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Indian Act Overview

For most of the 1800 and 1900s, the government treated First Nations people as wards of the state. This meant that First Nations people did not have the same rights as other people and had to follow different rules. The Canadian government wanted the First Nations people to give up their culture, language, and beliefs. The Canadian government wanted First Nations peoples to live and act just like the British settlers. This is called ‘assimilation’.

A group of four illustrated First Nations children have short haircuts and European clothes on.

First Nations children were forced to dress in European clothes and cut their hair.

Canadians have been breaking their promises to Indigenous people for more than a century.

The government created the Indian Act in 1876. There were many laws that affected only First Nations people and those laws were combined into the Indian Act. Many of the policies in the act were designed to assimilate First Nations people and they caused a great deal of suffering. All First Nations people continue to be affected because of the Indian Act. The Indian Act doesn’t apply to Inuit or Métis. The Indian Act still exists today, although some policies have changed. 

The front page of the Indian Act from 1906.

The Indian Act was written a long time ago and some of its policies are still in place today.