This generation of activists faced many obstacles. Their effort to express democratically the will of their peoples often ran into resistance from the Indian Department, from the police, and also, sometimes, from the Christian churches or even from their own family members. Cree activist Harold Cardinal recalled that, in some instances, Indian agents "openly threatened to punish people who persisted in organizational effort." Or the agents might delay relief payments or rations in order to demonstrate "what way the wind was blowing."

1927 - Prohibition on Fundraising by Natives and Native Organizations

The growth of organizations devoted to political activism among Native peoples spurred a 1927 Indian Act amendment that required a permit for the solicitation of funds for any legal claim pressed by Natives. The superintendent general gained the power to issue such licences. The official rationalization for the practice emphasized its protective aspects-such as guarding Natives from unscrupulous lawyers and outside agitators-but other motives were also present. It was, in fact, aimed more directly at people like Frederick Loft and organizations like the League of Indians, the Six Nations Council, and the Allied Tribes of B.C. that had launched legal action against the government. The legislation impeded the pursuit of these claims, undermined efforts to gain nationwide support by restricting the collection of funds that made travel and gatherings possible, and permitted harassment of and charges against the individuals involved in these organizations. These provisions, which were repealed only in the 1951 revisions of the Indian Act, inhibited the growth of a national Native organization.

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When this kind of pressure failed to stop the organizers and activists, the Canadian government turned to the power of the law. In 1927, the Indian Act was amended to make it illegal to raise any money or hire any lawyers in pursuit of an Indian grievance or claim. Travel, research, and even postage stamps could not be purchased without the approval of the Indian Department. As Harold Cardinal later put it, "These first leaders were genuine heroes. They had guts and they needed them. They had no money, they had no access to skilled and trusted advisers; they were harassed by the white government officials and the police and they were doubted by their own people. Yet they fought on."16

Of course, this generation of activists had different ideas about the issues and potential solutions. One of the central points of contention was whether the emphasis should be on Aboriginal and treaty rights or on citizenship and equality of opportunity in relations with non-Aboriginal peoples and governments. Those who sought enfranchised citizenship for Registered Indians included F.O. Loft and John Callihoo of the Michel band near Edmonton. Loft and Callihoo believed that full citizenship would open the doors to opportunity for Aboriginal peoples and end racial discrimination. The Reverend Peter Kelly in British Columbia also promoted these ideas. Kelly, a United Church minister, descended from an important line of Haida aristocrats. He combined lobbying efforts to bring about equal citizenship for Indian people in Canada with a passionate advocacy of some sort of resolution to the Indian land question in British Columbia.

Photo of Indian Association of Alberta representatives in front of Parliament.

Indian Association of Alberta representatives in front of Parliament.

Left to right: Mark E. Steinhauer, Saddle Lake; Ed Hunter, Morley; Albert Lightning, Hobbema; John Callihoo, Villeneuve; Frank Cardinal, Driftpile. The Indian Association of Alberta was founded in 1939.
GA (NA-4212-41).

Others, like John Tootoosis of Saskatchewan and Andy Paull of B.C., saw enfranchisement as a trap. Tootoosis could point to John Callihoo's reserve near Edmonton, which disappeared in the 1950s when all its remaining members became enfranchised. Instead, Tootoosis and Paull sought protection for Native communities and identity in special status under the law. Tootoosis drew on the organizational strength of the Queen Victoria's Treaty Protection Association, a group with its political centre of gravity at Battleford, Saskatchewan. Between 1927 and 1951, when section 141 of the Indian Act criminalized the raising of money for political activity among Registered Indians, Paull still managed to maintain and expand his network of connections through his work as a coach of Indian hockey and lacrosse teams. While political activism had been made illegal, sport provided one of the main vehicles for the continuing activism of Aboriginal politicians during the Indian Department's most dictatorial era.

If John Tootoosis and Andy Paull staked out the middle ground in the internal debate among Aboriginal activists in the years between the wars, Jules Sioui of the Huron reserve in Loretteville, Quebec, wrote and talked in terms of full independence for Indian nations in North America. The expansiveness of his vision is suggested in the contents of a pamphlet Sioui issued while on a hunger strike over conscription during the Second World War. Sioui wrote, "We must obtain our national independence and the right to make use of our own currency. We must obtain vast territories, in order to administer our own natural, political and economic resources. Barring that we will count for nothing and we will go to nothing."

Jules Sioui on Native Issues, Nov. 1946

Native activist Jules Sioui made an eloquent statement before the Royal Commission on Indian Affairs concerning the injustices that the government had directed towards the First Nations. Among other things, he claimed that the federal government had not lived up to its treaty promises, dating back to the Royal Proclamation (1763).

...

MR. JULES SIOUI: Honourable Senators and deputies, ladies and gentlemen [sic], brothers and sisters: I know that we are now at the corner of the road, the four corners of the road and we have to know how to make our decision in which direction we are going to go and what will be happening.

In early life before the white man came to this continent the Indian nations were the only people on this continent. They were governed by themselves and had freedom as they pleased. They have been created by God and understand how life gives a chance to them. You will excuse me if I am not very perfect in English.

THE CHAIRMAN: There is just one thing if I may say so. We would like you to tell us what the complaints are. We have had complaints about the schooling and other things. Suppose we give you another ten minutes. Would that be in order? You see, we are a fact finding body. We are here to find the facts.

MR. JULES SIOUI: I want to know if you are really honourably coming here in your inquiry or if you are not.

THE CHAIRMAN: If you have any facts tell us.

MR. JULES SIOUI: It is a fact about the historical rights of the nation. Further you do remember this continent has been invaded and we are still the slave of the invader since they have come in our country. ...

...

With the administration of the Indians the way it is for very many years now we are only the slaves of a law and we have no chance to show that we are a nation, that we were a nation to sign the peace treaty with His Majesty the King in 1763 and we had great big treaties in 1873 when they promised exemption from military service, exemption of tax and lots of promises, but now today nothing is carried out. We try to tell this to the Canadian government before that the Indians have such rights and they have to carry out their promises and they laugh at us. ...

...

My brothers, I want to recommend this. I am glad and I am thanking you that you allow me to speak a few words in this meeting because it is creating a light to give you a chance to understand what is t he [sic] question of the Indians and their situation. The Indians are very willing to work, to make their living by themselves. They are able to work and they want to work but as long as we have a chance to do our work as the Indian does. The Indian wants to go hunting, trapping and fishing. They have to respect the provincial law and they cannot have their rights. That thing has got to be respected. I am asking you, I am telling you to take our recommendation that the Royal Proclamation covers all the rights of the Indian nation in this country.

...

More than that today the federal government are taking a great step and saying they want to revise this Indian Act. They don't mean anything good to the Indian people. They wouldn't do anything good. It is just like the same thing done before.

...

The Indians have been controlled by the federal government since so many years, and they want to revise the Indian Act, but they want to be boss over them again as long as they want. The Royal Proclamation gives the privilege to the Indian nations to conduct their own affairs by their will; they wish to have their own national Indian government with their own constitutional law and to have Indian people at the head of their nation to conduct their own affairs, but to be friends, with you white people.

...

I have some French blood and some Scotch blood in me, but my name is a pure Indian name, and I am feeling for my brothers and all my people in North America here. I am saying for the Indian people what all Indians feel for themselves.

...

Honourable ministers and deputies: what I want to make you understand is this. In your Commission, as a request I want to ask you to give your best attention to the Royal Proclamations and these treaties and I am sure that you will not be able to refuse the Indians their full rights and privileges as long as the sun shines and the water runs.

...

NAC, Indian Department Records, RG 10, vol. 11209, file 3, Royal Commission on Indian Affairs, Rivière-du-Loup, 4 Nov. 1946, 916-923.

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Jules Sioui and his colleague William Commanda from the Maniwake reserve in Quebec had many Native followers in Central Canada. Sioui also recognized the wisdom of establishing political connections with John Tootoosis in Saskatchewan and Andy Paull in British Columbia. Both Sioui and Paull were devout Roman Catholics who received some help and encouragement in their political work from their friends and colleagues in the clergy. In 1944, the Paull-Sioui-Tootoosis axis of co-operation shaped a meeting in Ottawa where the North American Indian Brotherhood was founded. This organization received tacit federal recognition when the Minister of Indian Affairs visited the proceedings. Not since the Department's co-operation with the Grand General Indian Council of Ontario in the 1870s and 1880s had the Indian Department afforded any kind of formal recognition to Indian political organizations beyond the band level. In return for this recognition, however, the Indian Department demanded that Jules Sioui not be included in the organization. Sioui reluctantly agreed to withdraw, leaving the more moderate Andy Paull to lead the organization.

Christian religion played a significant role in this phase of organizational formation in Indian Country. Like the English and French languages taught in Canada's Indian residential schools, the growing influence of Christian religion created an important medium for widening networks of pan-Indian communication and network building. And, for some groups, and in particular those communities represented by the Grand Council of Mi'kmaqs in the Maritimes, Roman Catholicism provided a kind of shield to help withstand the powerful assimilative pressures centred in Canadian Protestantism.

The different denominations, however, also created new barriers between Native people. In British Columbia especially, Native political organizations tended to run along denominational lines, including the important organizations of Indian fishermen and cannery workers. And, of course, Christianity also provided a range of new issues for Indian peoples to engage, including, in particular, the growing influence of church-run schools.

Written By

Anthony J. Hall
Professor of Globalization Studies
University of Lethbridge

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