Indian Act Amendment


A 1906 amendment to the Indian Act, put in place under the Laurier government, allowed the government to distribute immediately to band members up to 50% of the purchase price of land, rather than the previous 10%. The rest was to be held in trust in a capital account for the band in question. The Indian Advancement Act was incorporated as Part II of the Indian Act. In regards to distribution of moneys owed from sale of lands, Section 70 of the Indian Act was amended to read: "The Governor in Council how, and in what manner, and by whom, the moneys arising from the disposal of Indian lands, or of property held or to be held in trust for Indians...or from any other source for the benefit of Indians...shall be invested from time to time, and how the payments or assistance to which the Indians are entitled shall be made or given; and he may provide for the general management of such moneys, and direct what percentage or proportion thereof shall be set apart, from time to time, to cover the cost of and incidental to the management of reserves, lands, property and moneys under the provisions of this Act, and may authorize and direct the expenditure of such moneys for surveys, for compensation to Indians for improvements or any interest they have in lands taken from them, for the construction or repairs of roads, bridges, ditches and watercourses on such reserves or lands, for the construction and repair of school buildings and charitable institutions, and by way of contribution to schools attended by such Indians."

This was an attempt by the federal government to further encourage Aboriginal groups to sell off portions of their reserve lands for settlement, as they would receive greater immediate financial benefit from the sale of their reserve lands. It also served to remove Indians from reserves next to a sizeable town. The inclusion of the Indian Advancement Act as part of the Indian Act created one overarching piece of legislation concerning Aboriginal people. With the amendment to section 70 of the Indian Act, monies owed to Indigenous peoples but held in trust were taken and used at the discretion of the government for what was perceived as improvement of reserves and Indigenous lives by construction and maintenance of schools, voluntary sector supports (charities), and local infrastructure such as roads, bridges, ditches and watercourses. Indigenous people were perceived as being socially and intellectually incapable of making these decisions on their own. The resultant loss of agency and autonomy had long-term consequences in terms of undermining their capacity to engage their decision-making skills in these areas. The building of government-authorized and church-run schools hastened the assimilative agenda. Voluntary sector supports such as charities became necessary as cycles of poverty became entrenched in Indigenous communities and previous cultural means of providing intra and inter-community financial support, such as the Potlatch, had become outlawed. During 1906 debates for the land surrender provision to be included in the Indian Act amendments of the same year, a speaker named R.S. Lake, a member of the North-West Territories Legislative Assembly, delivered his argument as to why the Crooked Lake reserve reduced in size. Pressure to open up nearby reserves for white settlement (Cowesses, Kahkewistahaw and Ochapawace) had begun as early as 1885, shortly after these bands had moved on to their allotted lands near Crooked Lake. Lake argued that “the people in that section are most anxious that a portion at any rate of that reserve should be placed on the market.” The anxiousness of the settlers was demonstrated by multiple petitions to Clifford Sifton, minister of the Department, asking him to at least open up a 3 mile strip along the southern edge of the reserve’s boundary. As such, the dominant EuroCanadian perspective was that the reserve was not being used to capacity and thus was not only hampering white settlement in the area, but was also placed next to the main line of the CPR, which cut off a great deal of business for the nearby towns of Whitewood and Broadview. As well, since the reserve’s use of the land did not conform to Eurocentric standards, which dictated that land existed to be “productive” (ie. cultivated through agriculture), it was being wasted by sitting idle and was decried as “worse than useless” by Broadview Justice of the Peace Thomas Evans. Lake believed that the amount of land available to the Indigenous people living on the reserve was far more than they could ever use, according to his own standards of what they were capable of cultivating for agricultural purposes, which belies an ignorance of Indigenous subsistence patterns and the volume of land needed to live off the land sustainably. He pronounced the supposed waste of land and obstruction to settlement to be a “great drawback to the progress of our country.” In the same debate, Mr. R.L. Borden acknowledged that western Canada was rapidly developing - it had indeed received an influx of approximately one million immigrants between the years of 1896 and 1905. In that case, Borden argued that it was the government’s responsibility to make every effort to bring about better conditions as far as the development of the white population was concerned. This prioritization of white settlement interests over any legal/treaty obligations to Indigenous peoples was echoed by Minister of the Interior Oliver, who noted that “it would never do to allow the possibility of constructing a railway to rest upon the good will of a body of men who have no interest whatever in its construction...there is a recognized public necessity in connection with a railroad which makes it proper that private rights should be to some extent overridden...of course the interests of the [white] people must come first, and if it becomes a question between the Indians and the whites, the interests of the whites will have to be provided the last resort legislation would be necessary.” This foreshadowed the inclusion of the land surrender provision in the Indian Act amendments of that year. During the same debate, Mr. Fowler also noted that it was not in the best interests of the Indians, morally speaking, for them to be so close to the cities as they had a habit of picking up more of the vices of the whites than their virtues: “Moreover it is not particularly good for the morals of the Indians themselves that they should be so close to the towns as they are in these cases. As we know, the Indians are not so strong to resist temptation as are the whites; they more easily acquire the vices of the whites than they do their virtues. Of course, the rights and interests of the Indians must be considered and safeguarded by the Indian Department; but it would be a very important matter for the people of these communities which I know, and of which therefore I speak, for the department to take steps to remove these Indians from reserves, paying them a proper and reasonable price for their lands….I think this is a matter that might be well looked into.” By presuming to paternalistically act on behalf of the best interests of the local Indigenous people by opening up their reserve land and moving them back from the town site, as well as providing the opportunity for the destitute individuals on these reserves to receive much-needed income from the sale of the lands, the government was able to maintain the appearance of acting in good faith while also opening the area up for white settlement. It should be noted that in an 1886 correspondence between Indian Agent McDonald and Indian Commissioner David Laird, McDonald stated "the Indians will be giving up far more valuable lands than they will be receiving." McDonald reiterated these sentiments in an 1891 correspondence to the Superintendent General of Indian Affairs: “although I am most anxious that the views of the people of Broadview should be met, still from my position as Indian Agent I am bound in the interests of the Indians to point out the difficulties in the way, which are tersely these. If these lands are surrendered by the Indians, no reasonable money value can recompense them, as their Hay lands would be completely gone, and this would necessitate no further increase of stock, which would of course be fatal to their further quick advancement, and would be deplorable, and the only alternative that I can see is to give them Hay lands of equal quantity and value immediately adjacent to the Reserves interested, which I do not think is possible now.” Chief Kahkewistahaw himself is recorded, in a 1902 letter between Commissioner Laird and Department Secretary J.D. McLean, as having told the representatives from the Department: “I will tell you what I think. I was glad when I heard that you were coming to see us. When we made the treaty at Qu'Appelle you told me to choose out land for myself and now you come to speak to me here. We were told to take this land and we are going to keep it. Did I not tell you a long time ago that you would come some time, that you would come and ask me to sell you this land back again, but I told you at that time, No.”

Revised Statues of Canada, 1886 (49 Vic, cap. 43), sec. 70. p. 669 Revised Statutes of Canada 1906 (6 Edward VII, cap. 81), sec. 89, p. 1469; Canada. House of Commons. Debates, 30 March 1906.

Sub Event
Land Surrender Provisions, Increased Distribution of Reserve Land Purchase Price, Inclusion of Indian Advancement Act