Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
September 2004

L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


Indian Reservations in Canada



[This text was originally published in 1907 by the Bureau of American Ethnology as part of its Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico . It was later reproduced, in 1913, by the Geographic Board of Canada. The work done by the American Bureau was monumental, well informed and incorporated the most advanced scholarship available at the time. In many respects, the information is still useful today, although prudence should be exercised and the reader should consult some of the contemporary texts on the history and the anthropology of the North American Indians suggested in the bibliographic introduction to this section. The articles were not completely devoid of the paternalism and the prejudices prevalent at the time. While some of the terminology used would not pass the test of our "politically correct" era, most terms have been left unchanged by the editor. If a change in the original text has been effected it will be found between brackets [.] The original work contained long bibliographies that have not been reproduced for this web edition. For the full citation, see the end of the text.]


[This article was much abbreviated by the Canadian version of the Handbook of North American Indians. As published here, it includes only sections that refer to Canada . The Canadian department of Indian affairs made some corrections and provided additional information. Consult the article on Indian Reservations at the Encyclopedia of North American Indians' site]


Reservations . A natural result of land cessions by the Indians to the British Government and, later, to the Dominion was the establishment of reservations for the natives. This was necessary not only in order to provide them with homes and with land for cultivation, but to avoid disputes in regard to boundaries and to bring them more easily under control of the Government by confining them to given limits. This policy, was followed under both French and English control. It may be attributed primarily to the increase of the white population and the consequent necessity of confining the aboriginal population to narrower limits. This involved a very important, even radical, change in the habits and customs of the Indians, and was the initiatory step toward a reliance upon agricultural pursuits for subsistence. Reservations were formed chiefly as the result of cessions of land; thus a tribe, in ceding land that it held by original occupancy, reserved from the cession a specified and definite part thereof, and such part was held under the original right of occupancy, but with the consent of the Government, as it was generally expressly stated in the treaty defining the bounds that the part so reserved was "allotted to" or "reserved for" the given Indians, thus recognizing title in the Government.


NOTE - The Colonial Governments of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick made adequate provision for reserves for the aborigines, but it was left for private benefaction to secure for the Indians of Prince Edward Island the reserves in that Province on which most of the Indians reside. In the province of Quebec at the time of the Conquest, the Indians had been settled on their reserves, which were, in some few cases, held by seigneurial title; others were set apart by private gift and the larger number by direct grants from the King. In the province of Upper Canada there was a liberal policy as regards reserves. The earliest reserve in what is now the province of Ontario was the purchase made by Governor Haldimand from the Mississaugas for the occupancy of the Six Nations. When the various concessions of land which secured to the province the Indian rights to the territory were made they provided for ample reserves for the Indians. The whole of Manitoulin island was set apart in 1836 upon the recommendation of Sir John Colborne and the treaty known as the Robinson-Superior Treaty, made in 1850, secured to the Indians the lands on which they had been accustomed to hunt and reside. Under the Treaties which are numbered from 1 to 10, the reserves were usually allotted in an area of one square mile to every family of five. Some of the reserves in the western treaties, particularly in Treaty 7, were on a more liberal basis than this. The reserves in British Columbia were set apart under arrangement with the Provincial Government by an officer specially appointed. They were more numerous in this province than in any other in the Dominion in all about 1200. They consist for the most part, of small plots of land, fishing stations, etc.


The Indian Act provides special legislation for the administration of Indian reserve lands. They cannot be sold without the special consent of the Indians and the concurrence of the Government. The timber and other natural resources are also protected and white persons are not allowed to occupy nor use any reserve lands. (D.C. Scott. MS, 1912.)


Source: James WHITE, ed., Handbook of Indians of Canada, Published as an Appendix to the Tenth Report of the Geographic Board of Canada, Ottawa, 1913, 632p., p. 400.


© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College