People of Aboriginal ancestry have had little to cheer about for much of the period from Confederation in 1867 to the end of the twentieth century. Although Native peoples were a significant factor in Canadian society in the early years after 1867, they soon faded from the thoughts and concerns of Canadians.

1867 - Confederation

When the Dominion of Canada was formed in 1867, the Aboriginal peoples of the new nation were made a federal rather than a provincial responsibility, thus continuing the legal nature of their administration as wards of the government rather than as citizens of the state. The single reference to Natives in the British North America Act came in section 91(24) wherein "Indians and lands reserved for the Indians" were designated a federal responsibility. Reserve lands were considered apart from Crown lands, so the reserve system inherited from the traditions of British administration prevailed, as did the notion of using treaties to negotiate land surrenders. Once again, the Aboriginal population had no influence upon this shift in administrative formalities that would affect their future in such a profound manner.

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Indeed, they languished in neglect and oversight for many decades. Only over the last half-century, since approximately the Second World War (1939-1945), have the many and diverse communities of Aboriginal ancestry slowly regained their prominence in the national life of the country and in the consciousness of Canadians at large.

Written By

J.R. Miller
History Professor Emeritus
University of Saskatchewan

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