Indian Act Amendment: Reserve Residents to Work on Public Roads

Amendments to the Indian Act in 1898 allowed those living on reserves who were not engaged in agriculture to be recruited to work on public roads. It also allowed the Superintendent General the ability to dispose of grass and timber on reserve land without band surrender. Further power over band funds was also bestowed on the Governor-in-Council.


PAC, RG10, Vol. 6809, file 470-2-3, vol.. 4, (vol. II, part 4): Bill, An Act further to amend the Indian Act, 1898, p. 3; J.D McLean to Sifton (copy), Memorandum for the Minister in re proposed amendment to the Indian Act, 11 January 1898, p.7; Orr's comments on section 38 in Amendments to the Indian Act suggested by Agents and others, p. 3; Suggestions as to Amendments to the Indian Act, 15 Nov. 1897 Secretary D.C Scott. CP, Statutes of Canada (61 Vic, cap. 34), 13 June 1898, p. 143: sec. 33 under the 1st clause of an Act further the amend the Indian Act; section 70 under 6th clause, p. 145. CP, House of Commons Debates, 3 Sess., 8 Parl., 1898, vol. 11, col. 5964: Indian Act Amendment BIll, 23 May 1898.

The federal government ignored the ways in which First Nations had organized themselves, their labour, and their resources prior to colonial interference. By allocating any on-reserve labour towards road work that was not being used in agriculture, it both denied and controlled reserve populations from utilizing their labour in ways that benefited their communities. Mandatory reallocation of labour also prepared for the settlement of the West, which was reliant on the segregation of Indigenous peoples. To summarize, the amendment ultimately forced reserve labour into creating the conditions wherein settlement could occur while also redirecting the labour and time of First Nations that could be focused on their communities. This could have also been implemented in an attempt to prevent political/physical mobilization (similar to the North-West Resistance) and increase surveillance on First Nations populations. First Nations peoples were not compensated for their labour.

The further control over band spending was an attempt to deal with band resistance in regard to what Indian Affairs identified as unapproved 'spending.' The government was extending paternalistic control over Indigenous governance, wherein they assumed that the government was more knowledgeable about the needs of reserves rather than band councils and precolonial governing systems
Rural or Urban
Start Date
Sub Event
Reserve Residents to Work on Public Roads, Superintendent General Powers over Grass and Timber, Governor-in-Council Power over Band Funds