Continuing the historical overview theme of this column, the 1960s brought forth new approaches by the federal government to indigenous peoples in Canada. The right to vote was extended to status Indians in 1960. By 1968, Len Marchand was elected as a Liberal candidate for Kamloops as the first Native representative to the House of Commons.
Amongst the various BC Native political organizations, there were efforts toward attaining political unity amongst the diverse indigenous peoples in the province in order to address the outstanding land title issue together. However, the required stability necessary for such unity was not to be reached during the early attempts of the 1960s.
Meanwhile, in response to the post-world war II social awareness, the Department of Indian Affairs (DIA) at the federal government level was developing various policy initiatives. The official policy of assimilation, including the use of reserves, residential schools, municipal-style elections, and religious control as tools to fashion indigenous peoples after Euro-Canadian culture, was in need of change. The next approach was one aimed toward the principles of integration. The federal strategy was to de-segregate “Indians” from the Indian reserves and Indian schools into mainstream society.
This change in direction of the federal government through policy development initiatives was the beginning of the ‘Indian advisory bodies’ process. This involved the DIA creating processes to work with representatives to address several issues including education, local community development, advisory councils, as well as consulting Indians about Indian Act amendments and the 1969 attempt to produce a final Indian policy.
During an advisory council consultation meeting to discuss these issues in Ottawa during May 1969, the BC delegates were united in their press for recognition of the unique position of BC Natives in never having surrendered title to their lands.
The following month, June 1969, Jean Chrétien, Minister for the Department of Indian Affairs issued the “Statement of the Government of Canada on Indian Policy”. The now infamous 1969 White Paper, put forth under the Liberal government led by Pierre Elliott Trudeau, proposed legislation for abolishing the special relationship between Native peoples and the federal government.
The White Paper was presented as being the outcome of the DIA advisory body consultation process with Native representatives. However, the contents of the statement made a mockery of the consultation process that had occurred and Native representatives were outraged. They viewed the consultation process as merely being a staged event to justify the tabling of a previously developed government White Paper. The swift and adverse reaction of Native leadership to the White Paper took federal policy makers by surprise.
In response to the proposed 1969 White Paper, a new province-wide Native political organization, the Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC), was formed. This occurred at a broadly represented conference held in Kamloops during November 17-22, 1969. The stated purpose of the conference and the formation of the UBCIC emphasized the theme of indigenous unity and the continued pursuit of recognition of Aboriginal rights in regards to the land title issue.