(De)Constructing The “Lazy Indian”: An Historical Analysis of Welfare Reform in Canada

Robyn Taylor-Neu, Tracy Friedel, Alison Taylor, Tibetha Kemble


Since their official inception in the mid 1800s, Indigenous-aimed welfare policies in Canada have presupposed and entailed a racialized subject: the “lazy Indian.” This paper highlights continuities in how Indigenous subjects have been constructed in welfare policy discourse from 1867 to the present. Building from this historical overview, we analyze how today’s neoliberally inflected federal welfare regime at once recodes and reinscribes preexisting ethical narratives of “productive” and “unproductive” citizens, effectively casting Indigenous peoples as non-workers and thus “undeserving” of welfare relief. As our analysis indicates, further reform of welfare policies for Canada’s First Nations must first puncture the persistent myth of the “lazy Indian” in order to attend to the lasting legacy of colonial governance, contemporary barriers to self-sufficiency, and ongoing struggles for politico-economic sovereignty.


Indigenous, social policy, colonization, discourse, political economy

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5663/aps.v7i2.29340

Support: Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada