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 O’Sullivan believed that Manifest Destiny was a moral ideal (a "higher law") that superseded other considerations.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.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

We should call it something else....

“Idle No More” (INM) reported in various publications across Canada have all alluded to the continuing saga of the “Indian Question”.
This is clearly in reference to the added attention to Chief Spence’s hunger strike on the banks of the Ottawa River and last year’s focus on Attawapiskat’s housing crisis.
As per media functions into presenting factual data is highly controversial and usually accompanies the political ideologies of Canada’s recognized parties; both at the Federal and Provincial levels.
Facebook, Twitter are namely the two most popular social media sources in which INM propelled itself onto the national stage; and as such garnered much support.
 The message is being heard but is it really being understood? Depending on who is, postulating an answer the responses to the question is quite diverse.
In any case, dialogue is a good beginning. Many political pundits such as Ezra Solomon seem to insinuate that it is a matter of time before the movement experience some form of violence. As INM protests-in reference to blockade tactics- in proximity of the US/Canada borders and major transport routes such as rail and highways become more frequent and the duration of these types of protests accrue.
The INM movement is being perceived as a “lost cause” in the views of non-First Nations Canadians.
Lost in the sense that what was initially concluded via the Treatises should not currently bare any legal, social, or economic consequences.  Are we really looking at resolving issues stemming from the Indian Policy but in place in the 1870’s?
Looking very loosely at the political policies of the Conservative and Liberal Governments in the past 200 hundred years one would
Therefore, begins the meandering saga of re-educating two maybe three generations into the factual instances of the five W’s (who what where and when) accompanied by the most important appendix, contextual relationship. Which the INM movement is currently attempting to address.
Elaborating further, the Treatises, all of them, were designed to displace, limit and forever extinct alienable right of Cree, Ojibwa, Salteaux, among many other ethnic Nations to the land.
“That it was essential that the Indian title to all the territory in the vicinity of the lake should be extinguished so that settlers and traders might have undisturbed access to its waters, shore, islands, inlets and tributary streams.” Privy Council of Canada 1875.
The issue of land needed to be addressed in order to receive the increased immigration waves stemming from Eastern Canada, the United-States and Europe.
We often hear how the ‘Indian’ approaches in Canada were more humane and less infringing in dealing with Indian tribes across the West. Not so.... In fact all efforts by Conservative and Liberal Indian Affairs Department policies; were designed to assimilate an ethnic group employing methods that assured increased assimilation rates to the fullest.
The first of such methods began by defining what an ‘Indian’ was for the purposes of segregation and excluding the Métis,
“It did so in very sweeping term, for it included all persons of Indian ancestry and all persons married to such persons, belonging to or recognized a belonging to an Indian band, and living with a band.” John L Tobias, Sweet Promises.
Location of such Reserves had to be approached. Once on reservations the process of enforcing the Indian Policy became the responsibility of the North West Mounted Police.
Success was to be measured by the degree in which the ‘Indian’ assimilated the concept of property; and failed miserably.
“It will be found desirable, to assign to each family parts of the reserve for their own use, so as to give them a sense of property in it.” said Lieutenant-Governor Alexander Morris in Treaties in Canada with the Indians.
 The purpose of the Reserves was designed to drive home this single outcome; eventually allotting 160 acres of land for each family of five and successfully affranchise each family, which would no longer be part of the reserve, “It also imposed the reserve system as a laboratory for cultural (genocide) changes on the Plains Indians by means of these Treatises.” John L Tobias, Sweet Promises.
 Then, Commissioner Edgar Dewdney and Indian Agents sole purpose within the reserve were to subjugate the Indian population to abide by the will of the Minister of Indian Affairs. The methods employed were often harsh, swift and without remorse.
“Backed by a small contingent of Indian agents and Mounted Police, he used the distribution of rations as a device to impose state authority on the First Nations population. Facing hunger and destitution, First Nations people were compelled to settle on reserves, adopt agriculture and send their children to mission schools.”
The need to decrease assistance to the said reserves was in the view of the Government compulsory.
Prime Minister Steven Harper cannot extinguish the Indian Act and therefore the laws governing Statues Indians. He can however seek other methods to circumvent, weaken and re-define the Indian Act, hence the introduction of Bill C-45.
“The problem is that the Canadian Government continues to maintain and rely upon the cede and surrender provisions in our treatise. This is the issue; no one would have surrendered and ceded their land. No one in my community, anyway, would have ceded and surrendered anything. However that’s what this whole country, {Canada} is based on. That’s the problem. Section 35 has to be developed,” said Joan Jack, a lawyer and councillor for the Berens River First Nation.
“ We have to get back to the constitutional table and fill up section 35 with what we think should be in there, because we are the indigenous people,” said Jack, adding, “ move the discussion from ward of the state back to were it originally started; as a Nation to Nation state.”
A difficult proposition considering that  none of the previous or current federal government (s) to date, were not a all interested in rendering First Nations autonomous; in so doing, allowing First Nations the ability to access, benefit and exercise their harvesting  rights in areas of commercial land developments, forestry, mining and fisheries on treaty land.
“First Nations had land given to them, as reserve land, held collectively and this is one partisan issue were the Conservative Government over many years has consistently tried to privatize reserve land. We are certainly seeing this government move very aggressively to privatize every which way in the book {Indian Act} it can,” said Peter Kulchyski, professor of Native Studies at the University of Manitoba.
In order to “assimilate” Indians, the Indian Act gave the government the power to supersede traditional methods of governance. To this end the Indian Act is truly reprehensible; and did not give moral authority to the federal governments, politicians, department officials, the Roman and Anglican missionaries of 1869,1876, 1951, and 1969 to deliberate the fate of First Nations without its representative equivalent.
The introduction of the ‘White Paper’ by former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, then Minister of Indian Affairs in 1969 signalled the strongest political resolution by any federal government to permanently extinguish the Indian Act and in so doing the special statues of First Nations in Canada.
 “By adoption of this policy and by repealing the Indian Act, the Indian would be assimilated by government fiat, and what the Indian Act of 1876 had sought as a long-term goal--the expiration of the Indian and Indian lands-would be realized,” John L. Tobias, Sweet Promises. In no way shape or form were reserves intended to be sustained in perpetuity. The ability to successfully assimilate, indoctrinate and educate future generations into western culture; the better. Mission schools were best adapted to further the assimilation process. The resulting experiments of the measures employed are still being felt 160 years later. The vote did not exist on any reserve until 1960.

 In terms of First Nations issues, Canadians are over stimulated. The inequalities stemming from outstanding land claims have created an unfavourable perception on what First Nations self-governance entails for the rest of the country. “First Nation” issues; continue to act as a rope being tightened around the neck of non-native Canadians. Open or under-currents of racism-then and now still are present. Every social ill imaginable remain within reserves; as to the root cause sustaining these ills, again depend on who offers “expert” opinions as to the “why”.
“Since 1983, we were making some progress on Indigenous self-government; and there are communities that are now self governing in the Yukon, British Columbia, the Northwest Territories and in northern Québec. In 2005-2006, that process has stopped altogether.
Now they are re-focusing our attention on the Indian Act; saying this is a step in the right direction toward self-government. Well it’s not; the step forward for self-government is an “Indian Nation Self-Government Recognition and Validation Act” that says automatically First Nations come forward with the model they want and replace the Indian Act with that,” explains Kulchyski.
 I daresay the only moral and legal option for Canada is to uphold existing Supreme Court decisions and give a clear mandate to the federal government to resume and honor outstanding land claims with First Nations on their behalf.
“The courts have moved the agenda along further than the government. If we {today} decided to implement federal policies that reflected the Supreme Court of Canada’s thinking we would be miles ahead of where we are currently,” says Kulchyski.
Joan Jack agreed, “We’ve won 40 decisions at the Supreme Court of Canada; and how many have been implemented... Maybe none eh? I think that the Canadian government and the Canadian taxpayers should start focusing on the fact that our Supreme Court of Canada has said... ‘hey be nice’... and what’s happening?”
According to Kulchyski the need to ratify Supreme Court decisions is crucial, “These decisions come to bear on people’s daily lives and communities. This is why (First Nation) communities can’t plan because they don’t know what kind of government funding they’re going to receive. In the end, these are bread and butter issues for First Nations (peoples).
We are going to sink to a worst national catastrophe than we are already seeing, unless someone steps up to the plate (federal government) and says “we have to develop a change of policy that reflects what the (Supreme)courts are telling us so that the (process) moves forward.”
What we are challenged with today is the validity past governmental policies that have affected so many in such a destructive way. Unfortunately, the result of those policies will be with us as long as we deny the severity, the duration and the ramification done on behalf of Federal Government towards the Indian Nations of Canada.
The INM movement will truly have gained resonance as non First Nations Canadians protest along side, demanding the Conservative government to desist further attempts to weaken protective laws designed to achieve the complete removal of a People from the Canadian landscape.