While Saskatchewan proved to be a major hothouse of experimentation in government-Aboriginal relations, Andy Paull patiently continued to conduct his organizational work through the North American Indian Brotherhood. Unfortunately, the continentalist ambitions announced in the organization's title lay well beyond the bounds of its very limited resources.

Photo of Powwow, Winnipeg, MB, 1979.

Powwow, Winnipeg, MB, 1979.

Powwows have became a forum for Native peoples from across North America to come together to express their traditional cultures and to explore common ground.
UM (PC 18, 18-2932-35).

A somewhat different approach to transcending the boundaries of Canada and the United States animated Lawrence Twoaxe, a Mohawk from Kahnawake, Quebec. Working from Oakland, California, he sought to forge what he called the League of Nations of Indians in North America, an organization modelled on the internationalist ideals of the original League of Nations. In the 1930s, the police and the Indian Department took this initiative seriously enough, especially in its Manitoba branch, to endeavour to put a stop to it.

Other activists chose to focus their efforts within Canada's boundaries. In 1961, the National Indian Council of Canada (NIC) was founded in Regina as something of a counterpart to the National Congress of American Indians that had been formed in the United States in 1944. The NIC served both cultural and political purposes. It organized Indian art shows, student exchanges, and an Indian princess pageant as well as played an important role in helping to organize and popularize the celebrations that came to be known as powwows. Innovations such as these proved to be very important in opening channels of cultural experimentation and evolution that brought people together who had previously had little contact.

1960 - National Indian Council

One of the goals of the ill-fated League of Indians had been to establish a national organization for Indians, but political, economic, and geographical impediments thwarted this ambition. In 1960, the National Indian Council was formed, successfully assuming the mantle that had proven too much for the league. The National Indian Council owed much to Prairie Indian leaders and the organizations that provided them political experience, in particular the Federation of Saskatchewan Indians.

In the 1960s, the organization engaged in little overt political action, focusing instead on cultural activities, an approach that culminated in its exhibition at Expo 67 in Montreal. In 1968, despite, or perhaps because, of its low-key approach to politics, the organization split along lines that have long characterized the dissension in Canadian Native ranks-Treaty Indians, largely from the West, on the one hand, and the Métis and non-Status Indians, on the other. Treaty Indians preferred to fight battles based on treaty rights, whereas the others, who lacked a formal government-recognized documentation of their status, advocated a course emphasizing inherent Aboriginal rights. This difference led to the disintegration of the National Indian Council and the creation of two separate successor bodies-the National Indian Brotherhood and the Canadian Métis Society.

The National Indian Brotherhood adopted a highly political strategy that had been honed in its battle against the White Paper. The NIB also led a vigorous attempt to wrest control of Indian education from the Department of Indian Affairs and to place it where it belonged-in Indian hands. The drive for self-government was also a major concern for the organization. During the struggles over the patriation of the Constitution in the early 1980s, the National Indian Brotherhood transformed itself into the Assembly of First Nations. The organization's new name was viewed as a more accurate reflection of the real position of Native peoples in Canada in that it presented them as the equals of the two officially recognized "founding peoples" of Canada, the English and the French.

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The NIC also became an important vehicle for political struggles that reframed old ideological divisions in Indian Country within the context of a rapidly changing society. The most legendary political fight took place in the mid-1960s between the NIC's president, William Wuttunee, and his challenger for the council's top job, Kahn-Tineta Horn. Wuttunee was a Cree lawyer educated at McGill University and the University of Saskatchewan. He had worked in the Saskatchewan government as an influential advisor for the Douglas regime. In later years, he would also work for the Trudeau Liberals, writing a book, Ruffled Feathers, to promote the new Indian policy proposed in 1969.

A Mohawk activist from Kahnawake, Kahn-Tineta Horn was pictured often in the news. She was a fashion model, an NIC princess, and an outspoken proponent of Indian sovereignty. The media made her an icon of glamour and controversy in a decade when fashionable Montreal reached its zenith. In later years, Kahn-Tineta Horn would advocate the philosophy of Louis Hall (reviver of the Warriors Society) and take a prominent place in 1990 among the Mohawk Warriors at Oka. Horn found a prime target in the highly polished William Wuttunee, characterizing him as an "apple" (red on the outside, but white on the inside) and hence a sellout and a collaborator. She presented him as being complicit with all the diabolical forces seeking to colonize Aboriginal peoples.

Wuttunee, who was supported by John Tootoosis, prevailed over the outspoken Horn in their electoral showdown. The harshness of the battle, however, pointed to many bitter debates to come. By the late 1960s, the stresses within the NIC made it unviable. One of the most difficult tensions was between those individuals whose identity as Treaty Indians was accepted by the Indian Department and those whose ancestors had not signed a treaty or whose names did not appear on government band lists. In particular, deep divisions emerged between the Métis and the Indian organizations in Western Canada. Some politicians, like Joe Dion, were able to move politically between the Indian and Métis branches of their families and constituencies. Generally speaking, however, the problems faced by Métis have been so different from those faced by the Registered Indians that different streams of activism have represented their issues.

1970 - The Native Council of Canada

In 1970, the various Prairie Métis organizations amalgamated in the Native Council of Canada, giving Métis and non-Status Indians a national voice for the first time. The council applied pressure to the government to include Métis in programs open to other Aboriginal peoples. It also focused on Métis land claims and constitutional concerns. The council's most significant victory was the inclusion of Métis people in the definition of Aboriginal peoples outlined in section 35 of the 1982 Constitution. In 1983, a split between Métis  and non-Status Indians resulted in the Métis leaving the Native Council of Canada to form the Metis National Council. From this forum, the Métis continued their constitutional battles and were rewarded with the creation of the Metis Nation Accord as part of the doomed Charlottetown Accord of 1992. The Native Council of Canada has subsequently recast itself as the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples.

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In 1968, the NIC split apart. From this division emerged the National Indian Brotherhood (NIB) to represent Registered Indians and the Native Council of Canada (NCC) to represent Métis and the so-called non-Status Indians. The pressures and forces that gave rise to these organizations at the national level tended also to percolate through the politics of Aboriginal affairs at the provincial or regional levels. In 1969, for instance, the Union of Nova Scotia Indians was created to join a host of similar agencies including the Union of Ontario Indians, the Manitoba Indian Brotherhood, the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, the Council of Yukon Indians, and the Indian Brotherhood of the Northwest Territories.

Written By

Anthony J. Hall
Professor of Globalization Studies
University of Lethbridge


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