“Thomas Moore as he appeared when admitted to the Regina Indian Industrial School”

British Columbia Archives, D-04526





“Thomas Moore after tuition at the Regina Industrial School.”

British Columbia Archives, D-04527




Aboriginal Peoples' Past


Immigration: Success?
Syrian Refugee Initiative
Multiculturalism Today
Limits of multiculturalism
Aboriginal Peoples' Past
Aboriginal Rights Today


1) Background: the Aboriginal Peoples of Canada from the encounter to the 1960s


The French period – 1605 to 1763

During the French period, Aboriginal people lived alongside French settlers. Aboriginal culture had a strong impact on the French Canadian society, both in terms of its social customs and in economic terms. In the fur trade, which was the main economy activity of the colony, Aboriginal people played in key role. However, while during that period the relationship was on equal terms, the encounter with the French had negative consequences on Aboriginal people due to epidemics and acculturation. The burden of having to share the land was very limited due to the small number of French settlers, who were only 60,000 people in 1763.

Further Reading: Trigger, Bruce, "The French Presence in Huronia: the Structure of Franco-Huron Relations in the First Half of the Seventeenth Century”, Canadian Historical Review, vol. 49, No 2 (June 1968), p.107-140.


The British period – 1763 to 1867

The British government signed the first treaties with Aboriginal people in the wake of the American Revolution, to provide land for United Empire Loyalists, including some Iroquois groups. Rights to traditional lands were ceded to the British government in exchange for reserves, cash payments and annuities. The impact of treaties was not yet drastic, since lots of land was left undisturbed, even in central and Atlantic Canada. The whole West and North remained unsettled by white people and were administered by the great fur trading companies. But the fur trade itself was now firmly in the hands of white Canadians, epidemics continued to decimate the Aboriginal population, and acculturation continued. In the 18th century the Aboriginal population decreased by 30% to 175,000.


The Canadian period – 1867 to the 1960s

In 1871 the Hudson Bay Company sold its huge western and northern land holdings to the new Government of Canada, and Britain transferred the whole Arctic to the Dominion. A few years later Canada adopted the National Policy, a policy of economic development that relied heavily on the settlement of the West. This was made possible thanks to the signing of many new treaties with Aboriginal nations – 11 treaties were signed between 1871 and 1921. As during the British period, Aboriginal rights to traditional lands were ceded to the Canadian government in exchange for reserves, cash payments and annuities. Western aboriginals, confronted to the massive immigration of white settlers and the disappearance of their traditional food source, had little choice. But the treaties were based on a central misunderstanding: for Canada, treaties corresponded to a period of transition during which Aboriginal peoples would assimilate into the mainstream society. On the other hand, Aboriginal people believed that reserves and financial guarantees to be a permanent solution. The view of the Canadian government was encapsulated in the 1876 Indian Act, whose aim was the division of reserves into private farms and the assimilation of Aboriginal peoples. Amendments to the Indian Act in 1905 and 1911 made it easier for the government to expropriate reserve lands from First Nations.


In the late 19th, forced assimilation was conducted through education. Aboriginal children were taken from their families and placed them in white families or residential schools. Residential schools were government-sponsored religious schools established to assimilate Aboriginal children into Euro-Canadian culture. At its height around 1930, the residential school system totalled 80 institutions. Students were isolated, their culture disparaged — removed from their homes and parents, separated from some of their siblings (the schools were segregated according to gender) and in some cases forbidden to speak their first language, even in letters home to their parents. Many students were sexually abused. (...) According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, at least 4,000 Aboriginal children died in the overcrowded residential schools. Underfed and malnourished, the students were particularly vulnerable to diseases such as tuberculosis and influenza (including the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918–19).

Beginning in the late 1990s, former students pressed, often through litigation, for acknowledgment of, and compensation for, their suffering. In 2007 the federal government and the churches that had operated the schools agreed to provide financial compensation to former students under the Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. On 11 June 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, on behalf of the Government of Canada, offered an apology to all former students of Aboriginal residential schools in Canada. The apology openly recognized that the assimilation policy on which the schools were established was "wrong, has caused great harm, and has no place in our country."




2) The 1960s and the Awakening of Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples




Perry Bellegarde was named AFN National Chief on December 10, 2014.

National Chief Bellegarde is from the Little Black Bear First Nation, Treaty 4 Territory (Saskatchewan)



Portrait of Perry Bellegarde and excerpt from his election speech: http://news.nationalpost.com/2014/12/11/perry-bellegarde-fiery-new-afn-grand-chief-will-reach-out-for-larger-share-of-resource-revenues/

In the 1960s, as the country faced growing demand for racial and sexual equality from immigrants and women, the Aboriginal peoples also began fighting for the rights.


A population explosion in the native community of Canada had reversed the long-term trend of numerical decline. Natives had migrated in large numbers to the cities. However, poverty and extreme forms of social disintegration continued to plague indigenous communities in both their urban enclaves and rural Reserves.


The federal government concluded that the best way to improve the welfare of aboriginal peoples was to make them full citizens of the society and address their problems within existing public policies. This was spelled out by the White Paper on the Indian Policy published by the Trudeau government in June 1969: the government planned to relinquish Indian lands, while removing Indians’ special status, dismantling the Department of Indian Affairs, and giving the provinces responsibility for services to Indian people.


The native reaction was overwhelmingly negative; they organized themselves against the Trudeau government’s liberal, individualistic approach, to have their collective rights recognized. The National Indian Brotherhood (whose name was changed to the Assembly of the First Nations in 1982) formed in 1968 to speak for treaty Indians, claimed that Indians wanted self-government, not the assimilation that becoming ordinary citizens of provinces implied. They followed the logic of collective treaty rights rather than individual human rights; they sought to be not citizens like others, but to be separated self-governing peoples with claims based on their ownership of land and the terms of their treaties.




James Gladstone, or Akay-na-muka, meaning "Many guns," Canada's first native senator (b at Mountain Hill, North-West Territories 21 May 1887; d at Fernie, BC 4 Sept 1971). Gladstone, a member of the Blood tribe, devoted most of his life to the betterment of Canadian Aboriginals.





Web site of the  Assembly of the First Nations: http://www.afn.ca/


More on the Aboriginal Rights Movement since the 1950s at http://www.canadiana.org/citm/themes/aboriginals/aboriginals12_e.html


Documentaires de l’Office national du film du Canada réalisés par des Autochtones sur des sujets qui concernent les peuples autochtones au Canada :