Enfranchisement was the most common of the legal processes by which Indigenous peoples lost their Indian Status under the Indian Act. The term was used both for those who give up their status by choice, and for the much larger number of Aboriginal women who lost status automatically upon marriage to Non-Staus Indian men (see Jeannette Lavell). Only the former were entitled to take with them a share of band reserve lands and funds, but both groups lost their treaty and statutory rights as Indigenous peoples, and their right to live in the reserve community.

The right to vote, often confused with "enfranchisement" in the technical sense discussed here, was only one of the supposed advantages of loss of status before Indigenous people acquired the federal vote in 1960. From its first enactment in 1857 up to at least the 1960s, voluntary enfranchisement was the cornerstone of Canadian Indian policy (see Government Policy Concerning Aboriginal People).

By enfranchising, a person was supposed to be consenting to abandon Indigenous identity and communal society (with its artificial legal disabilities) in order to merge with the "free," individualistic and non-Aboriginal majority. There were in fact relatively few such enfranchisements over the years; a law to force enfranchisement of Indigenous peoples whom the government thought should be removed from band lists (in force 192022, 193351) was unpopular and a failure.

A 1985 amendment to the Indian Act eliminated the idea of enfranchisement as used here: as well as eliminating the Act's discriminatory section, the government gave individual bands the right to decide their own conditions for membership.