Citizens Plus (The Red Paper) | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Citizens Plus (The Red Paper)

Citizens Plus, also known as the Red Paper, was a report presented to the federal government on 4 June 1970. It was prepared under the leadership of Harold Cardinal and the Indian Association of Alberta. It was a response to the 1969 White Paper. The authors believed the White Paper offered a dire view of the future for Indigenous peoples.

Premier of Alberta Harry Strom, Harold Cardinal and Jean Chrétien, Minister of Indian Affairs, 18 December 1970.


During the 1960s, the federal government considered the future of Indigenous peoples in Canada. In particular, they were considering those classified as status Indians. The Hawthorn Report (A Survey of the Contemporary Indians of Canada), argued against assimilationist policies. Also, it recommended against ending separate status for status Indians. Hawthorn believed that history was important. He argued the detrimental treatment First Nations received since contact justified permanent special recognition.

Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development (see Federal Departments of Indigenous and Northern Affairs) Jean Chrétien consulted with Indigenous leaders for two years. On 25 June 1969, he introduced the Statement of the Government of Canada on Indian Policy (better known as the White Paper). The document argued that the separate administration of status Indians caused them to fall behind the rest of the country. Its solution was to eliminate the legal recognition of status Indians. This would be done by repealing the Indian Act. It would also require amending the British North America Act (see Constitution Act, 1867). The changes would remove guarantees regarding the separate treatment of status Indians.

The White Paper infuriated Indigenous leaders. It signalled that the federal government did not understand Indigenous perspectives and wished to continue assimilative policies without Indigenous consultation or consent. It was immediately denounced for its assimilationist goals. This rejection of the White Paper united Indigenous leaders in determining how to fight the document’s proposals.

Over the next year, Harold Cardinal and the Indian Association of Alberta drafted a response.

The Report

The name of the report, Citizens Plus, derived from a line in the Hawthorn Report. This line stated, “Indians should be regarded as ‘citizens plus’; in addition to the normal rights and duties of citizenship, Indians possess certain additional rights as charter members of the Canadian community.” The report’s authors believed the White Paper offered “despair instead of hope.”

On its opening page, the report argued the government’s plans for land ownership would leave Indigenous peoples landless. It went on to say, “and consequently the future generation would be condemned to the despair and ugly spectre of urban poverty in ghettos.” To preserve Indigenous cultures, the report argued it was essential to preserve their lands, rights, status and traditions.

The authors asked federal authorities to admit past mistakes and recognize historical treaties (see Treaties with Indigenous Peoples in Canada). They also requested room to recognize modern realities. They viewed Indigenous lands as being held in trust by the federal government to prevent their breakup. The White Paper advocated repealing the Indian Act. This was meant to allow individual ownership of Indigenous lands. Citizens Plus opposed this approach.

The report made some immediate requests. First, it wanted the appointment of a full-time Minister of Indian Affairs. It also wanted recognition of treaties as binding. Connected to treaties, the report argued for a pledge to entrench updated treaties. This would be included in a future constitutional amendment. The Indian Act, which was viewed as being very paternalistic, would be drastically altered. However, unlike the suggestions of the White Paper, Citizens Plus did not recommend repealing the Indian Act. This would allow Indigenous peoples greater self-government. It would also provide the ability to control and acquire title to their lands.

The White Paper proposed winding down the Indian portion of the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development (see Federal Departments of Indigenous and Northern Affairs). However, Citizens Plus believed there would always be a need for a federal Indian Affairs branch. It instead suggested that it be smaller and more attuned to community needs. This slimmer department would be headed by a minister whose sole responsibility was Indigenous issues.

In addition, the White Paper recommended that provinces assume funding for programs for which they were normally responsible. Citizens Plus argued money for education should be directed to First Nations councils. Councils could operate their own schools or plan with nearby public facilities. The report states school curricula would be revised. This would prepare First Nations people for government and public sector employment as well as emerging industries.

In terms of economic development, the authors felt that First Nations should not rely fully on government. They recommended enlisting help from the private sector. Community development corporations were encouraged. Tax and training incentives could stimulate new businesses.

Regarding land claims, the report suggested the establishment of a commission. The commission would be created with full First Nations consultation. This would be instead of a single appointed commissioner as outlined in the White Paper. The commission would modernize treaties. It would also award compensation to status Indians not covered under treaties. It would review reserve boundaries. In order to modify restrictions surrounding fishing rights, it would prepare legislation. Finally, it would hear any other claim-related issues.

The report’s recommendations were followed by sections spotlighting the historical contexts. This section included proposals for educational reforms submitted to the federal government by the Indian Association of Alberta in March 1970.


The report was presented to the members of the federal cabinet on 4 June 1970. Harold Cardinal and a delegation of 150 chiefs of the Indian Association of Alberta presented the report. Following the presentation of the Red Paper, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau stated the government wasn’t rushing to finalize an updated Indian policy. Prime Minister Trudeau noted parts of the Red Paper that irritated him, such as a suggestion that the government was misleading First Nations. Trudeau suggested that elements of the White Paper were naive. He acknowledged that the concept of equality wasn’t so black and white. “We have learnt in the process that perhaps we were a bit too theoretical, we were a bit too abstract, we were not, as Mr. Cardinal suggests, perhaps pragmatic enough, or understanding enough, and that’s fine. We are here to discuss this.” Many observers felt the Red Paper killed the chances of the White Paper going forward. The White Paper was withdrawn in 1970.

The Red Paper’s promotion of self-sufficient models for education and economic development paved the way for discussions on self-government. From the 1980s on, it contributed to amending the Constitution to incorporate Indigenous rights (see Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Canada).