Search for "Indigenous Land Claims"

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Calder Case

The Calder case (1973) — named for politician and Nisga’a chief Frank Calder, who brought the case before the courts — reviewed the existence of Aboriginal title (i.e., ownership) claimed over lands historically occupied by the Nisga’a peoples of northwestern British Columbia. While the case was lost, the Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling nevertheless recognized for the first time that Aboriginal title has a place in Canadian law. The Calder case (also known as Calder et al. v. Attorney General of British Columbia) is considered the foundation for the Nisga’a Treaty in 2000 — the first modern land claim in British Columbia that gave the Nisga’a people self-government.

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Berger Commission

In 1974, the federal government formed a royal commission to consider two proposals for natural gas pipelines in the North. Thomas Berger, a judge, led the inquiry. Over the next two years, the Berger Commission assessed the potential impacts of the proposed pipelines. Berger held formal and informal hearings. These included 45 community hearings from the Northwest Territories and Yukon to Southern Canada. His 1977 report made several recommendations. He called for further study and the settlement of Indigenous land claims. He also called for a 10-year ban on pipeline construction in the Mackenzie Valley. Berger opposed building any pipeline across the sensitive caribou habitat of the northern Yukon. The Berger Commission involved the public and included Indigenous views more than any resource-related consultation had done before in Canada.

Click here for definitions of key terms used in this article.

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Indigenous Land Claims in Canada

Land claims seek to address wrongs made against Indigenous peoples, their rights and lands, by the federal and provincial or territorial governments. There are different types of land claims. Comprehensive claims (also known as modern treaties) deal with Indigenous rights, while specific claims concern the government’s outstanding obligations under historic treaties or the Indian Act. There are many ongoing comprehensive and specific claims negotiations in Canada.

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Manitoba and Confederation

Canada’s fifth province, Manitoba entered Confederation with the passing of the Manitoba Acton 12 May 1870. The AssiniboineDakotaCree and Dene peoples had occupied the land for up to 15,000 years. Since 1670, it was part of Rupert’s Landand was controlled by the Hudson’s Bay Company. The Canadian government purchased Rupert’s Land at the behest of William McDougall, Manitoba’s Father of Confederation. No residents of the area were consulted about the transfer; in response, Louis Rieland the Métis led the Red River Rebellion. It resulted in an agreement to join Confederation. Ottawa agreed to help fund the new provincial government, give roughly 1.4 million acres of land to the Métis, and grant the province four seats in Parliament. However, Canada mismanaged its promise to guarantee the Métis their land rights. The resulting North-West Rebellion in 1885 led to the execution of Riel. The creation of Manitoba — which, unlike the first four provinces, did not control its natural resources — revealed Ottawa’s desire to control western development.

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North-West Mounted Police

The North-West Mounted Police (NWMP) was the forerunner of Canada's iconic Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Created after Confederation to police the frontier territories of the Canadian West, the NWMP ended the whiskey trade on the southern prairies and the violence that came with it, helped the federal government suppress the North-West Rebellion, and brought order to the Klondike Gold Rush. The NWMP pioneered the enforcement of federal law in the West, and the Arctic, from 1873 until 1920.

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Manifest Destiny

The term Manifest Destiny was first used in 1845 by New York City journalist John Louis O’Sullivan. He used the term in the context of America’s annexation of the Republic of Texas. Manifest Destiny represented the idea that it was America’s right — its destiny, in fact — to expand across all of North America. Politicians and citizens in the United States called for the US to expand by claiming control of British territory. This included the Province of Canada (formerly Upper Canada and Lower Canada), New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

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History of Settlement in the Canadian Prairies

The Canadian Prairies were peopled in six great waves of migration, spanning from prehistory to the present. The migration from Asia, about 13,300 years ago, produced an Indigenous population of 20,000 to 50,000 by about 1640. Between 1640 and 1840, several thousand European and Canadian fur traders arrived, followed by several hundred British immigrants. They created dozens of small outposts and a settlement in the Red River Colony, where the Métis became the largest part of the population. The third wave, from the 1840s to the 1890s, consisted mainly but not solely of Canadians of British heritage. The fourth and by far the largest wave was drawn from many nations, mostly European. It occurred from 1897 to 1929, with a pause (1914–22) during and after the First World War. The fifth wave, drawn from other Canadian provinces and from Europe and elsewhere, commenced in the late 1940s. It lasted through the 1960s. The sixth wave, beginning in the 1970s, drew especially upon peoples of the southern hemisphere. It has continued, with fluctuations, to the present. Throughout the last century, the region has also steadily lost residents, as a result of migration to other parts of Canada, to the United States, and elsewhere.

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Manitoba Act

The Manitoba Act provided for the admission of Manitoba as Canada’s fifth province. It received royal assent and became law on 12 May 1870. It marked the legal resolution of the struggle for self-determination between people of the Red River Colony and the federal government, which began with Canada’s purchase of Rupert’s Land in 1870. The Act contained protections for the region’s Métis. However, these protections were not fully realized. As a result, many Métis left the province for the North-West Territories.

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Powley Case

R. v. Powley was a legal case concerning Métis hunting rights in Canada. In 1993, the province of Ontario charged Steve and Roddy Powley with illegal hunting. The Powleys disputed their conviction, arguing that the Aboriginal rights enshrined in section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 protected their hunting rights as Métis people. The case concluded in 2003, when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the Powleys were, in fact, exercising lawful Métis hunting rights. The Powley case established criteria on who can legally qualify for Métis rights. It outlined 10 specific criteria, known as the Powley Test, which applies to Métis communities across Canada. The case also clarified that the Métis are a distinct people, separate from First Nations and Inuit peoples in Canada. Some legal experts believe the Powley case might lead to expanded Métis rights, including harvesting and fishing rights and possibly self-government.

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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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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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Highway of Tears

The Highway of Tears refers to a 724 km length of Yellowhead Highway 16 in British Columbia where many women (mostly Indigenous) have disappeared or been found murdered. The Highway of Tears is part of a larger, national crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. In 2015, the federal government launched a national inquiry into these cases.

This article contains sensitive material that may not be suitable for all audiences.

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Delgamuukw Case

The Delgamuukw case (1997) (also known as Delgamuukw v. British Columbia) concerned the definition, the content and the extent of Aboriginal title (i.e., ownership of traditional lands). The Supreme Court of Canada observed that Aboriginal title constituted an ancestral right protected by section 35(1) of the Constitution Act, 1982. Influenced by the Calder case (1973), the ruling in the Delgamuukw case had an impact on other court cases about Aboriginal rights and title, including in the Tsilhqot’in case (2014).

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Indigenous Services Canada

Indigenous Services Canada (part of the former Indigenous/Indian and Northern Affairs Canada or INAC) was created by the federal government in 2017 to provide and support the delivery of services such as health care, child care, education and infrastructure to First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities. The overarching vision of the department is to support self-determination as a means of providing Indigenous peoples with the power to deliver their own services.

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Duty to Consult

The duty to consult is a statutory, contractual and common law obligation that must be fulfilled by the Crown prior to taking actions or making decisions that may have consequences for the rights of Indigenous peoples in Canada. The duty to consult has been affirmed and clarified by various Supreme Court of Canada rulings, such the Haida case (2004) and the Beckman v. Little Salmon/Carmacks case (2010). The duty to consult is considered by many to be an important step toward reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.

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Johnson-Butler Purchase

The Johnson-Butler Purchase of 1787–88 (also known as the “Gunshot Treaty,” referring to the distance a person could hear a gunshot from the lake’s edge) is one of the earliest land agreements between representatives of the Crown and the Indigenous peoples of Upper Canada (later Ontario). It resulted in a large tract of territory along the central north shore of Lake Ontario being opened for settlement. These lands became part of the Williams Treaties of 1923. (See also Upper Canada Land Surrenders and Treaties with Indigenous Peoples in Canada.)

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Land Cession

A land cession is a transfer of land from one party to another through a deed of sale or surrender. Land cessions may also be referred to as land surrenders and land purchases. In Canada and the United States, Indigenous land cessions generally took place through negotiated treaties. There are cases, however, where Indigenous peoples claim that lands were taken unjustly. The Royal Proclamation of 1763 established the protocols for land cession in both Canada and the United States.

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Indigenous Suffrage

From the colonial era to the present, the Canadian electoral system has evolved in ways that have affected Indigenous suffrage (the right to vote in public elections). Voting is a hallmark of Canadian citizenship, but not all Indigenous groups (particularly status Indians) have been given this historic right due to political, socio-economic and ethnic restrictions. Today, Canada’s Indigenous peoples — defined in Section 35 (2) of the Constitution Act, 1982 as Indians (First Nations), Métis and Inuit — can vote in federal, provincial, territorial and local elections.