Statement of the Government of Canada on Indian Policy, 1969
Presented to the First Session of the Twenty-eighth Parliament by the
Honourable Jean Chretien. Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern
To be an Indian is to be a man, with all a man’s needs and abilities. To be an Indian is also to be different. It is to speak different languages, draw different pictures. tell different tales and to rely on a set of values developed in a different world.
Canada is richer for its Indian component, although there have been times when diversity seemed of little value to many Canadians.
But to be a Canadian Indian today is to be someone different in another way. It is to be someone apart – apart in law, apart in the provision of government services and, too often, apart in social contacts.
To be an Indian is to lack power – the power to act as owner of your lands. the power to spend your own money and. too often, the power to change your own condition.
Not always, but too often, to be an Indian is to be without – without a job, a good house, or running water; without knowledge, training or technical skill and, above all , without those feelings of dignity and self-confidence that a man must have if he is to walk with his head held high.
All these conditions of the Indians are the product of history and have
nothing to do with their abilities and capacities. Indian relations with other Canadians began with special treatment by government and society, and special treatment has been the rule since Europeans first settled in Canada. Special treatment has made of the Indians a community disadvantaged and apart.
Obviously, the course of history must be changed.
To be an Indian must be to be free – free to develop Indian cultures in an environment of legal, social and economic equality with other Canadians.
The Government believes that its policies must lead to the full, free and non-discriminatory participation of the Indian people in Canadian society. Such a goal requires a break with the past. It requires that the Indian people’s role of dependence be replaced by a role of equal status, opportunity and responsibility, a role they can share with all other Canadians.
This proposal is a recognition of the necessity made plain in a year’s intensive discussions with Indian people throughout Canada. The Government believes that to continue its past course of action would not serve the interests of either the Indian people or their fellow Canadians.
The policies proposed recognize the simple reality that the separate legal status of Indians and the policies which have flowed from it have kept the Indian people apart from and behind other Canadians. The Indian people have not been full citizens of the communities and provinces in which they live and have not enjoyed the equality and benefits that such participation offers.
The treatment resulting from their different status has been often worse, sometimes equal and occasionally better than that accorded to their fellow citizens. What matters is that it has been different.
Many Indians, both in isolated communities and in cities, suffer from poverty. The discrimination which affects the poor, Indian and non-Indian alike, when compounded with a legal status that sets the Indian apart, provides dangerously fertile ground for social and cultural discrimination.
In recent years there has been a rapid increase in the Indian population. Their health and education levels have improved. There has been a corresponding rise in expectations that the structure of separate treatment cannot meet.
A forceful and articulate Indian leadership has developed to express the aspirations and needs of the Indian community. Given the opportunity, the Indian people can realize an immense human and cultural potential that will enhance their own wellbeing, that of the regions in which they live and of Canada as a whole. Faced with a continuation of past policies, they will unite only in a common frustration.
The Government does not wish to perpetuate policies which carry with them the seeds of disharmony and disunity, policies which prevent Canadians from fulfilling themselves and contributing to their society. It seeks a partnership to achieve a better goal. The partners in this search are the Indian people, the governments of the provinces, the Canadian community as a whole and the Government of Canada. As all partnerships do, this will require consultation, negotiation, give and take, and co-operation if it is to succeed.
Many years will be needed. Some efforts may fail, but learning comes from failure and from what is learned success may follow. All the partners have to learn; all will have to change many attitudes.
Governments can set examples, but they cannot change the hearts of men. Canadians, Indians and non-Indians alike stand at the crossroads. For Canadian society the issue is whether a growing element of its population will become full participants contributing in a positive way to the general well-being or whether, conversely, the present social and economic gap will lead to their increasing frustration and isolation, a threat to the general well-being of society. For many Indian people, one road does exist, the only road that has existed since Confederation and before, the road of different status, a road which has led to a blind alley of deprivation and frustration. This road, because it is a separate road, cannot lead to full participation, to equality in practice as well as in theory. In the pages which follow, the Government has outlined a number of measures and a policy which it is convinced will offer another road for Indians, a road that would lead gradually away from different status to full social, economic and political participation in Canadian life. This is the choice.
Indian people must be persuaded, must persuade themselves, that this path wm lead them to a fuller and richer life.
Canadian society as a whole will have to recognize the need for changed attitudes and a truly open society. Canadians should recognize the dangers of failing to strike down the barriers which frustrate Indian people. If Indian people are to become full members of Canadian society they must be warmly welcomed by that society.
The Government commends this policy for the consideration of all Canadians, Indians and non-Indians, and all governments in Canada.
The Government has reviewed its programs for Indians and has considered the effects of them on the present situation of the Indian people. The review has drawn on extensive consultations with the Indian people, and on the knowledge and experience of many people both in and out of government.
This review was a response to things said by the Indian people at the consultation meetings which began a year ago and culminated in a meeting in Ottawa in April.
This review has shown that this is the right time to change long-standing policies. The Indian people have shown their determination that present conditions shall not persist.
Opportunities are present today in Canadian society and new directions are open. The Government believes that Indian people must not be shut out of Canadian life and must share equally in these opportunities.
The Government could press on with the policy of fostering further education; could go ahead with physical improvement programs now operating in reserve communities; could press forward in the directions of recent years, and eventually many of the problems would be solved. But progress would be too slow. The change in Canadian society in recent years has been too great and continues too rapidly for this to be the answer. Something more is needed. We can no longer perpetuate the separation of Canadians. Now is the time to change.
This Government believes in equality. It believes that all men and women have equal rights. It is determined that all shall be treated fairly and that no one shall be shut out of Canadian life, and especially that no one shall be shut out because of his race.
This belief is the basis for the Government’s determination to open the doors of opportunity to all Canadians, to remove the barriers which impede the development of people, of regions and of the country.
Only a policy based on this belief can enable the Indian people to realize their needs and aspirations.
The Indian people are entitled to such a policy. They are entitled to an equality which preserves and enriches Indian identity and distinction; an equality which stresses Indian participation in its creation and which manifests itself in all aspects of Indian life.
The goals of the Indian people cannot be set by others; they must spring from the Indian community itself – but government can create a framework within which all persons and groups can seek their own goals.
2 The New Policy
True equality presupposes that the Indian people have the right to full and equal participation in the cultural, social, economic and political life of Canada.
The government believes that the framework within which individual Indians and bands could achieve full participation requires:
that the legislative and constitutional bases of discrimination be removed;
that there be positive recognition by everyone of the unique contribution of Indian culture to Canadian life;
that services come through the same channels and from the same government agencies for all Canadians;
that those who are furthest behind be helped most;
that lawful obligations be recognized; 6 that control of Indian lands be transferred to the Indian people.
The Government would be prepared to take the following steps to create this framework:
Propose to Parliament that the Indian Act be repealed and take such legislative steps as may be necessary to enable Indians to control Indian lands and to acquire title to them.
Propose to the governments of the provinces that they take over the same responsibility for Indians that they have for other citizens in their provinces. The take-over would be accompanied by the transfer to the provinces of federal funds normally provided for Indian programs, augmented as may be necessary.
Make substantial funds available for Indian economic development as an interim measure.
Wind up that part of the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development which deals with Indian Affairs. The residual responsibilities of the Federal Government for programs in the field of Indian affairs would be transferred to other appropriate federal departments.
In addition, the Government will appoint a Commissioner to consult with the Indians and to study and recommend acceptable procedures for the adjudication of claims.
The new policy looks to a better future for all Indian people wherever they may be. The measures for implementation are straightforward. They require discussion, consultation and negotiation with the Indian people – individuals, bands and associations and with provincial governments.
Success will depend upon the co-operation and assistance of the Indians and the provinces. The Government seeks this cooperation and will respond when it is offered.
3 The Immediate Steps
Some changes could take place quickly. Others would take longer. It is expected that within five years the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development would cease to operate in the field of Indian affairs; the new laws would be in effect and existing programs would have been devolved. The Indian lands would require special attention for some time. The process of transferring control to the Indian people would be under continuous review.
The Government believes this is a policy which is just and necessary. It can only be successful if it has the support of the Indian people, the provinces, and all Canadians.
The policy promises all Indian people a new opportunity to expand and develop their identity within the framework of a Canadian society which offers them the rewards and responsibilities of participation, the benefits of involvement and the pride of belonging.