21 Things You May Not Know About The Indian Act Review
This review is reproduced with the permission of the British Journal of Canadian Studies.
Roy Todd, Vancouver
Reconciliation with Indigenous peoples is at the heart of this book. Its two parts provide different ways of advancing reconciliation: first by providing knowledge about the Indian Act and second by combining educational questions with an outline of information about residential schools and the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Bob Joseph’s understanding of the Indian Act is summarised on the first page: ‘it shaped the socio-economic and political reality of many generations of First Nations, and … is the basis for many of today’s stereotypes about first Nations’ (p. 3). He rectifies ignorance of the Indian Act by summarising its various stages of development (Part 1: Dark Chapter) and outlining a scenario to follow its dissolution (Part 2: Dismantling the Indian Act). A series of five appendices sets out an informed basis for reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.
Among other oppressive measures the Indian Act (1876 with subsequent amendments) imposed an electoral system; created reserves; renamed individuals with European names; declared cultural ceremonies illegal; created residential schools; forbade students from speaking their own language; and forbade Indians from political organisation, forbade them to follow their own religion, and denied them the right to vote. These and other aspects of the Indian Act are outlined with background commentary in the five chapters of Part 1. The principal answer to the question posed in Part 2, ‘If Not the Indian Act, Then What?’ (p. 95) is to provide self-government for Indigenous people in Canada. The final sentence of this section remarks, ‘While self-government is not a quick fix for the deeply rooted social, health and economic issues that plague Indigenous communities, it is a step towards empowering communities to rebuild and heal from the intergenerational effects of residential schools’(p. 102).
Bob Joseph is a blogger and trainer on Indigenous topics and the expertise and commitment derived from these roles are clear in the Appendices (pp. 107–72) which provide strength and educational clarity to the book’s purpose. The Appendices comprise a glossary, a chronology of Indian residential schools, a full listing of the Calls to Action by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, classroom activities, and quotes from John A. Macdonald and Duncan Campbell Scott. The chronology of Indian residential schools (prepared by John Edmond) summarises their development from 1755 onwards, records the abuse and deaths which followed, and outlines their closure and the slow development of steps towards reconciliation up to 2017. Bob Joseph’s call for Canadians to ‘review the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission … and pursue the ones relevant to them’ (p. 105) is applicable to all readers. This concise and well-documented book is an example of decolonisation in practice and is very strongly recommended. Its invitation and guidance for its readers on decolonisation and reconciliation are clear and constructive.
You can view the whole volume here.