Aboriginals and the Vote
Expanding the Franchise > Aboriginals and the Vote
Members of the Blood tribe waiting to vote on the proposal to surrender part of their reserve, 1917. (Courtesy Glenbow Archives/NA-1400-34)
The final group of Canadians to attain the right to vote was the Aboriginal people.

In colonial times Aboriginals were denied the vote either explicitly or because they did not meet the property requirements or on the grounds that they received financial aid from the government. Following Confederation, nothing changed. Aboriginals could vote but only if they had been "enfranchised," a legal step by which an individual gave up his or her treaty rights and status under the Indian Act. Since almost no one agreed to be enfranchised, this exception to the ban on Aboriginal voting had little practical meaning.

A few Aboriginal people received the franchise in 1917 under the terms of the Military Voters Act, which gave the vote to all members of the armed forces, past and present. But there was little pressure on the government, either from the public or from Aboriginal people themselves, to extend the franchise.

The situation changed following World War II, a conflict in which many Aboriginals had served with distinction. In 1948, a parliamentary committee recommended that Aboriginal people receive the vote, and the Inuit were enfranchised that year. First Nations, however, were not, chiefly because the government required them to give up the tax exemptions that had been a part of their treaty rights for so long. As a result of this condition, First Nations refused the vote.

Finally, in 1960, the government of John Diefenbaker extended the vote unconditionally to the First Nations. Meanwhile, the provinces had begun granting the franchise to Aboriginal people in 1949 when British Columbia became the first to do so. By 1969, when Québec became the final province to grant its Aboriginal residents the vote, Canada was no longer denying voting rights to anyone on the basis of racial or ethnic criteria.