Part 1: Dark Chapter
Chapter 3: Tightening Control
As you might have noticed, I’ve started each new summary with a John A. Macdonald quote. I find them extremely insightful. Reading such harsh words straight from the former Prime Minister’s mouth really puts Canada’s formation into perspective. In light of the recent John A. Macdonald statue removal from Victoria City Hall, I can’t help but wonder if that was the best course of action. It seems like Canada has a bad habit of covering up unpleasant history, giving rise to an uninformed population. What if instead of tearing the statue down, we used it as a teaching tool; adding signage which featured some of the Prime Minister’s thoughts and ideas. For example,
When the school is on the reserve the chid lives with its parents, who are savages; he is surrounded by savages, and though he may learn to read and write, his habits, and training and mode of thought are Indian. He is simply a savage who can read and write. It has been strongly pressed on myself, as head of the Department, that Indian children should be withdrawn as much as possible from the parental influence, and the only way to do that would be to put them in central training industrial schools where they will acquire the habits and modes of thought of white men.
JOHN A. MACDONALD
If we choose to ignore history we can’t possibly learn from it.
Now here is a brief overview of the chapter that gave me this worrying food for thought.
The great aim of our legislation has been to do away with the tribal system and assimilate the Indian people in all respects with the other inhabitants of the Dominion as speedily as they are fit to change.
JOHN A. MACDONALD, 1885
viii. Prohibited sale of ammunition to Indians
The government was concerned that if Indians were armed, they might rebel considering their growing agitation. The North-West Rebellion eventually took place in 1885 led by Louis Riel (as some of us might have learned about in grade school). This unsuccessful uprising prompted the government to take further action by prohibiting ammunition.
viiii. Prohibited the sale of intoxicants to Indians
-It was common for fur traders to feed Indian traders alcohol before negotiations.
-The prohibition benefited settlers who didn’t want to associate with Indians at drinking establishments, and the government by forcing Indians to work on their farms undistracted.
-Like other forms of prohibition, it was not entirely effective and instead alcohol was sold on the black markets and consumed rapidly by Indians in hiding. This led to the persisting stereotype that Indigenous peoples can’t tolerate liquor. Joseph provides a far more rational interpretation. In short, alcohol serves as a coping mechanism for intergenerational trauma, residential schools, stolen culture, the list goes on.
-Enlisted Indians (WWI and WWII) were permitted to consume alcohol, however, these privileges did not apply once back in Canada. Moreover, since Canadian Legions served alcohol, Indians were not only denied entry but also had great difficulty accessing veteran benefits.
x. Declared potlatch and other cultural ceremonies (ie. Sun Dance) illegal
The prohibition simply drove potlatch and other cultural ceremonies underground. One example of an underground potlatch took place in Alert Bay over a duration of six days in celebration of a wedding. 45 people were arrested and 22 jailed for giving speeches, dancing, and gift giving. Moreover, priceless ceremonial items (ie. masks, regalia) were confiscated and later distributed to collectors and museums.
xi. Restricted Indians from leaving their reserve without permission from an Indian agent
Indians who wanted to leave the reserve needed to obtain a permit to pass from their local Indian agent. This difficult process also applied to Indigenous parents who wanted to visited their children at residential schools (Indian agents were encouraged to allow this no more than four times per year).
xii. Created residential schools
“It is estimated that 6000 of the 150000 children who attended the schools between the 1870s and 1996 either died or disappeared. The numbers are not precise because no one kept accurate records: not the schools, the churches that managed the schools, or the Indian agents.” (p. 53) The history and legacy of residential schools requires far more reading than a single blog post, but I encourage interested readers to also include the 60s scoop in their research.