1969 White Paper

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The 1969 White Paper (officially entitled Statement of the Government of Canada on Indian policy) was a proposal set forth by the Government of Canada. It is a Canadian policy paper proposal made in 1969 by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and his Minister of Indian Affairs, Jean Chrétien. The White Paper's lead purpose was to abolish all legal documents that had previously existed, including (but not limited to) the Indian Act, and all existing treaties within Canada. The White Paper was met with widespread criticism and activism, causing the proposal of the White Paper to be officially withdrawn in 1970.

Under the legislation of the White Paper, Indian Status would be eliminated. First Nations Peoples would be incorporated fully into provincial government responsibilities as equal Canadian citizens, and reserve status would be removed imposing the laws of private property in indigenous communities. Any special programs or considerations that had been allowed to First Nations people under previous legislation would be terminated, as the special considerations were seen by the Government to act as a means to further separate Indian peoples from Canadian citizens.


After fighting in the second world war, the First Nations Peoples who returned home returned with a newfound concern for their living conditions. This concern was met by parliament with the creation of a Special Joint Committee in 1946 that, with the help of the Senate and the House of Commons, sought to study the effectiveness the Indian Act of 1876.[1] By the 1960s, a widespread civil rights movement had blossomed. Called to action by this movement, as well as by outrage at the treatment of First Nations people and by the deplorable conditions that many Native people were still living in, in 1963 the federal Government of Canada commissioned anthropologist Harry B. Hawthorn to look into the social conditions of First Nations people in Canada. Hawthorn investigated the socio-economic situation of the Aboriginal population.[2] In 1966, he published his report, A Survey of the Contemporary Indians of Canada: Economic, Political, Educational Needs and Policies.[2] The report concluded that Canada's Aboriginal peoples were the most marginalized and disadvantaged group among the Canadian public. It called them "citizens minus".[2] Hawthorne blamed years of bad government policy, especially the Indian residential school system, which failed to provide students with the necessary skills to do well in the modern economy.[2] Hawthorne proposed that all forced assimilation programs such as the residential schools should be abolished and that Aboriginal peoples should be seen as "citizens plus" and given the opportunities and resources for self-determination.[2]

After the publication of Hawthorn's report, Jean Chrétien, the Minister of Indian Affairs, set out to amend the Indian Act.[2] The federal government issued an information booklet titled Choosing a Path and consulted Aboriginal communities across Canada in pursuit of an amendment to the Indian Act.[2] A nationwide meeting of regional Aboriginal leaders was held in Ottawa in May 1969, and concerns over Aboriginal and treaty rights, land title, self-determination, education and health care were raised.[2] After the consultations, Chrétien presented the White Paper to the House of Commons on June 25, 1969.[3]


Presenting the White Paper in 1969, Trudeau and Chrétien proposed it as a definitive means of dealing with First Nations issues. Proposing that any existing policies that applied only to indigenous peoples were discriminatory in nature (as they did not apply to other Canadian citizens) the paper intended to eliminate Indian status as its own distinct legal status within Canada. The paper claimed that this would make First Nations Peoples equal to other Canadians, as they were now official Canadian citizens. The primary reasoning the White Paper proposed for changing existing legislation on Indian Affairs was that though the current legislation was working, it stemmed from legislation that encouraged separation among peoples, and was also moving much too slow to be efficient and effective. In keeping with this ideal, the White Paper also proposed that all special programs available to indigenous peoples because of their Indian status be removed as no citizen of Canada should receive special or individualized treatment based on ethnicity. The White Paper was in the vein of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's vision of a "just society" in which all discriminatory legislation was repealed.[2] It stated that eliminating Indian status would "enable the Indian people to be free—free to develop Indian cultures in an environment of legal, social and economic equality with other Canadians".[2]

Other key provisions included abolishing the Department of Indian Affairs within five years,[2] abolishing the reserve system,[4] and converting reserve land into private, sellable property owned by the band or Aboriginal landholders.[2] A $50 million fund for economic development was to be established to compensate for the termination of the treaties and the Indian Act,[2][4] and a commissioner would be appointed to investigate outstanding land claims and terminate treaties.[2] Finally, the white paper proposed transferring the jurisdiction for Aboriginal affairs from the federal government to the provinces and gradually integrating their services with the services provided to other Canadian citizens.[2] The White Paper also served the purpose of cutting costs created by the Canadian Government having to put funds into the administration of Indian Affairs and the responsibilities held by existing treaties. The cutting of specialized programs that had been created specifically for indigenous peoples is one of the ways that the paper intended to cut these costs, and ensure equality amongst peoples.[citation needed]


The backlash from the proposal of the White Paper was extreme and widespread, amongst indigenous and non-indigenous peoples alike. Many official organizations came forward with major opposition, including the National Indian Brotherhood. Many people within and outside of indigenous communities felt that instead of admitting to historical wrongdoings, and fault, that the Canadian Government was simply trying to absolve itself of any and all fault. A consequence of the legislation of the White paper was that it failed to meet any historical promises that had previously been made to First Nations people in Canada by the federal Government. Many people felt that the White Paper failed to take into consideration any of the suggestions made by Indigenous peoples during consultations that happened during the initial process of drafting the paper, and it did not honor any of the promises made to indigenous peoples by the Canadian Government as reparation efforts for previous injustices suffered by them at the hands of said Government. Meaningful Aboriginal participation in public policy making was also not covered in the white paper.[citation needed]

Although the white paper recognized past policy failures by the federal government and the socio-economic situation of Aboriginal peoples, it was seen by many Aboriginal peoples as the latest in a series of attempts at cultural assimilation.[2] Aboriginal leaders were outraged that their demands for amendment of the Indian Act during the consultations had instead been largely ignored and met with a proposal for abolishment.[2]

One prominent critic of the white paper was Harold Cardinal, a Cree leader in the Indian Association of Alberta, who referred to the white paper as "a thinly disguised programme of extermination through assimilation" in his book, The Unjust Society, which attacked the premise that a society that treated its Aboriginal population like Canada did could be considered "just".[2] Cardinal considered the White Paper "passing the buck" to the provinces and led the association's 1970 rejection of the white paper in document titled Citizens Plus.[2] Citizens Plus, which was popularly known as the Red Paper, embodied the national Aboriginal stance on the White Paper its statement: "There is nothing more important than our treaties, our lands and the well-being of our future generations."[2] Though just one part of the overall reason, Citizens Plus played a primary role in the Canadian Governments decision to retract the White Paper. The White Vs. Red Paper controversy served to mobilize the more recent indigenous rights movements. Many of the groups that emerged from this movement were considered to be pioneers in the organization of indigenous peoples past a locally involved level. Among these groups were thirty-three provincial organizations, and four national indigenous associations. Across the country Indian friendship centers began to emerge more than they ever had before. One of the key points to this new found indigenous activism was the focus on the growth of what the term indigenous right meant, and by 1981, this had been changed to include not only a focus on land rights, but also to include self-governance legislation.[citation needed]

In November 1969, Rose Charlie of the Indian Homemakers' Association, Philip Paul of the Southern Vancouver Island Tribal Federation, and Don Moses of the North American Indian Brotherhood invited British Columbia band leaders to join them in Kamloops to build a response to the White Paper.[2] Representatives from 140 bands were present and formed the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) during the conference.[2] In 1970, UBCIC published A Declaration of Indian Rights: The B.C. Indian Position Paper, or the "Brown Paper", which rejected the White Paper and asserted the continued existence of Aboriginal title.[2] The Brown Paper proposed that new programs and services should be put in place for indigenous peoples that would help them to continue to grow and thrive at a pace that is consistent with indigenous beliefs and culture. While it stated that it was the responsibility of the federal Government to institute these new social and economic programs, it also emphasized that such programs should not be overseen or administered by the Government, but simply set them up in a way that indigenous communities could facilitate the programs themselves. It also discussed how indigenous peoples should not surrender self governance and control of indigenous issues simply because they denied federal control.[5]

Many public protests and marches were held opposing the White Paper and demanding more appropriate action be taken to address First Nations issues. Indian Affairs offices, as well as a park in Ontario were occupied, and bridges were blockaded in many areas. In 1974, a caravan consisting of many Native people traveled the county gathering support for the opposition. Their main goal was to spread the message that there should be constitutional recognition for the rights of indigenous peoples, including non-Status Indians, and Métis This movement would go on to be known as "Red Power".[citation needed]


The government's initial response to this backlash was to defend the White Paper. On August 8, 1969, Trudeau gave a speech in Vancouver in which he defended the objective of terminating the treaties, saying: "It's inconceivable I think that in a given society, one section of the society have a treaty with the other section of the society." In the same speech, he added that "We can't recognize aboriginal rights because no society can be built on historical 'might-have-beens.'"[6]

At the beginning of June 1970, leaders of the National Indian Brotherhood gathered at Carleton University in Ottawa, and on June 3 they endorsed the Red Paper as their official response to the White Paper. On June 4, these Indigenous leaders obtained a meeting with the full cabinet in the Railway Committee Room in Parliament. They presented the White Paper and the Red Paper, symbolically rejecting the former by placing it on the table in front of Chrétien and endorsing the latter by handing a copy to Trudeau. Surprising many, Trudeau responded by acknowledging the White Paper as a failure. Though he did not apologize for it, he admitted "We had perhaps the prejudices of small 'l" liberals and white men at that who thought that equality meant the same law for everybody".[7]

By July 1970, the federal government backed away from the recommendations of the White Paper.[4] Trudeau officially withdrew the white paper proposal in 1970, but indigenous activism still continued.[citation needed]

The 1973 Supreme Court of Canada case Calder v. British Columbia finalized abandonment of the White Paper by recognizing Aboriginal title in Canadian law, agreeing that indigenous title to land claims existed significantly before European colonization in Canada. The case was brought to the courts by Nisga'a chief Frank Calder. The purpose of the case was to review the existence of indigenous land title which had been claimed over lands which had been previously occupied by the Nisga'a people of British Columbia. The case was lost, however the Supreme Courts final ruling did serve for the first time ever that Indigenous land title had a place amongst Canadian laws. The Calder Case served as the basis for the creation of the Nisga'a Treaty in 2000, which allowed the Nisga'a people to self govern, and was the first modern land claim of its time.[8] Indigenous and treaty rights were recognized in section 35 the Constitution Act of 1982. However, many still feel that the intent of the White paper and the values of its legislation continue to be held by Canadian Government, and assimilation still continues to be the long-goal of federal government.[citation needed]

On February 23, 2014, the Liberal Party of Canada at its biennial convention renounced with regret the White Paper of 1969 as a step towards reconciliation with Canada and with the Liberal Party of Canada.[9]

After the White Paper[edit]

Since the Formation and subsequent abandonment of the White Paper, indigenous interest in politics has increased and with the increase in indigenous political activity public awareness of indigenous issues and goals has increased as well. With this increased political activity among indigenous community members, experienced and knowledgeable aboriginal leaders have emerged to meet the Government willingness to discuss indigenous issues. Amongst those issues and included mainly as a result of political activism efforts, section 35 of the Constitution Act of 1982 enforces existing indigenous treaty rights. Indian Status includes all First Nations peoples, now including Inuit and Métis. However, there is still much ambiguity to this sectioned, and is a matter of continued controversy amongst indigenous leaders. Amendments to the Indian Act occurred in 1985, and one of the key concepts of the act, the concept of enfranchisement, was removed. This part of the Indian act has been one of the main goals of the policy, and part of official legislation for over a century. Indian Status that had been lost, and rights of band membership were also reinstated for those people who had lost them due to either compulsory enfranchisement, or inheritance policies. These amendments to the Indian act also served to allow bands to facilitate the control of band membership themselves.[citation needed]

While self-administration had been taking place since the 1960s, there continued to be unrest regarding how these administrated powers were delegated. The response to this unrest was a report released in 1983 with recommendations that indigenous communities be allowed the opportunity to create their own new forms of Government and be given the opportunity to be self-governing. These indigenous Governments would function outside of Federal and Provincial. As of January 2015, three self-governance agreements have been put into effect, and 26 land claims have been settled by federal Government. Under the legislation imposed by the Government of Justin Trudeau, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal People has been dissolved, and has been replace by two new and separate ministers: Northern Affairs and Indigenous Services, and the Crown-Indigenous Relations. The responsibilities of the Department of indigenous services includes overseeing matters as they pertain to the improvement in the quality of services that indigenous peoples are receiving, with the eventual goal of these services being handled by the indigenous communities themselves, rather than the Government outside of the indigenous community. Indigenous relations with the Government, included issues of treaty right and self-governance are overseen by The Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs. The goal of these departments is described by the Government as one of the next steps towards the eventual abolishment of the Indian Act.[10][11]


  1. ^ Belshaw, John D. (2016). Canadian History: Post Confederation. Vancouver: BC Open Textbooks. p. 770.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w "The White Paper 1969". indigenousfoundations.arts.ubc.ca. University of British Columbia. Archived from the original on December 18, 2015. Retrieved December 4, 2015.
  3. ^ Weaver, Sally M. (1981). Making Canadian Indian policy : the hidden agenda 1968-70. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. p. 169. ISBN 0802055044. OCLC 7783590.
  4. ^ a b c "Native Awakening". www.cbc.ca. Retrieved December 4, 2015.
  5. ^ https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/ubcic/pages/1440/attachments/original/1484861419/3_1970_11_17_DeclarationOfIndianRightsTheBCIndianPositionPaper_web_sm.pdf?1484861419
  6. ^ Weaver, Sally M. (1981). Making Canadian Indian policy : the hidden agenda 1968-70. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. pp. 178–179. ISBN 0802055044. OCLC 7783590.
  7. ^ Weaver, Sally M. (1981). Making Canadian Indian policy : the hidden agenda 1968-70. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. pp. 183–185. ISBN 0802055044. OCLC 7783590.
  8. ^ http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/calder-case/
  9. ^ Beaulne-Stuebing, Laura (February 21, 2014). "Why the Liberals' Aboriginal Commission wants a 'mea culpa' on the 1969 white paper". ipolitics.ca. Retrieved December 4, 2015.
  10. ^ http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/aboriginal-people-government-policy/
  11. ^ http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/aboriginal-affairs-and-northern-development-canada/

External links[edit]

  • White Paper original text, Statement of the Government of Canada on Indian Policy, 1969
  • Aboriginal People: History of Discriminatory Laws, Wendy Moss, Elaine Gardner-O'Toole, Law and Government Division, Last revised, November 1991
  • Flaherty, Kathleen (May 27 – June 3, 2010). "WHITE PAPER / RED PAPER". Ideas. Archived from the original on June 14, 2010. Retrieved June 1, 2010.
  • Citizen Plus (the "Red Paper") Original Text, Aboriginal policy studies Journal, Vol. 1 Issue 2, 2011.
  • Hawthorn Report Part 1
  • Hawthorn Report Part 2
  • [1], Sinclair, Niigaanwewidam James, and Naithan Lagace. "The White Paper, 1969." The Canadian Encyclopedia. Accessed April 11, 2018.
  • [2], Declaration Of Indian Rights The BC Indian Position Paper
  • [3]
  • [4], The White Paper 1969
  • [5], Northern Affairs Canada. "Statement of the Government of Canada on Indian Policy (The White Paper, 1969)." Government of Canada; Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada; Communications Branch. September 15, 2010
  • [6], Cruickshank, David A. "Calder Case." The Canadian Encyclopedia
  • [7], Taylor, John Leonard. "Indigenous Peoples and Government Policy in Canada." The Canadian Encyclopedia
  • [8], Derworiz, Colette E. "Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada." The Canadian Encyclopedia.
  • [9], "1969 White Paper on Indian Policy." Canadas Human Rights History.