More Destroyed Records

After the discovery of a mass grave of over 200 children at a Kamloops school, the media was finally forced to deviate from the traditional caker narrative.

Any regular readers of this blog will know the ol’ “we don’t have the data” standby excuse. Since this discovery led to a spotlight on the issue – uncomfortable questions had to be asked. Now we get the ol’ “golly gee shucks records have been destroyed” standby excuse.

But we are witnessing progress in Canada … they do admit records have been destroyed or no longer exist.

Like a glacier dripping drop by drop … progress commences in Canada!

I’ll also note with amusement that the video (in classic CBC style) doesn’t allow any comments, since freedom of speech isn’t that important in Canada, and notably nothing on this topic can be posted without barrages of racist commentary, which they feel the need to hide.

Residential School Survivors’ stories and experiences must be remembered as class action settlement finishes

Written by Cindy Hanson, Curtis J. Shuba, and Sidey Deska-Gauthier.

Article from MSN:

March 31 marks the conclusion of the largest class action settlement in Canada’s history. After 14 years, the Independent Assessment Process (IAP) — a compensation process established to resolve claims of serious physical, sexual or emotional abuse suffered at Indian residential schools — is officially over.

(William James Topley. Library and Archives Canada, C-015037) Students of the Metlakatla Indian Residential School, B.C.

Despite the fact that it collected claims from more than 38,000 Indian residential school survivors, the IAP remains relatively unknown.

The court-ordered destruction of IAP testimonies and records, the biased and superficial mainstream news media reports and the continued emphasis on compensation and costs ensure that if it is remembered, it will be through a colonial gaze.

This gaze represents the perspective through which the process is framed, what is explicitly valued or absent, and whose story is remembered: the colonial narrative is privileged and the Indigenous voice limited.

Our national study seeks to understand perspectives and the framing of the IAP to create public knowledge, in the wake of the destruction of records. The study analyzes government documents (Hansard Index, the traditional name of the transcripts of Parliamentary debates), national and Indigenous media, along with transcripts produced through interviews and focus groups with survivors, health support workers, adjudicators, judges and lawyers. The results presented here are preliminary.

A bit of background

Of the 38,000 survivors who applied to the IAP, almost 27,000 attended adjudications — an out-of-court process. The adjudication gave survivors the opportunity to tell their story of abuse to an adjudicator and government representative, with optional supports including a lawyer, health support worker, elder, translator or family. The fate of the records and testimonies from these hearings — 800,000 documents — was decided by the Supreme Court of Canada in 2017.

The court upheld the position of the Indian Residential School Adjudication Secretariat, the body responsible for administering the IAP, that the testimonies would be destroyed unless individual survivors decided to claim or share their records. Currently only a handful of survivors have requested their transcripts or offered to make (sometimes redacted) versions publicly accessible through the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR). In 2027, any remaining survivor testimonies and records will be destroyed.

In January 2020 an Ontario Superior Court ruling blocked the creation of static reports. These included information the secretariat gathered during the IAP about variables like the child’s age and sex, particularities of residential schools, types of abuses and community impacts. The case was appealed by the NCTR and the Ontario Court of Appeal’s judgment is pending.

Coverage of the IAP: Colonial and wanting

Media coverage of the IAP is sparse. Preliminary results of our study reveal a focus on the trials and tribulations of a bureaucratic process that attempted to combine class action law with reconciliation-based gestures. Lost in this narrative is the survivors’ lived experiences within the IAP and a critical evaluation of the IAP’s overarching goals: healing and reconciliation.

Through our study, “Reconciling Perspectives and Building Public Memory: Learning from the Independent Assessment Process,” we established factors that played key roles in healing: giving testimony, and supporting, believing and validating the survivors. This perspective was largely forgotten by the media and instead reports often focused on the credibility of survivors’ claims of abuse, financial compensations and court cases. It was, however, acknowledged in the IAP’s final report.

(Bud Glunz/Library and Archives Canada, PA-134110) Cree students sit in class at All Saints Indian Residential School in Lac La Ronge, Sask., in March 1945.

The dominant narrative conflated success of the IAP with compensation. For example, the secretariat reported success when the claimant garnered a cash settlement (89 per cent success rate with an average of $91,000 in compensation). And although compensation metrics are certainly one indicator of success, the experiences of survivors telling their stories are key to considering the IAP’s larger goals.

The defensive posture of the federal government recently surfaced. An independent review of claims (specifically those from St. Anne’s Indian Residential School) was recently announced following critiques by survivors and public officials like former senator Murray Sinclair and MP Charlie Angus.

Elected officials in the House of Commons had an opportunity to contribute to public memory based on meaningful reconciliation, but it was largely swept away in partisan politics. Looking at Hansard Index debates from 2004-19, we found the IAP was discussed only 28 times.

The significance of Indian residential school abuses, the damage the system did to families and communities, the litigation and compensation settlements that came after the IAP can only be fully comprehended within Canada’s long history of denial of Indigenous human and gender rights.

The move from explicit systems of violence to concealed structures of domination cannot be mistaken for reconciliation. We must examine the ways in which Indigenous rights are both explicitly and implicitly advanced or denied: this was highlighted in an earlier IAP study that found that although residential schools taught girls domestic tasks, unpaid work caring for children was not acknowledged or compensated in the IAP model.

Remembering for a common future

We fear additional tragedies are inevitable without abundant data regarding abuse factors, or intergenerational and community impacts. These data add a quantifiable dimension to the horrors of residential schools and remind us of the consequences of racist public policy. Such policy is not just about the individuals impacted; it affects the consciousness of collectives and communities.

Public records are valuable for understanding how public memory is created, and who is directing its narrative. Unless attention is paid to the ways in which the media and Canada continue to decentre Indigenous voices and experiences the colonial gaze will endure.

How residential schools and the IAP are remembered is not only relevant to Canada’s identity but for government-Indigenous and public-Indigenous relations, now and into the future.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Of course we have the ol’ caker method of refusing to collect data in order to deny facts, whitewash history, and prohibit later necessary action. Now throw in the destruction of critical evidence and testimonies under the guise of “privacy” for individuals. Not even statistical data is allowed to be collected, proving how hollow privacy claims are.

Naturally no individuals or entities are prosecuted or publicly held to account, it is the mere giving of money to shut people up. Of course these survivors deserve compensation for their suffering, but how telling the behavior is – cutting cheques for absolution, while doing nothing else.

Perspective: I

As Canadians watch events unfold down south regarding the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement and overall discussions about race, they pay lip service to these topics without looking inward. So here I am to point out the obvious.

Let’s begin with mass murder.

Small pox

We begin with the First Nations people and Jeffrey Amherst. Amherst was a British Army officer who fought to conquer New France and was the first British Governor General of the territories (later Canada).

Smallpox was an infectious disease brought to the New World by European conquerors; since Indigenous people had not previously been exposed they were decimated by the disease when it spread in their communities. This applies from Canada on down to South America and everyone knows this.

Fewer know that Amherst tried to deliberately infect the Indigenous with small pox (clearly showing he knew the disease was deadly among them; no “herd immunity”) as one of many ways in which to “reduce them”.

This has been known for some time by authors and historians (see: Atlas of the North American Indian, 1985 & The Conspiracy of Pontiac and the Indian War after the Conquest of Canada; 1886).

Francis Parkman, the historian who wrote The Conspiracy of Pontiac quotes in his book:

“Could it not be contrived to send the Small Pox among those disaffected tribes of Indians? We must on this occasion use every stratagem in our power to reduce them.”

Vol. II, p.39 (6th edition)

Amherst’s attempts to kill via small pox have been known for quite some time among Indigenous people (and apparently a few others), but was denied at large by “polite white society” as some type of urban myth.

Researchers had to go and and find evidence of the letters and writings in microfilm. (The papers had been microfilmed as part of the British Manuscripts Project in the 1940s.) The research was done on a promise to Floyd Red Crow Westerman of the Dakota Nation who wanted to uncover legitimate evidence of the crime.

The quote from the book has not yet been found in microfilm, but others have:

P.S. You will Do well to try to Innoculate the Indians by means of Blankets, as well as to try Every other method that can serve to Extirpate this Execrable Race. I should be very glad your Scheme for Hunting them Down by Dogs could take Effect, but England is at too great a Distance to think of that at present.

Microfilm reel 34/41, item 114. (Letter image)

This quote was a response from his subordinate lieutenant colonel Henry Bouquet:

P.S. I will try to inocculate [sic] the Indians by means of Blankets that may fall in their hands, taking care however not to get the disease myself. As it is pity to oppose good men against them..”

Microfilm reel 34/40, item 305. (Letter image)

The letters clearly prove a conspiracy among at least some in the British Army to use biological warfare to assist in reducing or exterminating Indigenous nations.

The most basic definition of genocide:

the deliberate killing of a large group of people, especially those of a particular ethnic group or nation.”

Now it could be argued Amherst and his co-conspirators were referring to specific tribes they were in conflict with. However, it shows little concern for Indigenous peoples as a whole, when the disease could easily spread between tribes, killing them off while Europeans remained less exposed.

Murder through biological warfare had been known for some time, yet most liked to insist there was “no proof”, or that intent hadn’t been there – it was an accident later attributed to ill intention.

The fact letters have been found after hundreds of years and describe the will to murder through smallpox is astonishing, when you take into account the time elapsed, the poor system for correspondence, the storage of the letters and so on. If this small trace exists and these men had the hubris to put their designs to paper, one can only guess at the actual attitudes and behavior of the time.

And even if you remain unconvinced about Amherst, we move on to a more recent time with more damning record evidence.

(With thanks for source material from Peter d’Errico.)


Most Canadians now know that many children in the residential schools died of tuberculosis. But they wave off the idea these children were intentionally killed, and again describe the incident as accidental or perhaps a bit of ‘well-intentioned’ neglect.

A national journalist attempting to be the “voice of reason” against allegations of murder, wrote this:

“There were front-page stories a century ago, too. In 1897, senior Indian Affairs officials started blowing the whistle on the cavernous, shoddily-built, creaking institutions, pointing out that you couldn’t have built more efficient incubation vectors for contagious disease, and for mass death, if you tried.

Back then, P.H. Bryce, the Indian department’s chief medical officer, conducted a study of 1,500 children interned in 15 different Indian residential schools across Canada. He found that one in four of the children never made it out alive. A separate study of the Kuper Island school found that four of every 10 children sent there over a 25-year period never survived to graduate.

This is sufficiently damning. It is not necessary to assert, as Annett does, that infectious diseases were deliberately employed as part of a plot to “cull” Canada’s aboriginal population. Everybody knows what happened. It is no secret, and is not even a secret that there are mass graves.”

The Tyee: Truth and Native Abuse, 2008

Even while defending the Canadian government on public record, this journalist admits that senior Indian Affairs officials were publicly blowing the whistle: “you couldn’t have built more efficient incubation vectors for contagious disease, and for mass death, if you tried.

He also admits the children were dying en masse; that the issue had been studied and was known in government, nothing was done, and it’s no secret currently there are “mass graves”. (The cognitive dissonance is stunning.)

Conditions were such that officials felt the need to “whistle blow”, which subsequently is damning evidence against the Canadian public – many of whom were aware as well.

Imagine this scenario: the Chinese come and take over Canada; they place all the children in mandatory “re-education” schools and COVID-19 mutates into a deadly strain which children begin to catch. In the schools, the children begin dying at an alarming rate: from a quarter of students to half or more. The Canadian government begs the Chinese to allow the children to stay home since the schools are killing them. Yet the Chinese refuse, claiming ‘education’ precedes the need for safety since the disease is commonplace.

Is this not the willful murder of children? The Canadian government still clings to the narrative it tried to help ‘civilize a savage people’, and in doing so ‘accidentally’ killed off a large amount through incompetence or at worst, neglect.

But if you know you are killing children – is it not murder? If you know half the children will die by attending school and you keep them there, is it not murder? When the chief medical officer for Indian Affairs says the conditions are encouraging disease spread and will kill children – and you sit by indifferently – is it not murder? Of course when you know the outcome there can be no excuses.

They didn’t need to put their deeds onto paper like Jeffrey Amherst, they didn’t need to specify in writing – their deeds speak for themselves when taken into context.

If my coworker wanted to put a hit out on his wife and hired a hit man, and I did nothing, I would still be culpable because I knew the outcome and took no action.

Dr. Bryce, an employee of the Canadian government and Indian Affairs, wrote a book called The Story of A National Crime. It was not called the National Mistake or the National Accident – he called it a CRIME.

Crime: “an action or omission that constitutes an offense that may be prosecuted by the state and is punishable by law.

Duncan Campbell Scott, superintendent of Indian Affairs, brushed off years of Dr. Bryce’s warnings, reports, studies and ultimately his book.

“It is readily acknowledged that Indian children lose their natural resistance to illness by habituating so closely in the residential schools, and that they die at a much higher rate than in their villages. But this alone does not justify a change in the policy of this Department, which is geared towards a final solution of our Indian Problem.”

Department of Indian Affairs Superintendent D.C. Scott to B.C. Indian Agent-General Major D. McKay, DIA Archives, RG 1-Series 12 April 1910


Before I listen to anything the government has to say about the United States and its past, history, or issues, I would like to have the following:

An acknowledgement that Canada’s Governor General Jeffrey Amherst attempted to kill off Indigenous nations with small pox in order to obtain and keep Canadian land.

Acknowledgement of the innocent Indigenous girl slaves “who worked as household help and served as concubines for the French. They were often hardly ten years old. Their average age at death was 17 years.”

An acknowledgement that Canada’s chief medical officer in the 1900s wrote a book claiming the government of Canada was committing a crime.

Acknowledgement that the Canadian government participated in the willful murder of children through both action and omission, ultimately knowing the outcome but pursuing their agenda despite the cost of life.

An acknowledgement by the Canadian government that it continues to protect the abusers of children in residential schools, and puts money before the pursuit of justice.

An acknowledgement by the Canadian government that by protecting the perpetrators of child abuse, and by not admitting to past crimes of murder, it has attempted to protect itself from financial litigation and legal accountability.

Perhaps then I will care about your thoughts on America.

Post Script:

I understand what the journalist is trying to convey: that this was not some diabolical scheme etched in the halls of power on par with the Wannsee conference.

There is no need to assert “that infectious diseases were deliberately employed as part of a plot to “cull” Canada’s aboriginal population.” When you are killing children and know your actions are killing them, but it does not “justify a change in policy” I would argue that is indeed “culling the population”. These children were in the schools and dying because they were not white. One can speak of Canada’s “polite, quiet” way of killing the Indigenous, and levels of intent, but the outcome and facts remain the same: the government chose to kill children to fulfill its agenda.

CULLING according to the Cambridge dictionary:

When people cull animals, they kill them, especially the weaker members of a particular group of them, in order to reduce or limit their number.

Recommended Reading

Here are some books I recommend reading (if you can be bothered to read about Canada) mentioned in this blog and elsewhere.

(My favorite on this list) Black Ice by Darril & George Fosty.

“In 1895, The Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes was formed in Halifax, Nova Scotia … The Colored League would emerge as a premier force in Canadian hockey and supply the resilience necessary to preserve a unique culture which exists to this day. Unfortunately their contributions were conveniently ignored, or simply stolen, as white teams and hockey officials, influenced by the black league, copied elements of the black style or sought to take self-credit for black hockey innovations. Black Ice is the first written record of the Colored Hockey League in the Maritimes.”

This book is about so much more than hockey: the Maritimes, slavery and Black history in Canada, and interesting, worthwhile people.

Keeping Canada British: The Ku Klux Klan in 1920’s Saskatchewan by James M. Pistula.

“The Ku Klux Klan had its origins in the American South. It was suppressed but rose again in the 1920s, spreading into Canada, especially Saskatchewan. This book offers a new interpretation for the appeal of the Klan in 1920s Saskatchewan. It argues that the Klan should not be portrayed merely as an irrational outburst of intolerance but as a populist aftershock of the Great War – and a slightly more extreme version of mainstream opinion that wanted to keep Canada British. Through its meticulous exploration of a controversial issue central to the history of Saskatchewan and the formation of national identity, this book shines light upon a dark corner of Canada’s past.”

It can be a bit of a dry read at times, and the bumbling characters of Saskatchewan aren’t too exciting, but it’s educational regarding Canadian racism and the Klan.

Canada’s Forgotten Slaves: Two Hundred Years of Bondage by Marcel Trudel and George Tombs.

“… By painstakingly combing through unpublished archival records of the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Marcel Trudel gives a human face to the over 4,000 Aboriginal and Black slaves bought, sold and exploited in colonial Canada. He reveals the identities of the slave owners, who ranged from governors, seigneurs, and military officers to bishops, priests, nuns, judges, and merchants. Trudel describes the plight of slaves–the joys and sorrows of their daily existence. Trudel also recounts how some slaves struggled to gain their liberty. He documents Canadian politicians, historians and ecclesiastics who deliberately falsified the record, glorifying their own colonial-era heroes, in order to remove any trace of the thousands of Aboriginal and Black slaves held in bondage for two centuries in Canada.”

An eye-opening history of slavery in Canada and the best place to start on the subject.

Murder City: The Untold Story of Canada’s Serial Killer Capital, 1959-1984 by Michael Arntfield.

” … From the earliest documented case of homicidal copycatting in Canada, to the fact that at any given time up to six serial killers were operating at once in the deceivingly serene “Forest City,” London was once a place that on the surface presented a veneer of normality when beneath that surface dark things would whisper and stir. Through it all, a lone detective would go on to spend the rest of his life fighting against impossible odds to protect the city against a tidal wave of violence that few ever saw coming, and which to this day even fewer choose to remember… Murder City is an explosive book over fifty years in the making, and is the history of London, Ontario as never told before. Stranger than fiction, tragic, ironic, horrifying, yet also inspiring, this is the true story of one city under siege, and a book that marks a game changer for the true crime genre.”

There’s a lot of information here and it does jump around a bit. It’s a horrifying, disturbing look at serial killers and unsolved crime in Canada.

Loss of Faith: How The Air India Bombers Got Away With Murder by Kim Bolan.

“On June 23, 1985, Canada found itself on the international terrorism map when two bombs built in B.C. detonated within an hour of each other on opposite sides of the world, killing 329 men, women, and children… When charges were finally laid against three Sikh separatists, the families believed justice was almost theirs. But their faith was shaken when one suspect pleaded guilty to manslaughter and got a five-year sentence for more than three hundred deaths.”

A disturbing look at terrorism in Canada and the men who got away with mass murder. It’s difficult to read about the incompetence of Canadian law enforcement and its judicial system.

The Hanging of Angelique by Afua Cooper.

“Writer, historian and poet Afua Cooper tells the astonishing story of Marie-Joseph Angélique, a slave woman convicted of starting a fire that destroyed a large part of Montréal in April 1734 and condemned to die a brutal death. In a powerful retelling of Angélique’s story—now supported by archival illustrations—Cooper builds on 15 years of research to shed new light on a rebellious Portuguese-born black woman who refused to accept her indentured servitude. At the same time, Cooper completely demolishes the myth of a benign, slave-free Canada, revealing a damning 200- year-old record of legally and culturally endorsed slavery.”

This book is not just the story of one condemned slave, but a sweeping history of slavery and early Canada.

This list will be updated periodically.

Remember When? … #hangingofangelique

Remember When is a new series of posts where we take a look back at some of the funny, bizarre and downright disturbing incidents in Canada’s past.

Since cakers like to judge everyone else (particularly Americans) and point out their historic wrong-doings, it’s time to take a mirror to these incompetent hypocrites. Enjoy!

Marie-Joseph Angelique

Marie was a badass forgotten by virtually everyone in Canada until only recently; remembered vaguely by a few historians and celebrated as a figure of Black resistance by Canada’s Black population (at less than 3%).

She was born in 1705 in Portugal, enslaved and later brought to North America. After arriving in New England she was purchased by a Montreal man, who brought her back to his hometown to work as his slave. After he died, Marie-Joseph carried on in service to his widow who gave her the name “Angelique”. She took a white indentured laborer named Claude Thibault as her lover.

She asked her owner for freedom and was denied, so she started raising hell: talking back, threatening death, fighting with other servants and claiming she’d burn shit down. Being a nuisance, she was sold to a Quebec City man in exchange for 600 pounds of gun powder. But before she could be relocated she set fire to her bed and ran away with Thibault. They were caught and returned.

One evening a portion of Montreal caught fire and Angelique was blamed for setting it.

“Angélique was accused of starting the fire and arrested by police on 11 April. She was taken to court the following morning, where she was charged with arson, a capital crime punishable by death, torture or banishment.

In the French legal system of the 18th century, the accused was presumed guilty, and in New France, there were no trials by jury, only inquisitorial tribunals in which the defendant was meant to prove her innocence. Lawyers were banned from practicing in the colony by Louis XIV.”

She was brought before the tribunal where witnesses testified she’d previously threatened to burn things. After six weeks she was found guilty and sentenced to death.

She was to have her hands cut off and be burned alive. The sentence was appealed to the superior court in Québec City, where the death penalty was upheld and the gruesome aspects of the sentencing lessened. Angélique would be tortured, hanged, and then her body burned. She returned to Montréal to await her death.

In June of 1734, the twenty-nine year old woman was tortured in her jail cell. She broke down and “confessed” to the crime but refused to name her lover as a co-conspirator. Afterwards she was taken by garbage cart to the down town church, forced to make a public apology and beg for forgiveness; she was then hanged.

Slavery would last for over 200 years in Canada, its history intentionally hidden and forgotten for generations. If there is one person who puts a face, name, and story to all the Blacks who were enslaved, it is Marie-Joseph Angelique. She did not roll over and endure her slavery with resignation, but demanded her freedom and attempted to take it.

The Hanging of Angelique

“Writer, historian and poet Afua Cooper tells the astonishing story of Marie-Joseph Angélique, a slave woman convicted of starting a fire that destroyed a large part of Montréal in April 1734 and condemned to die a brutal death.

In a powerful retelling of Angélique’s story—now supported by archival illustrations—Cooper builds on 15 years of research to shed new light on a rebellious Portuguese-born black woman who refused to accept her indentured servitude. At the same time, Cooper completely demolishes the myth of a benign, slave-free Canada, revealing a damning 200- year-old record of legally and culturally endorsed slavery.”

Of course in Canada we learn all about the crusty, old, racist white men who helped found this nation, but not the freedom-loving bad asses who tried to escape it!

Post Script:

The majority of the book provides historical context for Angelique’s time and the events which led up to it. Her story compromises the ending, and details are scarce due to minimal records. I’m glad that I know it. There is also a great list of slavery narratives in the epilogue (and an introduction to Fado music).

Remember When? … #airindiabombing

Remember When is a new series of posts where we take a look back at some of the funny, bizarre and downright disturbing incidents in Canada’s past.

Since cakers like to judge everyone else (particularly Americans) and point out their historic wrong-doings, it’s time to take a mirror to these incompetent hypocrites. Enjoy!

Loss of Faith: How The Air India Bombers Got Away With Murder

From Amazon:

“On June 23, 1985, Canada found itself on the international terrorism map when two bombs built in B.C. detonated within an hour of each other on opposite sides of the world, killing 329 men, women, and children.

Canadian Sikh separatists, upset at the Indian government for attacking their religion’s holiest shrine, the Golden Temple, were immediately suspected by the RCMP of perpetrating the worst act of aviation terrorism before Sept. 11, 2001. But while police agencies scrambled to infiltrate a close-knit immigrant community and collect evidence against the suspects, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service was destroying taped telephone calls between the same people the RCMP was investigating.

For years those at the centre of the terrorist plot tried to protect their dark secret. Two Sikh newspaper publishers who overheard an alleged confession by one of the bombers were assassinated. Other potential witnesses were threatened and intimidated. Journalists who wrote about the suspects were targeted by death threats and harassment. The suspects founded charities and participated in political parties, attending fundraising dinners for premiers and prime ministers. And the families of the victims fought to be recognized for their unimaginable loss as the result of an act of terrorism plotted in Canada. When charges were finally laid against three Sikh separatists, the families believed justice was almost theirs. But their faith was shaken when one suspect pleaded guilty to manslaughter and got a five-year sentence for more than three hundred deaths.

The Air-India trial judge spoke in his ruling of the “the senseless horror” of the bombings. He called the plot “a diabolical act of terrorism” with “roots in fanaticism at its basest and most inhumane level.” He then acquitted Sikh leaders Ripudaman Singh Malik and Ajaib Singh Bagri on all charges, leaving the victims’ families reeling and the biggest case in Canadian history officially unsolved.

Kim Bolan is an award-winning investigative reporter who has covered the Air-India bombing case since the day Flight 182 went down off the coast of Ireland. Her work on the Air-India story has taken her to Punjab five times over the last twenty years where she met with militant Sikh separatist leaders and victims of the violence. She also followed Air-India mastermind Talwinder Singh Parmar to Pakistan before his 1992 slaying and chased down other suspects in England and across Canada. But she faced the most danger at home in Vancouver where the stories she uncovered about the Air-India case led to a series of death threats against her.”

Terrorists? Bombings? Destroying evidence and tapes? Assassinations? Murderers rubbing shoulders with politicians? A five year sentence for killing hundreds of people? Wow, this is India – right? Nope this is good ol’ British Columbia, Canada!

(Welcome to B.C. … also known as Bring Cash or Be Corrupt.)

So why don’t Canadians ever discuss the Air India Bombing? Why do they know so little about it? Why doesn’t anyone care? Questions asked by a piece in The Tyee:

“All 329 people on board Air India Flight 182 on June 23, 1985, 33 years ago today, were killed, including 280 citizens or permanent residents of Canada.

They were lost to a bomb that exploded while their plane was in Irish airspace, en route from Canada to India. The bomb had been planted in Canada in an act of terror planned by extremists allegedly advocating for a separate Sikh state in the Punjab.

It was Canada’s worst mass murder, yet it is barely remembered in this country.

Today, Canadians commonly regard the bombing as an Indian tragedy, or at most an Indo-Canadian tragedy. They typically dwell on the terrorism, but rarely on the grief and hardship of fathers, mothers, wives, husbands, children, friends and neighbours left behind.

Why hasn’t this tragedy claimed a prominent place in Canadian history and public memory? Some now call it Canada’s 9/11, but until the attack in New York City some 16 years later, they didn’t call it much at all.

The Canadian families of the dead wonder year after year why no one but them seems to care, or why their grief is seen as less worthy than that of others who are more openly taken into the nation’s heart.

The answer is simple: Canada hides from the truth. No doubt racism is involved (they’re less “Canadian” being brown or immigrants) but much more than that – Canada never acknowledges its corruption, rot, or hypocrisy. To do so would involve honesty and then efforts to change … Canadians prefer to ignore, whitewash or deny. Ignoring facts is easy, action is difficult.

The controversy would rear its ugly head again with the election of Jagmeet Singh as NDP leader. He was asked questions about one of the suspects (considered a leader in the conspiracy but never found guilty due to insufficient evidence) and in typical Canadian style there were no straight answers, whining about “racism” and absolutely nothing constructive accomplished or discovered.

From The Georgia Straight:

“Not long after Jagmeet Singh was elected NDP leader, he sat down for an interview with the CBC’s Terry Milewski in early October….

Given Milewski’s history covering this story, it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that he asked the new NDP leader if he would denounce Parmar—who’s been glorified as a Sikh martyr at the Dasmesh Darbar gurdwara in Surrey.

Singh, a baptized Sikh who wears a turban, replied that “we need to make sure that the investigation results in a conviction of someone who is actually responsible”.

And for a few days, there was a media and social-media firestorm over Milewski’s question, Singh’s answer, and the CBC journalist’s subsequent tweet…

Critics of Milewski said he would never ask this question of a white political leader. Singh himself called the question “offensive”, saying any Canadian would denounce anyone held responsible for terrorism.

Milewski’s defenders, on the other hand, said it was a legitimate question to ask of a man who wanted to become prime minister…

… Then there’s Jagmeet Singh, a trained criminal defence lawyer who says he would like to see convictions before commenting on who’s responsible. And as long as Singh maintains this position, he can expect to be roasted periodically by those who utterly reject that proposition and insist that it’s been proven that Parmar was the mastermind.

The Air India bombing occurred more than 30 years ago and at this stage, it appears unlikely that anyone else will be charged.

But it still has the potential to play a role in the 2019 federal election. This is particularly true if Singh’s point of view comes under criticism from his Liberal and Conservative opponents, senior Canadian journalists, former B.C. premier Dosanjh, and relatives of deceased passengers.

The Air India bombing still matters for a multitude of reasons, especially for the painful losses endured by so many Canadian families. Many of them were appalled by Josephson’s court ruling in the case involving Malik and Bagri and these relatives likely won’t stay silent about a potential prime minister who refuses to condemn Parmar.”

Singh changed his tune after the backlash, from the CBC:

After having expressed some doubts, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said today he accepts the Air India inquiry’s conclusion that Talwinder Singh Parmar was the mastermind behind the deadly mid-air bombing that killed hundreds of Canadians — and he thinks it’s inappropriate for some Sikhs to glorify Parmar by displaying his photo.

Despite his more recent statement, there will now always be some who wonder if he harbors terrorist sympathies since he couldn’t simply spit this out at the beginning. Telling sign or rookie mistake?

Post Script:

It’s got everything one would expect: a belief that terrorism couldn’t happen in ‘magical Canada’, and incompetence by CSIS and the RCMP. (In fairness to CSIS it was a new organization, nonetheless it’s doubtful results would have been different otherwise.)

As you reach the middle of the book it gets to be a slog reading about these odious thugs terrorizing the community, murdering people, and scamming the government out of millions of dollars. Towards the end it’s also difficult to read about them getting away with mass murder.

This has all the hallmarks of a classic Canadian story: racism, incompetence, corruption, and of course no change or improvement after thirty years. Did anyone expect anything less?

Foreword (quoting George Elliot Clarke)

I wanted to share this Foreword to the book The Hanging of Angelique, written by George Elliot Clarke. I only recently discovered this book, and the summary in the beginning perfectly captures everything I’ve been saying, only with more eloquence than my rantings.

I find Canada worse than the United States in the same way I find a corrupt police officer worse than a criminal: it is the complete betrayal of trust based on false imagery and misrepresentation; the total base hypocrisy which is abominable and beyond contempt.

So, to quote:

“As I WRITE THIS FOREWORD, Mme. Michaelle Jean, born in Haiti in 1957 and a resident of Montreal, Quebec, since 1968, is being sworn in as Her Excellency, the governor general of Canada, the nation’s twenty-seventh head of state. Mme. Jean is, culturally, Haitian-Quebecoise-French; historically, she is like the vast majority of Black people in the western hemisphere– a descendant of African slaves. While performing her viceregal duties, this savvy intellectual– a socially oriented broadcast journalist by trade, a student of Haitian and Quebecois history, and a speaker of five languages– may reflect on the irony that she is queen in all but name of a society, Canada, that was established just as Haiti was, on the economic basis of African servitude. Not surprisingly, European-Canadian commentators on Mme. Jean’s ascension have noted that she is a “descendant of Hatian slaves” and some have applauded Canada’s blindness concerning “race” and “gender”– that is to say, it’s supposed liberality– in selecting a Black woman for the post of head of state and commander-in-chief of the Canadian Armed Forces.

But forgotten (in fact, repressed) amid all the analyses of Mme. Jean’s elevation is Canada’s own practice of slavery, Aboriginal and African, its emancipation of slaves only by imperial fiat (from London), and its continued conjoining of labour needs and “race” in its immigration practices. Forgotten too, are the two salient anniversaries that 2005 represents for African Canadians: the arrival of the first African person in Canada, namely, Mathieu de Coste, in 1605; and the relaxation of anti-Black immigration laws with the 1955 promulgation of the West Indian Domestic Scheme.

The avoidance of Canada’s sorry history of slavery and racism is natural. It is how Canadians prefer to understand themselves: we are a nation of good, Nordic, “pure”, mainly White folks, as opposed to the lawless, hot-tempered, impure, mongrel Americans, with their messy history of slavery, civil war, segregation, assassinations, lynchings, riots, and constant social turmoil. Key to this propaganda–and that is what it is– is the Manichaean portrayal of two nations: Canada, the land of “Peace, Order, and Good Government,” of evolution within the traditional constraints of monarchy and authority, where racism was not and is not tolerated, versus the United States of America, the land of guns, cockroaches, and garbage, of criminal sedition confronted by aggressive policing (and jailing), where racism was and is the arbiter of class (im)mobility.

Indeed, in Canada, “race” and racism are concepts used to refight the American Revolution, to establish that the Yankee Revolt against the Crown was wrong, while Canada’s loyalty to the monarchy, heirarchy, and public order fostered a more harmonious and, ironically, rouge-tinted society.

But the price of this flattering self-portrait is public lying, falsified history, and self-destructive blindness. It means that we can forget about a Canadian-led expedition to the Congo in the 1880s, which resulted in Africans’ heads being cut off and stuck on fence posts– a scene that may have inspired Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. We can guiltlessly commemorate, with a single plaque, an entire Black community– Africville– which had been in existence for almost 150 years when, in 1962, the city of Halifax decided to relocate its citizens, razing and burying all signs of Africville’s former life. We can ignore the contributions of nineteenth-century Black settlers who cleared and tilled parts of this land until “official” settlers arrived from Ireland and England and claimed the title. Think, for instance, of Priceville, Ontario, where, in 1989, grave markers of the town’s first inhabitants turned up in a farmer’s field. Only then did the townspeople “discover” that the Black cemetery had been ploughed under, the Black presence buried and all but forgotten.

Our refusal to embrace the facts of our history means that we, as a people, can commit atrocities such as the one that occurred in Somalia in 1992, when “our boys,” part of a taxpayer-funded, elite paratrooper regiment, shot three Somalis and lynched one, a child. It means that we make liars out of our “coloured”– that is, “visible minority”– citizens, as our federal government did in 2003. In that year, when the United Nations released a report stating that Africans and Aboriginals suffer racism in Canada, the response of the Liberal government of Canada was that the UN was wrong…

… Unlike American literature and society, in which rebels, Black and White, are celebrated, canonized with folk songs, and given “star billing,” even if they were silenced by officially sanctioned bullets or state executions, Canadian literature boasts very, very few such figures. The Manitoban mystic Louis Riel, hanged for insurrection in 1885, is one vaunted rebel, especially for Metis and francophones. In African-Canadian circles, no such celebrity exists; our “criminals” are seldom martyrs…

… The reader will notice, no doubt, that, while I claim that Mme. Angelique is the best-known African-Canadian slave, she appears in only a handful of texts (excluding histories). Here we address the nub of the problem that Dr. Cooper’s research challenges: the repression of the history of Canadian slavery necessitates the oblivion of actors such as Mme. Angelique. The recovery of that history mandates the remembering of representative and extraordinary slaves…

Some may object that, because colonial Canadian slavery was not as extensive as the Southern U.S. version, Dr. Cooper’s research is academic and inconsequential. However, we must recognize that slavery was practiced in a solid third of what is now Canada– in Upper Canada (Ontario), New France (Quebec), New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia; that it numbered in thousands of slaves (with the greatest number in New France), held “legally” under various colonial regimes and traded globally; that it lasted for more than two hundred years; and that it ended only because it was not vital to the boreal economy.

As historian James Walker has argued, because colonial Canada held African slaves, its society fostered anti-Black racism-Negrophobia that persists in Canada today. Furthermore, because slavery was all about extracting free–and hard– labour from understandably recalcitrant persons, it sanctioned torture, even in Canada. Thus, one reads that a Loyalist kept his slaves chained to his basement walls in Fredericton, New Brunswick; or that a Nova Scotian bachelor minister owned two teenage female slaves, thus exciting public controversy; or that a Nova Scotian mistress bludgeoned a boy slave to death with a hammer; or that “a slave of Judge Upham” was hanged, on flimsy grounds, for the murder of a White woman in New Brunswick; or that Jean-Baptiste Thomas was hanged in the Montreal market, for theft, in the summer of 1735 (just a year after Mme. Angelique was executed); or that Josiah Cutten was hanged, in Ontario, in 1789, but was likened to animals that “go about at Night for their prey”. Ah, the records of Canadian slavery are every bit as vicious as those we Canadians know so much better– those of the Great Republic…

… “Four hundred years after the first African landed on Canadian shores (in Nova Scotia), 270 years after the grisly execution of Mme. Angelique, 170 years after the British Empire abolished slavery in Canada, and 50 years after Blacks were once again permitted to immigrate to Canada (specifically, from the Caribbean), one watches a brilliant irony unfold: the Jamaican-Canadian Dr. Cooper, a native of a society of slave revolts, presents her governor general, the Haitian-Canadian Mme. Jean, a native of a country established in rebellion and revolution, with a document about another Black woman, who was a martyr for liberty in colonial Canada.”

I now finish off with a quote from Afua Cooper in her Preface:

“The story of Angelique provides an opportunity for us to reclaim a hidden past. Since much of the Black past has been deliberately buried, covered over, and demolished, it is our task to unearth, uncover and piece it together again. This we are called to do, because the dead speak to us.

Slavery timeline: USA & Canada

It’s important to note the countries we know today as the “United States” and “Canada” were both former colonies; historically they didn’t exist in the exact manner they do today: they were created piecemeal by various territories, states and provinces joining together; formerly owned by England, France, and Spain.

When we speak of the two countries we are talking about nations which have expanded and contracted at different stages in time. Most would argue that the United States existence began in 1776 (“thirteen colonies”) with the Declaration of Independence, while Canada’s began in 1791 with the formation of the colonies Lower (Quebec) and Upper (Ontario) Canada. [Technically speaking, Canada was formally created in 1867, almost one hundred years after the United States.] 

Or you could argue that anything north and south of the border (“Treaty of Paris 1783”) between the two nations after the American revolutionary war ended would suffice in drawing distinctions. 

If we go by the 1776 and 1791 dates – you’ll note that slavery was still legal and existed in “Canada” proper, as well as the United States. It should also be noted slavery was often practiced before it had an official term or was formalized into law – in both nations.

So how do the two nations compare? (Blue for USA / Red for Canada)

1619 – The first slaves arrive in Virginia

1632 – First known Black slave in New France; none would be documented for another 25 years

1641 – Massachusetts is the first colony to legalize slavery

1650 – Connecticut legalizes slavery

1652 – Rhode Island passes laws restricting slavery; forbidding enslavement more than 10 years

1663 – Maryland legalizes slavery

1664 – New York & New Jersey legalize slavery

1671 – French settlers begin to acquire Amerindian slaves

1688 – French governor and Intendant formally request Black slave shipments

1688 – Pennsylvania Quakers pass first anti-slavery resolution (first formal protest of slavery)

1689 – King Louis XIV authorizes importation of Black slaves; they are delayed 8 years due to war

1700 – Pennsylvania legalizes slavery

1701 – King Louis XIV grants a second royal sanction; slaves delayed by 11 years due to war again

1709 – Intendant Raudot makes slavery legal under formal law

1712 – Pennsylvania prohibits importation of slaves

1715 – Rhode Island legalizes slavery

1721 – Intendant Begon submits request for slave shipment; not ultimately fulfilled

1738 – Georgia permits the importation of black slaves

1752 – Black slaves are advertised for sale in Halifax

1760 – Conquest by British, under Articles of Capitulation slavery continues under the British

1774 – Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Georgia prohibit the importation of slaves.

1775 – Free Blacks allowed to join continental army; Blacks fighting for the British will be liberated

1776 – Declaration of Independence is signed (slavery still legal in the 13 colonies)

1777Vermont abolishes slavery

1778 – Virginia prohibits importation of slaves

1780 – Pennsylvania begins gradual emancipation. A freedom clause in the Massachusetts constitution is interpreted as an abolishment of slavery.

1781 – St John’s Island (now Prince Edward Island) passes an Act stating that baptized slaves will remain in slavery, as will any Black not freed by owners

– Rhode Island and Connecticut begin gradual emancipation

1785 – New York passes a gradual emancipation law, prohibits the importation of slaves

1787 – The Northwest Ordinance forbids slavery, except as criminal punishment, in the Northwest Territory (later Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin).

1791 – Prince Edward Island [then St John’s Island] encourages white settlers by offering “forty shillings for every negro brought by such white person”

1793 – Pierre Louis Panet submits a bill for the abolition of slavery to the House of Assembly in Lower Canada; the bill is not passed

           Upper Canada passes law prohibiting introduction of new slaves into the province

1794 – Congress prohibits slave trade between the U.S. and foreign countries.

1799 – Montreal slave owners ask the House of Assembly in Lower Canada to rule on the status of slaves (abolition or continued enslavement); there is no ruling

1800 – Slave owners request again that the legality of slavery be clarified, there is no ruling … followed by more bill attempts the next year and until 1803; no rulings

1803 – Chief Justice William Osgoode begins court rulings in favor of runaway slaves

1804Underground Railroad is established in Pennsylvania

1819 – Attorney General John Beverley Robinson’s Pronouncement: Canada would not return fugitive slaves

1820-21 – Last known advertisements for slaves appeared in Halifax (20) and in Quebec (21).

1829 – Mexico abolishes slavery and becomes a refuge for fugitive slaves (within months, Texas is exempted from that order)

1832 – Kentucky forbids residents from buying and importing slaves

1834 – Britain abolishes slavery in all its colonies, effectively ending it in Canada

1836 – Texas wins independence from Mexico and legalizes slavery (it joins the Union 9 years later)

– Oregon prohibits slavery

1848 – Connecticut prohibits slavery

1862 – Utah abolishes slavery

1863 – Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation (slaves in Confederate territory are freed)

1864 – Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri and Maryland abolish slavery

1865 – Tennessee abolishes slavery

           13th Amendment to the Constitution is passed – abolishing slavery

Of course this very basic time line still leaves much out. The topic is extensive and even just chronicling the numerous changes in law between states would triple the length of this short overview.

I wanted to post it simply to prove a point: Canadians self-congratulatory view on slavery is false. Canada had slaves and legalized slavery while other places were attempting to abolish it or at least prohibit its growth. It’s not so clear cut as saying “Americans had slavery, Canada didn’t” or that Canada was the “land of freedom”.

Lastly, as the post on Canada’s Forgotten Slaves makes clear: Canada can’t claim any moral superiority on the subject. Canada was prevented from having extensive slavery due to wars, being a poorer colony and other factors beyond its control; citizens did try to import slave shipments. Citizens also exported slaves to the Caribbean, including “troublesome” indigenous peoples.

Canada didn’t abolish slavery, Britain did. While Upper Canada prohibited new slaves from coming to the province, it still allowed slavery to continue. It did have a gradual emancipation plan, but was thirty years or more behind some American states! When confronted with the issue numerous times, Lower Canada failed to act in any meaningful way.

While not justifiable in any sense, the economic reasoning for Black slavery in the south at least has some logic, whereas in Canada it didn’t even merit that – having the more loathsome reasons of pride and social prestige. Most slaves in Canada were Aboriginal, corresponding with Canada’s economic imperative the fur trade, and declined in numbers once that industry waned (not through any sort of sympathetic morality).

Since Canada covered up its slavery and is only now beginning to be honest, it’s difficult to come by any great wealth of information. I will update this post periodically when I can add to it and try to learn more.

Royal Commission Report: Volume 1

I decided yesterday to begin tackling the Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples.

The report was completed in 1996, after four years of drafting. Volume 1 is called “Looking Forward, Looking Back” and concerns the origins and history of Aboriginal peoples in Canada, as well as previous government policy concerning them.

It has been 20 years since this report was originally released, which is of interest because Volume 5 is called “Renewal: A Twenty Year Commitment”. It will be interesting to see what progress, if any, has been made regarding Aboriginal peoples and which recommendations have been implemented.

In Volume 1, I was expecting explicit details concerning treaty matters: the particulars of negotiations and agreements as originally made, and how policy making has either followed or diverged from them. I assumed that this was the crux of the issue regarding modern conflicts with Aboriginal communities and questions about their rights and independence.

However, the report begins with a broad overview of Aboriginal peoples and their cultures as they existed before Europeans arrived, followed by the military and political struggles that ensued. While it makes for interesting reading, the general history is broadly known. What is less known, is which agreements took place: the details, legality, legacy and relevance to modern times.

The treaties and agreement information doesn’t begin until a little over 100 pages in. This article will be a work in progress because it is still ongoing. Volume 1 is nearly 700 pages long, so I have attempted to pare down the information to the most relevant for a broad overview.

All comments in italics are mine, the rest are quotes from the report.

Volume 1: Looking Forward, Looking Back

It begins with an introduction which speaks of the importance of recognizing the past, the unique Aboriginal experience, reconciliation and the need to include Aboriginal people in policy making while respecting their rights. It also advises Aboriginal people to let go of anger over historical wrongs so that both parties can work together. It’s clear from the language that the authors of the report tried to be as fair and respectful as they could.

THIS REPORT of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples concerns government policy with respect to the original historical nations of this country.

… Aboriginal peoples anticipate and desire a process for continuing the historical work of Confederation. Their goal is not to undo the Canadian federation; their goal is to complete it. It is well known that the Aboriginal peoples in whose ancient homelands Canada was created have not had an opportunity to participate in creating Canada’s federal union; they seek now a just accommodation within it. (p 6)

History also shows how ancient societies in this part of North America were dispossessed of their homelands and made wards of a state that sought to obliterate their cultural and political institutions. History shows too attempts to explain away this dispossession by legally ignoring Aboriginal peoples, in effect declaring the land terra nullius — empty of people who mattered. This is not a history of which most Canadians are aware. It is not a history of democratic participation, nor is it a history that reflects well on Canada or its sense of justice. (p 7)

In 1982 the constitution was amended to recognize and affirm the Aboriginal and treaty rights of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada. Those amendments contained a promise to amend the constitution further to determine the nature and scope of those rights. The constitutional promise was not fulfilled in the first ministers conferences conducted for that purpose, and the basic constitutional promise of 1982 is still outstanding. (pg 9)

There have been important changes in recent years in the nature of Aboriginal peoples’ participation in statecraft in Canada. Since the white paper proposal to eliminate the distinct status of ‘Indians’ and the prime minister’s refusal in 1969 to recognize the treaties, Canadian society has developed a greater willingness to include Aboriginal peoples as partners in the Canadian enterprise.” (p 10)

PART ONE – Getting Started

This Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples was born in a time of ferment when the future of the Canadian federation was being debated passionately. It came to fruition in the troubled months following the demise of the Meech Lake Accord and the confrontation, in the summer of 1990, between Mohawks and the power of the Canadian state at Kanesatake (Oka), Quebec. (p 10)

The Mandate:

The Commission, established on 26 August 1991, was given a comprehensive mandate: The Commission of Inquiry should investigate the evolution of the relationship among aboriginal peoples (Indian, Inuit and Métis), the Canadian government, and Canadian society as a whole. It should propose specific solutions, rooted in domestic and international experience, to the problems which have plagued those relationships and which confront aboriginal peoples today. (p 11- 12)

In four years of consultations, research and reflection we have come to see clearly that the problems that plague the relationship cannot be addressed exclusively or primarily as Aboriginal issues. The questions we probed during our inquiry and the solutions that emerged from our deliberations led us back insistently to examine the premises on which Canadian law and government institutions are founded and the human values that Canadians see as the core of their identity. (p 12)

We maintain that Aboriginal nations have an inherent right to determine their own future within Canada and that the governments of Aboriginal nations should be recognized as a third order of government in the Canadian federation. (p 13)

A Demographic Profile

THE TERM ABORIGINAL obscures the distinctiveness of the First Peoples of Canada — Inuit, Métis and First Nations. With linguistic differences, for example, there are more than 50 distinct groupings among First Nations alone. Among Inuit, there are several dialects within Inuktitut, and the Métis people speak a variety of First Nations languages such as Cree, Ojibwa or Chipewyan, as well as Michif, which evolved out of their mixed ancestry. (p 20)

The figure of 500,000 for the indigenous population at the time of initial sustained contact with Europeans is perhaps the most widely accepted today, although many would regard it as a conservative estimate. (p 21)

This is followed by statistical information on Aboriginal birth rates and projected growth (90’s) as well as charts and demographic stats.

Conceptions of History (Overview)

Indeed, it is impossible to make sense of the issues that trouble the relationship today without a clear understanding of the past. This is true whether we speak of the nature of Aboriginal self-government in the Canadian federation, the renewal of treaty relationships, the challenge of revitalizing Aboriginal cultural identities, or the sharing of lands and resources. We simply cannot understand the depth of these issues or make sense of the current debate without a solid grasp of the shared history of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people on this continent. (p 36)

But Commissioners also concluded that most Canadians are simply unaware of the history of the Aboriginal presence in what is now Canada and that there is little understanding of the origins and evolution of the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people that have led us to the present moment. (p 37)

In the Atlantic region, for instance, a sustained non-Aboriginal presence among the Mi’kmaq and Maliseet peoples has been a fact for nearly 500 years, but in most parts of the far north, Inuit have been in sustained contact with non-Aboriginal people only in recent times. In Quebec and southern and central Ontario, the relationship is of almost the same duration as that in the Atlantic region, while in northern Ontario and the prairies, sustained contact and the development of formal treaty relationships has occurred only within the last 150 years. In parts of the Pacific coast, the nature of the relationship has yet to be formalized in treaties, even though interaction between Aboriginal and nonAboriginal people has taken place for some 200 years. (p 41)

Overview: Contact & Cooperation

It was a period when Aboriginal people provided assistance to the newcomers to help them survive in the unfamiliar environment; this stage also saw the establishment of trading and military alliances, as well as intermarriage and mutual cultural adaptation. This stage was also marked by incidents of conflict, by growth in the number of non-Aboriginal immigrants, and by the steep decline in Aboriginal populations following the ravages of diseases to which they had no natural immunity.

Although there were exceptions, there were many instances of mutual tolerance and respect during this long period. In these cases, social distance was maintained — that is, the social, cultural and political differences between the two societies were respected by and large. Each was regarded as distinct and autonomous, left to govern its own internal affairs but co-operating in areas of mutual interest and, occasionally and increasingly, linked in various trading relationships and other forms of nation-to-nation alliances. (p 42)

Overview: Displacement & Assimilation:

Non-Aboriginal society made repeated attempts to recast Aboriginal people and their distinct forms of social organization so they would conform to the expectations of what had become the mainstream. In this period, interventions in Aboriginal societies reached their peak, taking the form of relocations, residential schools, the outlawing of Aboriginal cultural practices, and various other interventionist measures of the type found in the Indian Acts of the late 1800s and early 1900s. (p 42)

Non-Aboriginal society began to recognize the failure of these policies toward the end of this period, particularly after the federal government’s ill-fated 1969 white paper, which would have ended the special constitutional, legal and political status of Aboriginal peoples within Confederation. (p 43)


THE HISTORY OF THE RELATIONSHIP between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples in North America begins, of necessity, with a description of the period before contact. Aboriginal nations were then fully independent; as described by the Supreme Court of Canada, they were “organized in societies and occupying the land as their forefathers had done for centuries.”

Europeans arriving in North America attempted to justify their assumption of political sovereignty over Aboriginal nations and title to their lands on the basis of a reinterpretation of prevailing norms in international law at the time, in particular the doctrine of discovery. This doctrine is based on the notion of terra nullius — a Latin term that refers to empty, essentially barren and uninhabited land. Under norms of international law at the time of contact, the discovery of such land gave the discovering nation immediate sovereignty and all rights and title to it.

Over the course of time, however, the concept of terra nullius was extended by European lawyers and philosophers to include lands that were not in the possession of ‘civilized’ peoples or were not being put to a proper ‘civilized’ use according to European definitions of the term. (p 47)

Upon the ‘discovery’ of the North American continent by Europeans, according to this doctrine, the newcomers were immediately vested with full sovereign ownership of the discovered lands and everything on them. When faced with the fact that the lands were inhabited by Aboriginal peoples, European commentators, such as the preacher Gray, popularized the notion that Aboriginal peoples were merely in possession of such lands, since they could not possibly have the civilized and Christian attributes that would enable them to assert sovereign ownership to them. Over time these ethnocentric notions gained currency and were given legitimacy by certain court decisions. (p 47-48)

These kinds of arguments, which distorted the reality of the situation and converted differences into inferiorities, have had surprising longevity in policy documents and in court proceedings up to the present day. As modified by the courts, they are at the heart of the modern doctrine of Aboriginal title, which holds that Aboriginal peoples in North America do not ‘own’ their lands, although they now have the legal right in Canada to demand compensation if they are dispossessed of them by the authorities. (p 48)

Followed by information on the M’ikmaq, Iroquois, Blackfoot, Northwest Coast tribes, Inuit: their hierarchies, self-governing, traditions, etc – a brief overview, p 48 – 83

The accounts often reveal elaborate social structures built around the nuclear and extended family. These are grouped into a band, clan, district or community all of which, in turn, may be part of a larger nation that may itself belong to a confederacy of many nations and to a larger language group. Governance is usually decentralized, with local units coming together or sending representatives to the councils of the nation or confederacy. In the councils of decision making, individuals are generally equal, and deliberations typically continue until consensus is reached. Leaders thus tend to guide, counsel and speak on behalf of the people; they typically do not exercise the authority to make unilateral decisions or to impose their will. Where conflict arises, an effort is made to bring the contending parties together and to find a middle ground. This is in keeping with an ethic that respects diversity and acknowledges that there are many different ways to accomplish a particular objective.

The accounts also reveal the ultimate importance to Aboriginal societies of their spiritual relationship to the land. This arises not only because of dependence on the natural world for life itself, but also out of the belief that human beings were placed on the earth at Creation and given special responsibilities to serve as stewards of the natural environment. Through a very long history of living in close harmony with the environment, adjusting as required to changing social and environmental conditions …

Aboriginal peoples accumulated an enormous amount of knowledge and wisdom and passed it on orally from generation to generation. (p 84)

Followed by a description of European nation-states: feudal societies becoming governed by monarchy; originally seeking natural resources and then driven on by economic interests and justified through Christian doctrine and papal decrees. p – 84-87.

The earliest Basque, Breton, French and English contacts in North America were aimed initially at extracting fish and other resources from the sea, rather than gold or silver from the ground, and involved considerably less use of force. This early pattern of relatively peaceful and incidental contact gave way by the early seventeenth century to a new system of relations based on treaties and trade with the indigenous inhabitants. In the next chapter, we describe the essential characteristics of this early, often co-operative, relationship. (p 87)

Contact and Cooperation:

Although a few Aboriginal persons were, willingly or unwillingly, taken to Europe over the years, contact occurred almost exclusively on North American soil as transplanted Europeans began to arrive in ever-increasing numbers after the late 1400s.

First contacts between Aboriginal peoples and Europeans were sporadic and apparently occurred about a thousand years ago when Norsemen proceeding from Iceland and Greenland are believed to have voyaged to the coast of North America. (p 94)

These early Norse voyages are believed to have continued until the 1340s, and to have included visits to Arctic areas such as Ellesmere and Baffin Island where the Norse would have encountered Inuit…

Conflict with Aboriginal people likely occurred relatively soon after the colony was established. Thus, within a few years of their arrival, the Norse appear to have abandoned the settlement and with it the first European colonial experiment in North America. 

Further intermittent commercial contacts ensued with other Europeans, as sailors of Basque, English, French and other nationalities came in search of natural resources such as timber, fish, furs, whale, walrus and polar bear. Little is known of this very early period of contact. By the late 1400s, explorers were commissioned to find a route to the Orient by sailing west from Europe, thus providing an additional motive for European contact with North American Aboriginal peoples. These subsequent explorations included the voyages of Christopher Columbus to several islands in the Caribbean sea and those of John Cabot, who was seeking a more northerly route. Cabot’s voyages began as early as 1494, and by 1497 he landed in a place he referred to as New Found Land. (p 94)

Relations were established in a context in which Aboriginal peoples initially had the upper hand in population and in terms of their knowledge of the land and how to survive in it. These factors contributed to early patterns of co-operation and helped to overcome the colonial attitudes and pretensions the first European arrivals may originally have possessed. The newcomers, far from their home ports and scattered in a vast land of which they had little practical knowledge, of necessity had to develop friendly relations with at least some original inhabitants. Political and economic accommodations soon followed. (p 95)

However, the existence of relatively strong, organized and politically active and astute Aboriginal nations caused the Europeans to recognize in practice, and later in law, the capacity of Aboriginal nations not only to govern their own affairs and to possess their own lands, but also to conclude treaties with them of a type similar to those the European nations were accustomed to making with each other. In the many ensuing struggles between France and Britain, as well as in the later ones between the American colonists and the British, Aboriginal nations were also greatly valued as military allies. Since victory or defeat in any particular military contest might hang in the balance, strenuous efforts were often made by the warring colonial powers either to enlist the support of Aboriginal nations or, at least, to assure their neutrality. Neither support nor neutrality could be demanded at this stage in the relationship, however; it could be achieved only by persuasion and diplomacy. (p 96)

With declining Aboriginal populations and ever-increasing European immigration to the New World, the numerical balance between the two groups gradually shifted during this first period of relations between them. By the latter part of the 1700s, in fact, it is estimated that Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people were roughly equal in numbers. (p 97)

Outside the salons of Europe and the discourse of élites, ordinary people adopted each other’s foods, clothing, hunting or transport technologies as they proved useful. Those brought together by the fur trade often intermarried and, as a result, enriched both cultures. The offspring of these unions would eventually form a new people with a distinct identity, the Métis people. And at the same time as missionaries were seeking to convert Aboriginal peoples to Christianity, there is also evidence that Europeans, especially young men working on the frontiers of contact with Aboriginal peoples, found much not only to admire but also to emulate, especially their quiet determination and independent attitudes. Indeed, many Europeans were adopted and assimilated into Aboriginal nations. (p 99)

Although some European traders obtained Aboriginal clothing, canoes, snowshoes and other items for themselves, the most sought after goods were beaver pelts. They could be sold in Europe as the raw material for felt hats, then in vogue among the middle class and the nobility. The traders were especially interested in procuring pelts that had already been worn as clothing for fifteen to eighteen months. Wearing them during the winter wore off the long guard hairs, thereby rendering them most valuable for the manufacture of high-grade felt. For Aboriginal people, hunting the then-abundant beaver and selling used clothing was an economical means of obtaining European goods. (p 100)

By the first decade of the seventeenth century the French were granting trading monopolies to wealthy merchants in hopes of promoting year-round European settlement in the St. Lawrence region …To maintain cordial trade relations, the French offered to assist the Innu intheir hostilities with the Mohawk, a decision that was to lead to decades of enmity between the French and the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. (p 102)

For many years, a flotilla of 60 canoes and 200 men from Huronia came to Quebec via the French, Mattawa, Ottawa and St. Lawrence rivers. As many as 15,000 pelts were traded annually. (p 102)

During this period many Aboriginal people regarded the missionaries as shamans, interpreted their baptismal rites as curing rituals, and generally tolerated their presence for fear of jeopardizing trade and political alliances with the French. To the Jesuits their mission was akin to a war against satanic forces and was intended to reap a rich harvest of souls. (p 103)

It is also clear that the patterns of relationship varied significantly from one Aboriginal group to another. Since Algonquian and Iroquoian nations, for example, had different modes of subsistence and social organization and unique and well established patterns of political and trade relations before European contact, it is not surprising that they experienced the effects of contact differently. Pursuing different strategies of accommodation and compromise, the many diverse Aboriginal nations on the northern half of the continent that came into contact with non-Aboriginal peoples did not all experience the effects of that contact in the same way. (p 105)


Evidently, the reality of relations between Aboriginal and European nations in these early periods was remarkably complex, fluid and ambiguous. Thus, while the French, for instance, clearly wanted to assert some form of sovereign control over neighbouring Aboriginal peoples, in practice they often had to settle for alliances or simple neutrality.

And while Aboriginal nations sometimes wished to assert their total independence of the French colony, in practice they often found themselves reliant on French trade and protection and increasingly overshadowed by European armed might.

The French policy of cultivating the friendship and alliance of Aboriginal peoples was replicated, with less success, by the burgeoning British colonies to the south. Like New France, these colonies would have preferred to be in a position to dominate and control their Aboriginal neighbours. However, they often had little alternative but to solicit Indigenous peoples as trading partners and as allies in the struggles with France. (p 106)

There was one important difference between British and French practice in this context that would have long-term effects on the overall relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples in this part of North America. The French colony, whose population remained small, was planted along the shores of the St. Lawrence River, in an area no longer inhabited by the Iroquoian peoples of Stadacona and Hochelaga. Thus, there was no need for the French to obtain lands from their Aboriginal neighbours. By contrast, from an early period the British colonists found their Aboriginal neighbours in possession of lands they wanted themselves for purposes of expanding their settlements and economic activities.

In the opening stages of British settlement in North America, this collision of interests resulted in warfare and led to the forcible dispossession of Aboriginal nations in Virginia and New England. Many Aboriginal nations allied themselves with the French or retreated before the advance of the British colonists. Over time, however, and to avoid further hostilities, a policy developed whereby lands required for settlement would ordinarily be secured from their Aboriginal owners by formal agreement. Thus, treaties specifically involving land cessions by Aboriginal nations soon became a common feature of the British-Aboriginal relationship. (p 107)

Nevertheless, by 1763, when New France was ceded to the British Crown in the Treaty of Paris, Aboriginal/English relations had stabilized to the point where they could be seen to be grounded in two fundamental principles. Under the first principle, Aboriginal peoples were generally recognized as autonomous political units capable of having treaty relations with the Crown. (p 107)

A second principle emerged from British practice. This acknowledged that Aboriginal nations were entitled to the territories in their possession unless, or until, they ceded them away. Although this proposition may seem self-evident, it was not always so from the colonists’ self-interested perspective, and it required periodic restatement. (p 108)

When New France fell to British forces and was ceded to the Crown in 1763, Great Britain was confronted with the twin problems of winning the friendship and trust of France’s former First Nations allies and dealing with the mounting dissatisfaction of some of its own indigenous allies over incursions by American colonists on their lands. (p 108)

Royal Proclamation

This document, issued on 7 October 1763, is a landmark in British/Indian relations (see Appendix D). It has been described by Mr. Justice Hall of the Supreme Court of Canada as the Indian Bill of Rights. “Its force as a statute”, he writes, “is analogous to the status of Magna Carta which has always been considered to be the law throughout the Empire. It was a law which followed the flag as England assumed jurisdiction over newly discovered or acquired lands or territories.” (p 109)

The basic viewpoint informing the Proclamation’s Indian provisions is summarized in the preamble as follows:

“And whereas it is just and reasonable, and essential to Our Interest and the Security of Our Colonies, that the several Nations or Tribes of Indians, with whom We are connected, and who live under Our Protection, should not be molested or disturbed in the Possession of such Parts of Our Dominions and Territories as, not having been ceded to, or purchased by Us, are reserved to them, or any of them, as their Hunting Grounds… “(p 109)

In short, the Proclamation portrays Aboriginal nations as autonomous political units living under the Crown’s protection and on lands that are already part of the Crown’s dominions. Aboriginal nations hold inherent authority over their internal affairs and the power to deal with the Crown by way of treaty and agreement. In a word, it portrays the links between Aboriginal peoples and the Crown as broadly ‘confederal‘.

Relations between the Crown and Aboriginal peoples differed from those between the Crown and its settler colonies. This difference is reflected in the structure of the Proclamation, which deals in a separate part with the constitutions of Quebec and several other new colonies. (p 110)

There was a basic difference between the constitutions of Aboriginal nations protected by the Crown and the constitutions of the settler colonies. The latter stemmed largely, if not entirely, from explicit grants, in the form of royal charters, proclamations, commissions, instructions, or acts of Parliament, as supplemented by basic unwritten principles. By contrast, the constitutions of Aboriginal nations sprang from their own internal arrangements and philosophies and were nourished by their inherent powers as self governing nations. These powers were modified over time by relations with the Crown and by certain customary principles generated by Aboriginal/Crown practice.

Nevertheless, through all these changes, Aboriginal constitutions retained their original roots within the communities concerned. (p 111)


The earliest treaty making between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples in Canada was undertaken in the context of small groups of settlers living on a small portion of the land mass of the continent and involved such matters as trade and commerce, law, peace, alliance and friendship, and the extradition and exchange of prisoners. It took place in a time of intense diplomatic and military competition among European powers to claim territory, trade and influence in North America. In this context, economic and strategic ties with Indian nations became important, for the Europeans needed treaties to justify their competing territorial claims and to garner allies for their struggle. As long as their colonies were small and vulnerable, they eagerly entered into treaties with due consideration to the terms, and according to such protocols, as Indian nations wished. (p 114-115)

The principal alliances of the French with the Innu (Montagnais), Algonquin and Wendat (Huron) were economic and military in nature …

The military aspect of the alliances originated with the French helping their allies in conflicts with the Haudenosaunee in return for commercial privileges. The French, however, soon came to rely heavily on their partners to counter British expansionism.

In this case, the interests of the French and their allies were common, because the expanding territorial aspirations of the burgeoning settler population of New England were also a threat to Aboriginal interests. (p 115)

Although these agreements addressed matters of economic and military alliance, the first written treaties were signed in the interests of making or renewing peace between nations at war. Thus the first written treaties between the French and the Haudenosaunee, in 1624, 1645 and 1653, were essentially non-aggression pacts that had little lasting success. (p 115)

The treaty-making tradition between representatives of the British Crown and the Mi’kmaq continued in the middle decades of the 1700s, following a pattern in which some matters addressed in earlier treaties were reaffirmed while changing conditions gave rise to agreement on new issues. Thus, after the British established themselves in Halifax in 1749, new treaty discussions began, and in 1752 an important treaty was signed by the influential Mi’kmaq chief, Jean Baptiste Cope. (p 117)

It appears that European and Aboriginal interpretations of their agreements, whether written or not, differed on some key issues. The two principal ones were possessory rights to the land and the authority of European monarchs or their representatives over Aboriginal peoples. In general, the European understanding — or at least the one that was committed to paper — was that the monarch had, or acquired through treaty or alliance, sovereignty over the land and the people on it. The Aboriginal understanding, however, recognized neither European title to the land nor Aboriginal submission to a European monarch. (p 118)

The European doctrine of discovery resulted in an impairment of the rights of Indigenous peoples. Although they continued to be regarded as “the rightful occupants of the soil”, with “a legal as well as a just claim to retain possession”, they ceased to be free to dispose of the soil to “whomsoever they pleased” and were compelled to deal with the European power that had, at least in European eyes, ‘discovered’ their land. Indigenous nations, however, did not regard the arrival of European traders, adventurers, diplomats or officials as altering in any way their sovereignty or their ownership of their territories. (p 118)

… the Aboriginal conception of land and its relationship with human beings was based on the concept of communal ownership of land and its collective use by the human beings, animals and trees put there by the Creator. While people could control and exercise stewardship over a territory, ultimately the land belonged to the Creator — who had given the land to the people, to care for in perpetuity — and was thus inalienable. French views, by contrast, were grounded in that country’s feudal history, in which the suzerain, or ruler, not only had a form of land ownership but also had political authority over his vassals. ( p 118)

There was also a considerable discrepancy between official communications and the dialogue with Aboriginal nations. According to Lajoie and Verville, the French claim to sovereignty over the land and its people

“was confined to their discourse, a discourse destined for their European competitors, recorded only in the accounts and petitions they sent to their principals in the mother country and that they took good care to withhold from the Aboriginal people. Nor was it revealed in their practices.” (p 119)

The European claim to sovereignty over the land and the people may have appeared in the written terms of the treaty, but it is not clear that this claim was communicated orally. To the contrary, it would appear that the Aboriginal signatories were unaware that such concepts were embodied in written treaties. Land use arrangements between European powers and Aboriginal nations in the early contact period were arrived at orally and, later, through written documents that the Aboriginal parties may not have comprehended fully at the time. (p 119)

As well, French-speakers in attendance at the treaty ratification indicated that the aspects of the treaty concerning political and legal submission were not articulated. Rather it was emphasized that the Aboriginal participants had “come to salute the English Governor to make peace with him and to renew the ancient friendship which had been between them before.” (p 119 – 120)

Canadians and their governments, however, are more likely to look on the treaties as ancient history. The treaties, to Canada, are often regarded as inconvenient and obsolete relics of the early days of this country. With respect to the early treaties in particular, which were made with the British or French Crown, Canadian governments dismiss them as having no relevance in the post-Confederation period. The fact remains, however, that Canada has inherited the treaties that were made and is the beneficiary of the lands and resources secured by those treaties and still enjoyed today by Canada’s citizens. ( p 120)

The apparent common ground was real, but under the surface the old differences in world view still existed, largely unarticulated. Fundamentally, the doctrine of discovery guided the European understanding of the treaties. They were to legitimize European possession of a land whose title was already vested in a European crown. The indigenous understanding was different. Indigenous territories were to be shared; peace was to be made and the separate but parallel paths of European and indigenous cultures were to be followed in a peaceful and mutually beneficial way. (p 122)


IN THE WANING DECADES of the 1700s and the early years of the 1800s, it became increasingly clear that a fundamental change was occurring in the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples …

The first was the rapid and dramatic increase in the non-Aboriginal population, owing to the massive influx of Loyalists after the American Revolution and swelling immigration, especially from the British Isles. Beginning in the 1780s, thousands of Loyalists poured into the Maritimes …

Lower Canada, with its long-established reserve land policy, was not drastically affected by in-migration. It was different in Upper Canada, however, where reserves were fewer and population pressures proportionately greater. It is estimated that by 1812 the nonAboriginal population of that colony outnumbered the Aboriginal population by as much as 10 to 1, with the ratio increasing further in the ensuing decades.

Illegal squatting occurred on Indian lands, as in the Maritimes, but it was more common for purchases of Indian lands to be made through the negotiation of treaties. Purchased lands were then made available by the Crown for non-Aboriginal settlement. ( p 130)

The fur trade was already declining in eastern Canada by the latter part of the 1700s. The 1821 merger of the two major rivals, the North West Company and the Hudson’s Bay Company, signalled the end of the Montreal-based fur trade and with it the relative prosperity of the Aboriginal nations dependent on it. The fur trade continued to be important in the north and west for many more decades — indeed, it did not begin in what became British Columbia until the late 1700s.

 But in eastern Canada, the fur trade — and the era of co-operative division of labour between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people it represented — were over. (p 130 – 131)

The normalization of relations between the United States and Great Britain following the War of 1812 was a third factor in the changed relationship that emerged at this time. No longer courted as military allies, a role they had enjoyed for two centuries, First Nations were forgotten for their major contributions … By 1830, in fact, responsibility for ‘Indian policy’ —formerly a quasi-diplomatic vocation — had been transferred from military to civil authorities. The preoccupation of policy makers turned to social rather than military concerns, and soon schemes were devised to begin the process of dismantling Aboriginal nations and integrating their populations into the burgeoning settler society around them. 

… To justify their actions, the non-Aboriginal settler society was well served by a belief system that judged Aboriginal people to be inferior. Based originally on religious and philosophical grounds, this sense of cultural and moral superiority would be buttressed by additional, pseudo-scientific theories, developed during the nineteenth century, that rested ultimately on ethnocentric and racist premises.(p 131)

In Canada, the period saw the end of most aspects of the formal nation-to-nation relationship of rough equality that had developed in the earlier stage of relations. Paradoxically, however, the negotiation of treaties continued, but side by side with legislated dispossession, through the Indian Act. Aboriginal peoples lost control and management of their own lands and resources, and their traditional customs and forms of organization were interfered with in the interest of remaking Aboriginal people in the image of the newcomers. This did not occur all at once across the country, but gradually even western and northern First Nations came under the influence of the new regime. (p 132)

Former enemies of the victorious British, the Mi’kmaq and Maliseet, were simply ignored, left to find their own way in the rapidly changing world. Dispossessed of much of their land, separated from resources and impoverished, they were also ravaged by disease, and in the early 1800s they seemed to be on the road to virtual extinction. (p 134)

In Upper Canada, however …  Aboriginal peoples were treated differently. Thus, the Indian affairs department consistently applied the principles of the Royal Proclamation of 1763, recognizing Aboriginal rights to land and self-government. This led to a series of treaties, signed between 1815 and 1825, that cleared the southern part of the colony for settlement. With the two Robinson Treaties in 1850, further territory north of the Great Lakes was opened for resource exploitation and, later, settlement. (p 134)

… Thus, the British imperial government, in association with protestant mission societies in the province of Upper Canada, embarked on the new policy of civilization with the willing assistance of many Aboriginal nations.

Communities in the southern part of Upper Canada were to be located on their reserves in serviced settlement sites, complete with houses, barns, churches and schools, and given training in agriculture and the other arts and crafts of settler life. (p 134)

Indian reserves were not a new factor in relations between the Aboriginal peoples and the newcomers to North America. The French had established the practice of setting aside lands for their Indian allies in New France, believing that a settled and secure environment would promote adoption of Christianity. The Jesuits established the first true reserve in this sense in New France, at Sillery, as early as 1637. Others soon followed. Thus, when the British embarked on their own program of attempting to convert and civilize the Indians of what is now southern Ontario, they had a precedent to draw upon. (p 134 – 135)

Throughout the nineteenth century and into the twentieth, first the British Crown and then the new dominion of Canada entered into treaties in Ontario, the prairie provinces and parts of the north, under which Indians agreed to the creation of reserves (along with other benefits) in exchange for their agreement to share their lands and resources with the newcomers. These treaties, described later in this volume, were modelled to a considerable extent on the Robinson treaties (also discussed later), were in written form, and were quite specific about the amount of land to be included in a reserve and the fact that traditional Indian hunting, fishing and trapping activities were not to be interfered with. (p 135)


Not all reserves in Canada were created by treaty, however. Those in Quebec were established by grants from the French Crown to missionary orders, on the theory that the Crown had all right and title to the lands in question. Some in Ontario were created by the purchase of lands outside the traditional territories of the Indian peoples for whom they were intended. The Six Nations reserve at Brantford falls into this category. Purchased originally from the Mississauga of the Credit in 1784, it was granted to the Six Nations by the Crown in 1788. Other reserves were created by order in council as circumstances required, and a few others were established by trust agreements with missionary societies, which were to hold the lands for the benefit of their Indian charges. There were even a few instances of Indian bands purchasing privately held lands using their own monies, with the reserves then being held by the Crown for their benefit.

In the Atlantic region there were no treaties under which reserves were created. On the cession of Acadia to Great Britain by France, the British view was that there was no requirement to treat with the Mi’kmaq and Maliseet nations for their lands. Never protected by imperial authorities to the same extent as the western First Nations, the relatively small remaining Aboriginal population in the Maritimes was scattered and isolated and, by the early 1800s, decimated by epidemics and considered to be headed for extinction. Indian administration was decentralized, and there was no imperial Indian department, so there was no regular allocation of imperial monies for Indian people and their needs.

Reserves were established by colonial authorities as a result of Indians’ petitions or their sorry circumstances, rather than the policy of a central authority. Accordingly, a few reserves were set aside in New Brunswick by licences of occupation granted to individual Indians on behalf of them and their families or the band they represented. These licences were then confirmed by order in council. In Nova Scotia, on the other hand, lands were set aside by order in council to be held in trust for Indians as if they were owned by them. In Prince Edward Island, a private benefactor allowed Indians to live on one reserve. Later, private land was purchased using government funds and other reserves were created.

No reserve was created in Newfoundland until 1984, because that province did not recognize the existence of status Indians within its boundaries following its entry into Confederation in 1949. (p 136)

Unlike the reserves in Ontario and western and northern Canada, however, imperial and colonial officials did not feel it necessary in Quebec and the Maritimes to follow the surrender requirements of the Royal Proclamation of 1763, so the local Indian commissioners appointed to protect and supervise Indian land transactions also had the power to dispose of reserve land without Indian consent. (136 – 137)

British Columbia presents an entirely different and still problematic situation. Between 1850 and 1854, William Douglas, governor of the Vancouver Island colony, entered into 14 treaties with the Indian peoples of southern Vancouver Island. Under these treaties, provision was made for the creation of reserves on terms similar to those in effect in Ontario and, later, western and northern Canada. A shortage of funds to compensate Indian peoples for their lands and a growing unwillingness among the settler population to recognize Indian rights to land hampered the reserve policy. Later, colonial authorities adopted a policy of allocating very small reserves to Indian bands. Pressured by the federal government to enlarge the reserves, after the province’s entry into Confederation in 1871, British Columbia refused … hearings led eventually to resolution of the issue in 1938. However, except for a portion of Vancouver Island (the Douglas treaties) and the northeastern corner of the province (Treaty 8), most of the land in British Columbia is not covered by treaties. (p 137)


In addition to creating reserves, in Upper Canada the policy to civilize the Indians was supplemented by legislation, the 1857 Act to Encourage the Gradual Civilization of the Indian Tribes in this Province. It provided for the voluntary enfranchisement — freedom from Indian status — of individuals of good character as determined by a board of examiners. (p 137)

The evident failure of the voluntary enfranchisement policy led the Indian affairs department to campaign throughout the remaining pre-Confederation period for an end to the independence of the Aboriginal governments that the Royal Proclamation of 1763 had apparently promised to protect. (p 138)


The first emergence of Métis people was not inadvertent. Intermarriage of newcomers with First Nations people was a deliberate strategy of seventeenth-century church and state officials in New France, as they intended to develop a powerful presence in North America to counter that of their European rivals, the Dutch and the English.  (p 138)

… Officially, France ceased to sanction intermarriage after the 1670s, but so long as a fur trade was promoted from Montreal, economic incentives encouraged the original dynamic. Because promotion of the fur trade continued until 1821, a large Métis population developed throughout the Great Lakes basin. (p 139)

Historians have not reached consensus on how much the two streams of migration — the French ‘Métis’ and the English ‘half-breeds’ — merged into one population over the next several decades. They do agree, however, that many paths led to Red River, and what developed there between 1820 and 1870 represented a florescence of distinct culture in which both streams participated. The new nation was not simply a population that happened to be of mixed European/Aboriginal ancestry; the Métis Nation was a population with its own language, Michif (though many dialects), a distinctive mode of dress, cuisine, vehicles of transport, modes of celebration in music and dance, and a completely democratic though quasi-military political organization, complete with national flag, bardic tradition and vibrant folklore of national history.  (p 141)

There was a compensatory promise of “fair and equitable” grants to people whose access to open prairie was expected to be restricted by future development. There was a positive affirmation of continuity, in the form of secure tenure of all occupied lands, and a promise of 1.4 million acres to benefit “the children of the half-breed heads of families”. Equally important, the negotiations leading to passage of the Manitoba Act and admission of the community to the Canadian federation as a province in its own right appeared to confirm the existence and importance of Métis self-government. The overall arrangement was so eminently satisfactory to the Métis provisional government that on 24 June 1870 its members ratified what many have since referred to as their ‘treaty’ without one dissenting voice. (p 142)

Further land was distributed, nominally at least, to Métis of the Northwest Territories, under a statute called the Dominion Lands Act, but the process was no more successful than the Manitoba process had been in terms of assuring satisfactory land-based Métis communities. In some areas, especially in the east, no attempt to recognize or deal with Métis Aboriginal rights was ever made. (p 143 – 144)

Both Métis and Plains Indians were deeply concerned by the relentless influx of newcomers to the prairies, the threat this posed to their lands and ways of life, and the sudden disappearance of the buffalo in the 1880s. While the federal government dithered in coming to grips with Métis and Indian grievances, Riel proceeded to form a provisional government. Under the leadership of Gabriel Dumont, a military force of plainsmen was also formed, but the federal government countered by sending a strong military expedition to the north-west in the spring of 1885. The Métis forces were crushed at Batoche, and Riel was hanged, after being convicted of treason, at Regina on 16 November 1885. Big Bear and Poundmaker, who had provided strong leadership to the Plains Indian forces, were arrested and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment. (p 144)

Métis people of the same district would have the option as individuals to join treaties or receive ‘half-breed’ scrip redeemable in land or a cash gratuity — nothing more. All told there were 14 such commissions canvassing western Canada. The last operated in the Mackenzie River district in 1921.

.. Still, no other accommodation was contemplated. Canada did not recognize Métis communities as such. Canada defined Métis rights in purely individual terms, the one-time-only claim that certain ‘half-breeds’ might make for scrip. When they received that gratuity, any potential claim arising from their aboriginality was deemed to be ‘extinguished’. (p 144)

From 1815 to the 1850s, there were literally hundreds of land transactions, whereby First Nations, many of which had previously made treaties of alliance, peace and friendship with the Crown, transferred their land to the Crown.

In all these land transactions, the Crown’s purpose was to secure First Nations lands for settlement and development. In some, and perhaps many, of these transactions, the Indian nations thought they were conveying their land to the Crown for the limited purpose of authorizing the Crown to ‘protect’ their lands from incoming settlement … (p 145)

1836 Treaties

The treaty of 1836 made provision to set aside the Manitoulin Island area as a reserve, and some Indian people made the move … By the early 1860s, the demand for land from non-Aboriginal interests led to a further initiative to gain control of the Manitoulin Island lands. In the 1861-62 period, agents of the Crown and the government of the Province of Canada approached the Odawa and Ojibwa nations of Manitoulin, seeking to release the government from its 1836 promise to reserve the lands exclusively for Indian use. The agents of the Crown assumed that the 1836 agreement gave the Crown title to the island, a premise rejected by the Indian nations …

On the following Monday, he presented a revised proposal excluding from the negotiations and subsequent agreement the territory and inhabitants of the eastern portion of the island. Since a majority of the island’s Indian inhabitants resided in the east, the agreement to open the bulk of the island to non-Aboriginal settlement was struck with a minority of the Indian inhabitants. (p 146 – 147)

1850 Treaties

In 1841 Upper and Lower Canada joined together to become the Province of Canada and subsequently leases were issued to companies to explore and mine in Ojibwa territories…

In September 1850 negotiations for the Robinson Huron and Superior treaties were concluded . Ojibwa chiefs succeeded in obtaining reservations of land as well as a provision that would give them a share of revenues from the exploitation of resources in their territories. Annuities, or cash payments, were to increase as revenues increased. However, the provision for an increase in the extremely small annuities was adjusted only once in the 1870s. When the Ojibwa request a further increase to reflect the real profits, the federal government’s response is to rely on the English text of the treaty, which states that such further sums are limited to what “Her Majesty may be graciously pleased to order”. (p 147 – 148)

Numbered Treaties

In negotiating the numbered treaties that followed, the Crown followed the pattern of approaching First Nations to ‘surrender’ large tracts of land in return for annual cash payments and other ‘benefits’. These negotiations were conducted in the oral traditions of the Indian nations. Once agreement was reached, a text was produced that purported to represent the substance of the agreements. However, arrangements respecting land are one area where there was fundamental misunderstanding about what the parties thought or assumed they were doing when they made the treaties. The situation varied from one treaty to another, but in general the Indian nations, based on their cultural and oral traditions, understood they were sharing the land, not ‘surrendering’ it. While the surrender clauses of the early land sales in Ontario were included in the later written numbered treaties, it is questionable whether their implications were known to the Indian parties, since these legal and real estate concepts would have been incomprehensible to many Aboriginal people. Further, it would have been difficult, if not impossible, to translate the legal language expressing these concepts into the Indian languages.

Aboriginal people often understood that they were being compensated for the use of their lands and that they were not being asked to give up or surrender them, but to allow settlers to move onto their lands peaceably. (p 148)

Although the extent to which these basic differences and assumptions were communicated effectively and understood depended on the historical circumstances of those events in particular locales, on the whole the First Nations did not agree to having their lands taken over by the Crown, nor did they agree to come under the control of the Crown. Their understanding was that they would share their lands and resources in a treaty relationship that would respect their agreement to co-exist as separate nations but linked in a partnership with the Crown.

Other aspects of the treaty negotiations were also significant. The numbered treaties provided for tracts of land to be set apart and protected as reserves for the Indian parties. In the Robinson treaties, for example, the reserve lands were retained or reserved from the general surrender of Indian title. In the later numbered treaties, the texts were drafted to indicate that all Indian title was surrendered to the Crown, and from those tracts the Crown was obliged to set apart ‘Crown land’ for reserves on a population-based formula.

As the Indian parties in possession of these huge tracts of land demanded a fair and equitable exchange, the Crown not only offered cash payments upon signing and annually thereafter, but agreed to provide agricultural and economic assistance, schools and teachers, and other goods and benefits depending on the particular group they were negotiating with … (p 149)

Treaties 1871 (onward)

Traditional historical interpretations have tended to portray the treaty-making process as a Crown initiative, with a benevolent Crown extending its largesse to the less fortunate nations. However, the numbered treaties came about because First Nations demanded that special arrangements be made through treaties before the Crown could expect to use Indian lands and resources. They were not prepared to give up their lands, on which they depended for their livelihood, without a formal arrangement that would protect adequate lands and resources for their own use. (p 151)

Following an unsuccessful attempt to negotiate a treaty in the Fort Frances region in early 1871, treaty discussions were begun with the peoples of the Treaty 1 and 2 areas in the summer of the same year …

Archibald emphasized that they would not be compelled to settle on reserves and that they would be able to continue their traditional way of life and hunt as they always had.

… However, the written text did not include the guarantees that had been made respecting land, hunting and fishing, and the maintenance of their way of life, nor did it contain what were termed “outside” promises respecting agricultural implements, livestock, hunting equipment, and the other promises that had been extracted. In fact, the text was not that different from the Robinson Huron and Superior treaties, for it “surrendered” land in exchange for annuities, schools and reserves based on a formula of 160 acres per person.

In a subsequent inquiry into the matter, it was discovered that Commissioner Wemyss M.Simpson had neglected to include a record of the outside promises when he forwarded the text of the treaty to Ottawa… The matter of the outside promises was not settled until 1876. (p 151 – 152)

The negotiation of Treaty 3 was also long and difficult, but after two failed attempts a treaty was concluded in 1873. Throughout the negotiations the Ojibwa held fast to their terms, and Crown negotiators were forced to make concessions …

In the end, the Ojibwa succeeded in getting far more than the Crown had been willing to consider, including an increase in the size of reserves from a quarter-section to a full section. Provision was also made for domestic animals, farming equipment, annuities (compensation), clothing and education. Subsequent treaties generally included these provisions as a standard part of the agreement. In addition, those who were not present at treaty negotiations were asked to sign adhesions to the treaty for their traditional territories. (p 154)

Treaties with the First Nations of the plains, who were in possession of the western plains and who had to be dealt with if the new dominion was to extend its jurisdiction from east to west, were negotiated between 1874 and 1877 …

The rich agricultural plains were coveted by the Crown and had the greatest potential, aside from forest and mineral developments, to generate the economic prosperity that settlement would bring. This would not be easy, since the plains nations had military confederacies to guard their lands against encroachment…

In the end, and in part because of all the difficulties in negotiating the treaty, Morris offered and the chiefs present agreed to accept the terms of Treaty 3, the terms of which had already been communicated to them by the Ojibwa with whom they were in close communication. (154 – 155)

Treaty 5 was negotiated in September 1875 between the Swampy Cree and others and the Crown as represented by Commissioner Morris. A treaty in the vicinity of Lake Winnipeg was deemed necessary because of the requirements of navigation and the need to make arrangements for settlement and other developments so that “settlers and traders might have undisturbed access to its waters, shores, islands, inlets and tributary streams”. According to Morris’s report, the terms of Treaty 5 were similar to Treaties 3 and 4, except that reserved land would be provided on the basis of 160 acres for each family … The Cree were assured, however, that they would be able to retain lands in their traditional territories. (p 155-156)

A description of the unrest among Assiniboine and Cree: buffalo were disappearing, threat of starvation; fur-economy ruined by over hunting, settlers travelling west, etc. They demanded a treaty in order to establish their rights.

By the end of negotiations, the terms were similar to those of the other treaties, involving annuities, education, economic assistance and assistance with housing, but with added provisions for relief in the event of famine, help for the indigent, grain provisions for three years, and medical aid. (p 157)

In September 1877, Treaty 7 was made … between the Crown … and the Blood, Blackfoot, Peigan, Sarcee and Stoney nations of the Blackfoot Confederacy…

The Blackfoot Confederacy was feared because of its effectiveness in the defence of Blackfoot territory from outside encroachment. The Blackfoot were experiencing hardship as a result of the disappearance of the buffalo from their hunting grounds. Furthermore, up to 800 of their people had died from a smallpox epidemic in 1870…

Commissioner Laird offered inducements to get them to sign a treaty:

…But in a very few years the buffalo will probably be all destroyed, and for this reason the Queen wishes to help you to live in the future in some other way. She wishes you to allow her white children to come and live on your land and raise cattle, and should you agree to this she will assist you to raise cattle and grain… She will also pay you and your children money every year, which you can spend as you please. … The Queen wishes us to offer you the same as was accepted by the Crees.(p 157)

Negotiations consisted of the Crown offering annuities, goods and benefits, as they had in other treaties, in exchange for Blackfoot agreement to sign a treaty… In the record of treaty discussions prepared by the Crown, there appeared to be little discussion of the impending construction of the railroad or the surrender of Blackfoot territory. (p 158)

Treaties 8 and 11 were driven by economic pressures — gold was discovered in the Klondike in the spring of 1897, and prospectors, gold diggers and settlers flooded into Indian lands … in June 1898, nations in the Fort St. John area refused to allow police and miners to enter their territories until a treaty was made. (p 158)

As a result, in 1899 treaty commissioners travelled with a sense of urgency to meet the Cree and Dene nations in possession of a northern territory comprising 324,900 square miles, an area from northern Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia and south of the Hay River and Great Slave Lake in the North West Territories. In Treaty 8, the Crown continued its policy of offering benefits if the Indian nations would allow settlers into their territories.

… The treaty also included the usual ‘cede, surrender and yield up’ clause, although this was not discussed by commissioners… It was only after the commissioners solemnly pledged their word, in the name of Queen Victoria, that the Indians agreed to sign the treaty. However, the full content of the discussion was not reflected in the written treaty. (p 158 – 159)

Treaty 11 was to follow the same path, since the Privy Council had noted in 1891 that immense quantities of petroleum and other valuable minerals existed in the Mackenzie River country and that “a treaty or treaties should be made with the Indians who claim these regions as their hunting grounds”. The economic implications were staggering to politicians in Ottawa. After oil was discovered at Norman Wells, treaty commissioners were again dispatched with urgency when the Dene threatened to refuse entry to their lands.

Commissioners were received with suspicion and mistrust, since the Dene had learned that guarantees negotiated in Treaty 8 were not being respected. Throughout the negotiations, the Dene repeated their conditions for making a treaty … 

Commissioner Conroy did not table the commitments and guarantees made to the Dene in the oral negotiations. All that was tabled was a written text almost identical to the predrafted treaty that had been proposed in the Treaty 8 negotiations.

Throughout the negotiation of the numbered treaties the commissioners did not clearly convey to First Nations the implications of the surrender and cession language in treaty documents. (p 159)

Differing Assumptions and Understandings

Early treaties were made for peace, trade, alliance, neutrality and military support. When settlement grew, treaties were made to establish relationships, as a way of living together in peaceful co-existence, and to acquire Aboriginal lands and resources. Canada continues to enter into treaty agreements with Aboriginal nations to acquire title to Aboriginal lands and resources.

Over time, treaties became more complex and difficult to negotiate … In many cases, it is questionable whether the Indian parties understood the legal and political implications of the land conveyance documents they were asked to sign. Many of these transactions are the subject of land claims today.

It is also doubtful in many cases that the First Nations participating in the numbered treaties knew that the written texts they signed differed from the oral agreements they concluded. In fact, it was not evident to them until some years after treaties were made that the Crown was not honouring its treaty commitments or was acting in a way that violated treaty agreements. Their reaction to the imposition of government laws and restrictions upon them was seen as a violation of the Queen’s promise to protect their way of life and not subject them to the Queen’s laws (the Indian Act) or the Queen’s servants (the Indian agent)…

The fact that in most cases the Indian parties were unable to verify the implications of the written text against the oral agreement … must be given consideration when interpreting their meaning. (p 160 – 161)

In most, if not all the treaties, the Crown promised not to interfere with their way of life, including their hunting, fishing, trapping and gathering practices.

… The Indian parties understood they would continue to maintain their traditional governments, their laws and their customs and to co-operate as necessary with the Crown. There was substantive agreement that the treaties established an economic partnership from which both parties would benefit … First Nations were promised compensation in the form of annual payments or annuities, social and economic benefits, and the continued use of their lands and resources. (p 161)

First Nations were assured orally that their way of life would not change unless they wished it to. They understood that their governing structures and authorities would continue undisturbed by the treaty relationship. They also assumed, and were assured, that the Crown would respect and honour the treaty agreements in perpetuity and that they would not suffer — but only benefit — from making treaties with the Crown. They were not asked, and they did not agree, to adopt non-Aboriginal ways and laws for themselves. (p 161)

Non-fulfillment of Treaties

One of the fundamental flaws in the treaty-making process was that only the Crown’s version of treaty negotiations and agreements was recorded in accounts of negotiations and in the written texts. Little or no attention was paid to how First Nations understood the treaties or consideration given to the fact that they might have had a completely different understanding of what had transpired.

Another fundamental problem was the Crown’s failure to establish the necessary laws to uphold the treaties it signed. Unlike the modern treaties of today, which have provisions for implementation, implementation of the historical treaties was virtually overlooked. Once treaties were negotiated, the texts were tabled in Ottawa and the commissioners who had negotiated them moved on to other activities. After 1867, the new dominion was occupied with immigration, settlement and nation building, and its treaties with the Indian nations were largely buried and forgotten in succeeding decades. Since the Indian department was located initially in the department of the interior, immigration and settlement took precedence in the corridors of power.

… The eclipse of treaties and the absenting of Indian people from decision making was pervasive, reinforced by Indian Act provisions that restricted Indian people to reserves and forbade them to pursue legitimate complaints about the non-fulfilment of treaties.

Additionally, no effective office in government was ever given responsibility for fulfilling Crown treaty commitments. Implementation was left to a small group of civil servants without the knowledge, power or authority to act for the Crown in meeting treaty obligations or to hold off other government departments and the private sector if they had conflicting agendas. For example, treaties promised that reserve lands would never be taken away without the consent of the Indian signatories, but statute law provided that reserve lands could be expropriated from 1850 on. Thus federal statutes overrode treaty promises that Indian nations would never lose their lands. (p 163-164)

Many of the rights and promises recognized and affirmed by the treaties could be upheld only by an act of the legislature. But treaties were not sanctioned by legislation; they were executive actions of the Crown…

In the absence of effective laws to implement treaties, the federal Indian administration fell back on the Indian Act. As time went on, basic treaty provisions such as annuities were provided for in the Indian Act to enable the federal government to deliver them. Although it does not recognize, affirm or otherwise acknowledge treaties, the Indian Act continues to be the only federal statute administering to Indians generally, including those with historical treaty agreements. This is despite the fact that, as of 1982, the constitution recognizes and affirms the Aboriginal and treaty rights of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada. (p 164)

Extending measures of Control and Assimilation

The nation of Canada was born on 1 July 1867. Within a federal political structure, a modern transcontinental society was to be fashioned and, as empire became nation, a new beginning was to be made…

The first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, soon informed Parliament that it would be Canada’s goal “to do away with the tribal system and assimilate the Indian people in all respects with the inhabitants of the Dominion.” …

Parliament was moved to action. Though rarely consulting Aboriginal communities, it translated that duty into federal legislation such as the Indian Act and periodic amendments to it. It crafted educational systems, social policies and economic development plans designed to extinguish Aboriginal rights and assimilate Aboriginal people.

The process began with the blueprint of Confederation, the British North America Act of 1867. It provided in section 91 that the “exclusive Legislative Authority of the Parliament of Canada extends to all matters within the class of subjects next herein-after enumerated” among which was section 24, “Indians, and Lands reserved for the Indians.”

Enfranchisement Act of 1869… the act was conditioned by the Indian department’s resolute insistence on enfranchisement. It brought forward the enfranchisement provisions of the act of 1857 and added … the goal of assimilation.

In the act, traditional governments were replaced by ‘municipal government’, giving minor and circumscribed powers to the band while extensive control of reserves was assigned to the federal government and its representative, the Indian affairs department.

In subsequent legislation — the Indian Acts of 1876 and 1880 and the Indian Advancement Act of 1884 — the federal government took for itself the power … every aspect of life on reserves and to create whatever infrastructure it deemed necessary to achieve the desired end — assimilation through enfranchisement and, as a consequence, the eventual disappearance of Indians as distinct peoples. It could, for example, and did in the ensuing years, control elections and the conduct of band councils, the management of reserve resources and the expenditure of revenues, impose individual land holding through a ‘ticket of location’ system, and determine the education of Indian children.

For Aboriginal people, however, there was even further division — yet more separate paths. Federal legislative responsibility was restricted to Indians. The Métis people were disavowed, and Inuit were not recognized as a federal constitutional responsibility until 1939 and then were exempted explicitly from the Indian Act in 1951. (p 165 – 167)

While ‘status’ Indian men could not lose their status except by enfranchisement, the act of 1869 added the proviso that “any Indian woman marrying any other than an Indian shall cease to be an Indian…nor shall the children issue of such a marriage be considered as Indians”. Over the course of Canada’s first century, therefore, an ever growing number of Indian women and their children were lost to their communities and saw their existence as Aboriginal persons simply denied by the federal government. (p 167)

In 1884 and 1885, the potlatch and the sundance, two of the most visible and spiritually significant aspects of coastal and plains culture respectively, were outlawed … Participation in the potlatch was made a criminal offence, and it was also illegal to appear in traditional costume or dance at festivals. (p 169)

The pass system allowed the department to regulate all economic activity among communities, including adjacent non-Aboriginal ones. No one who had not obtained an agent’s leave would be allowed, on an Indian reserve, to barter, directly or indirectly, with any Indian, or sell to him any goods or supplies, cattle or other animals, without the special licence in writing. (p 169)

… That was changed in 1930, however, with passage of the natural resources transfer agreements with the three prairie provinces. In these the federal government failed to take “any precaution, apparently, to safeguard the sacred trusts which had been guaranteed to the Indians by treaty.” Thereafter, Aboriginal access to off-reserve resources was controlled across the country by provinces — which, of course, had no responsibility for First Nations. (p 170)

Those who failed to comply with any of the myriad social and economic regulations faced fines or imprisonment …Indian agents were made justices of the peace. The department then had the power to make and to enforce regulations, which had the force of law, with regard to the full spectrum of public and private life in communities. (p 171)

Residential Schools

By far the most ambitious and tragic initiative, however, was the joint government and church residential school program. Introduced originally for Indian children, the system would eventually draw children from almost every Aboriginal community — Indian, Métis and Inuit — across the country. Beginning in 1849, the program developed to include boarding schools, built close to the reserves for children between the ages of 8 and 14, and industrial schools, placed near non-Aboriginal urban centres to train older children in a range of trades. The schools — 80 of them at the high point — were the centrepiece of the assimilation strategy…

Bad management, unsanitary conditions and abuse of the children were more than occasional exceptions to the rule. Parents, and indeed many local agents, were reluctant to send children to the schools … The department, unable to get adequate funding from Parliament or contributions from the churches, abandoned the ambitious industrial school model by 1920. Thereafter, the emphasis was placed on the boarding schools which, while less expensive, were judged by accepted standards of child care and education to be a dismal failure, leaving deep scars across communities and the conscience of a nation. 

The removal of children from their homes and the denial of their identity through attacks on their language and spiritual beliefs were cruel. But these practices were compounded by the too frequent lack of basic care — the failure to provide adequate food, clothing, medical services and a healthful environment, and the failure to ensure that the children were safe from teachers and staff who abused them physically, sexually and emotionally (p 172)

As early as 1918, F.O. Loft declared, when organizing the League of Indians, the
first attempt at a national organization:

… The first aim of the League then is to claim and protect the rights of all Indians in Canada by legitimate and just means; second, absolute control in retaining possession or disposition of our lands; that all questions and matters relative to individual and national wellbeing of Indians shall rest with the people and the dealings with the Government shall be by and through their respective band Councils. (p 173)

Thus, the Indian Act of 1927 contained stronger measures to intervene in and control the affairs of Aboriginal societies, including further efforts to develop an agricultural economy in the expectation that social and cultural change would follow in its wake. That act was also notable for its response to Aboriginal political organizations pursuing land issues, especially in British Columbia. An amendment was added making “raising a fund or providing money for the prosecution of any claim” a crime unless permission was obtained. (p 176)

The “Statement of the Government of Canada on Indian Policy, 1969” ignored the consultations that accompanied the policy review and proceeded to recommend measures designed to achieve integration and equality: Indian people were to be allowed to retain their cultures, much as other Canadians do in a multicultural society, but they were to give up the other features that make them distinct — elements such as treaties, Aboriginal rights, exclusive federal responsibility, and the department of Indian affairs. The overwhelmingly hostile response to this policy initiative on the part of Aboriginal people, and subsequent court decisions that recognize the validity of Aboriginal and treaty rights, marked an important turning point in the relationship. (p 176)


To be continued … this summary will be updated periodically, when I have the time.

Comment: The Handmaid’s Tale & Canada

I’ve just finished watching the first season of the series The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s based on the dystopian novel by Canadian author Margaret Atwood. The series greatly improves on the novel by fleshing out the material a little better and expanding on the original idea.

I was greatly amused but not at all surprised to see Canada portrayed as “paradise north” in the show. Canada is the great “escape” for citizens of the nation of Gilead (formerly the USA): a violent theocracy which came to power after birth rates plummeted and procreation became a rarity. Citizens attempt to escape to Canada “the land of the free”.


Fleeing north is somewhat reminiscent of southern slaves and the Underground Railroad. What’s ironic about this however is the fact Canada also had slavery which was only abolished due to British law and was the consequence of being a British colony. While it’s true that Canada’s slavery never reached the same level as the U.S., as we now know this was only due to the wretched poverty of Canada’s poor laborers and its relative poverty to the wealthier United States. Canada also practiced slavery with Aboriginals (something which also happened to a limited degree in the U.S.).

Other comparisons can be made: African Americans in the U.S. were legally guaranteed the right to vote in 1965; Status Indians in Canada were able to vote in 1960. The Inuit are generally accepted as having legitimately ‘gained the right to vote’ in 1962. (source)

In 1920, women in the U.S. were given the right to vote (the 19th Amendment). Twelve states held out on ratifying the amendment, dragging it out for decades more. Prior to the amendment 18 states had granted women the right to vote.

In Canada, women’s right to vote varied by province: the first province to grant voting rights was Manitoba in 1916; the last province would be Quebec in 1940. (source)

The closer one looks at these neighboring nations the more one begins to glimpse the parallels. Far from being ethically superior, Canada begins to look disturbingly similar to America. Lean in closer to observe the historical and legal cracks in its claims to higher enlightenment.

In the USA, women’s rights to abortion varied by state prior to 1973. A federal law (Roe vs Wade) came into effect that year guaranteeing national rights, brought on by a plaintiff from Texas. Abortion only became fully legal in Canada in 1988. Previously the Criminal Code had been amended (1969) to allow abortion if a woman’s life was in danger or a board of doctors signed off. In 1990, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney attempted to criminalize abortion again, but failed. Accessibility to abortion services tended to vary by province, and abortion wasn’t available in the province of Prince Edward Island until 2016.

I will briefly mention there have been some differences in religious beliefs and movements between the USA and Canada – a topic I will leave for another post.

Religious fervor versus wimps:

Reflecting on the matter, despite more fundamentalism in the United States – I believe Canada is a far more likely candidate for a dystopian theocracy than the U.S. First there are the numbers: 35 million inhabitants being far easier to dominate and control than 320 million. Second, is the geography: Americans being spread out over a vast terrain of diverse lands, while nearly all Canadians live grouped together along the southern border in limited regions.

Third, Americans have the right to self-defense enshrined into their constitution through the Second Amendment which says in part … “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” and which was upheld by the Supreme Court, guaranteeing Americans the fundamental right to bear arms for protection.

In the United States there are an estimated 270 million guns, conservatively. It’s believed just over roughly a third of citizens own a firearm. (source) That’s approximately 96 MILLION individuals who own firearms.

The United States is often lambasted for its internal divisions, but in this case it may be a blessing in disguise. The country tends to be very divided politically: mainly between Republicans and Democrats; each group fiercely unapologetic about its beliefs. It also tends to be divided socially: between the more conservative religious base, and the liberal-progressives. If a theocracy or autocratic regime were to attempt to establish itself, then roughly half the nation would oppose it – creating a momentous civil war.

In order to establish dominance, a regime would have to resort to destruction on an unprecedented scale (which is simpler in theory than action). For example, take the guerrilla warfare well known in other areas: Ireland, South America, Israel and Palestine, to name but a few. Hold out factions of rebels, criminals or other groups can last decades; Afghanistan comes to mind.

Meanwhile in Canada, residents aren’t even supposed to have pepper spray. Guns mainly belong to law enforcement, hunters and farmers, while the words “self defense” induce liberal gasps of horror among the self-proclaimed intelligentsia. Canadians can hardly run a bath, let alone a rebellion.

And so the two nations carry on along their parallel paths, but Canadians lack Americans’ rights to self defense, bearing arms, free speech; not to mention their combativeness, blunt honesty and rebellious nature. Canadians still have MONARCHY in the 21st century – something Americans abolished two centuries ago!

If anybody is going to live under the thumb of lunatics, it will be Canadians far before Americans, in my humble opinion.

Post Script: I gave up on this show.