Understanding the Indian Act

The federal government recently announced it would review the laws and policies related to Indigenous people, and it has struck a cabinet working group to lead the task. Of these laws, the 141-year-old Indian Act stands out as one of the most complex and most reviled. What is the history behind this colonial law? How does it function? Is there any hope we will will be able to remove it from the books and replace it with a framework that better reflects a nation-to-nation relationship?

Three experts helped answer our basic questions about the Act, with the aim of building knowledge around this key policy question facing our country.


Frances Abele
Frances Abele
Professor in the School of Public Policy and Administration at Carleton University

Frances Abele is a professor in the School of Public Policy and Administration at Carleton University and academic director of the Carleton Centre for Community Innovation. She has worked with the Centre for First Nations Governance as well as other think tanks and research institutes, and was deputy director of research for the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples.

Douglas Sanderson
Douglas Sanderson
Associate professor in the Faculty of Law at the University of Toronto

Douglas Sanderson is a member of the Opaskwayak Cree Nation. He is an associate professor in the Faculty of Law at the University of Toronto. He earned his Juris Doctor at the University of Toronto and his LL.M at Columbia University, where he was Fulbright fellow.

Roger D. Jones
Roger D. Jones
Founding president of the Indigenous Bar Association

Roger D. Jones is a council member of the Sagamok Anishnawbek, Robinson-Huron Treaty Territory. Now an independent consultant, he worked as a legal and policy adviser for the Ontario Regional Chief /Chiefs of Ontario, as senior legal counsel for the Assembly of First Nations, and as an assistant professor at the University of Sudbury’s Native Studies Department. He is a founding president of the Indigenous Bar Association


Jennifer Ditchburn
Jennifer Ditchburn
Editor-in-chief of Policy Options

Jennifer Ditchburn is the editor-in-chief of Policy Options, the IRPP’s online magazine. An award-winning journalist, she spent more than two decades covering national and parliamentary affairs for The Canadian Press and for CBC Television. She is a three-time winner of a National Newspaper Award and the recipient of the prestigious Charles Lynch Award for outstanding coverage of national issues. She is the co-editor (with Graham Fox) of The Harper Factor: Assessing a Prime Minister’s Policy Legacy (2016).

Date and time

April 28, 2017



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