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Government Policy

From the perspective of the Government of Canada, Treaty 6, like the other treaties that preceded it, was a necessary step in the complex task of nation building. By the 1870s, a bold new vision of a Dominion of Canada stretching from sea to sea emerged from the process of Confederation. With British Columbia’s entry into Confederation in 1871, that vision was one step closer to becoming a reality. All that remained was to gain a foothold in the vast Northwest Territories that stood between British Columbia and the eastern provinces.

However, before such a great new nation could emerge, the Aboriginal people already occupying land in the northwest would have to be negotiated with. As well, a plan outlining how governmental authorities would deal with the Aboriginals once they had surrendered their land, needed to be resolved. Unlike in the United States, where the Aboriginal population was dealt with in brutal Indian Wars, the British (and, after 1867, Canadian) government’s Aboriginal policy favoured a system of aggressive diplomacy over open warfare, reinforcing the political and legal foundations set out in the Royal Proclamation of 1763.

In 1850, a pair of statutes was passed in Upper and Lower Canada. The Lower Canada statute, An Act for the Better Protection of the Lands and Property of Indians in Lower Canada, established a government appointed commissioner to hold all Crown lands occupied by Aboriginals in trust for them. The commissioner was empowered to do with the Crown lands as he saw fit. The Upper Canada Statute, An Act Where the Better Protection of Indians in Upper Canada Imposition, the Property Occupied or Enjoyed by Them from Trespass and Injury, reinforced the idea that no one could settle, develop, or otherwise arrange to acquire Aboriginal lands, without first consulting the Crown. This act also included an important provision that the sale of liquor to Aboriginals was prohibited; and it officially defined what an “Indian” was.

The 1857 Act for the Gradual Civilization of the Indian Tribes in the Canadas and the 1859 Civilization and Enfranchisement Act set policies whereby those Aboriginal people who were deemed sufficiently educated and civilized were to be given the right to vote. It should be noted however, that enfranchisement would come only to those Aboriginal people who chose to give up their official Indian status.

The use and control of Aboriginal lands was further established by the Management of Indian Lands and Property Act in which the Commissioner of Crown Lands became the Chief Superintendent of Indian Affairs, and was empowered to take any reserve lands ceded by the Aboriginals. The 1868 Department of the Secretary of State Act further established the governance of Aboriginal affairs by transferring Aboriginal lands to the Canadian Secretary of State and appointing him to the post of Superintendent General of Indian Affairs. 1869 saw the creation of the Act for the Gradual Enfranchisement of Indians and the Better Management of Indian Affairs, which solidified the cultural assimilation policies concerning the Aboriginal people.

By the time Treaty 6 was signed in 1876, the Government of Canada had a well established political mandate allowing them swift and relatively peaceful control of the Aboriginal people and their land.

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