Under the Indian Act of 1876, status Indians were considered “wards of the state” and not full citizens, so they were excluded from voting.
In 1960, Prime Minister John Diefenbaker gave the federal vote to all Indigenous people. Shortly after, Saskatchewan Premier Tommy Douglas extended provincial voting rights to Saskatchewan’s Indigenous people.
However, discriminatory enfranchisement policies continued, especially for Indigenous women. Until 1985, if a First Nations woman married a “non-Indian”man, she and her children lost their Indian rights and status. On the other hand, if a non-Indigenous woman married a First Nations man, she legally became an “Indian,” and until 1960 this made her ineligible to vote.
- University of Saskatchewan Archives and Special Collections, JGD3636
- University of Saskatchewan Archives and Special Collections, JGD4859
In 1985, Bill C-31 was added to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Bill removed the discriminatory practice of denying an Indigenous woman her rights if she married a “non-Indian” man. After the Bill came into effect, Indigenous women and their children could apply to have their lost status reinstated. However, this was an extremely difficult process. Applicants had to travel to Department of Indian Affairs offices, which was unaffordable for many women living in remote communities. Also, there were additional research fees for finding evidence that a woman was Indigenous. Therefore, despite Bill C-31, the process of regaining status was still out of reach for women who were financially, or otherwise, disadvantaged.
- License: Public Domain
- The Toronto Star, Saturday, July 6, 1985 (page A16)
The situation did not change for women from visible minorities after provincial and federal suffrage was secured. Racial discrimination excluded Chinese-Canadians, Japanese-Canadians and Indo-Canadian women, as well as men, from voting until well into the 1940s.
In 1920, a clause in the Dominion Elections Act removed federal voting rights for individuals who were provincially disenfranchised based on race. Saskatchewan was one of the only two Canadian provinces to deny Chinese-Canadians the provincial vote. Chinese-Canadians and Indo-Canadians were provincially and federally enfranchised in 1947, and Japanese-Canadians in 1948.
Doukhobors and Mennonites also faced intolerance. The Wartime Elections Act of 1917 disenfranchised them based on religious beliefs that opposed military participation. Mennonites regained the vote in 1920, whereas Doukobors were not allowed to vote until 1955.
- Photograph LH-1856 courtesy Saskatoon Public Library — Local History Room
- The Wiens family. Courtesy of Larissa Clark