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Rotman Insights Hub | University of Toronto - Rotman School of Management

A leader's guide to the Indian Act

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Bob Joseph

Nearly 150 years old, the Indian Act continues to shape relations with Indigenous People across Canada. As communities, businesses, institutions and individuals begin or continue their paths of reconciliation, it's important to critically evaluate the role the legislation has played in getting us to where we are today.

Bob Joseph, founder of Indigenous Corporate Training Inc and author of 21 Things You Didn't Know About the Indian Act joined the Rotman Visiting Experts podcast to talk about the lasting impact it's had, and the role businesses and individuals play in dismantling its harmful legacy.

This 27-minute episode covers a lot of history, but key take-aways include: 

  1. The primary goal of the Indian Act was assimilation and an erradication of the "Indian" way of life. According to Joseph, a lot of efforts were made to "put people on a list" of Status Indians, just to later find a way to take them off the list. Many of these efforts — such as enfranchisement of women through loss of status when they married a non-status individual; the widespread use of residential schools, which would later be labelled a form of cultural genocide; the forcible removal of land and designation of communally held reserves — would have ramifications on Indigenous Peoples of this land for generations.
  2. Reconciliation — building relationships with First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples — impacts all walks of life in Canada, including businesses. No organization is exempt, and companies that make meaningful efforts to engage, consult, and recognize and affirm the rights Indigenous people will have a much easier time moving forward with programs, projects or initiatives that directly impact these populations.
  3. Joseph thinks Canadians, rather than the government, are in the best position to help us move beyond the legacy of the Indian Act. "I get asked all the time, what do you think government should do? And I always say, look, I hope they do a lot, but I'm not betting on government. I’m really betting on Canadians, I'm betting on them to continue the calls to action, which [include] learn about the history of the culture, the UN Declaration — those kinds of things," he says.

New episodes of Rotman Visiting Experts are released monthly on SpotifyApple Podcasts, and Google Podcasts. Desktop listeners can also tune in on Simplecast.

Would you rather read than listen in? Check out the full transcript of the episode here

Bob Joseph is the founder of Indigenous Corporate Training Inc., author of 21 Things You Didn't Know About the Indian Act, and a member of the Gwawaenuk Nation.