Part 1: Dark Chapter
Chapter 4: They rose against us
What really hit me hard in this chapter was just imagining how difficult it must have been for Indigenous peoples to maintain their identity amongst all these laws, prohibitions and expectations. For centuries, Indigenous peoples were self-sufficient and suddenly they were trapped in this unhealthy paternal relationship with the Canadian government. They had to ask for permission to leave their reserve, they were forbidden from seeking amusement at places like pool halls. To top it all off, they couldn’t even hire lawyers or form political organizations to pursue land claims and human rights actions. But somehow Indigenous peoples managed to keep fighting and that fight maintains strong today.
We have done all we could to put them on themselves; we have done all we could to make them work as agriculturists; we have done all we could, by the supply of cattle, agricultural implements and instruction, to change them from a nomadic to an agricultural life. We have had very considerable success; we have had infinitely more success during our short period, than the United States have had during twenty-five years. We have had a wonderful success; but still we have had the Indians; and then in these half-breeds, enticed by white men, the savage instinct was awakened; the desire of plunder — aye, and, perhaps, the desire of scalping — the savage idea of a warlike glory, which pervades the breast of most men, civilised or uncivilised, was aroused in them, and forgetting all the kindness that had been bestowed upon them, forgetting all the gifts that had been given to them, forgetting all that the Government, the white people and the Parliament of Canada had been doing for them, in trying to rescue them from barbarity; forgetting that we had given them reserves, the means to cultivate those reserves, and the means of education how to cultivate them — forgetting all these things, they rose against us.
JOHN A. MACDONALD, 1885
xiii. Forbade Indian students from speaking their home language.
In residential schools, punishment for speaking a language other than English ranged from washing mouths out with soap to piercing tongues with sewing needles. Indian children were taught that their home language was evil and many refused to speak it once at home. A loss of language meant a loss of culture (especially in oral societies).
xiv. Forbade western Indians from appearing in any public dance, show, exhibition, stampede, or pageant wearing traditional regalia.
Similar to other punitive measures, these rules were designed to eliminate culture.
xv. Leased uncultivated reserve lands to non-Indians.
Uncultivated land was perceived by settlers as unused. Therefore, land held by physically disabled Indians, widows, orphans and others who were unable to cultivate the land, was leased out. This was only beginning of ongoing land disputes that continue between First Nations communities and the federal government today.
xvi. Forbade Indians from forming political organizations.
Approximately 4000 Indigenous peoples enlisted in World War I. Ironically, it wasn’t until leaving Canada that Indigenous peoples from different communities finally had the opportunity to discuss the injustices they faced. These discussions prompted Lieutenant Frederick Loft (Mohawk from the Six Nations Band) to fight these common injustices by starting the League of Indians of Canada. It’s no surprise that Indians meeting to discuss their rights was disliked by the government, so they ban Indians from forming political organizations like the League of Indians of Canada. Nonetheless, Indian political organizations continued to meet in hiding.
xvii. Prohibited anyone, Indian or non-Indian, from soliciting funds for Indians to hire legal council.
It was illegal for Indians to hire lawyers or raise funds for a legal council. In pair with the last section, this made it very difficult for Indians to pursue land claims and human rights actions. They were prohibited by law from seeking help.
xviii. Prohibited pool hall owners from allowing Indians entrance.
The government wanted limit Indian’s leisurely time so they put laws in place to regulate where they seek amusement. The Governor General still has power to make regulations concerning on-reserve places of amusement according to the Indian Act of 1985.