This archived Web page remains online for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. This page will not be altered or updated. Web pages that are archived on the Internet are not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards. As per the Communications Policy of the Government of Canada, you can request alternate formats of this page on the Contact Us page.
By John Leslie
The Indian Department, as a government ministry in British North America, traces its origins to 1755, when Sir William Johnson was first appointed superintendent of the Iroquois and their allies. Johnson was responsible for maintaining relations with these nations for military purposes. During the next half-century, he and his successors negotiated numerous treaties with the Aboriginal peoples in the Great Lakes Basin and along the St. Lawrence River. Johnson and his successors as superintendent were guided by policies and procedures drawn from the Royal Proclamation of 1763. (2) Over time, the Office of the Superintendent developed responsibilities for civil administration of relations with Aboriginal peoples, and its personnel began to negotiate the cession of lands and resources, and the establishment of reserves for specific communities. (3)
Initially, the superintendent reported to the commander of the forces. Following the division of the old province of Quebec into Upper and Lower Canada in 1791, responsibility was divided and the Office of the Superintendent reported to the civilian governors in each jurisdiction. (4) In 1860, responsibility for managing First Nations affairs in British North America was transferred from imperial control to the provinces, where it was assigned to the Commissioner of Crown Lands. (5)
At Confederation in 1867, legislative jurisdiction for First Nations and lands reserved for them was made a federal responsibility under section 91:24 of the British North America Act. (6) Early treaties, land surrenders and other transactions originating from the era of New France, Upper and Lower Canada, and the Province of Canada were transferred from the Crown Lands Department, Province of Canada, to the Indian Branch, Department of the Secretary of State for the Provinces, at Ottawa. Similar records accumulated by commissioners in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick (after 1784) were not easily segregated, thus few were shipped to Ottawa.
The transfer of the historic Indian Affairs records to the Public Archives was piecemeal and gradual. (7) The Indian Affairs Department made its first transfer to the Public Archives in 1907: the minute books of the Indian commissioners at Albany, and the collection of treaties and surrenders numbered 1-280½. Major transfers of documents also occurred in 1909 and 1912, with additions in subsequent decades.