Further Readings

Carter, Sarah. Lost Harvests: Prairie Reserve Indian Farmers and Government Policy. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1990.

Cole, Douglas, and Ira Chaikin. An Iron Hand upon the People: The Law against the Potlatch on the Northwest Coast. Vancouver: Douglas and McIntyre, 1990.

Dickason, Olive P. Canada’s First Nations: A History of Founding Peoples from Earliest Times. 2d ed. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Getty, Ian, and Antoine Lussier, eds. As Long as the Sun Shines and the Water Flows: A Reader in Canadian Native Studies. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1983.

Miller, J.R. Skyscrapers Hide the Heavens: A History of Indian-White Relations in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1989.

Miller, J.R. Shingwauk’s Vision: A History of Native Residential Schools. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1996.

Miller, J.R. Canada and the Aboriginal Peoples, 1867-1927. Ottawa: Canadian Historical Association, 1997.

Pettipas, Katherine. Severing the Ties that Bind: Government Repression of Indigenous Religious Ceremonies on the Prairies. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1994.

Titley, Brian. A Narrow Vision: Duncan Campbell Scott and the Administration of Indian Affairs in Canada. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1986.

Written By

Kerry Abel
Adjunct Professor
Carleton University
This is a brief description of Kerry Abel


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