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Enfranchisement (Plain-Language Summary)

Throughout much of Canadian history, a First Nations person would lose their Indian status if they were enfranchised. An enfranchised person is someone who has the right to vote in elections. A First Nations person who is deemed a Status Indian has certain rights and benefits granted to them through the Indian Act.

(This article is a plain-language summary of Enfranchisement. If you are interested in reading about this topic in more depth, please see our full-length entry Enfranchisement).

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Wartime Elections Act

The Wartime Elections Act of 1917 gave the vote to female relatives of Canadian soldiers serving overseas in the First World War. It also took the vote away from many Canadians who had immigrated from “enemy” countries. The Act was passed by Prime Minister Robert Borden’s Conservative government in an attempt to gain votes in the 1917 election. It ended up costing the Conservatives support among certain groups for years to come. The Act has a contentious legacy. It granted many women the right to vote, but it also legitimized in law many anti-immigrant sentiments.

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Native People's Caravan

The Native People’s Caravan was a cross-country mobile protest that took place in 1974. Its main purpose was to raise awareness about the poor living conditions and discrimination experienced by Indigenous peoples in Canada. It travelled from Vancouver to Ottawa, where the subsequent occupation of a vacant warehouse on Victoria Island, near Parliament Hill, extended into 1975. The caravan brought various Indigenous groups together in protest of broken treaties, as well as a lack of government-supported education, housing and health care. As a result, meetings between Cabinet ministers and Indigenous leaders became more frequent. The protest is remembered as an important turning point in Indigenous activism in Canada.

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Bill C-31

In 1985, Parliament responded to the appeals of Indigenous peoples by changing discriminatory sections of the Indian Act. Known as Bill C-31, this amendment reinstated Indian Status to women who had lost it through marriage to men without status. Among other changes, the bill also enabled all first-generation children of these marriages and individuals who had been enfranchised to regain their legal status. More than 114,000 people gained or regained their Indian status as a result of Bill C-31. (See also Women and the Indian Act.)

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Indian Act

The Indian Act is the primary law the federal government uses to administer Indian status, local First Nations governments and the management of reserve land. It also outlines governmental obligations to First Nations peoples. The Indian Act pertains to people with Indian Status; it does not directly reference non-status First Nations people, the Métis or Inuit. First introduced in 1876, the Act subsumed a number of colonial laws that aimed to eliminate First Nations culture in favour of assimilation into Euro-Canadian society. The Act has been amended several times, most significantly in 1951 and 1985, with changes mainly focusing on the removal of discriminatory sections. It is an evolving, paradoxical document that has enabled trauma, human rights violations and social and cultural disruption for generations of Indigenous peoples.

This is the full-length entry about the Indian Act. For a plain language summary, please seeIndian Act (Plain Language Summary).