American Indian Heritage Month: Commemoration vs. Exploitation
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Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

The Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development (DIAND) was established in 1966 with the intent of administering to the varying needs of Native people in Canada, a culturally, economically, and geographically diverse clientele to be sure. DIAND's responsibility for administering Indian Affairs in Canada involved reconciling the socioeconomic interests of an increasingly suspicious and militant Indian leadership with a myriad of legislation and the agendas of federal, provincial, and territorial bodies.

Responsibility for colonial Indian affairs in British North America was originally vested with the British imperial parliament. In 1755, Sir William Johnson and John Stuart were appointed the first two superintendents of the British Indian Department in British North America. The department was established to maintain peaceful relations between settlers and Indian populations of the Ohio Valley. This relationship was codified in the Royal Proclamation of 1763, an edict passed by King George III that also reserved the lands west of the Appalachian Mountain chain as Indian hunting territory. American colonists intent on opening up western settlement were prohibited from entering this territory and from engaging Native leaders in land negotiations due in part to the history of "great Frauds and Abuses" that had been perpetrated against Indians. The new Indian bureaucracy for all intents and purposes remained in operation until Canada's birth in 1867.

The Fathers of Confederation accepted responsibility for "Indians and lands reserved for Indians" according to Section 91(24) of the Constitution Act (1867). They also effectively dovetailed the British colonial model with the new federal bureaucracy by establishing the Indian Affairs Branch in 1868, one of the four branches under the jurisdiction of the Department of the Secretary of State for the Provinces. This would not be the home of Indian affairs for long, however. In 1873, responsibility for Indian Affairs was transferred to the Minister of the Department of the Interior, when the department was created that year. This commenced a long history in which the responsibility for Indian affairs was shunted from one department to another.

The Indian Act of 1876 created the legislative framework enabling Indian Affairs to promote its Indian policy (read "civilization" policy) uniformly across the country. The Indian Act granted considerable powers to the Superintendent General of Indian Affairs and his Indian agents. It also ensured that Indians in Canada were increasingly subject to the Indian Affairs regime. An amendment to the Indian Act in 1880 elevated the branch to departmental status, albeit still under the direction of the Minister of the Interior, who now held the secondary title of Superintendent General of Indian Affairs. An 1881 amendment to the Indian Act amplified the Indian agents' powers, making them justices of the peace while permitting them to prosecute and deliver sentences for violations of the Indian Act's provisions.

During the next five decades, the department was restructured numerous times, as federal officials attempted to facilitate the assimilation of Indians into mainstream Canadian society. Promoted as a cost-cutting measure, the departmental restructuring resulted in the creation of several distinct branches, reflecting the expanded nature of the department's activities. Then, in 1936, the department was dissolved as a cost-cutting measure, and responsibility for Indian Affairs transferred to the Department of Mines and Resources, where a subdepartment was established: the Indian Affairs Branch (IAB). The branch included the following components: field administration, medical welfare and training service, reserves and trust service, and the records service. During the next three decades, responsibility for Indian affairs was transferred a number of times, including its relocation to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship in 1949, where it remained until an independent Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development was established in 1966.

In 1964, R. F. Battle was appointed the Assistant Deputy Minister of Indian Affairs in the Department of Citizenship and Immigration, and he immediately spearheaded a significant reorganization of the Indian Affairs Branch followed by the formation of three new directorates: the Development Directorate, responsible for establishing and coordinating social, industrial, and resource development; the Education Directorate, responsible for establishing and carrying out educational policy; and the Administration Directorate, responsible for dealing with Indian lands and estates, membership, records management, field administration and the provision of a secretariat and support services.

The complexity of Indian affairs led to the decision once again to elevate the Branch to departmental status. On June 16, 1966, the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development (DIAND) was established by the Government Organization Act. DIAND was assigned responsibility for the development of the national parks, the administration of Indian and Eskimo affairs, and the management of Canada's wildlife resources. Arthur Laing (Progressive Conservative) was appointed minister, while E. A. Cote was appointed deputy minister to oversee the five DIAND branches. Legislation made the minister also responsible for Indians and Inuits, the residents of the Yukon and Northwest Territories, and their resources. In an attempt to improve accountability to their clientele, nine regional Indian affairs offices were established across Canada. Two years later, DIAND's announcement that it was again restructuring operations was followed by the creation of the Indian-Eskimo Bureau to provide advisory services for and to liaise with field staff responsible for departmental programs. Within the DIAND, four directorates were created: policy and planning, administration, development, and education.

By 1970, the Economic Development Branch was created to assist Indians in achieving economic self-sufficiency, and the Indian Economic Development Fund was established. That year, the Membership Division began transferring local administration of membership functions to Indian bands, and the federal government began funding Indian groups and associations specifically for research into treaties and Indian rights. In 1972, spurred on by the National Indian Brotherhood's (NIB) demands for greater autonomy to deliver education programs, DIAND initiated its devolution program by transferring responsibility for education to Native communities. The devolution program became central to the DIAND, a program that, with minor modifications during the last three decades, is still officially responsible for aboriginal people in Canada.

Commonly known today as Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC), the department is responsible for two separate mandates: Indian and Inuit affairs and Northern affairs. Primarily responsible for meeting the federal government's constitutional, treaty, political, and legal responsibilities to the First Nations, Inuit, and Northerners, INAC's mandate is all-encompassing and derived from the Indian Act, territorial acts, and legal obligations arising from Section 91(24) of the Constitution Act (1867). This comprehensive approach results in a significant level of responsibility that encompasses a wide range of services and in turn requires that INAC officials work closely with the First Nations, the Inuit and the Northerners, the Métis, and other federal departments and agencies, provinces, and territories that are responsible for issues affecting Indians.

INAC delivers basic services such as education, social assistance, housing, and community infrastructure to status (officially recognized) Indian and Inuit communities. The department also administers Indian reserve lands, oversees elections of First Nation councils, registers entitlement to Indian status and First Nation membership, and administers First Nation trust funds and the estates of certain individual Indians, in addition to negotiating the settlement of accepted land claims. According to the INAC Web site, some of the department's priorities include the recognition of greater program and political authority of First Nations and territorial governments by establishing a framework for the effective implementation of the inherent right of self-government; specific initiatives to implement self-government; continued devolution to territories of program administration; and assisting First Nations and Inuit peoples in strengthening their communities.

In many respects, the current INAC mandate reflects the basic Indian policy of the late 1860s when the first federal political branch was assigned responsibility to facilitate the physical and cultural absorption of status Indians, Inuits, and Métis into mainstream Canadian society. Paternalism remains the operating philosophy. INAC, for example, still oversees band council elections while guiding program delivery at the community level. Using the Indian Act as its guide, INAC has significant control over Canada's First Nations. For instance, Section 6 of the Indian Act enables INAC to determine who is or is not to be considered an Indian in Canada, which has the impact of alienating a number of Native people from government programs. Through Section 81 of the Indian Act, INAC is able to limit the powers of band councils. In all, despite INAC's self-professed interest in seeing self-government develop, its control over most aspects of First Nations life in Canada continues.

Yale D. Belanger


Further Reading
Leslie, John F. 1999. "Assimilation, Integration, or Termination? The Development of Canadian Indian Policy, 1943–1963." Ph. D. dissertation, Carleton University, Ottawa, ON.; Leslie, John. 1985. Commissions of Inquiry into Indian Affairs in the Canadas, 1828–1858: Evolving a Corporate Memory for the Indian Department. Ottawa, ON: Treaties and Historical Research Centre, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.; Leslie, John. 1993. A Historical Survey of Indian-Government Relations, 19401970. Ottawa, ON: Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, Claims and Historical Research Centre, prepared for the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples.; Milloy, John Sheridan. 1979. "The Era of Civilization: British Policy for the Indians of Canada, 1830–1860." Ph. D. dissertation, Oxford University.; Shewell, Hugh. 2004. " 'Enough to Keep Them Alive': Indian Welfare in Canada, 1873–1965." Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press.
 

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