Indigenous status in 1950

This is part of a series of articles on Indigenous issues and history to promote awareness of our shared history among the general population.


On 13 May and 16 May 1946, respectively, the House of Commons and the Senate passed parallel resolutions to establish the Special Joint Committee on the Indian Act. When local Indian Agents were asked for input into a proposed review of the Indian Act, one of the issues they raised across the country was that of defining what exactly an “Indian” was. Robert A. Hoey, Director of Indian Affairs, provided the Committee with a description of the problems faced in defining an “Indian” according to the Indian Act. He spoke of the “blood quantum” element in that definition:

In practice, this definition means that a person of pure Indian blood may marry a white woman, thus reducing the Indian blood in his offspring to 50 per cent. The son of such a union may follow in the footsteps of his father, reducing the Indian blood in his children to 25 per cent, and one can readily follow this reasoning to its logical conclusion. The question that has always disturbed me since entering the department, is the question relating to the moral authority of parliament by statutory enactment or a government by regulations or policy to deprive persons with 50 per cent or more white blood of the full rights of Canadian citizenship. 

On May 27, 1946, Henry Jackson appeared on behalf of the Union of Ontario Indians, speaking for the Robinson Treaty and James Bay Indians. He summed up the status and condition of the people he represented:

The Indians are subject to the ruling of the Department of Indian Affairs… The Department acts on all matters on the report of the Indian agent, under section 99A of the Indian Act. An agent is appointed through the recommendation of the Department of Indian Affairs and he presides over all meetings of Indian councils and controls all proceedings. He has sovereignty power to govern as he sees fit. The Indians are not at liberty to deliberate over and discuss their own domestic problems. They are tied down to a helpless condition and cannot move unless and until the Indian agent so directs. The fact is, under the present law, the Indians of Canada are unable to legally speak for themselves. They are a subjected race, held down and made helpless by the very Act which is supposed to help and protect them. The Indians cannot go direct to the Department of Indian Affairs for address of any grievance. All communications must go through the Indian agent, who, in many cases is the direct cause of a grievance. The agent has power to veto any resolutions of the Indian Council, and any effort on their part to go over his head will be totally ignored by the Department of Indian Affairs. Expenditures on Public health, education and police cannot be made unless recommended by the Indian agent. Under the present administration, Council are under the exclusive control of the Indian agent, and the Indian councils are no longer considered as the controlling body of any Indian community. The Indian agent’s duties are becoming more and more like a commander of an internment camp of a defeated enemy.

This was the situation for Indigenous people across Canada as late as 1950. The Indian Act was amended after the SJC sessions, and many of the most egregious elements, as mentioned by Henry Jackson were dropped. But the Indian Act remains in place, leaving the Canadian Government to decide how it should be enforced and what it should contain. Now, imagine if such an Act of Parliament was applied to Jewish Canadians, or Moslem Canadians, or British Canadians. It would have taken this long to repudiate and dispense with it.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here