In 1755, the British Crown established the British Indian Department, and responsibility for Indian Affairs rested on the Superintendents of Indian Affairs from 1755 to 1841. After 1843, the Governors General held control of Indian Affairs, but usually delegated much of their responsibility to a series of Civil Secretaries. In 1860, the responsibility for Indian affairs was transferred from the government of Great Britain to the Province of Canada and the responsibility for Indian Affairs was given to the Crown Lands Department Commissions Responsible for Indian Affairs.
The federal government's legislative responsibilities for Indians and Inuit derive from section 91(24) of the Constitution Act, 1867 and responsibility was given to the Secretary of State for the Provinces Responsible for Indian Affairs. In 1876, the Indian Act, which remains the major expression of federal jurisdiction in this area, was passed and a series of treaties were concluded between Canada and the various Indian bands across the country. The responsibility for Indian Affairs and Northern Development rested with various government departments between 1873 and 1966. The Minister of the Interior also held the position of Superintendent-General of Indian Affairs after the Indian Affairs Department was established in 1880. In 1939, federal jurisdiction for Indian peoples was interpreted by the courts to apply to the Inuit. A revised Indian Act was passed in 1951.
From 1950 to 1965, the Indian Affairs portfolio was carried by the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. On October 1, 1966, the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development was created as a result of the Government Organization Act, 1966. Effective June 13, 2011, the department was renamed the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada.
The Northern Development part of the department has its origins in the Department of the Interior, a body created by then Prime Minister John A. Macdonald for the purpose of administering the Dominion Lands Act of 1872. When the Department of the Interior dissolved in 1936 (with the Natural Resources Acts transferring control over natural resources to the Prairie provinces), Indian Affairs fell under the purview of the Department of Mines and Resources. However, the need for social and health-care services in the North led to the establishment of the Northern Administration and Lands branch in 1951, which led to the creation of the Department of Northern Affairs and National Resources in 1953. This became the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development in 1966 and then the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development in 2011.