Native Rights movements have taken on momentum in recent
decades. Although the beginning of the movement is difficult to
pinpoint, the seeds were sown with the Hawthorn report. Hawthorn
was an Anthropologist from the University of British Columbia
who was hired to examine the social and economic circumstances
of Native communities. The report was released in 1966 and 1967.
It clearly illustrated that Aboriginal people were in the lowest
economic level of Canadian society. The report denounced the
government’s actions and said that they should abandon all
forced assimilation practices.
In 1960, First Nations gained the right to vote in Canadian General Elections
without giving up their status. Prior to this, only those who became
enfranchised (stripped of identity and status) were allowed the right to vote in
Canadian General Elections.
The White Paper was a proposal by the federal government that started a
torrent of changes throughout Canada with regard to Aboriginal people. It was
introduced in 1969 and its intention was immediately evident. The Trudeau
government wanted to repeal the Indian Act and replace it with a land act. They
wanted to terminate treaties and within five years call for the elimination of
Indian Affairs. It was eventually withdrawn from the order papers, but it fueled
a movement that continues today.
Organization was the key to Native Rights movements. In response to the White
Paper the National Indian Brotherhood formed. The leadership was composed of
dedicated First Nations from across the country. Dave Courchane (President of
the Manitoba Indian Brotherhood), Harold Cardinal (President of the Indian
Association of Alberta), and Walter Deiter (President of the Federation of
Saskatchewan Indians) joined together to form a solid leadership that many First
Nations continued to follow into the future.
1969 was also a year that the Supreme Court of Canada was asked to rule on
the Calder case. The case was named after Dr. Calder who from 1949 served as a
Member of the Legislative Assembly in British Columbia for 26 years. He is
recognized as the first First Nations individual to be elected to any Canadian
Parliament. Calder is a case that went before the courts in the Province of
British Columbia and eventually to the Supreme Court of Canada. The case was
unsuccessful, because the Judges split on the issue of whether the Nisga’a
Aboriginal title had been extinguished by Colonial law prior to British Columbia
entering confederation. However, the ruling asserted with six of the seven
judges recognizing that Aboriginal title existed when the Europeans entered that
territory. This was a major victory for Aboriginal rights in Canada and opened
the door for many Native rights issues.
During this period in time the Métis were organizing throughout the west and
rekindling the fires of nationhood. Their first struggle would be to become
recognized as a distinct Aboriginal people. The lobbying power of the Métis led
to the inclusion of Métis in the definition of an Aboriginal person within the
Constitutional Act of 1982.
In the summer of 1990, Native rights came to a head once again. Oka was the
setting of a confrontation that was brewing for many years. The Iroquois
community of Kahnawake objected to the proposed expansion of a near-by golf
course. The Oka Golf Club wanted to expand their golf course to 18 holes. The
Kahnawake community began to occupy the lands of the proposed golf course
expansion. The confrontation was extremely tense, but it set a new tone for
Native Rights in Canada. In the fall sitting of Parliament, the Mulroney
government called for a new national agenda for Native people. A new era had
White, Jerry P., and Paul Maxim, Nicholas Spence. Permission to Develop.
Toronto: Thompson Educational Publishing, 2004.
Brizinski, Peggy. Knots in a String. Saskatoon: University Extension Press,