The Indian Act included emancipation measures for individuals or entire bands. Until 1985, explains Pierre Lepage in Aboriginal Peoples- Fact and Fiction, Indians had to be over 21 years of age to request emancipation. This meant no longer being legally Indian and the decision fell upon the Department of Indian Affairs in their capacity as guardian. It was up to the federal government to decide whether an Indian (or even a community) was assimilated enough to receive full citizenship and be free of federal guardianship.

The Indian Act as well as the Canadian Constitution and treaties, determined the legal status of Amerindians who were, moreover, never to be perceived as equals. Even the right to vote and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms were not enough to halt the domination over the majority of Amerindians.

Towards a repeal of the Indian Act

According to the report by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal People, published in 2006, most non-Aboriginal observers agreed that it was impossible, under the Indian Act, to make any progress toward self-government and economic development with the aim of eliminating the social problems plaguing many Amerindian communities.

Many non-Aboriginals would prefer to have the separate (hence discriminatory) status clause removed so that Amerindians could simply become Canadian citizens. Although Aboriginals themselves are often the harshest critics of the Indian Act, they are paradoxically often very reluctant to see the law repealed or even amended.

Many evoke the quasi-sacred character of the rights and protections it conferred, albeit with paternalistic and restrictive provisions that prevented Amerindians from assuming their full destiny.