Hosted by

You can support Canadian History Ehx with a donation at

Before I begin, I would like to take a moment to acknowledge the episode you are about to hear was recorded on Treaty 6 Land.
And a quick warning, some language used to describe Indigenous people in this episode are archaic and can be offensive to some listeners, but we are using them because in reference to how these were perceived at the time,

On June 25, 1969, Minister of Indian Affairs Jean Chretien rose in the House of Commons to present the federal government’s White Paper which he had been working on since 1968 when he set out to amend the Indian Act.
After hearing concerns regarding treaty rights, land title and self-determination, Chretien, and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, believed the best course of action was to eliminate treaties, the Indian Act and assimilate all Indigenous Peoples fully into the Canadian state.
All reserve lands would be converted to private property owned by Indigenous Nations, and responsibility for services on the land would be transferred to provincial governments.
The backlash to The White Paper from First Nations was monumental.
One young Indigenous man decided to put pen to paper.
He wrote The Unjust Society, which was a stinging rebuttal against the White Paper.
It became an immediate bestseller and is credited with galvanizing the response against The White Paper, leading to its eventual demise.
I’m Craig Baird, this is Canadian History Ehx, and this is the story of that book’s author, Harold Cardinal!

The beginning of this story starts in 1875, when the Liberal government of Prime Minister Alexander Mackenzie introduced the Indian Act which consolidated the laws concerning Indigenous Peoples, which were originally enacted by the colonies of British North America before Confederation in 1867.
The Act gave the federal government exclusive authority to govern quote unquote “Indians and Lands Reserved for Indians.”
The Act had two goals…. one… to codify rights promised to Indigenous People by King George III in the Royal Proclamation of 1763, which created a platform for making treaties and somewhat recognizing Indigenous sovereignty.
and two… to enforce Euro-Canadian standards of civilization on Indigenous Peoples.
The government hoped the Act could be enforced in such a way that Indigenous People would feel compelled to renounce their Indigenous Status and enfranchise into Canadian civilization.
Any Indigenous person who renounced their Status was able to vote, pay taxes and live off-reserve.
Anyone who kept it had to live on reserve, lost voting rights and were subjected to oppressive rules including needing a pass from an Indian Agent just to leave to reserve.
Indian Agents were often white men who held immense power. They could restrict freedoms, rations, rights, and benefits based simply on what they considered to be “good moral character”.
. From 1876 to 1880, any Indigenous Person who graduated from university and became a minister, doctor or lawyer lost their status.
For an Indigenous woman, if she married a non-Status man, she lost hers.
That continued until the 1980s.

Over the course of the next 90 years, there were various changes made to the Act.
I will now… highlight a few and a quick note… The information and material here may trigger unpleasant feelings or thoughts of past abuse.
Please contact the 24-Hour Residential School Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419 if you require emotional support.
In 1884, the potlatch, an important cultural ceremony for Pacific Coast First Nations, was banned.
In 1895, all Indigenous festivals, dances or ceremonies were banned. This included the powwow and sun dance.
In 1894, and in 1920, amendments were made to the Act which forced Indigenous children to attend residential schools.
The goal of these schools was to force assimilation into Canadian culture on generations of children.

In 1914, Indigenous dancing off-reserve was outlawed, and in 1925, all Indigenous dancing was outlawed.
In 1927, the Act made it illegal for any First Nation to solicit funds to pursue a land claim.
Today, these actions are considered an act of cultural genocide.

Following the Second World War, Canada began to look at the oppressive measures imposed by the Act and reforms were put forward in the early 1950s.
On June 20, 1951, the Indian Act was amended to remove the ban on the potlatch and sun dance.
It also allowed land claims to be made against the government. Women were finally able to vote in Band elections.
Even with this small bit of progress, the Act still prohibited any Status Indigenous Person from possessing alcohol or being intoxicated.
The welfare of Indigenous children was also given to provincial governments, which led to the Sixties Scoop when children were removed from their homes and were sent often miles away further decimating family units.
This was done in favor of offering resources and support for families.
However, some say progress was made.
On March 31, 1960, Indigenous Peoples were finally given right to vote in federal elections, regardless of their status.
Which brings us up to 1968, and the White Paper.
And a quick note before we move on… The last residential school closed in 1996 and the Sixties Scoop gave way to the Millennium Scoop which is used to describe the distressing rate at which Indigenous children are represented in the child-welfare system.

The man who effectively took down the White Paper, was named Harold Cardinal.
Born on Jan. 27, 1945, near High Prairie, Alberta on the Sucker Creek Reserve to Frank Cardinal, a respected Indigenous leader and a former chief.
Almost as soon as Harold could walk, he was on a political path.
As a young man, he said his goal was a political life and accompanied his father to meetings of the Indian Association of Alberta, where he acted as an interpreter and gained first-hand knowledge.
While attending St. Francis Xavier High School in Edmonton, he became the president of the student’s union.
After graduating, he moved miles away from home to attend St. Patrick’s College, now Carleton University, in Ottawa.
There he was appointed by the Canadian Union of Students as their Associate Secretary of Indian Affairs in 1966.
. That same year, he was elected president of the Canadian Indian Youth Council which had been established in 1964 with the goal of fighting for the interests of Indigenous youth.
During his time in university, he began to wear a beaded jacket over dress shirts, something he continued to do throughout his life.
His classmates noted that he always wore moccasins to class.
For his yearbook picture, he dressed in full Indigenous regalia.
His pride in his culture helped Harold rise quickly in the political world unafraid of ruffling feathers by saying what he felt.
During a meeting of the Indian-Eskimo Association in Calgary in 1967, Harold watched various presentations, mostly by white presenters and then said,
quote “When we want advice, we will ask for it, but we are tired of free advice when we don’t need it. Unless the Indian people can become ‘masters of our house’, we shall never be on equal footing with our fellow citizens. We do not want to become brown white men. “ end quote
In July 1968, Harold was elected the president of the Indian Association of Alberta. That association was founded in 1939, with the purpose of advocating for the rights of Indigenous People in Alberta.
Harold was the youngest president in its history and went on to serve an unprecedented nine terms until 1977.
As president, he initiated several programs and put forward policies for the welfare of Indigenous People in the province.
He was a natural leader as seen by the rise in membership to the association. In his first four months as president, it rose from 150 people to over 10,000.
Harold could not have come to the post of president at a more important time because a year later, Jean Chretien and Pierre Trudeau introduced the White Paper, and he was became the face of the opposition to it.

Angered by what he saw and feeling like this was another forced assimilation into Canadian culture by the government, Harold let his pen do the talking.
To prepare his response, he went to 41 different First Nation communities in Alberta to get their opinion.
Once he saw that condemnation of the White Paper was nearly universal, he got to work on his magnum opus.
In 1969, he released, The Unjust Society.
The title was a play on the phrase used by Pierre Trudeau when he put forward the landmark amendment to the Criminal Code.
On the very first page, Harold cut into this phrase by writing.
“Now at a time when our fellow Canadians consider the promise of the Just Society, once more the Indians of Canada are betrayed by a program which offers nothing better than cultural genocide.”

He called The White Paper, a quote:
“white paper for white people created by the white elephant.”
He characterized the government proposal as a thinly guised program of extermination through assimilation, stating that for the government, quote:
“The only good Indian is a non-Indian.”
Writing about the White Paper’s recommendation to abandon the treaties, Harold wrote,
“When treaties were signed between Indian First Nations and representatives of the Crown, the Indian First Nations viewed themselves as sovereign nations entering into a formal agreement and relationship with another sovereign nation.”
and contrasted the government’s efforts to save various species at the time, with its disregard for the Indigenous Peoples.
He said,
“Sometimes it seems to Indians that Canada shows more interest in preserving its rare whooping cranes than its Indians. And Canada, the Indians note, does not ask its cranes to become Canada Geese.”
This personal response by Harold to the White Paper was an instant best-seller across Canada.
In 1969 he spoke to the media and didn’t mince words,
Although a best-seller, the book was not without blowback.
Harold suddenly found himself on the national stage, sharing a table with Jean Chretien in newspaper photos.
Many in the media called Harold a militant for his rhetoric.
Jack Richards, a columnist with the Vancouver Sun, was particularly harsh when he said,
“Harold Cardinal is no different than any other bigot…white, red black, brown or yellow.”
But some praised Harold’s efforts
Gordon Aalborg of the Edmonton Journal wrote,
“This young president of Alberta’s Indians is a credit to the great orators of history.”
Release of The Unjust Society and the accompanying pressure caused the government to reverse its decision on implementing the White Paper and eventually abandon it altogether in 1970.
Meanwhile Harold’s book went on to inspire a generation of Indigenous People to take pride in their culture.
And Harold was just getting started.

For nearly a century, there had been various attempts to form an overarching Indigenous organization that spanned the country and advocated for the interests of First Nations.
Regional Indigenous organizations had existed, including the Grand Indian Council of Ontario and Quebec, established in 1870, and the Allied Tribes of B.C., established in 1915.
Then there were the attempts by Fred Loft, an Indigenous First World War veteran who came home from the war and wanted to build something to advocate for the Indigenous Peoples.
He had seen many Indigenous soldiers in the war, who were constantly overlooked by their superiors for their bravery.
He established the League of Indians in 1919, which advocated for land rights and improved education for Indigenous People. L
oft continually fought against Indian Affairs to keep his organization running.
He was refused opportunities to speak to Parliament, and there no funding from the government.
When he died in 1934, the League of Indians died soon after.
In 1961, the National Indian Council was formed to represent Indigenous People in Canada, but this collapsed in 1967 due to disagreements between Status Indigenous, non-Status Indigenous and Metis.
Following the collapse of the White Paper, a group of 11 prominent Indigenous leaders, including Harold Cardinal, formed a new organization, the National Indian Brotherhood.
The first act of this new organization was to launch an alternative to the White Paper.
That response came from Harold, it was called Citizens Plus and was endorsed by 150 Indigenous leaders across Canada.
On June 3, 1970, with the Indian Chiefs of Alberta, Cardinal presented it to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and his cabinet.
The name for the paper came from the Hawthorn Report, which was a survey of the Indigenous Peoples of Canada, done in 1966.
In that report, a line stated,
“Indians should be regarded as ‘citizens plus’, in addition to the normal rights and duties of citizenship, Indians possess certain addition rights as charter members of the Canadian communities.”
The paper’s official name was Citizens Plus, but it soon became known as The Red Paper.
The Paper asked federal authorities to admit their past mistakes and recognize historical treaties.
It called for the preservation of Indigenous cultures, land, rights, status, and traditions.
Harold wrote that recognition of treaties had to be binding.
The paper also recommended that education be directed by a First Nations council.
When it came to the issue of land claims, Harold wrote that a commission needed to be established, and created with full First Nations consultation.
This commission could modernize treaties, review reserve boundaries, and prepare legislation.
The Red Paper, coupled with The Unjust Society, forced the government to walk back from its decision to abolish the Indian Act.
Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, while stating there were parts of the Red Paper that irritated him, admitted that some elements of his paper were not fleshed out properly.
He said,
“We have learnt in the process that perhaps we were a bit too theoretical, we were a bit too abstract, we were not, as Mr. Cardinal suggests, perhaps pragmatic enough, or understanding enough, and that is fine. We are here to discuss this.”
Soon after, the White Paper was completely withdrawn.
As for The Red Paper, it paved the way as a model for self-government by First Nations.
Beginning in the 1980s, it contributed to incorporating Indigenous Rights into legislation, including the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
But we are far from done with Harold Cardinal’s story.

Years after writing Citizen Plis Harold remained as the president of the Alberta Association of Indians.
In 1977, he wrote his next book, titled The Rebirth of Canada’s Indians.
Unlike The Unjust Society, this book was more hopeful and optimistic looking at the future and the near decade of change since The White Paper.
This book looked at what came next, and the importance of First Nations to be responsible for their own destiny.
Many commentators on the book stated that it appeared Harold had mellowed in his writing.
It may have seemed that way, but there was still fire in Harold Cardinal’s belly, and it would lead to his first setback.

The same year The Rebirth of Canada’s Indians was released, Harold was appointed as the regional director of Indian Affairs in Alberta.
He was the first Indigenous person to hold this post.
Within seven months, he was removed from the post.
During his tenure, it was alleged that Harold alienated people within the organization by condemning corruption on reserves and calling some chiefs, quote “village tyrants”.
His critics stated he had gone too far, too fast, and was bound to wash out.
After his dismissal f\, Harold stepped away from the public eye.
He moved near to Assumption, Alberta, now called Chateh, located 800 kilometres north of Edmonton.
Even though he had stepped back, Harold was still commanding for change.
Harold helped enshrine the rights of Indigenous Peoples in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the early 1980s.
He was also elected the vice-chair for the Prairies in the National Indian Brotherhood in 1983.
In 1985, he began to work with the Prairie Treaty Nations Alliance with the goal of asserting treaty positions and ensuring the federal government upheld specific rights guaranteed in those treaties.
Harold was asked to negotiate an agreement to renovate Treaty 8, which covers northeast British Columbia, northwest Saskatchewan, and all northern Alberta.
Unfortunately, after a promising start led to failure Harold pulled away from Indigenous politics once again and went into a long period of reflection.
During this time, he met with elders to determine his next steps.
That’s when he decided to obtain a law degree and he studied at the University of Saskatchewan, and then completed it at Harvard.
By this point, the 1990s had dawned and Harold started to work behind the scenes as a manager for First Nations bands in Alberta.
He consulted them in land claims and negotiations with the government on a variety of matters.
He also contributed to the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, which was established in 1991 following the Kanesatake Resistance a year earlier.
That event, also called the Oka Crisis, was a 78-day standoff from July 11, 1990, to Sept. 26, 1990, that involved Mohawk protesters, who blocked the expansion of a golf course on traditional land.
The expansion was done without their consultation and the blockade led to the government calling in the army, eventually bringing an end to the protest.
By the mid-1990s, Harold had become an elder statesman of Indigenous politics and a man who helped inspire major changes in how the federal government worked with the First Nations.
Harold was finally going to get the recognition he deserved.
In 1999, he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Alberta for his unique achievements in leadership, public policy, and law.
In 2000, he once again put pen to paper and wrote Treaty Elders of Saskatchewan: Our Dream Is That Our Peoples Will One Day Be Clearly Recognized As Nations. He co-wrote the book with Water Hildebrandt, a historian and poet from Brooks, Alberta.
The book brought together the voices of many Saskatchewan elders to provide an Indigenous perspective on treaties and treaty rights.
During the 2000 federal election, Harold realized a dream he had since his youth.
He ran for the Liberal Party in the Alberta riding of Athabasca, where he finished second with 28 percent of the vote behind Dave Chatters of the Canadian Alliance.
One year later in 2001, Harold received the National Aboriginal Achievement Award.
This award, now called The Indspire Award, was presented for Harold’s lifetime work advocating for Indigenous Peoples.
Other recipients include artist Kenojuak Ashevak, musicians Buffy Sainte-Marie and Robbie Robertson, and Senator Murray Sinclair.
On June 2, 2005, Harold was awarded a Doctor of Law degree from the University of British Columbia.
A day later, on June 3, Harold Cardinal died of lung cancer.
He died a day before a planned banquet in his honour was to take place in Edmonton, which wasn’t canceled at his request.
At his funeral over 800 people attended to pay their respects, as his coffin was carried in a wagon led by a team of horses.,
In attendance was Assembly of First Nations Chief Phil Lafontaine.
Lafontaine was leader of the organization, which was once called the National Indian Brotherhood, the same one Harold helped create three decades earlier.
Phil Lafontaine said,
“I looked upon him with envy because he was so sure of himself. He became our spokesperson. He made us proud.”
That is the story of Harold Cardinal, but before we are done, there is one more story to tell… and it involves royalty.

On July 5, 1973, Harold Cardinal stood at the entrance to a teepee in Calgary.
He held the entrance flap back as Queen Elizabeth II emerged.
She was there to celebrate the centennial of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Harold was given the opportunity to privately speak with The Queen who was on her final stop of a two-week tour of Canada.
He called her “the sovereign Queen who is our treaty partner” and asked that she uphold the terms of the treaties.
In response, she said,
“You may be assured that my government of Canada recognizes the importance of full compliance with the spirit and themes of the treaties.”
Whether or not that was the case, as we look back over the past 50 years since that meeting remains up for debate.
What is not up for debate is that Harold Cardinal changed Canadian history and can count himself among the most influential Indigenous leaders of the 20th century.

Information from Canadian Encyclopedia, Calgary Herald, Indspire, Ivy Panda, New Federation, UBC, Ottawa Citizen, Edmonton Journal, Vancouver Sun, Calgary Albertan,

Liked it? Take a second to support CraigBaird on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!

Leave a Reply

More from this show

Canadian History Ehx

Recent posts