The same historians who described the period from Confederation to the Second World War as part of the era of the Native peoples' irrelevance often labelled what happened in the later twentieth century as Native peoples' re-emergence into public prominence. Among Canadians of different backgrounds, a growing consciousness of Aboriginal peoples developed. The political movements and economic developments described elsewhere were a major reason for this phenomenon. The previously explained population expansion was also important to Native peoples' greater prominence. However, other factors affected the re-emergence of the Native peoples as major players on the Canadian stage from the 1950s. For example, non-Native Canadians were fascinated by the growing pride of Native communities and the social and cultural manifestations of that enhanced self-confidence.

Indian Act, 1951

Despite calls for change from Native organizations, the 1951 Indian Act did not substantially revise the inveterate assimilationist bent of Indian legislation. The Act did, however, lift bans on the Sun Dance and Potlatch and eliminated the involuntary enfranchisement clause (loss of Treaty status without consent).

1 5  G E O R G E  V I .

CHAP. 29

An Act respecting Indians.

[Assented to 20th June, 1951.]

HIS Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate and House of Commons of Canada, enacts as follows:


1. This Act may be cited as The Indian Act. [131]



108. (1) On the report of the Minister that an Indian has applied for enfranchisement and that in his opinion the Indian

(a) is of the full age of twenty-one years,

(b) is capable of assuming the duties and responsibilities of citizenship, and

(c) when enfranchised, will be capable of supporting himself and his dependants, the Governor in Council may by order declare that the Indian and his wife and minor unmarried children are enfranchised.

(2) On the report of the Minister that an Indian woman married a person who is not an Indian, the Governor in Council may by order declare that the woman is enfranchised as of the date of her marriage.

(3) Where, in the opinion of the Minister, the wife of an Indian is living apart from her husband, the names of his wife and his minor children who are living with the wife shall not be included in an order under subsection one that enfranchises the Indian unless the wife has applied for enfranchisement, but where the Governor in Council is satisfied that such wife is no longer living apart from her husband, the Governor in Council may by order declare that the wife and the minor children are enfranchised.

(4) A person is not enfranchised unless his name appears in an order of enfranchisement made by the Governor in Council.

109. A person with respect to whom an order for enfranchisement is made under section one hundred and eight shall, from the date thereof, be deemed not to be an Indian within the meaning of this Act or any other statue or law.

111.(1) Where the Minister reports that a band has applied for enfranchisement, and has submitted a plan for the disposal or division of the funds of the band and the lands in the reserve, and in his opinion the band is capable of managing its own affairs as a municipality or part of a municipality, the Governor in Council may by order approve the plan, declare that all the members of the band are enfranchised, either as of the date of the order or such later date as may be fixed in the order, and may make regulations for carrying the plan and the provisions of this section into effect.

(2) An order for enfranchisement may not be made under subsection one unless more than fifty per cent of the electors of the band signify, at the meeting of the band called for the purpose, their willingness to become enfranchised under this section, and their approval of the plan.

(3) The Governor in Council may, for the purpose of giving effect to this section, authorize the Minister to enter into an agreement with a province or a municipality, or both, upon such terms as may be agreed upon by the Minister and the province or municipality, or both.

(4) Without res tricting the generality of subsection three, an agreement made thereunder may provide for financial assistance to be given to the province or the municipality or both to assist in the support of indigent, infirm or aged persons to whom the agreement applies, and such financial assistance, or any part thereof, shall, if the Minister so directs, be paid out of moneys of the band, and any such financial assistance not paid out of moneys of the band shall be paid out of moneys appropriated by Parliament.

The Indian Act, Statutes of Canada 1951, c. 29.

Read more

The so-called cultural revival movement that occurred among the Aboriginal populations of Canada was an important component of this phenomenon. For example, the powwow movement that initially blossomed in Western Canada eventually involved most of the central and western portions of the United States and Canada. In the latter country, the 1951 repeal of the Indian Act's prohibition on dances that involved giving property away or mutilating the body opened the way for public celebrations of such ceremonials as the Thirst Dance and Sun Dance.

George Wetaltuk, Inuit carver, Cape Hope Islands, QC, 1949

George Wetaltuk Carving Ivory, Cape Hope Islands, QC, 1949.

The superb craftsmanship of Inuit sculptures have made them a highly desirable item among art collectors in North America and Europe.
NAC (PA-110864, photo by S.J. Bailey).

Traditional Inuit Game, Yellowknife, NT, Mar. 1970.

Traditional Inuit games were an important element in the First Arctic Games.
NAC (PA-116022, photo by D. Paterson).
Local festivals evolved into stops on an expanding circuit of weekend powwows that grew dramatically through the 1970s and 1980s. These gatherings, which were also social occasions, were the sites of colourful competitions in a variety of dance categories, contests in which dancing prowess and the magnificence of participants' costumes might both be judged. For a growing number of families, regular participation in the successive stops on the "powwow circuit" has come to dominate their summers. Also remarkable is the way that interest in these ceremonial observations has extended beyond the Aboriginal communities: increasing numbers of non-Native observers and media are attracted to the colourful celebrations. The Métis, too, have developed celebrations of their rituals. For example, the annual Back to Batoche gathering in Saskatchewan each July and Winterfest, a mid-winter celebration in Winnipeg, have become highly popular. Native political organizations and the Government of Canada have developed sports events that grew out of Aboriginal ceremonialism. These include annual Aboriginal and Arctic games. At both events, sports contests embrace both specifically indigenous feats, such as high-kicking events among the Inuit, and southern pursuits, such as hockey.

Parallel ceremonial and cultural developments occurred on the Pacific coast after the 1951 repeal of the ban on the Potlatch. On the northwest coast, as on the Prairies, legislative prohibitions never stopped the observances completely. However, after the 1951 amendment, the holding of Potlatches became more open and frequent in the 1970s, and the raising of totem poles for commemorative purposes also began to occur. Closely related to this cultural revival in British Columbia was a concerted campaign to repatriate a large quantity of Potlatch regalia and artifacts. The state seized the items after an enormous Potlatch in 1922 and distributed them to various museums. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Kwagiutl communities from whom regalia had been confiscated or purchased pressed museums and the federal government for the return of their objects. Eventually, the National Museum of Man (now the Canadian Museum of Civilization) and the Royal Ontario Museum returned their items, and the government agreed to do so provided a museum was constructed to house the returned treasures. Since the bands at Cape Mudge and Alert Bay could not agree on a single location, two museums were constructed. Three generations after the Southern Kwagiutl lost the Potlatch regalia during an era of government repression of their culture, they ended up celebrating and exhibiting it in a more extended way. The timing and the nature of these repatriations on the Pacific coast were symbolic of the greater assertiveness and cultural revival of First Nations generally in Canada.

Photo of Native girls in a sewing class, Indian Residential School, Resolution, NT, n.d.

Sewing Class, Indian Residential School, Resolution, NT, n.d.

Industrial schools taught female Native students the domestic skills they needed to gain employment in Euro-Canadian society. The limited skill set reflected gender and racial assumptions.
NAC (PA-043181).

Anglican Indian School at Elkhorn, MB, 1942.

In this film clip from The Western Film 1942, First Nations children, dressed in their finest clothing, are loaded into a truck to see the visting Bishop Carrington of Quebec. Run by religious organizations, Native schools were a primary means of instilling the values of Euro-Canadian society into Native children. Above all, they were designed to assimilate Aboriginal youth into Canadian culture.

Concurrent with this cultural revival, organizations of First Nations pressed for and obtained greater control of schooling for the young of their communities. Since at least the 1830s, the question of access to schooling occupied many Native leaders. They saw that education would provide the skills needed to succeed in a world dominated by the Euro-Canadians. For a long time, churches and government, institutions that believed that assimilation through education was what was best for Native peoples, ignored this desire for an education system that would not denigrate Native identity. From the 1970s, the desire to obtain culturally healthy schooling for Native youths has been expressed in two related processes. One part of this educational thrust was a demand from First Nations for greater control of their children's schools, an effort that resulted in a 1973 agreement with the federal government. Under this agreement, the government adopted a policy of "Indian control of Indian education." Since then, especially in the four Western provinces, the administration of schools has steadily devolved to bands and tribal councils. Nonetheless, a significant proportion of Aboriginal students still attend publicly administered institutions. While the results of this shift in school administration are not yet clear, Aboriginal students are certainly staying in school longer and enjoying greater academic success.

Written By

J.R. Miller
History Professor Emeritus
University of Saskatchewan


Powered by ChronoForms -