Duncan Campbell Scott

Addresses‚ Essays‚ and Reviews





Relation of Indians to Wild Life Conservation

 

It would take a good deal of time to deal fully with all branches of the subject which you have allotted to me; therefore, I will only say something of what the Department of Indian Affairs is actually doing to conserve wild life by endeavouring to induce the Indians to obey the laws.

 

Sympathy for the Indian



We should have a good deal of sympathy for the Indian.  He is the original fur-hunter of the country, and, when he was alone in that industry, he had everything his own way.  When the fur-traders came, everything was changed, and, looking back over the old days, and reading records of that time, one cannot help wondering that any Indians now remain to hunt or to be subject to restrictive regulations, considering the stormy period they went through in their first relations with the white man.  The Indians were then debauched by liquor supplied to them by government employees, military officers, and fur-traders, until the middle of the last century—1850 or thereabouts, when laws were enacted, providing that no more liquor should be given to Indians.  Then a halcyon period for the Indian set in, when he could not get whiskey in trade, and when the fur-trade was in the hands of one or two great companies.  The fur-bearing animals were carefully conserved by the companies and by the Indians themselves in their own interests.  The number of skins to be taken was limited, and the trade was very carefully regulated.  These conditions prevailed until the independent fur-trader made his appearance upon the scene.  Now the trade is so divided and parceled out between hunters, who are not Indians, [page 241] and many companies and individuals who are engaged in buying furs, that the Indian finds it, year by year, increasingly difficult to support himself and make way amidst competition and the restrictive regulations which he is expected to recognize and obey.

 

Restrictive Legislation

 

The Provincial governments are attempting to deal with the fur-trade by enacting restrictive legislation, and the Department of Indian Affairs endeavours to induce the Indians to obey the Provincial laws.  That is the fixed policy of the Department.  As you are all well aware, we have what we call 'treaties' with the Indians.  These treaties are really cessions of land, surrenders of large areas of Indian lands over which the Indians had usufructuary title.  It has been British policy, ever since the year 1763, to require a surrender of these titles before the country was thrown open for settlement.  In most of the treaties the question of hunting and fishing was mentioned.  I will read the clause which is inserted in these treaties:—

     His Majesty further agrees with his said Indians, that they, the said Indians, shall have the right to pursue their avocations of hunting and fishing throughout the tract surrendered as hereinbefore described, subject to such regulations as may from time to time be made by His Government of His Dominion of Canada, and saving and excepting such tracts as may from time to time be required or taken up for settlement, mining, lumbering, or other purposes, by His said Government of the Dominion of Canada, or by any of the subjects thereof fully authorized therefore by the said Government.

     While allowing the Indians this privilege, these treaties, for the most part, contained the general provision that the Indians shall be loyal subjects of His Majesty and obey the laws passed from time to time by His Majesty's Government.

 

Indians under Provincial Law

 

The Indian Act contains no specific legislation on the subject of hunting and fishing, but contains the following clause, which controls [page 242] the application to Indians of Provincial laws in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and the Northwest Territories:

    The Superintendent General may, from time to time, by public notice, declare that on and after a day therein named the laws respecting game in force in the Province of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, or Alberta, or the Territories, or respecting such game as is specified in such notice, shall apply to Indians within the said Province or Territories, as the case may be, or to Indians in such parts thereof as to him seems expedient.

     From time to time, by proclamation, we have brought Indians under the provisions of the provincial game laws, and, through correspondence with our agents, and, through the exercise of all the influence we can bring to bear on the Indians themselves, we are endeavouring to get them consistently to obey these laws.
     We have not had much trouble with the Provincial governments on the question of Indian hunting.  Of course, we sometimes get exaggerated reports that the Indians are killing all the moose in certain districts, but, when we investigate them, we usually find that there is little foundation for the reports.

 

Indians Kill for Food

 

On the whole, it may be said that the Indian obeys the hunting and fishing regulations equally as well as the white man.  The Indian, who has to maintain himself on his hunting grounds by killing animals for food, is entitled to a measure of sympathy, and we have found that the Provincial governments are willing to recognize his exceptional position in this regard.  The Indians who are difficult to deal with are those who are remote from civilization, living in aboriginal conditions and not open to the influences of civilization; but this class is fast disappearing.
     I repeat Mr. Chairman, that, so far as the Department of Indian Affairs is concerned, our fixed policy is to endeavour to induce the Indians to obey the laws passed by the Provincial authorities for the conservation of wild life and the preservation of game, and to endeavour also to mitigate the laws to meet any special conditions that surround the present mode of life of the natives. [page 243]

 

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