The Indian Act of 1876 was developed by colonial powers to consolidate all existing legislation that covered First Nations people and their relationship to Canada. The goal of this state governing activity was to assimilate and “civilize” First Nations people in Canada and to control every aspect of Indian life through oppressively constructed regulations (Hanson). This legislation notably represents the colonialist convictions of early white nation builders, but it also works to reinforce systemic discrimination in Canada based on ideas about racial inferiority. (Paterson). The Indian Act of 1876 adds another state governed layer to the already racist and patriarchal endeavor of nation building and colonization by aiming to create, as Daniel Coleman puts it, a “normative status of British whiteness in Canada (Paterson). Despite it’s amendments and its proposed abolishment, the Indian Act continues to represent a history of oppression in Canada that is built on the foundations of white privilege and the idea that “civility” can be constructed.
Taking from the mindset that gives birth to legislations such as the Indian Act, Coleman describes how the construction of “fictive ethnicities”, by which he means “how nations of diverse peoples are represented as if they are a “natural community””, lead us to believe that we are supposed to build upon and live by the idea of normative whiteness. He implores us to analyze nation building as a process that forces First Nations Peoples to adopt a white identity and live in a “natural community” that is constructed to suit “a specific form of whiteness that is based on the British model of civility” (Paterson). Coleman says that if we live through these fictive ethnicities that support a white and “civil” Canadian identity, we forget “all the very uncivil acts of colonialism and nation building” that continue to persist today (Paterson). Looking at a diverse nation as one “natural community”, denies responsibility for our brutal colonial history and the mindset that allows for state governing projects such as the Indian Act of 1876 to exist.
Coleman, who looks at matters of nation building and colonization through the lens of Canadian literary canon building, argues that “white civility” has permeated Canadian literature while working to create a white normative national identity in Canada. The assimilationist mindset of the Indian Act and other state governing activities underscores the outlook that is defined in Coleman’s project of “white civility”. He highlights the fictional aspect of nation building, as well as this fictions connection to colonialist goals of eradicating cultural differences in Canada. The process of canon building in Canada cannot, in this sense, be separated from race and ethnicity because it is used in part to ensure that an imagined community holds on to a forced identity.
“From Residential Schools to Prisons”. Native Women’s Association of Canada: Arrest the Legacy-From Residential Schools to Prisons. N.p.,n.d. Web.9 March 2014
Hanson, Eric. “The Indian Act”. Indigenous Foundations.University of British Columbia. Web. 9 March 2014
“Indian Act 1876”. shannonthunderbird.com. N.p.,n.d. Web.9 March 2014
Paterson, Erika. “Lesson 3.1 Nationalism and Literature.” University of British Columbia. UBC Blogs. 2014. Web. Web. 9.Mar. 2014.
“The White Paper 1969”. Rabble.ca. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 March 2014.