Gradual Civilization Act

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The Act to Encourage the Gradual Civilization of Indian Tribes in this Province, and to Amend the Laws Relating to Indians (commonly known as the Gradual Civilization Act) was a bill passed by the 5th Parliament of the Province of Canada in 1857. The statute built on the Act for the Protection of the Indians in Upper Canada passed in 1839, and allowed for the "enfranchisement" of any recognized male Indian (indigenous person) over the age of 21 "able to speak, read and write either English or the French language readily and well, and is sufficiently advanced in the elementary branches of education and is of good moral character and free from debt" who "may desire to avail themselves of this Act".[1]

An "enfranchised" Indian would no longer retain the "legal rights and abilities of Indians" and would "no longer be deemed an Indian" but a regular British subject, able to vote.[1] Such enfranchisement was voluntary. In addition to those literate in French or English, any male Indian could be voluntarily enfranchised despite an inability to read or write, or a lack of school education, so long as he spoke English or French, and was found to be "of sober and industrious habits, free from debt and sufficiently intelligent to be capable of managing his own affairs."[1] Enfranchisement of illiterate Indians, however, required a three-year probation term before it would come into legal effect.

Enfranchisement required that Indians choose a last name (to be approved by appointed commissioners) by which they would become legally known. The wife and descendants of an enfranchised Indian would also be enfranchised, and would no longer be considered members of the former tribe unless they were to regain Indian status through another marriage. Enfranchised Indians were entitled to "a piece of land not exceeding fifty acres out of the lands reserved or set apart for the use of his tribe," as allotted by the Superintendent General of Indian Affairs, and "a sum of money equal to the principal of his share of the annuities and other yearly revenues receivable by or for the use of such tribe."[1] This land and money would become their property, but by accepting it, they would "forgo all claim to any further share in the lands or moneys then belonging to or reserved for the use of [their] tribe, and cease to have a voice in the proceedings thereof."[1]

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  1. ^ a b c d e An Act to Encourage the Gradual Civilization of Indian Tribes in this Province, and to Amend the Laws Relating to Indians, 3rd Session, 5th Parliament, 1857.

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