The White Paper

Published in 1969, The White Paper was the Trudeau Government’s clumsy attempt to address the systemic inequalities between Indigenous people (referred to as Indians) and Settlers (referred to as Canadians). The proposed plan of action was intended to replace The Indian Act. Instead of actually dealing with problems of entrenched institutionalized racism The White Paper proposed that the government should eliminate the category of “Indian” over a five-year period.

What it meant

To accomplish this they intended to fast track the investigations of outstanding land claims and then terminate all treaties. After this the department of Indian affairs would be dissolved and Indigenous people stripped of their status en masse. It was in effect a proposal to speed up the assimilationist mission of The Indian Act, which has been slowly chipping away Indigenous communities since it’s creation in 1876. The reserve land would be transferred to the Bands and the residents would be subject to the provincial and territorial laws that apply to settler Canadians. They would also receive the same services both provincial and federal. The reserves would have essentially become municipalities.

Fighting Back

Indigenous peoples immediately, and soundly rejected this plan of action. Indian National Brotherhood issued a statement of opposition to the White Paper declaring:

“We view this is as a policy designed to divest us of our aboriginal, residual, and statutory rights. If we accept this policy, and in the process loose rights and our lands, we become willing partners in culture genocide. This we cannot do.”

Opposition to the White Paper led to a great deal of research and discussion about the relationship between the settler society and Indigenous people and resulted in a more or less united Indigenous political opposition and the growth of Native political Organizations. It also had the curious and unintended affect of introducing the concept of “aboriginal rights” into the discourse. The Trudeau government formally retracted The White Paper March 17th 1971.