Saturday, January 5, 2013
Indian Plains and future assimilation...
British North America administrators in unison with the Colonial Office in Britain were of one mind to establish a system(s) of assimilation in regards to Indian tribes roaming past the height of land (present day Thunder Bay). This concentrated effort, this push if you will, at the behest of the Conservative Government of John A. McDonald; was in response to the conclusion of the US civil war and its growing interest in annexing Canada within the United States. Another more pressing issue was the financial health of the Canadian Railway in the eastern provinces of Canada. Establishing railway lines south of the border proved expensive and difficult to do business against established railway companies in the United-States; as such McDonald looked towards the west and the Pacific Coast as a means to open up future markets by way of a Pacific sea port.
Now the consortium in which made these issues unfold was as complex as the issues themselves. Firstly the need for land; this was made possible by the Hudson`s Bay Company. Economic conditions in 1840 became at a crisis. The Company had dwindling assets other than its Charter; therefore concluded an agreement with McDonald in terms of a land transfer which became known as the (Rupert’s Land Act) transaction. The resulting pact did considerably alleviate the financial strains of the Company; providing its managing partners the opportunity to sit on future board of the Pacific Trunk Railway. It also provided McDonald with the necessary means to pursue the transcontinental railway.
Secondly, the Indian Wars in the United-States (1865-1890) kept American Interest towards the annexation of Canada at bay. Manifest Destiny1 ideologies made some Americans in the Republican Party; such as journalist John L. O’Sullivan to further American expansionism into the West and South. “O’Sullivan believed that Providence had given the United-States a mission to spread republican democracy. Because Britain would not use the territory of Oregon for the purposes of spreading democracy, thought O’Sullivan, British claims to the territory should be overruled. O’Sullivan believed that Manifest Destiny was a moral ideal (a "higher law") that superseded other considerations. O'Sullivan predicted that Canada would eventually request annexation as well.” 2
1869 was a decisive year for the Conservatives. Louis Riel intent on preserving French and Métis rights pressed McDonald in acceding to the provisional provincial government of Manitoba’s demands in order to ratify a law admitting Manitoba into confederation. The successive series of events in reference to Louis Riel, the Red River Settlement and ultimately the loss of French and Métis rights in the province is not reflective of assimilating Indian tribes west of Saint Boniface. The advance of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway however did; specifically in Saskatchewan.
Efforts by the ‘Confederation League’ in British Columbia proved fruitful and in 1871 requested to be part of Confederation as per the agreement of McDonald to assume British Columbia’s debt, to create subsidies for public works and a railroad would be built from Ontario to British Columbia within 10 years.
Thirdly, the reserve ‘system’ began in earnest by 1865 in British North America, “The Indians really have no right to the lands they claim, nor are they of any actual value or utility to them: and I cannot see why they should either retain these lands to the prejudice of the General Interests of the Colony, or be allowed to make a market of them to the Government or to the individual.”3
The process by which McDonald deemed necessary to make way for the eventual introduction of Homestead Act; involved identifying areas of interest to the Crown and make treaty with the predominant Cree tribes along the Saskatchewan River. Governor-General Alexander Morris acted on the behest of Her Majesty’s government in establishing these treaty agreements. The contentious issue of segregating Indian populations within the reserves presented McDonald two options; creating conditions aimed at furthering the assimilation of a people and permanently extinguishing Indian rights to the land.
Examples of increasing encroachment of European settlements upon Indian lands abound. One such incident occurred in the 1850’s. James Douglas, the Chief Factor of the Hudson's Bay Company and the governor of British Columbia, negotiated a series of treaties with coastal Indians (commonly called the Douglas treaties). However, treaties soon fell out of favor with provincial officials and, after 1859, the government placed First Nations people on reserves without granting them compensation for their lands.
McDonald as Prime Minister and Superintendent General of Indian Affairs, Edgar Dewdney, Commissioner of Indian Affairs and Hayter Reed, Assistant Indian Commissioner of Indian Affairs manipulated the concentration, movements and assimilation of a people within the reserve system by the re-defined interpretation of the Indian Act.
The permit system enabled Indian Agents control in regards to commercial transactions benefiting band members and non-natives within the reserve. It also monitored and restricted who could leave and return to the reserve. The permit system was illegal since it was never passed into law; nevertheless this practice was in effect well past mid-1940. Reed’s belief was that an Indian farmer was to become self-sufficient; without the ability to compete in the open market system.
The most controversial system introduced by McDonald was the application of the “location ticket”. Its purpose was to further the enfranchisement process among First Nations. It stipulated that if a band member demonstrated the ability to successfully implement farming principles (in similar fashion as a white settler could manage) for a probationary period of three years and had sufficiently evolved as to be completely capable of joining Canadian Society; the said Indian could therefore be given title to the land. Theoretically, all ban members of a reservation could enfranchise themselves in this manner.
The pursuance of a university degree also was a means of enfranchisement, as the Indian could receive immediately a location ticket and become enfranchised- As the probationary period would be rendered null and void. “Not only was the Indian as a distinct cultural group to disappear, but also the laboratory where these changes were brought about would disappear, for as the Indian was enfranchised, that is, he became assimilated, he would take with him his share of the reserve. Therefore when all the Indians were enfranchised, there would be no longer be any Indian reserves.” 5
Dewdney determinately pressed forward his agenda; often starving or withholding vital resources needed by band members to survive. These tactics were in accordance with McDonald’s vision; to break the will and coerce the eventual demise of First Nations culture in Canada. New regulations under the Indian Act, affecting the sexual, marital and divorce laws of Indian women inherently incited renewed violence, and abuse from and within reserves. It also rendered First Nations completely unable to become self-sustaining; becoming in effect, wards of the Federal Government. “Indian Agents were given the powers of a justice of the peace to enforce sections of the criminal code relating to vagrancy, in order that the western Indian could be kept on the reserve where he might be taught to farm and learn the value of work.6
The position of First Nations peoples within Confederation was not to be a one of reconciliation within the European fabric, “For the original people there was no partnership, no degree of home rule, to protect and encourage the development of a valued and variant culture, as was the case with French Canada. Not only were the Indians not a necessary element in the creation of Confederation as the French Canadians were, but their cultural aspirations their desire to create a new Indian culture on the reserves, was rejected.” 7
1 Scott, Donald. The Religious Origins of Manifest Destiny National Humanities Center
2 McCrisken, Trevor B., Exceptionalism: Manifest Destiny Encyclopedia of American Foreign Policy, Vol. 2, p. 68.
3Joseph Trutch, Chief Commissioner of Lands and Works, 1864.
4Manitoba Historical Society: The contribution of the Jews to the Opening and Development of the West.
5 John L. Tobias, Sweet Promises: a Reader on Indian-White Relations in Canada.
6 Ibid, M. Musgrove to F. Talfourd, 2, April 1861
7John S.Milloy, Sweet Promises, a Reader on Indian-White Relations in Canada.