Enfranchisement of First Nations: Educational Activity

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.

Download

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 Standing Buffalo
John Diefenbaker being named Chief Standing Buffalo by Chief Little Crow of the Sioux Indian Tribe
Media and Document Gallery

Images

John Diefenbaker in Indian head dress
Creator: Unknown

Subject: Canada – Head of Government | Saskatchewan – First Nations | School | Students

Description: John Diefenbaker in Indian head dress with a group of native children of the Beardy Okemasis band at Old Mission School in Duck Lake

Date Created: [v./ca. 1955]

Identifier: MG01/XVII/JGD7448

John Diefenbaker with Chief Mathias Joe of the Capilano and others in North Vancouver
Creator: Canada Pictures Limited

Subject: Canada – Head of Government | British Columbia – First Nations

Description: John Diefenbaker standing with Chief Matthias Joe and three other members of the Capilano Indian band who are all in ceremonial dress, North Vancouver Coast-Capilano riding, 1958 federal election

Date Created: March 1958

Identifier: MG01/XVII/JGD4859

John Diefenbaker speaking in Inuvik
Creator: National Film Board of Canada

Subject: Canada – Head of Government | Northwest Territories – First Nations

Description: John Diefenbaker speaking from an outdoor platform during the opening ceremonies in Inuvik, Northwest Territories

Date Created: 21 July 1961

Identifier: MG01/XVII/JGD3643

John Diefenbaker greeting an Aboriginal woman, and a small boy
Creator: National Film Board of Canada

Subject: Canada – Head of Government | Northwest Territories – Aboriginal

Description: John Diefenbaker greets an Aboriginal woman and a small boy, amidst a crowd of individuals, Yellowknife, Northwest Territories.

Date Created: July 1961

Identifier: MG01/XVIIJGD3636

John Diefenbaker with Chief Brono, Chief Joe Sangris and the Mayor of Yellowknife, North West Territories
Creator: National Film Board of Canada

Subject: Canada – Head of Government | Northwest Territories – First Nations

Description: John Diefenbaker talking to Chief Brono of Rae, Chief Sangris of Yellowknife and the Mayor of Yellowknife, North West Territories

Date Created: July 1961

Identifier: MG01/XVII/JGD3635

John Diefenbaker with school children in Whitehorse, Yukon
Creator: Unknown

Subject: Canada – Head of Government | Yukon – First Nations | School

Description: John Diefenbaker standing to address the students of Whitehorse Elementary and High School, Christ the King School and the Indian Baptist Mission

Date Created: 26 September 1958

Identifier: MG01/XVII/JGD3606

John and Olive Diefenbaker with Chief William Little Crow at Outlook Saskatchewan
Creator: Unknown

Subject: Canada – Head of Government | Saskatchewan – First Nations | Personalities | Traditional Costume

Description: John and Olive Diefenbaker talking to Chief William Little Crow of Sioux at South Saskatchewan River Dam ceremony, Outlook

Date Created: 27 May 1959

Identifier: MG01/XVII/JGD1176

John Diefenbaker being named Chief Standing Buffalo by Chief Little Crow of the Sioux Indian Tribe
Creator: Saskatchewan Government Photographic Services

Subject: Canada – Head of Government | Saskatchewan – First Nations | Ceremony

Description: 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 Standing Buffalo

Date Created: May 1959

Identifier: MG01/XVII/JGD3451


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:2May1965

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:15May1965

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:27June1960

Identifier:MG01/XVIII/T193-PAC44a


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