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."


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.

Other Note

In the 1870s, the Government of Canada negotiated various treaties with Aboriginal peoples of the Prairies. One of the crucial elements promised in these treaties was land that would be reserved for the Aboriginal peoples already living there. And yet, less than a dozen years into the new century, almost a quarter of those valuable reserves that were considered essential to enable them to make the 'transition' to an agricultural economy had been surrendered back to the government. Many of the land surrenders that occurred on the Prairies raise arguments regarding the validity of the surrender. Aboriginal communities often allege non-compliance with the Indian Act surrender procedures, being pressured to surrender under duress, undue influence on behalf of Indian agents and government officials, unconscionably, lack of informed consent, and breach of fiduciary obligations in the taking of the surrender itself and in the management and administration of the land and the proceeds after the surrender. Over 100 surrenders were obtained on the Prairies between 1896 and 1911, making way for western expansion and an influx of immigrants. Although government officials often argued that Aboriginal peoples had "more land than they could use," many of these bands had experienced population loss due to epidemics - a population loss that was in part a product of the government's refusal to provide promised farming implements or food rations. The government orchestrated in creating the conditions leading to population loss on reserves, and subsequently took advantage of the situation to gain reserve land from Indian bands. In addition, many of the nations that surrendered their land were in difficult financial situations, and were often indebted to the government. The sale of land was seen as a means to pay back their debts or to purchase much needed food, clothing and farming implements.----------------Evidence collected through various Indian Claims Commission inquiries suggest the land was often bought from the bands at a cost much lower than what it was resold at. For example, the government would offer the band $1.50/acre, and would then sell it to farmers or land developers for $3.00/acre. The government took advantage of the fact that the bands were in need of money as established by the government, and knowingly offered them less than what the land was worth. Most bands had little experience with real estate, land development and speculation, while government officials were well aware of the factors affecting land value and were well connected to the business community. In addition, the notions of private property and land division differed greatly from Indigenous philosophies of communal land use, ownership and responsibility. As with the signing of the numbered Treaties, historians and Aboriginal community members have argued that cultural differences and power imbalances allowed for confusion and abuse in the processes of land surrender. As the bison populations were dwindling, many nations were facing starvation, and entering into treaties was deemed by some leaders to be the best solution to avoid the complete loss of their peoples. In this situation, government officials were in a position of power to negotiate treaty terms that were favourable to the Canadian state, although many Aboriginal leaders did press the officials for better terms for their bands, and requested additional farming tools, schools and medicine chests. However, the government's failure to abide by the terms of the legally binding treaties was not uncommon; many bands never received promised farming implements / livestock, and food rations. Denied the opportunity and the proper tools to succeed in developing agricultural economies, many bands faced hardship and starvation as they once again negotiated the terms to land surrenders with government officials. As settler interest in western lands increased, the federal government responded with a series of Orders in Council and amendments to the Indian Act which increased the government’s control over reserve affairs and facilitated the surrender of treaty reserves. One such measure occurred in 1911 when an amendment to the Indian Act allowed the government to take reserve land without consent when the reserve was in or near a town of more than 8000 people, or where the land was needed for public purposes (please see database entry entitled: Laurier Government Gives Itself Power to Claim Reserve Land for further information on this subject). Although more research is required regarding this subject, some evidence suggests personal interest of Department officials played a part in generating demand for the surrender of Indian lands. The 1915 Ferguson Commission was appointed by the federal government to investigate Indian Affairs officials who were suspected of conflicts of interest in their dealings with reserve land surrenders. Please see database entry entitled: Ferguson Royal Commission for further information on this subject.-------------------------Finally, as aforementioned, Aboriginal leaders and historians have pointed to issues pertaining to consent in the context of reserve land surrenders. The Indian Act of 1876 specified that consent for reserve land surrender had to be obtained from the "majority of the male members of the band at the full age of twenty-one years, at a meeting or council thereof summoned for that purpose according to their rules." Although it was clear from the Indian Act that a majority vote was required, there was much debate within government circles as to whether the “majority” referred to in the Act was a majority of only the qualified members attending the surrender meeting or an absolute majority of all eligible members of the band. Consequently, many land surrenders were premised on loosely interpreted consent rules. Evidence gathered through various Indian Claims Commissions suggests government officials employed coercive measures when negotiating reserve land surrenders. On occasion, cash was offered to band members to bribe them into accepting proposed land surrenders. In addition, as some deliberations lasted several days, and votes were taken multiple times, instances occurred where a majority of band members were absent or had left the negotiations, allowing the government to secure a vote in favour of land surrender. -------------------------The loss of reserve land had many detrimental consequences for Indigenous communities, who were already faced with traditional land base dispossession as European settlement increased rapidly on the Prairies. Despite the professed goals of the federal government to assist Aboriginal people in their transition to agricultural economies, many bands were left with little to no arable land, as the best fertile land was often part of the surrender. Evidence collected throughout various Indian Claims Commission inquiries also found that several bands failed to receive the payment amounts promised by the government, if any payment at all. The loss of large parcels of land also meant a reduced access to resources and traditional hunting grounds, loss of identity and cultural disconnection. It also signified a loss of self-sufficiency and autonomy. As fertile lands were surrendered, many bands struggled to provide sufficient food for their populations, increasing their dependency on the federal government. Federal economic policies such as an 1881 amendment to the Indian Act prohibiting the sale of agricultural products by Indian bands without the consent of the Indian Agent greatly contributed to the hardship many bands faced. Please see database entry entitled Indian Act Amendment: Regulations of sale of agricultural products for further information on this subject. To conclude, in the past 30 to 40 years, many Indigenous communities on the Prairies have undertaken negotiations with the federal government to obtain compensation, either land, financial or both, as a means to redress government wrongdoings in the cases of reserve land surrenders. The Indian Specific Claims Commission, which has investigated many reserve land surrenders in Canada, was established as a temporary independent advisory body authorized to review specific claims rejected by the government and to issue non-binding decisions.

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.”
Rural or Urban
Start Date
Sub Event
Land Surrender Provisions, Increased Distribution of Reserve Land Purchase Price, Inclusion of Indian Advancement Act