[First Nations’ Historical] Lack of Access to Lawyers


“Another historical obstacle for First Nations who wished to press claims was that they generally did not have access to lawyers who could bring their case to the courts if governments did not act. Until 1860, the British Crown’s appointees, and, after Confederation, the federal government, controlled First Nation spending. Further, until the 1960’s, federal “Indian agents” supervised all significant First Nation activities, including band council meetings. Federal officials regularly declined to approve the hiring of lawyers – apparently to protect First Nations from exaggerated expectations and from the payment of excessive legal fees. Indeed, in 1927, faced with rising pressure from First Nations on land claims, the federal government passed the following amendment to the Indian Act:

Every person who, without the consent of the Superintendent General … receives, solicits or requests from any Indian any payment or contribution … for the prosecution of any claim which the tribe or band of Indians … has … for the recovery of any claim or money for the benefit of the said tribe or band, shall be guilty of an offence.

This prohibition on legal representation for First Nations remained in effect until 1951.”

Word for word from Michael Coyle’s report, Addressing Aboriginal Land and Treaty Rights in Ontario: An Analysis of Past Policies and Options for the Future, page 18. Pulled from Ontario’s Ministry of the Attorney General.

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