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The Indian Act is the main piece of federal legislation governing Status Indians and the Reserve system in Canada. The Indian Act was enacted in 1876 by the Parliament of Canada under the provisions of Section 91(24) of the Constitution Act, 1867, which provides Canada's federal government exclusive authority to legislate in relation to "Indians and Lands Reserved for Indians". The Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development administers the Indian Act.

The Act defines who is an "Indian" and contains certain legal rights and legal disabilities for registered Indians. The rights exclusive to Indians in the Indian Act are beyond legal challenge under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Section Twenty-five of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in particular, provides that the Charter shall not be interpreted as negating specific Aboriginal Treaties and their corresponding rights and freedoms. 

The Act sets out rules for governing First Nation reserves, defines how Bands can be created and spells out the powers of "Band Councils."

In 1985 changes to the Act included new legislation to end discriminatory provisions of the Indian Act, especially those which discriminated against women.  

Bill C-31 changes the meaning of "status" and for the first time allows for limited reinstatement of Indians who were denied or lost status and/or Band membership in the past.

The Indian Act remains a target of criticism and the subject of continuing review. Historcially significant change only occurs, at best, every quarter century, if then. Time will tell what changes occur, and when, to a statute that has proved very resilient for a very long time.

For more information on the Act and its provisions go to: http://laws.justice.gc.ca/eng/I-5/index.html