The Indian Act: A Tool of Assimilation

The Indian Act is the piece of legislation that has governed the relationship between the Canadian Government and First Nations peoples in Canada since 1876. It outlines government responsibilities to First Nation peoples and is used to administer “Indian status” and manage local First Nations governments and reserve land. The act has been amended over the years but remains a contentious piece of legislation. 

There are two videos to choose from to learn about The Indian Act.

The first one is better for younger kids, the second one will appeal to older kids. Feel free to watch one, or both!

WARNING: Sometimes learning about colonial history is hard. This block might not be appropriate for everyone. You should check with your grown ups before going any further.

You may see a number of other videos that are a deeper dive into things you might be interested in. Feel free to watch as many of those as you like. Then choose some activities and/or a project. 

High school students or any student who wants to dig deeper, continue your study with one of the advanced learning projects in the Projects section. Be sure to scroll to the bottom of the page to test your understanding by taking the quiz.

Take A Deeper Dive!

The video below is 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act (interview with the author, Bob Joseph and presentation by the author).

The video below asks the question: “What does “Status” mean?”

History of the Right to Vote in Canada, including the rights of indigenous peoples and the regulations in the Indian Act.

The importance of potlatch.
CBC Documentary: The Pass System (This video link is only available for viewers in Canada)


Participate in Orange Shirt Day

As of 1920, the Indian Act made it mandatory for indigenous children to attend a residential school, which the government had been administering since 1880.

Phyllis Webstad was only six years old when she went to a residential school. She was excited to go at first, and was proud of her new orange shirt. Listen to Phyllis tell her story in the first video.

Orange Shirt Day is recognized on September 30 each year. You can wear an orange shirt to bring attention to the stories of residential school survivors.

To honour orange shirt day anytime, you could make an orange shirt pin.

For this craft, you will need:

  • Orange felt
  • Stiff interfacing or cardboard
  • Scissors
  • Thread and needle
  • Marker or pen
  • Pin backing
  • T-shirt shaped template (you can draw your own)
  • White glue

Save a picture of your craft to your portfolio.

Make a painting

Watch the video of author and artist Leah Dorion talking about her book, The Giving Tree.

Leah includes beautiful colours and symbolism in the scenes she captures in her art.

Think about a scene that represents your family. It could be a family dinner, chore, or activity that you perform together.

Create a colourful painting of your family doing this activity. Think about adding symbolism to your painting.

Save your painting to your portfolio.


Learn about potlatch and create your own picture book

The practice of potlatch was banned under the Indian Act from 1880 to 1951. This tradition was practiced by Northwest Coast First Nation groups and is based on both gift giving and exchange of goods during community celebrations.

Think about traditions that are important to your family and community. These could include special celebrations around birthdays, holidays, graduations, or might just be special traditions within your own family, like Sunday dinners. How would it feel if you could no longer observe those traditions?

Create a picture book that captures the importance of one of your traditions.

Watch this video on How to Write a Story.

Watch the video on different ways to bind your book and choose a method. Collect your supplies based on the method you have selected.

You will need:

  • White paper
  • Coloured paper or cardstock for your book cover
  • Binding materials (staples, washi tape, binder rings, brads, hole punch, binder clips, etc.)
  • Coloured pencils or markers to illustrate your book
  • Pencil to write your book

Save your book to your portfolio.

Advanced Project(s)

Choose at least one.

To learn more about the history of indigenous peoples in Canada, you can take a free, online course, Indigenous Canada, offered through the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Native Studies.

You can listen to interviews and stories from indigenous peoples on the Twisted Histories podcast on CBC.This podcast explores indigenous histories one word at a time. Episode 2 focuses on the word “Reserve”.

Choose one or more of the projects below to learn more about the history of the Indian Act in Canada.

Dive Deep! Learn more about the Indian Act

Listen to the CBC podcast Secret life of Canada, Episode 2, The Indian Act.

Explore some of the resources included in the Teaching Guide for the podcast.

Follow along in this slideshow and explore some of the extra resources that are included.

Download and print this questionnaire from CBC Podcasts and fill out which clauses you think are still in effect today and reflect on the discussion question.

Include your thoughts and questionnaire in your portfolio.

The Future of the Indian Act

Watch the interview on the future of the Indian Act in Canada.

Do further research on this topic, which could include reading the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Canadian government’s page on implementing the declaration.

What do you think of the direction Canada is taking on indigenous rights?

Use Google Slides, or a similar program, to create a presentation about this topic. Think through the  5Ws (who, what, when, where, and why) when deciding what information to include.

Include your presentation in your portfolio. Write a description and then provide a link.

Exploring gender discrimination in the Indian Act

Explore the experience of indigenous women in Canada’s past by watching these two videos.

Do further research online or from indigenous texts. You could see if your local library has the book Indigenous Women, Work, and History: 1940-1980 or you could purchase it online from an indigenous bookseller in Canada. 

Choose a thesis topic for an essay on the impact of the Indian Act and its amendments on indigenous women in Canada. 

Download and print this graphical outline tool, from, to help you organize your essay. 

Do the research and fill in the notes of what you want to include in your outline. Then, write the essay. Be sure to use a tool like Grammarly to help improve and edit your writing.

Upload your essay to your portfolio.

Create a timeline of the amendments to the Indian Act

Read the Canadian Encyclopedia article on the Indian Act

What do you notice about the changes to the Indian Act over time? 

Download and print this worksheet from Historica Canada’s Education Portal to help organize the information you have read. 

Create a timeline of the key dates and changes over time. Identify which changes indicate positive steps and which ones indicate negative steps toward recognizing indigenous peoples’ human rights. 

You can reference this timeline from the Native Women’s Association of Canada to see how yours compares. 

Save your timeline to your portfolio.


Click on a book to buy it online. Or, you can ask for them at your local library.

Read Aloud Book(s)

NOw Let’s Have some fun!