Final Open Inquiry Blogpost

I’ve reached the end of my open inquiry project and it’s bittersweet. I’m really proud of how much I’ve learned over the course of these three short months, but also sort of low-spirited when realizing how much I was unaware of before this project. Mostly because if I didn’t choose this topic for my open inquiry assignment, then I might have never learned about the Indian Act at all and that’s a scary thought. In previous posts I touched on the Canadian government’s bad habit of covering up history. How can we possibly expect to advance towards reconciliation without discussing openly and honestly the harm that Canada caused and continues to inflict upon Indigenous peoples?

rac·ism: prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.

I started this project in attempt to uncover Canada’s racist roots, however, in the process I’ve discovered the ongoing prejudice, discrimination, and antagonism that Indigenous peoples face today. I think education is viable solution. With BC’s new curriculum in place, I hope future generations graduate with more knowledge than myself and act accordingly, but for the rest of us it’s not too late. Go read the Indian Act and books like “21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act” by Bob Joseph. There are many ways to expand our understanding outside of the classroom walls, and I strongly encourage us all to do so. I wish all my readers the best on their learning journeys, I know I have a long road ahead of me.

It is my responsibility as a Canadian to understand Canada’s history; the good, the bad, and this case, the downright ugly.

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Part 1, Chapter 5

Part 1: Dark Chapter
Chapter 5: And Its Days Are Numbered

Chapter 5 is the final piece of Part 1, in this fantastic two-part book. I think this is a good Chapter to read for those who still believe that injustices facing Indigenous peoples is ancient history. The following sections shed light on the very recent discriminatory actions made by the Canadian government against Indigenous peoples. This more recent history helps put today’s Indigenous-settler relations into perspective.

Summary:

It is the opinion of the writer that… the Government will in time reach the end of it’s responsibility as the Indians progress into civilization and finally disappear as a separate and distinct people, not by race extinction but by gradual assimilation with their fellow citizens.
DUNCAN CAMPBELL SCOTT, Deputy Superintendent General of Indian Affairs, 1931

XIX Forbade Indian students from practicing their traditional religion
As a result, many Indigenous youth returned home from residential schools feeling alienated from both settlers and their own families.

XX Denied Indians the right to vote
Many opinions concerning why First Nations peoples shouldn’t be allowed to vote were made clear in the House of Commons (ie. under government rule therefore not appropriate). These beliefs persisted until 1960 when the right to vote was extended to all Indigenous peoples.

XXI Is a piece of legislation created under colonial rule for the purpose of subjugating a group of people
Here is a link to Stephen Harper’s statement of appology on behalf of Canadians regarding residential schools. Clearly, a long awaited apology, but are words just words? Read more here to decide for yourself.

XXII The White Paper
The idea was to assimilate all Indigenous peoples into dominant society. The Statement faced extreme opposition from Indigneous peoples and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was eventually forced to withdraw. You can read more here.

Part 1, Chapter 4

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.

Summary:

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.

Part 1, Chapter 3

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.

Summary:

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.



Part 1, Chapter 2

Part 1: Dark Chapter
Chapter 2: Resistance Is futile

Yet another informative chapter. I found section 6 particularly interesting since I have freinds from the T’-Sou-ke Nation who share the same surname but have no family relation. I’ve also wondered what was up the popularity of ordinary surnames amongst Indigenous Peoples (ie. George, Joseph, Allan, etc). Keep reading for more details.

Summary:

… we have been pampering and coaxing the Indians; that we must take a new course, we must vindicate the position of the white man, we must teach the Indians what law is, we must not pauperize them, as they say we have been doing.
JOHN A. MACDONALD, 1885

v. Could expropriate portions of reserves for public works
Throughout Canadian history, the government has manipulated the Indian Act to suit its needs. Land is only but one example.

vi. Renamed individuals with European names
To assimilate Indians more conveniently, traditional names were stripped and replaced by new names which would be recorded under the Indian Register. The renaming process was not consistent. Generally, Indians were assigned Christian names and non-Indigenous surnames. Indian agents also assigned their own names to Indians. Hence why Indigenous peoples today often share surnames without any relation, these names really only date back a few generations.

vii. Created a permit system to control Indian’s ability to sell products from farms
Agriculture was promoted as a means for Indians to become civilized. For some cultures, farming practices were nothing new and they were very successful. Therefore, the government implemented the permit-to-sell system which required Indians to gain a permit to leave and sell products off-reserve. Moreover, settlers weren’t allowed to purchase goods or services from Indian farmers. Policy designed to disconnect communities also forced Indians to work individually thus further challenging economical growth.

Until Chapter 3.

Part 1, Chapter 1

Part 1: Dark Chapter
Chapter 1: The Beginning

So far I’m really enjoying “21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act.” In comparison with my experience reading the Indian Act of 1876, it’s much more informative and I’m rarely left with unanswered questions. Bob Joseph does a fantastic job breaking the Indian Act down and pointing out how it all relates to current Indigenous-settler relations. For this reason, I’ve decided that it would be more beneficial for me to finish reading this book before I continue reading the original document. My blog posts from now on will summarize each chapter.

Summary:

… to wean them by slow degrees, from their nomadic habits, which have almost become an instinct, and by slow degrees absorb them or settle them on the land. Meantime, they must be fairly protected.
JOHN A. MACDONALD, 1880

i. Imposed the elected chief and band council system
Before the arrival of settlers, Indigenous nations had their own distinct political institutions, traditions, leadership systems, economies, cultures, and control over territories and resources. However, in 1969 European-style elections were introduced to undermine all Indigenous forms of governance and augment assimilation. The role of elected chiefs was reduced to administering the Indian Act, while the majority of control concerning reserves (ie. land, resources, finances) was passed over to the Department of Indian Affairs.

ii. Denied women status
I touched on this briefly in a previous post. But I love the following quote that Bob Joseph shares in this section because it really puts into perspective just how vital Indigenous women were to their families and communities:

Nothing is more real, however, than the women’s superiority. It is they who really maintain the tribe… In them resides all the real authority: the lands, the fields, and all their harvest belong to them; they are the soul of the councils, the arbiter of peace and war… they arrange the marriages; the children are under their authority; and the order of succession is founded in their blood.
JOSEPH-FRANCOIS LAFITAU, 1742 (French missionary and ethnologist)

Details explaining how the Indian Act discrimnates against women are too complex to include in this post, but I encourage interested readers to dig deeper into this topic. After all, the Indian Act is the primary cause of the vulnerability of Indigenous women today. 1 in 10 women in Canada are abused by their partner, whereas nearly 1 in 3 Indigenous women are abused; and yet domestic violence is only one of many injustices Indigenous women face.

iii. Created reserves
Again, I have an entire post dedicated to understanding reserves. In short, by confining Indians thus hugely limiting their land access, it was very difficult for them to sustain themselves. Among other things, resulting in malnourishment and disease.

iv. Encouraged voluntary and enforced enfranchisement
The purpose of enfranchisment was to “get ride of the Indian problem”, the problem being financial responsibility on behalf of the government. Voluntary enfranchisement was promoted as a means for Indians to become civilized by trading in their Indian Status for personhood, thereby gaining full rights of colonial citizenship. Only one man took up this offer. Consequently, in 1880 compulsory enfranchisement was applied to any Indians who obtained a degree or became a clergyman. In 1920, a board of examiners enfranchised Indians over the age of 21 as they deemed fit. In 1951 (until 1985), Indian women who married non-Indian men were enfranchised. Finally, Indians who joined the military were also enfranchised (leaving them homeless after returning from WWII).

Until Chapter 2!


21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act

For Valentine’s Day, my boyfriend dearest gifted me the book, “21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act” by Bob Joseph. This guide is intended to help Canadians make reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples a reality. I have high hopes for this book as I really want to learn more about how the Indian Act continues to shape, control and constrain the lives of Indigenous Peoples today. I think this knowledge will help make sense of and disprove many enduring stereotypes.

Moving forward, my blog posts will not only document my findings as I proceed through the Indian Act of 1876, but will also include helpful insight from this book. From what I’ve gathered so far, the book is easy to follow and a convenient place to start becoming a more informed Canadian. I mean, for under $20 CAD how can you go wrong? But if you’re still not convinced, I would be more than happy to pass it along to any interested followers once I’m done reading.

Until next time.