Sociology Index

Native Indians

Visible Minorities, Charter Groups

Native Indians is a racial formation in Canada. In The Canadian Indian (1971), E. Palmer Patterson divides the history of relations between Canadian Indians and Europeans into four phases. The first was the initial contact between Native peoples and Europeans, leading to a period of prosperity as the two groups exchanged technology and goods. The second phase, from the seventeenth to the eighteenth century, Indians were increasingly drawn into the economy of white people as they became more involved in fur trading, and less reliant on their traditional livelihood, resulting in a weakening of political autonomy.

The third phase began with the creation of reserves for Native peoples in order to clear the way for the agricultural settlements of whites. With the passage of the Indian Act in 1876, the colonial status of Native peoples was legally confirmed, because the act placed Indians under the legislative and administrative control of the federal government. The fourth phase began in the period after World War II, as more Native peoples became aware of their plight and demanded control of their future.

Since the 1960s, aboriginal peoples have intensified their political and economic demands based on aboriginal rights.The process of bringing the constitution from England to Canada in 1982 gave the Native peoples an opportunity to assert their special aboriginal status. Aboriginal rights encompass two main categories: the rights that derive from aboriginal title over land and resources, and the rights of self-determination.

Two types of claims have been pursued by Native groups in Canada:

The first type, comprehensive claims, is based on aboriginal title. These are land claims over areas still in use by Native peoples, but not covered in treaties.

The second type, specific claims, refers to clauses in treaties and claims by Indian bands over the loss of reserve land or the misappropriation of the government trusteeship. These two types of claims represent the two strategies pursued by aboriginal peoples and Native organizations.

Comprehensive claims are premised on the interpretation of the Royal Proclamation of October 7, 1763. Those parts of the Dominion or territories not ceded to or purchased by the Crown remain reserved for Indians. The basis of specific claims is that Native peoples have lost lands and financial assets that are protected by treaties between the Indian Nations and the Government of Canada.

From the 1870s until 1921, eleven numbered treaties were signed between Native Indians and various provincial and territorial jurisdictions. In Aboriginal Peoples in Canada (2004), James Frideres notes that the success rate of Native claims has been low.