UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The capacity of Canadian Indians for local government on their reserves Nicholls, John England Oscar


In studying the capacity of Canadian Indians for local government on their reserves two objects are sought. First we wish to show the extent to which Indians are involved in directing the affairs of their communities. Second, we hope to discover where Indians, in comparison with other Canadians, are incapacitated by virtue of their special legal, social and economic status. Research for this study was gleaned from files, publications and records of interviews in the offices of the Indian Affairs Branch of the federal government, provincial departments of municipal affairs and offices of municipal associations in Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Vancouver. We begin our study by investigating the reality of local government for non-Indians. Then we look at the capacity of Indians for similar forms of local authority on their reserves. Capacity is examined in terms of legal competence, existing economic and administrative ability to carry out local functions and potential for future development of local government. Non-Indian local government is developed under a complex set of provincial legal and economic controls. Non-Indian municipalities appear to be mainly oriented towards the provision of local services. In contrast Indian local government is developed under the federal legislation of the Indian Act. A flexible interpretation of the Act by federal officials permits the development of local government forms to suit the needs of particular reserves. On the other hand controls exercised by federal officials, along with deficiencies in local economic resources and administrative skills, tend to retard the growth of local government. A possible way for the reduction of differences between Indian and non-Indian capacities would involve the integration of bands and municipalities within a common framework of local government. There is little evidence at present of such integration if measured in terms of transactions between bands and municipalities, common opportunities under federal and provincial programs of grants and joint membership in regional governments and local government associations. A set of alternative courses is considered for Indian communities to follow in the future. We conclude that evolution of local government under the Indian Act seems the most appropriate means by which Indian capacities can be used both to improve local services and to develop non-Indian political skills among Indians.

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