The Next Chapter

Bob Joseph believes Indigenous reconciliation can be realized sooner rather than later

The author of the bestselling book 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act discusses dismantling the legal document once and for all.
Bob Joseph's book is a guide to understanding the Indian Act, created in 1876, and its ongoing impact on Indigenous people in Canada. He spoke with Shelagh Rogers at Calgary's Wordfest in 2019. (ictinc.ca, David Kotsibie Persuasion Photography)
Listen14:51

Bob Joseph, a member of the Gwawaenuk Nation, is the founder and president of Indigenous Corporate Training Inc., which offers training on Indigenous relations to government and corporate clients.

He's also the bestselling author of 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act, which is a guide to understanding the 1876 Indian Act and its repercussions on generations of Indigenous Peoples. 

The book, which was one of the top 10 bestselling Canadian titles of 2019, examines the legacy of the legal document that he notes has shaped the lives and opportunities of Indigenous peoples in Canada. 

He spoke with Shelagh Rogers about 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act.

First introduced in 1876, the Indian Act is seen by many as oppressive and racist legislation. (CBC)

'Short, brutish lives'

"A lot of the Indian Act's policy was put into place on the basis of Indigenous people living 'short brutish lives.' It was created with the idea that Indigenous people needed help to make things better for them. When we look at the genesis of the Indian Act, a federal government agent would go around to Indigenous communities around the country, documenting people with the goal to make them 'status Indians.'

A lot of the Indian Act's policy was put into place on the basis of Indigenous people living 'short brutish lives.'- Bob Joseph

"It was about finding ways to legally racially define us and then finding ways to illegally racially define us. Intermarriage played a huge role in the status of Indian men before 1985. If I married somebody who wasn't Indigenous at all, as long as I married before 1985, she could become a status Indian.

"But for women, they lost status. If an Indian woman married a non-Indian man prior to 1985, she lost her status, and so did her children. That meant you couldn't live on the reserve because reserves are set aside for the use and benefit of status Indians. It was very discriminatory against Indian women." 

Hereditary Chief Bob Joseph doesn't feel Indigenous reconciliation is just around the corner, but he does think it's not too far away. Hear how he feels we can achieve it. 10:20

The land question

"In British Columbia, we don't have treaties. The province has wrestled with what we call 'land claims' or 'the land question.' It's been an important conversation to have.

"When I first started working on this issue, it was a very budding field. We had some tough road to plow — who wants to learn about Aboriginal awareness? That was actually a kind of a hurdle in itself.

We had some tough road to plow — who wants to learn about Aboriginal awareness?- Bob Joseph

"We thought we have to really make it engaging and tackle all of the things that need to be tackled. But I realized that it's okay to actually talk it through and ask about anything." 

CBC Radio's The Next Chapter host Shelagh Rogers spoke with Bob Joseph at Calgary's Wordfest in 2019. (David Kotsibie Persuasion Photography)

The design for dismantling

"Every once in a while I just pinch myself —  I get to talk about dismantling the Indian Act. And the book is a bestseller. Who would have thought? But the Indian Act is still here. We have to figure out how to dismantle it and and reach the political objectives of Indigenous peoples across the country. 

We're looking at three concepts here: self-determination, self-government and self-reliance.- Bob Joseph

"We're looking at three concepts here: self-determination, self-government and self-reliance. The legislation needs to go for these reasons and we're very close. We've abandoned forced cultural assimilation. We're just working out how to best accomplish that for the 605 different nations and 11 major language families. That's the real task."

Bob Joseph Jr.'s comments have been edited for length and clarity. 

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