Essay on Social Work With Indigenous People

Published: 2021/12/03
Number of words: 1529


The Indian Act was first passed in the year 1876 to consolidate various laws that protected the rights of Indians. It is a Canadian act of Parliament and it is concerned with systems of Indian reserves, registered Indians and their bands. The act has been amended many times and has drawn controversy between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians. The scope of the act ranges from education, land use, governance, healthcare and most important on Indian reserves. The original Indian Act was concerned with two distinct aspects which include how bands and reserves can cooperate and people recognized as Indians (Morden, 2016). The Indian Act is essential to the Indian community as it stipulates ways in which they live with one another, and sets laws with govern the relationship between them and other citizens in the country.

Purpose of the Policy

Indian Residential Schools

The Canadian Bagot Commission recommended training students in the year 1844 with regards to “…as many manual labour or Industrial schools as possible… In such schools…isolated from the influence of their parents, pupils would imperceptibly acquire the manners, habits and customs of civilized life” (Fontaine, 2017). Indian schools were suggested by Davin Report to be centered on the American framework in 1879. According to the report, the boarding school method was the key solution as it assimilated the native students from the reserves and kept them on the continuous cycle of evolution, guaranteed appearance, and kept learners from impeding the influence of the parents. Several residential schools existed in Canada by 1931 and the requirement of children participating in the public school system was a key element to the assimilation policy which was incorporated in the Indian Act.

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In order to be recognized as an Indian by the national government in the US or Canada, individuals must comply with established standards of government regulations. The Indian Act purposed to control all aspects of Indian life and assimilate the natives into Canada. Assimilation involves merging an entity into another. The act is a regulatory regime that offers means of understanding Native identity, forming a theoretical structure that has molded modern native life in habits that are nowadays so accustomed to nearly appear ordinary (Joseph, 2018). The Indian Act was applied to various policies which included gender discrimination, residential schools, court access restrictions, and religious ceremonies bans. In 1884, an amendment was made in the act which mandated for education on Indian children to enable them to learn English. The current disreputable Indian Residential School system exposed children to forced illness, conversations, exploitation, and what has been perceived as attempted genocide by the contemporary Truth and Reconciliation Commission. However, the enactment of the act incorporated various policies, which included the creation of reserves, renaming people with European names, leasing uncultivated reserve lands to other non-first nations for the purpose of agriculture, and forbidding first nations from establishing political organizations (Pasternak, 2015). In addition, the act serves different roles such as barring the sale of guns to first nations, imposing the band council system, banning the sale of liquor to first nations, forbidding first nations from communicating in the Indian language or participating in traditional religion, and it deprived of the first nations their voting rights. All these restrictions were made to protect the Indian people from exploitation by other nations or people, and preserve their traditions and cultures. They also needed to feel like a part of the nation with various powers and places of authority in the state’s administration. They, therefore, did not want other parties interfering with their styles of governance.

Voices Included and not included in the Indian Act

Since the act was implemented, the government has been able to control significant aspects of aboriginal life including education, land, resources, band administration, Indian status, and wills. Metis and Inuit are not controlled or governed by the act (Imai, 2015). The previous version of the act aimed at the assimilation of the first nations. Individuals in possession of university degrees habitually lost their Indian position as well as native women who got married to non-native men. Many children attended residential schools which aimed at enabling them to forget their cultures and language and traditions in which they suffered abuse. The government of Canada apologized for their move which was trying to kill the culture in such children. Numerous aboriginal people have denounced the act but have been reluctant to entirely eliminate it due to various protections such as tax immunity in the reserves (Imai, 2015). Others have entirely eradicated the policies and have formed their own governments in order to manage their own affairs. Others signed onto the Land Management Act of the first nations which were enacted by Ottawa in the year 1999, at the same time remaining subject to the Indian act. Such individuals have been given specific influences, such as the management of the environment, resources, and reserve lands.

Suggestions for Revising the Policies

Various parties have been calling for the abolishment of the Indian Act but have been met by cynicism from the first nations. I believe the act should be amended and updated to meet the challenges and situations of the contemporary world. There are numerous of acres in the reserves which could be utilized for modern political and infrastructural structures and could focus on enhancing education and health facilities. The reserve system and the act should have been abolished a long time ago to allow time for healing and transformation of the valuable culture. It would be an extraordinary experience for the native people to be given an opportunity to participate in Canadian life. Thus, amendments should be made which allow the native people to behave like ordinary people of Canada, and not just one group attempting to isolate itself from civilization. The motto of the nation should allow for one people, one law, one country, and one citizenship. Other variations in terms of culture and traditional norms create ethnic differences that dilute the aspect of nationhood. I also think the act should be repealed and settlement of land claims should be done and make all lands in the aboriginal groups a province that would give the people new identity and control over their lives and decisions. Also, this would lead to equality and mutual respect, and the people would be free to acquaint themselves with Canadian experience. In the aim of promoting equality in the country, all citizens must be governed by one law and no special consideration should be given to any ethnic group, as this creates differences and bias. Ensuring equality would also be useful in eliminating clan structures in the Indian reservations which have oppressed right of individuals. Young people can get a better education and progress into becoming valuable members of society. If the move to repeal the act is not possible, the policies should be revised as such people value their culture and have been proud of their independence. Some claim that westernization has stripped the people of their pride and cultural beliefs and has turned them into government-depended individuals. In this regard, whether revised or repealed, the policy should be able to unite the people of Canada under one leadership while appreciating the cultures of all people.

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Influence as a Social Worker

The primary goal of a social worker is to assist individuals in coping with the challenges they face in their families in order to better their experiences and lives. It can be a challenging role but with enough support from the government, one can be able to influence the lives of vulnerable groups positively. The directives established in the Indian act if revised may help assist the vulnerable groups of the Indian culture like women and children to realize their dreams. Children can be able to go to better schools and learn about different cultures and languages. Women have been oppressed in this culture, and a social worker, it would be my responsibility to educate them about their rights and their position in the nation.


The Indian act has had many criticisms mostly from the reservations as the people saw it as a tool of controlling their lives. Although the act recognized the Indian people, it has focused on assimilating them into the broader culture of the nation. The policy should thus be revised to ensure unity in the country and abolish laws governing a specific group. Doing so would ensure no groups are discriminated in terms of ethnicity and would enable the nation to recognize all people as one nation.


Fontaine, L. S. (2017). Redress for linguicide: Residential schools and assimilation in Canada. British Journal of Canadian studies30(2), 183-204.

Imai, S. (2015). Annual Annotated Indian Act and Aboriginal Constitutional Provisions. Carswell.

Joseph, R. P. (2018). 21 Things you may not know about the Indian act. Vancouver, BC: Indigenous Relations Press.

Morden, M. (2016). Theorizing the resilience of the Indian Act. Canadian Public Administration59(1), 113-133.

Pasternak, S. (2015). How capitalism will save colonialism: The privatization of reserve lands in Canada. Antipode47(1), 179-196.

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