Regulations (Amending) the Indian Referendum Regulations, pursuant to the Indian Act

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Title or working title of the regulatory initiative

Regulations Amending the Indian Referendum Regulations

Enabling act(s)

Indian Act


This regulatory initiative responds to longstanding regulatory challenges that have been raised by First Nations and federal officials. The regulatory initiative aims to minimize delays in conducting referendum votes, ensure an enabling regulatory environment for economic development and reconciliation and advance departmental objectives to transfer control of service delivery and facilitate paths to self-determination.

The Indian Referendum Regulations support Indian Act land management. To pursue economic development with third parties, the Indian Act requires that reserve land be designated prior to leasing. Designations are assented to by the eligible electors of a First Nation via a referendum pursuant to the regulations. The Indian Referendum Regulations are also used to ratify community votes that are important for both economic development and reconciliation, such as specific claims, the creation of joint reserves and the pre-designation of land set aside for additions to reserves. The ratification process that the Indian Referendum Regulations describe is a referendum by secret ballot vote.

The Indian Referendum Regulations have not been substantially amended since 2000. They are not aligned with the department's mandate to increase First Nation control over service delivery, as they are almost entirely administered by the department. Due to their complex and cumbersome administration, they pose a significant barrier to economic development on reserve.

Changing social, economic, environmental and public health situations across Canada have further magnified the need to expedite the proposed regulatory amendments. For example, with the COVID-19 pandemic, travel and gathering restrictions limited voting procedures at a time when prompt economic investments were critical to both First Nations' wellbeing and economic recovery. The requirement that referenda be administered directly by departmental officials and the restrictions against online voting were found to be particularly problematic during this time.

The introduction of regulatory options would enable First Nations to move forward with key community decisions. The proposed amendments to the Indian Referendum Regulations include:

Potential impacts on Canadians, including business

No negative impacts are expected on Canadians generally. The regulatory amendments are expected to primarily impact First Nations that may choose to use the new regulatory options for land management on reserve land. These impacts are expected to be generally positive, as repercussions of delaying votes include reduced opportunities for local businesses, a loss of potential income, loss of employment opportunities and lack of access to infrastructure investments (including substantial departmental funds available for infrastructure projects). The regulatory reform will also enhance certainty for investors. No impacts on international trade or investment have been identified.

Regulatory cooperation efforts (domestic and international)

This initiative is not under a specific formal regulatory cooperation work plan.


A Joint Technical Review of the Indian Referendum Regulations was conducted in 2019 in partnership with the National Aboriginal Lands Managers Association, a national First Nations' organization with land management expertise.

Between March 24, 2022, and August 18, 2022, the Government of Canada met with First Nations leaders and organizations to discuss the proposed regulatory amendments.

In total, Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) held fourteen regional dialogue sessions, five additional sessions requested by regional First Nations organizations, and two dialogue sessions with national Indigenous organizations. The department also presented the initiative at existing regional First Nations leadership meetings in Ontario and the Atlantic region.

In addition, an online survey was launched on ISC's website in February 2022 for First Nations individuals to provide their views. The online survey was promoted on ISC's social media accounts and during dialogue sessions. On August 31, 2022, the department had received a total of 27 responses via the online survey.

Further information

Not applicable.

Departmental contact information

Sarah Byrne
Acting Director
Research, Policy Directorate
Economic Policy Development Branch
Lands and Economic Development Sector
Tel.: 819-639-5630

The date the regulatory initiative was first included in the Forward Regulatory Plan

March 2021

Find out more

Consult Indigenous Services Canada and Indian Oil and Gas Canada's Laws and Regulations web page for:

Consult the following for links to the Cabinet Directive on Regulation and supporting policies and guidance, and for information on government-wide regulatory initiatives implemented by departments and agencies across the Government of Canada:

To learn about upcoming or ongoing consultations on proposed federal regulations, visit:

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