White Paper – Statement of the Government of Canada on Indian Policy, 1969

… a core concept in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100

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Concept description

The 1969 White Paper (reference below, pdf on right) was formally known as the Statement of the Government of Canada on Indian Policy, 1969.

Summary (verbatim from the paper)

1 Background

The Government has reviewed its programs for Indians and has considered the effects of them on the present situation of the Indian people. The review has drawn on extensive consultations with the Indian people, and on the knowledge and experience of many people both in and out of government.

This review was a response to things said by the Indian people at the consultation meetings which began a year ago and culminated in a meeting in Ottawa in April.

This review has shown that this is the right time to change long-standing policies. The Indian people have shown their determination that present conditions shall not persist.

Opportunities are present today in Canadian society and new directions are open. The Government believes that Indian people must not be shut out of Canadian life and must share equally in these opportunities.

The Government could press on with the policy of fostering further education; could go ahead with physical improvement programs now operating in reserve communities; could press forward in the directions of recent years, and eventually many of the problems would be solved. But progress would be too slow. The change in Canadian society in recent years has been too great and continues too rapidly for this to be the answer. Something more is needed. We can no longer perpetuate the separation of Canadians. Now is the time to change.

This Government believes in equality. It believes that all men and women have equal rights. It is determined that all shall be treated fairly and that no one shall be shut out of Canadian life, and especially that no one shall be shut out because of his race.

This belief is the basis for the Government’s determination to open the doors of opportunity to all Canadians, to remove the barriers which impede the development of people, of regions and of the country.

Only a policy based on this belief can enable the Indian people to realize their needs and aspirations.

The Indian people are entitled to such a policy. They are entitled to an equality which preserves and enriches Indian identity and distinction; an equality which stresses Indian participation in its creation and which manifests itself in all aspects of Indian life.

The goals of the Indian people cannot be set by others; they must spring from the Indian community itself – but government can create a framework within which all persons and groups can seek their own goals.

2 The New Policy

True equality presupposes that the Indian people have the right to full and equal participation in the cultural, social, economic and political life of Canada.

The government believes that the framework within which individual Indians and bands could achieve full participation requires:

  1. that the legislative and constitutional bases of discrimination be removed;
  2. that there be positive recognition by everyone of the unique contribution of Indian culture to Canadian life;
  3. that services come through the same channels and from the same government agencies for all Canadians;
  4. that those who are furthest behind be helped most;
  5. that lawful obligations be recognized;
  6. that control of Indian lands be transferred to the Indian people.

The Government would be prepared to take the following steps to create this framework:

  1. Propose to Parliament that the Indian Act be repealed and take such legislative steps as may be necessary to enable Indians to control Indian lands and to acquire title to them.
  2. Propose to the governments of the provinces that they take over the same responsibility for Indians that they have for other citizens in their provinces. The take-over would be accompanied by the transfer to the provinces of federal funds normally provided for Indian programs, augmented as may be necessary.
  3. Make substantial funds available for Indian economic development as an interim measure.
  4. Wind up that part of the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development which deals with Indian Affairs. The residual responsibilities of the Federal Government for programs in the field of Indian affairs would be transferred to other appropriate federal departments.

In addition, the Government will appoint a Commissioner to consult with the Indians and to study and recommend acceptable procedures for the adjudication of claims.

The new policy looks to a better future for all Indian people wherever they may be. The measures for implementation are straightforward. They require discussion, consultation and negotiation with the Indian people – individuals, bands and associations and with provincial governments.

Success will depend upon the co-operation and assistance of the Indians and the provinces. The Government seeks this cooperation and will respond when it is offered.

3 The Immediate Steps

Some changes could take place quickly. Others would take longer. It is expected that within five years the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development would cease to operate in the field of Indian affairs; the new laws would be in effect and existing programs would have been devolved. The Indian lands would require special attention for some time. The process of transferring control to the Indian people would be under continuous review.

The Government believes this is a policy which is just and necessary. It can only be successful if it has the support of the Indian people, the provinces, and all Canadians.

The policy promises all Indian people a new opportunity to expand and develop their identity within the framework of a Canadian society which offers them the rewards and responsibilities of participation, the benefits of involvement and the pride of belonging.

The response

Niigaanwewidam Sinclair and Naithan Legace (reference below) describe the White Paper’s proposals and response as follows:

“Presenting the White Paper in 1969, Chrétien and Trudeau proposed to deal with Indigenous issues definitively. The paper saw policies that pertained to First Nations were exclusionary and discriminatory, as they did not apply to Canadians in general. Trudeau and Chrétien’s White Paper proposed to eliminate “Indian” as a distinct legal status – therefore making First Nations “equal” to other Canadians. They also proposed to dismantle the Department of Indian Affairs within five years, repeal the Indian Act, and eradicate all treaties between First Nations and Canada. The White Paper would convert reserve lands to private property owned by the band or its members, transfer all responsibility for services to provincial governments, appoint a commissioner to settle all land claims and provide funds for economic development. At the same time, Chrétien and Trudeau saw the White Paper as a way of eliminating the rising cost of administering Indian Affairs and treaty responsibilities.”

“The backlash to the 1969 White Paper was monumental. Major opposition emerged from several organizations, including the National Indian Brotherhood and its provincial chapters. Many felt the document overlooked concerns raised during consultations and appeared to be a final attempt to assimilate Indigenous peoples into the Canadian population. Leaders felt that instead of dealing with First Nations fairly and appropriately, the federal government was absolving itself of historical promises and responsibilities. Instead, provinces – with whom First Nations had no relationship – would be forced to deal with longstanding issues.

“A leader in this response was Harold Cardinal, a Cree leader of the Indian Association of Alberta. In 1970, Cardinal and the Indian Association of Alberta rejected the White Paper by publishing the document Citizens Plus, which became known as the Red Paper. Another major response to the White Paper came from within British Columbia. In November 1969, a conference hosted over 140 bands and resulted in the development of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs. This organization rejected the White Paper, and produced a document entitled “A Declaration of Indian Rights: The BC Indian Position Paper” (also called the Brown Paper) that asserted Indigenous peoples continued to hold Aboriginal title to land. Similar documents and policies would be passed by organizations in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and in eastern Canada. Public demonstrations and marches would be held rebuking Trudeau’s White Paper, demanding fair and appropriate action on Indigenous issues. This movement would be called “Red Power.”

“In response, Trudeau withdrew the White Paper in 1970 and angrily stated: “We’ll keep them in the ghetto as long as they want.” Aboriginal activists and their allies continued to work on issues arising from this time period. In 1973, the Supreme Court decided on the case Calder v. British Columbia, agreeing that Aboriginal title to land existed before European colonization of North America. The 1982 Constitution Act included section 35, which recognized and affirmed Aboriginal and treaty rights within Canada. Many, however, continue to claim that the spirit and intent of the 1969 White Paper and the abdication of responsibilities to Aboriginal peoples by Canada continues to be a long-term goal of successive federal governments. This was most evident during the Meech Lake Accord constitutional negotiations, which excluded Aboriginal peoples and resulted in Manitoba Member of the Legislative Assembly Elijah Harper’s “no” vote, which helped scuttle the entire agreement. The legacies of the 1969 White Paper continue to be felt today in government policy meetings, and Canadian and Indigenous activist groups, academic circles and grassroots communities.


Government of Canada, Statement of the Government of Canada on Indian Policy, 1969, at https://www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/DAM/DAM-INTER-HQ/STAGING/texte-text/cp1969_1100100010190_eng.pdf, accessed 2 October 2016.

Niigaanwewidam Sinclair and Naithan Legace (2015), The White Paper, 1969, Canadian Encyclopedia, at http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/the-white-paper-1969/, accessed 2 October 2016.

Topic, subject and Atlas course

Indigenous Governance in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified 2 October 2016.

Image: Government of Canada, Statement of the Government of Canada on Indian Policy, 1969, at https://www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/DAM/DAM-INTER-HQ/STAGING/texte-text/cp1969_1100100010190_eng.pdf, accessed 2 October 2016.