Canada's Indian Policy—A Major Review
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 16 Oct 1969, p. 59-70
Chretien, The Honourable Jean, Speaker
Media Type
Item Type
An address four months after the Government announcement of proposals for a new Indian policy. Continuing discussion and debate. Speculation about the possible impact of the proposals and the direction in which they point. Details of the proposal. Mixed reaction of Indian spokesmen to the proposals. Distrust of government and misunderstanding as to what the proposals mean. The basis for the Government's policy. Striving for a non-discriminatory society. The "wrongness" of having a Department of Indian Affairs. Problems with the Indian Act. The lack of control by the Indian people of their land. Difficulties of being a trustee. The lack of need for the present Indian Act. The present system as a hindrance to development and frustration for the initiatives of many Indian bands. Canada with an apartheid policy. A part to be played by all Canadians: industry, business, government. Becoming a non-discriminatory society.
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16 Oct 1969
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OCTOBER 16, 1969
Canada's Indian Policy--A Major Review
CHAIRMAN The President, H. Ian Macdonald


It is an unhappy state of affairs when the native people of a great nation are referred to daily by the press and in public discussion as "the Indian problem." It is even more distressing when the solutions to that problem appear so elusive and contentious that indifference readily becomes a seductive drug. Such has been the case for too long in Canada, with the consequence that the withdrawal symptoms must be scrupulously analysed and controlled.

The inheritance of the past, the delicacy of the present and the opportunity for the future are clearly spelled out in the Federal Government's White Paper on Indian Policy. We are told squarely:

"The weight of history affects us all, but it presses most heavily on the Indian people. Because of history, Indians today are the subject of legal discrimination; they have grievances because of past undertakings that have been broken or misunderstood; they do not have full control of their lands; and a higher proportion of Indians than other Canadians suffer poverty in all its debilitating forms. Because of history too, Indians look to a special department of the Federal Government for many of the services that other Canadians get from provincial or local governments.

This burden of separation has its origin deep in Canada's past and in early French and British colonial policy. The elements which grew to weigh so heavily were deeply entrenched at the time of Confederation."

Although the Indian problem has been far from neglected during that period, the significant matter is that the Indian people feel that fundamental opportunity to participate in our society, while preserving their own culture, has been denied to them. That is why the recent White Paper is so important; that is why the responsibility which rests with our speaker today is so heavy; that is why we are privileged to be able to anticipate a major address by the Honourable Jean Chretien on this subject today.

Monsieur le ministre, permettez-moi de vous acceuillir au Club de l'Empire du Canada et egalement a ce dejeuner d'aujourd'hui. A cause du fait que nous sommes le Club de l'Empire, nous gardons un interet majeur dans les affaires du Commonwealth. A cause du fait que nous sommes le Club de l'Empire du Canada, nous nous interessons vivement aux questions qui confrontent cc pays. Pour ces raisons, nous partageons un interet pour ceux dont la formation culturelle est differente de la notre. Comme un ministre de langue francaise, responsable pour le bien-etre de nos indiens, vous etes doublement bienvenue.

Mr. Minister, may I welcome you to the Empire Club of Canada and to this luncheon today. Because we are The Empire Club, we retain a primary interest in the affairs of the Commonwealth. Because we are the Empire Club of Canada, we have a serious interest in the issues which confront this country. For these reasons, we share a concern for those whose cultural background may differ from our own. As a French-speaking Minister, responsible for the welfare of our native people, you are doubly welcome.

For reasons which elude me, a person's age is supposed to be a matter of major importance today, with particular reverence paid to the young. Therefore, as one who has just passed his fortieth birthday, it is presumably safe for me to refer to you, Sir, as a young man of great distinction, one who joined the Federal Cabinet at the age of thirty-three.

Mr. Chretien was born in the great paper town of Shawinigan, Quebec and studied law at Laval University. In 1958, he received his call to the bar and entered the Shawinigan law firm of Lafond, Chretien, Landry and Deschenes. In those darker days of minority government described in the phrase "The Distemper of our Times", Mr. Chretien entered the House of Commons in 1963 and was returned in 1965 by the constituents of St. MauriceLafleche.

In a short period of time, his exposure to governmental business has been both broad and central. In July 1965, he became Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and, in January 1966, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance. It was at that time when I first had the pleasure of meeting him. On April 4, 1967, he was appointed Minister without Portfolio and, on January 18, 1968, he assumed the rather doleful task of becoming the nation's top tax-collector, as Minister of National Revenue. With the redistribution before the last election, he now represents St. Maurice and, on July 6, 1969, was sworn in as Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.

This has never been an easy office, but Mr. Chretien arrived at a critical stage in that Department's life, in fact, so critical, that the Department may cease to have life at all. Political circumstance seems to decree a short span for Mr. Chretien in his political posts. I notice that he has served about six months in each of two Parliamentary Secretaryships and two subsequent Cabinet posts. By statistical inference, he should have moved on to a new assignment by January of this year. Although such a change did not occur, his White Paper was draped in black as far as the future of the traditional Department of Indian Affairs is concerned. When a Minister announces that his objective is to preside over the liquidation of his Department, he must be right; when his Deputy Minister shares that objective in equal measure, there can be no doubt about it.

May I present the Honourable Jean Chretien, who, paradoxically, may become the greatest Minister of Indian Affairs because he is the last, and ask him to speak to us on: "Canada's Indian Policy: A Major Review."


In June, the Government announced its proposals for a new Indian policy. Since then there has been debate and discussion and it continues. There is much speculation about the possible impact of the proposals and the direction in which they point. Today I want to tell you something about the proposals, what led the Government to make them, and where they now stand.

Last year, in July 1968, a series of meetings with spokesmen for each band of Indian people were held. These meetings between Indian representatives and government were well publicized and well attended. They dramatized the position of the Indian people and opened Canadians' eyes to their circumstances.

At these meetings it was clear that Indian people were preoccupied by considerations of their treaties and rights. It was clear that many Indian spokesmen were dissatisfied with their present relationship with government, which they called both paternalistic and bureaucratic. It was clear that the restrictions contained in the present Indian Act had to be changed. It was clear that Indian people wanted to have the same freedom and the same equality which many other Canadians enjoy.

As these meetings were being held, it became clear that Government had been right to initiate them. The Government then decided to respond to what Indian people were saying.

This it did. On June 25th I presented to the House of Commons a series of proposals aimed at the goal of a nondiscriminatory society, proposals intended to be discussed with Indian people, provincial governments, and the Canadian public as a whole.

What does the Statement say?

It says that the time has come to change a system which has been discriminatory and paternalistic towards Indian people.

It says that the proposals contained in the policy statement are to be discussed with Indian people, provincial governments and the Canadian public.

It says that provinces should extend the services to Indians that they extend to others who live within their boundaries and that the Federal Government will transfer funds to help them do it.

It says that if the provinces extend their services, and other federal departments extend theirs to Indians, the Department of Indian Affairs would be phased out of operation. After all, Indian Affairs has been attacked by everybody. Who could complain if the Government believed that the critics had meant what they said?

It says that representatives of the Indian people should be involved in discussions with the provinces and the Federal Government.

It says that the Indian people should control their own land.

It says that those bands which want title to their land should be able to take it.

The Statement says that it hopes that the extension of services by provincial governments could be done in five years. It goes on to say that the matter of Indian control of Indian land will take longer. There are 550 bands. There are over 2,000 reserves. An Indian Lands Act is necessary to protect the land. Such an Act will have to be talked about, drafted, made into law and put into effect. This will take longer than five years.

The Statement says that the Treaties would be reviewed by the Indians and the Commissioner for Indian Claims to determine the best way of adjudicating claims arising from them. It says the Federal Government will respect the treaties.

The Statement says that the Government recognized that all Canadians should acknowledge the virtues, strengths, and richness of Indian culture and languages.

The Statement says that the Government would develop, with the Indian people, programs to enrich their cultural heritage and their sense of identity.

The reaction of Indian spokesmen to the proposals has been mixed. Some Indian leaders have told the Government it ought not to move too fast. Others say they "reject" the policy, but agree with many of the specific proposals, and offer constructive suggestions as to how the policy can be amended to better suit Indian needs.

At the root of much of the reaction of Indian spokesmen to the proposals is distrust of government and serious misunderstandings as to what the proposals mean.

Lest there be any doubt, I want to emphasize that the proposals are just that--proposals--to be discussed with Indian people, provincial governments, and the Canadian public. Since June I have heard many Indian representations. I have met with many groups. I have assured them that the Statement does not propose that Indian reserves should be abolished. The Government does not propose to disregard the treaties and end them unilaterally. The Government does not want the cultural identity of the Indian people to be absorbed into the larger Canadian society and thereby lost. It does not propose to "make Indians the responsibility of the provinces". Under the proposals the provinces would assume the same responsibilities for Indian people that they do for others. The Federal Government will transfer funds to help them to do this.

I can well appreciate the reaction of Indian people towards the policy proposals. The proposals represented a dramatic break from the past. Spokesmen for the Indian people have asked for time to consider them and to draft alternative proposals of their own. This is a reasonable position to take, and I look forward to receiving these counter proposals.

The basis for the Government's policy is the firm belief that Canada should be a non-discriminatory society. This is the goal. We are prepared to debate, discuss, consult and negotiate on what flows from this concept and on the time it might take to achieve the goal.

We do not expect to see the non-discriminatory goal reached in five years, or in ten or in any other specific period of time. We are prepared to consider a transitional period which is extended in time, but which is not, however, infinitely long.

There are special needs in poor communities which are isolated from their neighbours, there are special needs in some regions, there are special needs for those who have fallen behind their fellow Canadians. Some or all of these needs will be found in most Indian communities and homes. These needs should be met as well as society can manage. They should be met by agencies specializing in needs, not in ethnic groups.

We believe that non-discriminatory society will make every attempt to meet the needs of its people, who are behind their fellows because they have a claim to help, and their need must be recognized. But I cannot see why one government should concentrate on an Indian community, while another concentrates on the Metis community adjoining it. We must meet both groups' needs and meet them better than we have up to this time.

I think that to have a Department of Indian Affairs is wrong, because we run a government within a government for a small group of citizens stretched from one end of the country to the other. In many fields, such as education and welfare, the provinces are better equipped to provide the services to Indian people. And I believe it is only reasonable that Indian citizens should benefit from this greater expertise which we in Ottawa have tried to duplicate under the present system.

We believe that a non-discriminatory society can accommodate different ways of holding and controlling land. Some people own land in their own names. Some hold land through corporations or partnerships. Some hold land in communal possession--such as the Hutterites. We believe that the Indian people can control their lands and ultimately own them without prejudicing their desire to have the lands remain Indian. The feeling Indian people have for their land is as strong as the French-Canadians' feeling for the French language. This feeling must be respected. The land must be protected. That is why we propose to have an Indian Lands Act which will continue and indeed enhance Indian control of their land by first transferring it to them in law and adding special safeguards.

Some of you may ask what is wrong with the present system of land management? Well let me tell you how it works. First the Band Council decides that it wants to do something constructive and reasonable with a piece of its land as many of them do. They pass a Council resolution which they hand over to the Department's Agency office. It is sent from there to the Regional office. The Regional people, anticipating that their superiors in Ottawa will ask questions, attempt to outguess the Head Office and ask questions themselves. Back it goes to the Agency and back to the Band. The Band get another meeting organized. They answer the questions and put the proposal back into the mill. It goes to the Agency, to the Region and it finally reaches the Head Office--where the lawyers get at it. They ask more questions that the region had not thought of. Back it goes. Eventually all the questions are answered and it comes to me. I look at the date and find it is over a year old.

I complain, but I find that all the questions were reasonable if you consider that I am the trustee and could be held to blame if they had not been asked.

The fact is, the position of a trustee is never satisfactory to the beneficiary or to the trustee himself.

When the Indians want to make a lease and we think it is a poor deal, but they insist they want it, we finally agree--after all it is their land. Then ten years later they come back and say we should not have let them do it. I think anyone under a trust would do the same.

The fact is that between the byzantine maze of administrative necessity and the Indian Act, there is a solid confusion that cannot be overcome except by giving the Indian people control of their land. A control with protection if they want to be protected, but surely not to the present extent. Under the Indian Act there is no escape from the maze. The red tape jungle was built into the Act to protect the Crown--the people of Canada if you like, from the dangers inherent in trusteeship and to protect the Indians from being hoodwinked out of their land.

What the government is saying now is that there are better ways of protecting the Indian land without placing the Crown in the position of having to second guess Indian people who are responsible enough to administer their own affairs.

You would not believe the difficulties of being a trustee for six million acres of land divided into 2,200 parcels and occupied by 550 bands, unless you have been in my position. And I say that it has to end.

Canada does not need the present Indian Act. It needs some legislation to achieve desirable ends, such as protecting Indian land from exploitation, legislation which will allow the Indian people to be treated as the adults they are, not as the children that past legislation assumed them to be.

Under the present system you would not want to try to lease Indian land unless it were especially attractive. You would not want to be in my position and you would not want to be in the Indian Band Council's position either.

The present system is a hindrance to development and frustrates the initiative of many Indian bands. It must change.

We know that these proposals are not magical solutions to the problems of Indian people. We know, as well, that if an effort is not made to change the present system under which Indian people live--separate legislation, separate land system, and separate administration--little progress will be made in breaking the pattern of separation and discrimination which has plagued Indian people for so long.

Whether we like to admit it or not, Indian people have been living in a kind of apartheid--living apart, separate from other Canadians. Too often, when they come into the cities, Indian people are not welcomed. Too many people ask why they have come, and say that Indians really belong on the reserve. Indians are governed on the basis of race, while other Canadians treat Indians on the basis of race, when what is needed is for both government and Canadians to treat Indian people for what they are--human beings, Canadian citizens.

That is why the statement of the Government says that the goal of non-discrimination can only be successful if it has the support of Indian people, provincial governments, and all of the Canadian public. For this kind of discriminatory attitude exists in Canada. It is present in too many Canadian cities. And it must change if we are to remove the blight of discrimination from the face of our country.

For too many years Canadians have neglected Indian people. They were unaware of their contribution to Canadian history. They were unaware of their desires. They were unaware of their problems. They were unaware that Indian people are as capable as other Canadians in managing their own affairs.

The Government's proposals are designed to end the isolation of Indian people from the rest of Canadian society. In terms of government this means that Indian people should receive services from the same agencies as other Canadians. It means that where there are special needs in poor communities, that these needs should be met. But they should be met by agencies specializing in needs, not in ethnic groups. In terms of Canadian society, it means that a whole array of private institutions, previously closed, must now become open to the Indian fact.

It is Canadian business which has jobs to offer Indian people. It is Canadian society which must break the barriers of misunderstanding and discrimination. These problems cannot be solved in isolation. Everyone has a part to play in opening the doors of opportunity to Indian people. Doors which have been closed for too long.

The Indian people need jobs and income. They need training and assistance. Government can do the training, but business has the jobs.

In Calgary the oil industry and the Department have a joint committee to identify future job opportunities in the North. Government undertakes training of Indian and Eskimo people to try to have the trainee and the job arrive on the work site together.

Other industries--particularly the forest industry, the mining industry and others operating in areas where there are Indians, should look at what is being done in oil, and ask themselves whether they should not take a part. We will welcome your proposals. You are the ones who know where the opportunities lie. Tell us and the Indian people. We will do our part. But the business community has a responsibility to do their part as well. We must be involved together.

I could go on longer, for this is a complex situation with many aspects. But you have heard enough for today.

Think about this situation and ask yourself these questions: How proud are you of legal discrimination in Canada? What choice does Canada have? What can you do, as citizens and businessmen to help to make the situation right?

I would like to hear your answers. Thank you for your patient attention.

Mr. Chretien was thanked on behalf of The Empire Club by Mr. Peter Hermant.

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Canada's Indian Policy—A Major Review

An address four months after the Government announcement of proposals for a new Indian policy. Continuing discussion and debate. Speculation about the possible impact of the proposals and the direction in which they point. Details of the proposal. Mixed reaction of Indian spokesmen to the proposals. Distrust of government and misunderstanding as to what the proposals mean. The basis for the Government's policy. Striving for a non-discriminatory society. The "wrongness" of having a Department of Indian Affairs. Problems with the Indian Act. The lack of control by the Indian people of their land. Difficulties of being a trustee. The lack of need for the present Indian Act. The present system as a hindrance to development and frustration for the initiatives of many Indian bands. Canada with an apartheid policy. A part to be played by all Canadians: industry, business, government. Becoming a non-discriminatory society.