BC Social Studies Lesson Plans

The Indian Act

Grade 10


The Indian Act

Big Idea

Historical and contemporary injustices challenge the narrative and identity of Canada as an inclusive, multicultural society.

Essential Question

Should we abolish the Indian Act?

Learning Standards Content

Students are expected to know the following:

  • discriminatory policies and injustices in Canada and the world, including residential schools

Curricular Competencies

Students are expected to be able to do the following:

  • Make reasoned ethical judgments about actions in the past and present, and assess appropriate ways to remember and respond (ethical judgment)

Core Competencies

I can describe the worldview of the Canadian government that resulted in the Indian Act.

I can analyze three main sections of the Indian Act: the reserve system, residential schools, and Indian status.

I can consider perspectives for and against abolishing the Indian Act.

First People's Principles of Learning

Learning involves recognizing the consequences of one’s actions.
  • Explain that we are going to take a 2-minute walk through Canada’s colonial history, exploring the events relevant to the relationship between Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals.
  • Show Wab Kinew’s 500 years in 2 minutes, 8th Fire, CBC
  • Have students describe this walk through history. What are the major events? What legal documents are particularly significant?
  • Provide students with the following quote:

  “The great aim of our legislation has been to do away with the tribal system and assimilate the        Indian people in all respects with the other inhabitants of the Dominion as speedily as they are           fit to change.” – John A Macdonald, 1887

  • Explain that since its inception, the purpose of the Indian Act was to forcibly assimilate First Nations into colonial life. Amnesty International, the United Nations, and the CHRC still consider the Indian Act a human rights abuse.
  • Have students list everything they know about the Indian Act and its impact on the First Nations of Canada.
  • Then have them list the questions they still have.

Part 1: Land Treaty of 1871

  • Show CBC Docs: Canadians have been breaking their promises to indigenous peoples (6min)
  • Discuss: Why did the government of Canada want the Cree to sign a treaty? Why did the Cree agree to sign Treaty 6? What strategies did the government use to control the Cree? What strategies did the Cree use to resist?
  • Explain that Treaty 1 was the first of 11 Numbered Treaties negotiated between 1871 and 1921. Treaty 1 was signed August 3, 1871 between Canada and the Anishinabek and Swampy Cree of southern Manitoba.
  • Have students work in small groups to read Treaty No.1 and complete Land Treaty 1, 1871 Worksheet


Part 2: The Indian Act (1876)

  • Show Sun News, Shareable facts: The Indian Act Explained, 2013 (2min)
  • Have students list ways that the Indian Act limits the Rights and Freedoms of Status Indians.
  • Show Concordia University Presents The Walrus Talks Disruption in Toronto. Tanya Talaga on the Indian Act, 2018 (7min)
  • Discuss: Why was the Indian Act (1876) created by the Government of Canada? What were some of the controls placed on Status Indians as a result of the Indian Act? Why do some Indigenous People want to see an end to the Indian Act?
  • In small groups, have students complete the Indian Act of 1876 Worksheet.


Part 3: Residential Schools

  • Discuss: Why would the Department of Indian Affairs choose these photos for their report? What is the message? How does this relate to the purpose of residential schools?
  • Project images of Thomas Moore Keesick, before and after. Explain that these two photographs first appeared in the Department of Indian Affairs 1904 Annual Report. The first photo was taken when he was admitted to the Regina Indian Industrial School and the second was taken after his time at the school.
  • Show NFB trailer We were Children, 2012 (1:40)
  • Explain that the residential school system involved:
    • the removal by consent or by force of tens of thousands of indigenous children from their homes, some as young as two or four years of age
    • the attempts to deprive these children of any connections with their parents
    • the institution of an underfunded, willfully neglectful system where thousands of students perished from malnutrition, poor medical care, and diseases
    • the creation of an education system where child labour was a norm and where academic achievements were severely compromised
    • the consistent lack of oversight and accountability in a system where physical and sexual abuse were rampant
  • Explain that in 1920, the Indian Act was amended to make school attendance compulsory for all First Nations children under 15 years of age.
  • Provide students with the following quote:

“I want to get rid of the Indian problem. I do not think as a matter of fact, that the country ought to continuously protect a class of people who are able to stand alone . . . Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic and there is no Indian question, and no Indian Department, that is the whole object of this Bill.” --Duncan Campbell Scott, Department of Indian Affairs, 1920

  • Use a Think Pair Share strategy to have students discuss: According to the quotation from Duncan Campbell Scott, what was the purpose of the residential schools? What vision of Canadian society is reflected in this quote?


Part 4: The Indian Act Today

  • Explain that there is no piece of legislation that has had more of an influence on the lives of First Nation people in Canada than the Indian Act. 
  • Ask students to make predictions: In what ways has Indian Act changed since 1876? In what ways has it stayed the same?
  • Explain that laws can be amended or changed. Provide students with access a reading about the Indian Act in Pulling Together. Have students consider the amendments to the Indian Act in 1951 and 1985. Were their predictions correct?
  • Select a Discussion Strategy to provide a structure for students to discuss the following questions:
    • How did the original Indian Act discriminate against women?
    • Which amendment of 1951 was the most significant?
    • Of the provisions of the Indian Act that continue today, which do you see as the most harmful?
  • Pose the Essential Question: Should we abolish the Indian Act?
  • Provide students with access to articles on the Indian Act in the Canadian Encyclopedia and UBC’s Indigenous Foundations. The final section of each article addressed the debate about abolishing the Indian Act.
  • Have students use a T-chart to list the pros and cons of abolishing the Indian Act.
  • Afterwards, use a Barometer Strategy to have each student take a stand on whether they believe the Indian Act should be abolished.

“21 Things You May Not Have Known About The Indian Act.” 2015. Indigenous Corporate Training. https://www.ictinc.ca/blog/21-things-you-may-not-have-known-about-the-indian-act-

Canada. Indian Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. I-5). Justice Laws Website. https://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/i-5/fulltext.html


Canada. 2019. “Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.” 


“The Indian Act: Can it be Abolished?” 2015. LawNow. https://www.lawnow.org/the-indian-act-can-it-be-abolished/

Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. [n.d.] Indian Treaties in Manitoba. https://publications.gc.ca/collections/collection_2018/aanc-inac/R77-104-1984-eng.pdf

Montpetit, Isabelle. 2011. “Background: The Indian Act.” CBC News.


UBC. 2009. “The Indian Act.” Indigenous Foundations Arts.


Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs. [2010?] “Historical Timeline: 1700s to the Present.” https://www.ubcic.bc.ca/timeline

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Last Reviewed

February 01, 2023

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