The federal government is responsible for the development of policies related to First Nations, Métis, Inuit and Northern communities. After Confederation, the British — who had created the first Indian Department after 1755 — transferred this responsibility to the Canadian government. Since then, different departments have been responsible for the portfolios of Indigenous and Northern affairs. There are currently two departments overseeing Indigenous affairs: Indigenous Services Canada is concerned with providing and supporting the delivery of services (health care, child care, education, etc.) to Indigenous communities; while Crown-Indigenous Relations Canada (formerly Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada) oversees Indigenous-government relations, such as matters pertaining to treaty rights and self-government. On 18 July 2018, the Northern affairs portfolio was moved to a new ministry: Intergovernmental and Northern Affairs and Internal Trade.
In 2016, 744,855 people identified as First Nations with Indian Status, 44.2 per cent of which lived on reserves. Reserves are governed by the Indian Act, and residence on a reserve is governed by band councils as well as the federal government. Under the Indian Act, reserves that serve as residences are referred to as Indian Bands. Many reserves or bands are now referred to as First Nations. Reserves may serve as spiritual and physical homelands for their people, but they are also tangible representations of colonial governance. As such they are often the focal point of activism relating to land claims, resource management, cultural appropriation, socio-economic conditions, self-governance and cultural self-determination.1