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Indian Association

North American Indians have long struggled to voice their opinions in politics. Their success has depended on strong leadership and unity. In Alberta, Indians overcame tribal differences and geographical separation to present a strong voice in Edmonton and Ottawa. They organized as the Indian Association of Alberta (IAA), whose delegates have championed many of the rights and responsibilities aboriginal groups in Canada enjoy today.

Origins and Expansion

Before 1946, Indians in Alberta were not as united. The 1927 Indian Act forbade aboriginals in Canada from forming political organizations, as well as practicing their traditional culture and language. Despite this restriction, a number of Cree and Stoney Indians from central Alberta formed the League of Indians of Alberta (LIA) in 1933. President John Callihoo helped reorganize the LIA in 1939 as the IAA. The new association was inactive through most of the war years, and it still represented mostly Indians from central Alberta. In 1943, Chris Shade and other aboriginals from southwestern Alberta formed their own group: the Blood Indian Local Association. Callihoo met with the organizers, hoping to attract the association to the IAA. The two parties found common ground on a number of issues, but the Blood tribe's bitterness toward the "Cree Association" persisted.

In subsequent years, the IAA was able to expand its reach and unite the various Indian tribes of Alberta. James Gladstone, a Cree Indian by birth, worked on behalf of his adopted Blood tribe to improve relationships between their association and the IAA. In 1946, they formed two IAA locals and sent eight delegates to the IAA convention in Hobbema. Gladstone spoke for the Blood locals, presenting eight resolutions relating to education, ranching and land ownership. He demonstrated his capability to unite the tribes at the meeting and was appointed a director of the IAA. Tribal differences remerged in the mid-fifties when Blackfoot Clarence McHugh and Cree Albert Lightning each served a year as president. Gladstone helped restore order to the IAA and expand further into northern Alberta as president from 1950 to 1953 and 1956 to 1957.

Through leaders Gladstone, John Laurie, Malcolm Norris and others, the IAA became much more active at lobbying provincial and federal governments and raising public support. They were at least partially responsible for legislation extending financial allowances to Indians and other social improvements. They became involved in the planning of legislation when the federal government established a special joint committee to investigate ways to revise the Indian Act in 1946.