Fifty years ago, the Canadian government granted First Nations people the right to vote in federal elections without losing their treaty status.

The anniversary, however, brings mixed emotions for many of Canada's first people.

In March 1960, Prime Minister John Diefenbaker pushed the voting rights legislation through Parliament. It came into effect July 1 that year.

First Nations people were given a conditional right to vote status at the time of Confederation in 1867.

To do so, they had to give up their treaty rights and Indian status.

In 1948, a parliamentary committee recommended that all "status Indians" be given the vote, but rules weren't put in place until Diefenbaker's legislation 12 years later.

Diefenbaker later told CBC in a November 1971 documentary that he was determined to give First Nations people the vote.

"I felt it was so unjust that they didn't have the vote," Diefenbaker said in the The Tenth Decade.

"I brought it about as soon as I could after becoming prime minister."

Dene chief's feelings 'mixed'

Bill Erasmus, national chief of the Dene Nation in the Northwest Territories, told CBC News on Wednesday that he is cautious about applauding the anniversary.

Erasmus said Diefenbaker went ahead with something that fundamentally affected the nation-to-nation basis of treaties with the Crown, and he did it without any meaningful consultation with First Nations people.  

"That's what the whole exercise was about. It was to make us Canadians, and we never had a discussion about that," Erasmus said.  

"So yes, I think people want to participate in Canadian society, but they need to participate on conditions that they entered into with the Crown. So that's why my feelings are mixed on the question."  

Erasmus said that, as a result of those mixed emotions, some First Nations people have decided not to exercise their right to vote.  

But he said for many others, voting and participation in the political process are things now taken for granted.