BC Social Studies Lesson Plans

The Indian Act: Assimilation by Legislation

Grade 11


The Indian Act: Assimilation by Legislation

Big Idea

A society’s laws and legal framework affect many aspects of people’s daily lives (from Law Studies 12).

Essential Question

How does the Indian Act promote assimilation?

Learning Standards Content

Students are expected to know the following:

  • Canadian legislation concerning First Peoples

Curricular Competencies

Students are expected to be able to do the following:

  • Assess the development and impact of legal systems or codes (cause and consequence)
  • Make reasoned ethical judgments about legal systems or codes (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 recognize the long-term consequences of assimilationist policies and legislation on the First Peoples of Canada.

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

  • 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?
  • Have students analyse The Indian Act and its amendments and conduct research into how and why this legislation was used to oppress and assimilate the First Nations of Canada.
  • Students will present their findings in a formal research essay. Have students organize the body of their paper into three sections:
    • Reservation system and powerlessness over the land
    • Residential school system and the banning of culture
    • Indian status and systemic disenfranchisement 
  • Introduce concepts of Social Darwinism and Eugenics by showing political cartoon from the Detroit Journal, 1898. Have students discuss the meaning of “White Man’s Burden” and how this worldview influenced the Indian Act.

“21 Things You May Not Have Known About The Indian Act.” 2015. Indigenous Corporate Traininghttps://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.” 



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


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



Treaty Relations Commission of Manitoba. [n.d.] “Treaty No. 1”


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

March 01, 2023

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