This activity provides students with varied viewpoints on the issue of extending the franchise to the First Nations. Students will have the opportunity to examine documents and materials related to the position of the Canadian government, the First Nations, and international organizations like the United Nations. Consult the online primary documents and website text as resources.

Introduction

  • Introduce students to the history of the Indian Act.
  • Explain why the Indian Act was created.
  • Explain the effects of the Indian Act:
    • It placed complete control of First Nations politics, culture, and education in the hands of the Federal Government.
    • It established rules that dictated who was Indian and who was not (Status/non-Status).
    • Most importantly (for this lesson): the Indian Act did not allow Aboriginal peoples to vote in federal elections until 1960, when they were enfranchised, or given the right to vote without an accompanying loss of Indian status.
  • Explain some positive aspects of the Indian Act:
    • Prior to the repatriation of the Constitution in 1982 (and excluding negotiated treaties) it was the only government document to recognize Aboriginal peoples. Without it, Aboriginal peoples would not have any special status. It allows for certain rights including health services, education, subsidized housing and exemption from certain taxes, but all in exchange for land and other rights.
    • Some amendments have been made to the Indian Act, including lifting of the ban on ceremonies and fundraising, the right to vote, and Bill C-31 to re-establish some Aboriginal peoples' status.
  • Encourage students to conduct background research to enhance this activity.

Refer to the following links:

  • Canada Treaty Information
  • Historic Treaties (Indian and Northern Affairs Canada)

Activity

  • With the understanding of the multiple views on the issue of enfranchisement, divide students into three groups which represent the views of:
    • the Canadian Government
    • First Nations
    • the United Nations
  • Introduce the issue of enfranchisement, while reminding the students that the discussion is occurring in the late 1950s when First Nations don’t yet have the right to vote.
  • Students can then view the online primary resources related to their position. Consider the following questions:
    • How are Aboriginal Peoples described in your sources?
    • What reasons are given for the support or denial of Aboriginal voting rights
  • Encourage your students to participate in a round-table discussion, expressing their opinions and responding to the ideas of others. There will not be a vote or any kind of formal decision made. If you have an Elder in your school community, consider asking them to facilitate a sharing circle.

Optional Activities

  • There are several variations on this activity which can be utilized. In one, students are divided into four groups with the newest being designated “observers”:
    • The observers are instructed that they can speak for any side in the discussion, but each time their opinion changes they must physically move to join the group they support.
    • The observers are allowed to move around as the debate continues and their opinions change. The students will see that, from an objective standpoint, their arguments vary and appeal to different people.
  • Another option is to pause the discussion halfway through and switch the groups to represent one of the different perspectives. This would require each group to appreciate the other groups' opinions when they become their own!
  • Finally, reflect on the discussion. Return to being a regular student (outside of your role or the perspective you took) and ask within your group:
    • Did you all agree? Disagree?
  • Additional resources available upon request from the Diefenbaker Canada Centre for extended learning opportunities.

Enormous crowd at Outlook, Saskatchewan watches as Chief Little Crow of the Sioux Indian Tribe places head dress on Prime Minister John G. Diefenbaker, naming him Chief Walking Buffalo
John Diefenbaker being named Chief Walking Buffalo by Chief Little Crow of the Sioux Indian Tribe

Media and Document Gallery

Images

John Diefenbaker in Indian head dress
John Diefenbaker with Chief Mathias Joe of the Capilano and others in North Vancouver
John Diefenbaker speaking in Inuvik
John Diefenbaker greeting an Aboriginal woman, and a small boy
John Diefenbaker with Chief Brono, Chief Joe Sangris and the Mayor of Yellowknife, North West Territories
John Diefenbaker with school children in Whitehorse, Yukon
John and Olive Diefenbaker with Chief William Little Crow at Outlook Saskatchewan
John Diefenbaker being named Chief Walking Buffalo by Chief Little Crow of the Sioux Indian Tribe

Audio

Speech by John Diefenbaker at Penetang, Ontario

Creator: Progressive Conservative Party of Canada

Subject: Canada – Head of Government | Canada – Human Rights

Description: John Diefenbaker mentions his devotion to the concept of equality for all Canadians, despite opposition to this view

Date Created: 2 May1965

Identifier:MG01/XVIII/T544-PAC180b

Speech by John Diefenbaker to the Sudbury Progressive Conservative Association, Sudbury

Creator: Progressive Conservative Party of Canada

Subject: Canada – Head of Government | Canada – First Nations | Canada – Franchise | Canada - Senators

Description: John Diefenbaker enumerates his Government’s achievements regarding First Nations issues, namely extending them the franchise and appointing James Gladstone to the Senate

Date Created: 15 May1965

Identifier:MG01/XVIII/T543-PAC179b

Speech by John Diefenbaker at Waterton Park, Alberta

Creator: CJOC Radio, Lethbridge

Subject: Canada – Head of Government | Canada – First Nations | Canada – Franchise

Description: John Diefenbaker discusses his Government’s recent granting of the franchise to First Nations and what it will mean for the future, at his investiture as an honorary Chief of the Kainai Chieftanship.

Date Created: 27 June1960

Identifier:MG01/XVIII/T193-PAC44a

Documents

Letter from George A. Cree to John Diefenbaker

Creator: George A. Cree

Subject: Canada – First Nations | Canada – Elections Act | First Nations – Enfranchisement | First Nations – Treaty

Description: Questions regarding impact of changes to the Elections Act on First Nations Treaty rights.

Date Created: 20 January1960

Identifier:MG01/VI/635.1 Volume 422 (345140)

Letter from George F. Davidson to John Diefenbaker

Creator: George F. Davidson

Subject: Canada – First Nations | Canada – Elections Act | First Nations – Enfranchisement | First Nations – Blood Indian Reserve

Description: Outlines result of plebiscites held on a Blood Indian Reserve regarding Aboriginal views on voting rights.

Date Created: 29 April1961

Identifier:MG01/VI/635.1 Volume 422 (345095)

Letter from John G. Diefenbaker to Mrs. Hurley

Creator: John Diefenbaker

Subject: Canada – First Nations | Canada – Elections Act | First Nations – Enfranchisement | First Nations – Treaty

Description: Mr. Diefenbaker assures that voting rights will not alter any other First Nations rights.

Date Created: 30 May1962

Identifier:MG01/VI/635.1 Volume 422 (345071)

Letter to Fred de la Ronde from John Diefenbaker

Creator: John G. Diefenbaker

Subject: Canada – First Nations | British Columbia – First Nations

Description: Congratulating work done with First Nations groups in British Columbia.

Date Created: 17 June1960

Identifier:MG01/VI/635.1 Volume 422 (345096 - 345097)

Letter from John Diefenbaker to Percy A. Paull

Creator: John Diefenbaker

Subject: Canada – First Nations | Canada – Elections Act | First Nations – Enfranchisement | First Nations – Treaty

Description: Diefenbaker reiterates that Treaty and First Nations rights will not be diminished by amendments to the Elections Act.

Date Created: 9 March1962

Identifier:MG01/VI/635.1 Volume 422 (345078 – 345079)

Memo from Ellen Fairclough to John G. Diefenbaker

Creator: Ellen Fairclough

Subject: Canada – First Nations | Canada – Elections Act | First Nations – Enfranchisement | First Nations – Treaty

Description: Statements made in House of Commons on 11 April 1962 regarding changes to Elections Act not affecting Treaty rights.

Date Created: 18 May1962

Identifier:MG01/VI/635.1 Volume 422 (345070)

Memo to Mr. H.B.M. Best from H.M. Jones

Creator: H.M. Jones

Subject: Canada – First Nations | Canada – Elections Act | First Nations – Enfranchisement

Description: Draft statement to address concerns of First Nations groups regarding amendments to the Election Act.

Date Created: 13 June1960

Identifier:MG01/VI/635.1 Volume 422 (345099 – 345100)

Memo to Ian Drost from J.A. Macaulay

Creator: J.A. Macaulay

Subject: Canada – First Nations | Canada – Elections Act | First Nations – Enfranchisement

Description: Discusses strong suspicions harboured by First Nations communities regarding amendments to Section 14 of the Canada Elections Act.

Date Created: 30 May1962

Identifier:MG01/VI/635.1 Volume 422 (345065 – 345069)

Special edition of “The Native Voice”

Creator: Native Brotherhood of British Columbia

Subject: Canada – First Nations | Canada – Elections Act | First Nations – Enfranchisement | British Columbia – First Nations

Description: Outlines benefits of granting full citizenship rights to all First Nations people.

Date Created:no date

Identifier:MG01/VII/F/101 Volume 293 (186959 – 186986)

Letter to John Diefenbaker from Percy A. Paull

Creator: Percy A. Paull

Subject: Canada – First Nations | Canada – Elections Act | First Nations – Enfranchisement | First Nations – Treaty | British Columbia – First Nations

Description: Voicing concerns of First Nations people from British Columbia, where no Treaty rights exist.

Date Created: 24 February1962

Identifier:MG01/VI/635.1 Volume 422 (345080 - 345081)

Letter from John Sacobie to John Diefenbaker

Creator: John Sacobie

Subject: Canada – First Nations | Canada – Elections Act | First Nations – Enfranchisement | First Nations – Band Number 26

Description: Band is not in favour of any changes to the Elections Act, and criticizes Diefenbaker for lack of consultation with First Nations groups.

Date Created: 26 February1960

Identifier:MG01/VI/635.1 Volume 422 (345122)