After the failures of the League of Indians in Canada in the interwar period and the North American Indian Brotherhood in two decades following the Second World War, the Aboriginal peoples of Canada organized themselves once again in the early 1960s. The National Indian Council was created in 1961 to represent Indigenous people, including Treaty/Status Indians, non-status people, the Metis people, though not the Inuit. This organisation, however, also collapsed in 1968 as the three groups failed to act as one, so the non-status and metis groups formed the Native Council of Canada and Treaty/Status groups formed the National Indian Brotherhood (NIB), an umbrella group for provincial and territorial First Nations organizations.
The following year, the NIB launched its first major campaign in opposition to the 1969 White Paper, in which the Minister of Indian Affairs, the Hon. Jean Chrétien proposed the abolition of the Indian Act of Canada, the rejection of land claims, and the assimilation of First Nations people into the Canadian population with the status of other ethnic minorities rather than a distinct group. On June 3, 1970, the NIB presented the response by Harold Cardinal and the Indian Chiefs of Alberta (entitled "Citizens Plus" but commonly known as the "Red Paper") to the Federal Cabinet. Prime Minister Trudeau and the Liberals began to back away from the White paper, particularly after the Calder case decision in 1973.
In 1972, the NIB's policy paper "Indian Control of Indian Education" was generally accepted by federal government and the NIB gained national recognition for the issue of Indigenous education in Canada. Undoubtedly, this was one of the last steps in ending the Canadian Residential School System long opposed by indigenous people, but also a first step in the push for Indigenous self-governance.
The NIB gained consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council in 1974, until such time as an international Indigenous organization could be formed. When the World Council of Indigenous People was formed on Nuu-chah-nulth territory the following year, it took the place of the NIB at the United Nations.
The NIB, however, was not without its problems. The structure of the organization created the most apparent point of dispute. It was created with the intention of representing a large number of sometimes disparate non-governmental organizations, but could not necessarily claim to representative of all the bands and nations in Canada. Toward the end of the 1970s, this criticism became increasingly prominent, and became particularly glaring during protests against the patriation of the Canadian Constitution. In response, the NIB attempted to transform itself into a truly representative body, and changed its name to the Assembly of First Nations in 1982. The Assembly was organized so as to be accountable to all First Nations in Canada. The new structure was formally adopted in July 1985, as part of the Charter of the Assembly of First Nations.