Duncan Campbell Scott

Addresses‚ Essays‚ and Reviews

The Aboriginal Races


Any comprehensive or reliable information as to the aboriginal population of British North America at the time of Champlain, or at the date of the Conquest, is non-existent, and there is no basis for a comparison between the native population of today and that of past times.
     We state roughly that our natives, recognized legally as Indians and Eskimos, number 105,000 persons, whose descent is through the male line.  This population includes many of mixed blood but excludes the progeny of legal marriages between white men and Indian women, the offspring of such unions being counted as citizens.  They do not receive the protection of such special legislation as exists for Indians.  This round number of 105,000 must be much smaller than any figures representing the population of an earlier day.  If we could know accurately the number of natives living at the time of Confederation, the comparison would show a material decrease.  The native population of British Columbia at the time of the union with the Dominion was stated, with fair accuracy, to be about 70,000; it is now counted as 25,000.  The decrease of 64 per cent in fifty years was very rapid, assuredly more rapid than in any other province, but there has been undoubtedly a very heavy loss of native population in all provinces since Confederation.


Ravages of Disease


It is to be hoped that the lowest point of the general ebb has been reached, but it may be said at once that even now the birth rate is the important factor in stabilizing the population. The death rate is abnormally high.  The inroads of tuberculosis and the losses by epidemics [page 322] constantly operate to counteract the increases which might be expected from the favorable birth rate.  During the epidemic of influenza, 1918-19, we lost 6,000 Indians, and such diseases as smallpox and measles take annual toll, but tuberculosis is the real foe of the aborigine.  It is possible to fight this scourge in some measure in certain localities, but the conditions of aboriginal life are so varied that it is impossible to meet them all with effective methods.  In Indian communities, close to civilization, there is a constant education going on in the schools; the nature and the danger of the disease is known to the Indians, and they have recourse to the sanitaria provided for the white population, but it is impossible to follow with prophylactic advice and remedies Indians whose livelihood is gained by hunting and fishing.  Exposure, irregular and often sparse food supply, crowded, overheated shacks and other departures from the older and more sanitary life of the wigwam and teepee, all these aid the development and hasten the progress of the disease.


The Reserve System


The location of Indians on special Reserves of land has been the practice form the earliest times in this country.  This system was designed to protect them from encroachment and to establish for them a sort of sanctuary where they could develop unmolested, until advancement had rendered possible their absorption with the general citizenship.  The Reserve System was intended to insure the continuation of the tribal life and the life of the individual as an Indian, as well as to render possible a continuous and consistent administrative policy directed toward civilization.  If there had been strict confinement to Reserve limits, the system would have had many objectionable features, but neither officials nor Indians considered the Reserve as more than a “pied de terre.”  The Indians wandered away from it and returned to it as the nomadic instinct prompted, no doubt bringing back much undesirable knowledge and experience.  But this mingling with the outside world was less undesirable than a strict confinement within the boundaries would have been, even had such confinement been possible.  We can now see the results in the older provinces of such an interplay of forces and tendencies.  We find a native population to a certain degree intimate with the usages of civilized life.  The individual Indian is either [page 323] maintaining himself and his family away from his tribal reserve by mercantile or industrial pursuits, or living upon the Reserve and obtaining his subsistence from its soil.




The social condition o the Reserve Indians does not differ materially from the social conditions of those who have separated themselves from the tribal relationship.  Intermarriage with white persons has affected both classes and has prevented the evils for marriage in closely related family groups.  Enfranchisement, that is the removal of all the civil disabilities which are borne by the Indian, and his mergence in the general citizenship, is the goal of all administrative effort.  It is possible, under the present law, to enfranchise Indians of both classes, but the problem of enfranchisement is less difficult for those who own no land upon a Reserve.  These are readily merged in the ranks of full and free citizens by the payment to them of their share of the capital funds of their tribe or band.  When enfranchisement involves the allotment of land in fee simple and the disintegration of the Reserve, the matter is not so free form complications, but through enfranchisement the Indians and the Indian problem disappears and the effort towards civilization is consummated.  The older sections of the Dominion exhibit the process towards enfranchisement in action from day to day, but it has hardly begun to work in the newly settled districts or in the old provinces among hunting and fishing Indians.  Enfranchisement is sometimes confused with the exercise of the franchise.  In provincial elections no Indian residing in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, or New Brunswick, has the right to vote, but in the other provinces, if he does not reside on a Reserve, and is otherwise qualified, he may vote.  It Dominion elections those Indians only who served in the late war can vote.
     The following table gives the native population of Canada by provinces:

  Alberta 8,837
  British Columbia 25,694
  Manitoba 11,583
  New Brunswick 1,846
  Nova Scotia 2,031
  Ontario 26,411
  Prince Edward Is 292
  Quebec 13,366
  Saskatchewan 10,646
  Northwest Territories 3,764




Effect of Competition on Indians


It will be observed that Ontario has the largest Indian population, at least 50 per cent of the total of Indians in that province being dependent for a livelihood to a greater of lesser degree on hunting and fishing.  A variable percentage in all the provinces is likewise so dependent.  This is the natural manner of life and although the Indian is by no means superior to the white man in this, his native pursuit, he is yet the most important source of supply to the fur trader.  In British Columbia he is a highly important factor in the labor of the salmon fishery, not only in the taking of the fish but in the preparation in the canneries of the product for the market.
     Of late the presence of competition in the hunt has begun to bear heavily upon the Indian and his maintenance problem becomes more difficult as the years go by.  In the old days, when Indians alone were in the woods, fur was taken with care and with due concern for the future.  The established traders took a paternal interest in the hunters, an interest perhaps not more elevated than their interest in the beavers or foxes, considering the animals who trapped and the animals who were trapped as of equal importance to a successful business venture, but the interest evoked by the situation at least ensure a fair supply of food and clothing for the Indian.  The condition was a condition of bondage without evitable hardship, but the competition of rival traders brought a new element into the problem.  Allegiance to the rivals was set up and therefore discrimination and jealousy, and the lot of the Indian became harder.  No that the petty trader has invaded the field,—the foreigner without a permanent establishment and with only [page 325] cash in hand,—further difficulties have arisen and the incursion of white trappers have put a last tangle into the involved interests.  No stringency of regulations can do more than postpone the disappearance of the fur-bearing animals and the complete alteration in the source of native livelihood.  In some districts the day is far off, in others it is near, and the Government has now to supplement the food supply which has failed for all but the more vigorous hunters.
     It will be gathered from this sketch that the policy is to protect the Indian, to guard his identity as a race and at the same time to apply methods which will destroy that identity and lead eventually to his disappearance as a separate division of the population.  This policy might be frustrated by the gradual extinction of the race while yet in the tutelary stage.  But that is hardly to be feared.  The Indian has proved that he can withstand the shock of contact with our civilization, that he can survive the manifold evils of that contact, and transfer his native energy into the channels of modern life.  The original stamina of the tribe to which he belongs is the root factor in his survival.  Certain tribes have proved to be too feeble in their resistance to the new influences and will disappear, while others have overcome the initial evils and have increased and flourished.




The Eskimos, who number about 3,300, are not the least interesting native group in the Dominion, in fact they inspire respect by their vigorous spirit and industry.  The quality of such smattering of our civilization as has reached them has been inferior and has been detrimental.  The rude whaler first, and afterwards the casual fur-hunter have not been worthy specimens of our race and the adoption of such habits as they could acquire from such associates and the unfortunate dissemination of some of our most deadly diseases have been all against the permanence of the race.  It is doubtful whether it will long survive except in locations where the native life cannot be contaminated by outside influences.  [page 326]


[back to Index / Volume 2 Index]