Sept 2004

As discussed, neither the 1927 Indian Act prohibition on fund raising nor the stresses of the Depression stopped BC Native people from moving toward political organization. During the early 1940s, Andrew Paull, of the Allied Tribes of BC, began the first effort to forge a national Native political organization with the formation of the North American Indian Brotherhood (NAIB).

On the global front, North America became involved in World War II in1941 with the Japanese assault on Pearl Harbour. Similar to World War I, Native people volunteered for military service in exceptionally large numbers. Native enlistment was high with each war having more than 3000 registered Indians along with many Métis and non-status Natives volunteering to serve. Many more tried to enlist but were not accepted due to poor health or limited education.

During those few years, Native people in the service experienced acceptance in the country’s war efforts. However, after the wars, when the Native volunteers returned home to Canada and to their reserve communities, it became clear that the equality and acceptance they had experienced had been only temporary. Many of the war veterans became involved in the political organization of their communities.

Regarding the situation of Native peoples in Canada, in the midst of a world war against institutionalized racism, it became increasingly more difficult for the government to disregard the assumptions of racial, moral and economic superiority that were embedded in Canadian Indian policy.

Anxious to address these shortcomings that amounted to systemic racism, the initiation of change began after hearings of the joint parliamentary committee on the Indian Act. In 1946 to 1948 a special committee of the Senate and House of Commons was appointed to examine and consider amendments to the discredited Indian Act legislation.

Various Native organizations from across Canada made presentations informing the committee about the excessive political interference of the Department of Indian Affairs (Indian Agents) in band affairs, along with compulsory enfranchisement (loss of Indian status), inadequate economic assistance and the government’s failure to follow and implement the terms of the treaties. Under the name of the North American Indian Brotherhood, Andrew Paull also made presentations to the federal parliamentary committee.

Basically the Native representatives were seeking changes that would allow them to re-establish control of their own affairs without having to assimilate into the Euro-Canadian culture or give up their Indian status. However, the resulting legislation essentially ignored the input that the Native organizations from across the country had presented to them. The joint committee gave direction for the removal of the most discriminatory aspects and coercive measures to the Indian Act, but kept its assimilative goals intact. The resulting Indian Act amendments became legislation in 1951. We will re-visit these amendments next month.

Also during this decade, racial minorities including Natives gained the right to vote in BC and a Native leader was elected to the BC legislature. In 1949, the Canadian government abolished the avenue for appealing important legal matters to the Judicial Committee in London.

Cathy Narcisse First Published in Bridge River Lillooet News Sept 2004
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