Kahkewaquonaby, the Grand Council, and First Nations Rights

By Kelly Ferguson

In the Sir John A. Macdonald fonds, there are a series of letters exchanged between Macdonald and Dr. Peter Edmund Jones (Kahkewaquonaby). These letters offer a small glimpse into the work of Jones as well as organizations like the Grand General Indian Council of Ontario and Quebec in the struggle for the rights of First Nations during the 1870s and 1880s.

Jones was born in 1843 to Reverend Peter Jones (Kahkewaquonaby) and Elizabeth Field. In 1866, Jones earned a medical degree from Queen’s College in Kingston, becoming one of the first licensed Anishinaabe (and First Nations) doctors in British North America. After graduation, Jones worked as a practicing physician in Brantford, Ontario, Niagara, Ontario, and New York City. He eventually set up a practice in Hagersville, Ontario, next to the New Credit reserve. He served as Chief of the Mississaugas of the New Credit (now the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation) from 1870 to 1874, and again from 1880 to 1886.

A sepia photograph of a seated man dressed in traditional quill design buckskin jacket and bag, holding a ceremonial pipe and a string of wampum beads.

Portrait of Kahkewaquonaby (Reverend Peter Jones), father of Dr. Peter E. Jones. The photograph was taken on August 4, 1845, and is by David Octavius Hill (photographer) and Robert Adamson (chemist). (a215156k)

Beginning in 1874, Jones served as part of the Grand General Indian Council of Ontario and Quebec. The Grand Council first met in 1870, and one of its primary tasks was reviewing the Indian Act and other pieces of legislation that related to the rights of First Nations.

By 1884, the Grand Council’s focus was on the Indian Advancement Act. The Act enforced significant changes to regulations and governing systems for First Nations in Eastern Canada, including limits on the size and functions of councils and the appointment of local Indian agents to preside over the councils.

The Grand Council continued to debate the new Indian Advancement Act from 1884 to 1886. There were major objections to the Act, particularly the limits to the size of councils and the limits to their function, as well as the appointment of local Indian agents as chairmen. In 1887 Jones, then a delegate on the Grand Council, sent Macdonald a letter with suggestions and comments about both the Indian Act and the Indian Advancement Act. Jones’ recommendations included granting power to local councils to make decisions when the Indian agent was not there, extending equivalent powers to the chiefs, as well as increasing the number of councilors.

A black-and-white microfilm of a handwritten letter.

Letter to Sir John A. Macdonald from Dr. Peter E. Jones written January 5, 1887. In the letter, Jones offers suggestions and comments regarding the Indian Act and the Indian Advancement Act. (e007956445)

Jones also wrote to Macdonald with recommendations on the Electoral Franchise Act. Although, in theory, First Nations men had been able to vote since 1867, enfranchisement meant that they were required to give up their status under the Indian Act, as well as the accompanying treaty rights. Jones was supportive of enfranchisement, but not at the expense of status. He saw the Electoral Franchise Act as an opportunity to support a version of enfranchisement that maintained a person’s status under the Indian Act and protected treaty rights.

A sepia scan of a handwritten letter.

Letter to Dr. Peter E. Jones (Chief) from Sir John A. Macdonald, written August 31, 1886, discussing the Electoral Franchise Act. (e011198071-001-v8) (e011198071-002-v8)

A black-and-white microfilm of a two-page letter written on Department of Indian Affairs letterhead.

Letter to Sir John A. Macdonald from L. Vankoughnet, Deputy Superintendent of the Department of Indian Affairs. Dated March 28, 1887, the letter discusses amendments to jthe Indian Act, including suggestions offered by Dr. Peter Edmund Jones. (e007956441) (e007956442)

In the end, the Macdonald government ignored Jones’s recommendations regarding the Indian Advancement Act, and Wilfrid Laurier’s Liberal government later repealed the Electoral Franchise Act. The franchise would not be fully extended to status Indians under the Indian Act until 1960, and subsequent amendments to the Indian Act throughout the 19th century continued to assert increased control over the lives of First Nations. That said, these letters still provide a small glimpse into the work of organizations and individuals in the struggle for the rights of First Nations. Both in the 1880s and today, Indigenous Peoples have fought for the right to self-determination and the protection of their Indigenous, Aboriginal and treaty rights, and these letters offer a small window into one of many examples.


Kelly Ferguson is a political archivist in the Science and Governance Private Archives Division of Library and Archives Canada.

 

 

Enfranchisement of First Nations peoples

On the left of the graphic, Tatânga Mânî [Chief Walking Buffalo] [George McLean] in traditional regalia on horse. In the middle, Iggi and girl engaging in a “kunik”, a traditional greeting in Inuit culture. On the right, Maxime Marion, a Métis guide stands holding a rifle. In the background, there is a map of Upper and Lower Canada, and text from the Red River Settlement collection.By Jasmine Charette

I have always been interested in the concept of identity in the Canadian context. I enjoy learning about how people tie themselves to identities to connect with their community, or sever those same ties for the benefit of being seen another way. However, this was not always done in fairness or voluntarily. A striking example of this is the enfranchisement of First Nations peoples.

What is enfranchisement?

Enfranchisement meant losing legal identity as an “Indian” in the eyes of the government to become a full Canadian citizen, with all the rights and privileges attached. This process was enshrined in the Indian Act of 1876, which consolidated several pieces of colonial legislation in force at the time.

A black-and-white typed page of a legal statute.

A page from the Indian Act as published in the Statutes of Canada, 1876 (Canadian Research Knowledge Network, Acts of Parliament)

Enfranchisement could be sought by a First Nations person, as long as certain requirements were met, including age, sex and competency in either English or French. Someone outside the band, such as a priest or Indian agent, needed to determine the person’s fitness for becoming enfranchised. Some records show individuals, in their own words or the correspondence of an Indian agent, wanting to enfranchise for the benefits of land titles and band monies. The loss of legal status meant they were no longer subject to the Indian Act.

Many people were enfranchised against their will, some because of employment as lawyers, doctors or clergy. Others were enfranchised because of serving in the First or Second World War, attending university, or simply because an Indian agent thought they were “civilized” enough. Eventually, compulsory enfranchisement expanded to include any First Nations woman who married a non-Status individual (see below for 1985 changes to the Indian Act).

What does this mean for First Nations peoples?

The Indian Act was and is still seen in many ways as restrictive for First Nations individuals. The loss of identity brought repercussions such as becoming ineligible for social services, the loss of hunting and land rights, and for many, becoming both physically and intangibly distant from their homes and cultures. There are examples in the record of Councils of Chiefs refusing the Enfranchisement of individuals because they do not believe the Franchise Act applies to them, noting a fear that lands may be sold off and the community would be lost.

For some, enfranchisement was a direct trespass on previous agreements. A petition from the Mohawk members of the Five Confederated Nations (now Six Nations of the Grand River) notes that a treaty with the British stated the British would never try to make those Indigenous persons British subjects. Enfranchisement involved breaking that promise.

A black-and-white reproduction of a handwritten petition addressed to His Excellency the Governor General of the Dominion of Canada, the Right Honourable Lord Stanley.

Six Nations agency—correspondence regarding a petition from the Six Nations Indians to be exempted from the provisions of the Franchise Act of 1885. (e006183352)

Was it only individuals?

One case exists of an entire band being enfranchised: Michel Band in northern Alberta. An Order-in-Council enfranchised all eligible members of the Michel Band as of March 31, 1958.

A black-and-white typewritten text outlining the disposal of the funds of the Michel Band and the lands of the Michel Indian Reserve No. 132.

Schedule B, “Plan for the disposal of the funds of the Michel Band and of the lands of the Michel Indian Reserve No. 132,” dated March 31, 1958. RG2-A-1-a, Volume 2215, PC 1958-375 (Canadian Research Knowledge Foundation, Orders-in-Council)

This enfranchisement order split the reserve lands among enfranchised individuals, dissolving the band entirely. Only three years later, compulsory enfranchisement was repealed, and some members of the historic Michel Band are still seeking to regain band status today.

Why is this relevant today?

When the Indian Act’s enfranchisement sections were repealed in 1985, they were replaced with what we now know as Indian Status. It became impossible to give up one’s Status, and many who were enfranchised regained Status through various provisions of the 1985 repeal, and subsequent amendments to the Indian Act. The sex-based discrimination in the Act was changed, and Status was returned to people who lost it by marrying a non-Status individual or because of the “double mother” rule of 1951 (Status was lost at age 21 if both the paternal grandmother and the mother had acquired Status through marriage).

Do you have a question about enfranchisement?

Reference Services is available to answer your queries and to help you navigate archival and published materials, including records on enfranchisement. Ask Us a Question; we are always glad to help!

Sources

This blog is part of a series related to the Indigenous Documentary Heritage Initiatives. Learn how Library and Archives Canada (LAC) increases access to First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation collections and supports communities in the preservation of Indigenous language recordings.


Jasmine Charette is a reference archivist in the Reference Services Division of the Public Services Branch at Library and Archives Canada.