Challenges of First Nations in Canada

In less than a century and a half, First Nations people lost total control of their territory.
The crown of England gradually took away their lands and rights, and First Nations children were put into residential schools. In 1892, the Canadian federal government put in place a law forcing First Nations children between the ages of 6 and 18 to leave their families and live in Catholic residential schools. Residential schools were originally construed to unify the Canadian population, but they had a profound disregard for First Nations language, rights and culture. The residential school system generated physical and emotional abuse of many First Nations children, which had a negative impact on the rest of their lives.

Although Indian Status was originally used as a stamp of discrimination in colonial times, significant modifications were made to law C-31 in June 1895 that gave First Nations people of Canada many rights and privileges. In 1949, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Canada recognized the rights of First Nations people. Most significantly, it gave First Nations the right to vote in Canada and in 1968, they were entitled to the same health benefits as all Canadians.

Today, the First Nations people are recognized as distinct from the rest of the Canadian population under the Indian Act and can declare their Indian Status to the Canadian federal government - this gives them access to many favourable programs and services.

However, territorial rights are still being disputed between First Nations communities and the federal government. Today many First Nations communities are still working with the Canadian federal government to resolve their legal rights and entitlement to land, fish and the treatment of their sacred sites.

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