Duncan Campbell Scott

Addresses‚ Essays‚ and Reviews

The Administration of Indian Affairs in Canada




Following the discovery of the New World three great powers contended for its mastery.  Their manner of dealing with the natives was characteristically differentiated.  Spain pursued a course of ruthless extermination, but fortunately our Canadian Indians were never visited by her galleons.  France, on the whole, treated the Indians with kindly paternalism and the romantic and stirring events that characterized early contact between Indians and Europeans in Canada during their regime form one of the most familiar chapters of the story of the settlement of North America.  Their conduct toward the natives was quite free form the cruelty that stained the record of the Spaniards and indeed they went so far as to set aside reserve lands for them.  They, however, at no time conceded that the Indian had rights.  Whatever was done from him was a matter of grace.  Those who were entrusted with British Colonial administration, however, took a radically different view and to Britain alone belongs the credit, if credit there be, of recognizing an inherent aboriginal interest in the soil (to be extinguished only by negotiation with the Indians) whence arose what we now call the Indian title.  It is doubtful if the reading public in general is seized of this essential difference between the French policy with regard to Indians, and that which followed under British rule, and which goes to the root of subsequent Indian administration in Canada and also the United States.  This principle was established in colonial times in what is now the State of New York where Sir William Johnson first held the position of Superintendent General of Indian Affairs, and the policy then formulated has ever since guided the [page 395] Governments of Canada and the United States in the administration of Indian affairs.  The Magna Carta of all the Indians of Canada is the Proclamation of 1763 enunciated by Sir William Johnson following the conquest of Canada which set forth that no Indian could be dispossessed of his lands without his consent and the consent of the Crown, and the reason of our success with the management of Indians is based on that broad general principle.  The sacredness of treaties and agreements with Indians has been respected in this country.  Accordingly treaties have been made from time to time with various groups of Indians as the Dominion has been opened up.  These treaties provide for the cession of the Indian interest in consideration of land grants, educational facilities and so forth.  Not all the Indians are under formal treaties but all have had their needs provided for and the Government has more than fulfilled the letter of its obligations.
     That was the bright side.  There was a dark one.  Whenever new countries are opened up, disease and degradation will be found among the outriders of the march of civilization.  These our Indians encountered.  True the missionary was early on the scene as a friend and helper, ready to face untold hardship and even torture and death if need be with selfless devotion to an ideal.  A friend also was the Government official, who appeared first as a military officer and latterly as a civil servant.  There came also the vanguard of adventurers, gentlemen or otherwise, trading into the Hudson’s Bay or anywhere else where money was to be made in the fur trade with the Indians hunting the fur and the trader with the strongest firewater got the best of the fur.  Thus in their first contact with the white man and his ways the Indians tended to sicken and deteriorate.  As colonization proceeded they began to leave the healthy teepees and became shack and cabin dwellers.  Of sanitations they knew nothing.  They fell a prey to tuberculosis and other maladies hitherto unknown to them.  For a time it seemed that the race should be saved.
     For seventy years after the cession of Canada, Indian administration was in the hands of the Imperial military authorities; it was not until 1835 that the responsibility was transferred to the Province of Canada.  These authorities looked upon the Indians as potential allies or foes, and during the pioneer days, the feeling was balanced between hope and apprehension.  They were kept quiet by presents of scarlet cloth, silver gorgets, brass kettles, and ammunition, with [page 396] an occasional ration of rum.  Thus the restless, dejected people that were handed over to the Province were indeed a problem.  One Governor of Upper Canada, seeing them so wretched, resolved to send them back to Nature for healing, and to remove them to hunting grounds were they might recuperate or die away unseen.  But better counsels prevailed.  The missionaries claimed them as material ready for evangelization, and protested that they were capable of lasting improvement.  Upper and Lower Canada, not long after that, began a systematic endeavour to educate the Indians, supported by zealous missionary effort.  This informal union between Church and State still exists, and all Canadian Indian schools are conducted upon a joint agreement between the Government and the denomination as the finances and system.  The method has proved successful, and the Indians of Ontario and Quebec, in the older regions of the Provinces, are every day entering more and more into the general life of the country.  They are farmers, clerks, artisans, teachers, and lumbermen.  Some few have qualified as medical doctors and surveyors; an increasing number are accepting enfranchisement and taking up the responsibilities of full citizenship.
     The settlement of Canada has been peaceable and we have been free from the “Indian Wars” which beset the opening up of the Western United States.  The Indians from the earliest times have appreciate their treatment by the British Crown.  Their loyalty has been traditional.  In 1776 and 1812 they gave valuable military assistance to our cause.  In the Great War more than 4000 Canadian Indians enlisted, although they were expressly exempt from conscription.  A number of them were decorated for conspicuous gallantry and several earned their commissions.  The number of enlistments represented approximately thirty-five per cent of the Indian male populations of military age in the nine provinces, and it must be remembered, moreover, that there were undoubtedly cases of Indian enlistment which were not reported to the department.  The Indian soldiers gave an excellent account of themselves at the front, and their officers have commended them most rightly for their courage, intelligence, efficiency, stamina and discipline.  In daring and intrepidity they were second to none and their performance is a ringing rebuttal to the familiar assertion that the red man has deteriorated.  The fine record of the Indians in the Great War appears in a peculiarly favourable light when it is remembered that [page 397] their services were absolutely voluntary, as they were especially exempted from the operation of the Military Service Act, and that they were prepared to give their lives for their country without compulsion or even fear of compulsion.  It must also be borne in mind that a large part of the Indian populations is located in remote and inaccessible locations, are unacquainted with the English language and were, therefore, not in a position to understand the character of the war, its cause or effect.  It is, therefore, a remarkable fact that the percentage of enlistments among the Indians is fully equal to that among other section of the community and indeed far above the average in a number of instances.  As an inevitable result of the large enlistment among them and of their share in the thick fighting, the casualties among them were very heavy, and the Indians in common with their fellow countrymen of the white race must mourn the loss of many of their most promising young men.  The Indians are especially susceptible to tuberculosis, and many of their soldiers who escaped the shells and bullets of the enemy succumbed to this dread disease upon their return to Canada as a result of the hardships to which they were exposed at the front.




At Confederation Indian affairs were vested in the Dominion Parliament, which alone can legislate for Indians and lands reserved for Indians.  This was a wise provision as it ensured uniform treatment of the Indian population.  The whole law affecting Indians is contained in the Indian Act and its provisions cover all the needs of the case.  The law provides protection for Indian lands and properties, prevents exploitation of their real and personal estate, provides for their education, for the administration of their funds and finally arranged for their enfranchisement, and thus enables them to attain full citizenship. 
     The idea of protection led to the establishment of the reserve system.  Special tracts of land varying in size have been set aside in all parts of Canada for their sole use and benefit.  Indians are not restricted to these reserves, but are encourages to occupy them and make the fullest use of their natural resources.
     Under the Indian Act the control of Indian affairs is vested in a single department, the Department of Indian Affairs, of which the [page 398] head is a Minister of the Crown holding the portfolio of Superintendent General of Indian Affairs which, in practice, is held by a Minister holding one or more other portfolios, usually the Minister of the Interior.
     The Department of Indian Affairs may be said to deal with the whole life of a people, numbering more than a hundred thousand and scattered in small communities over the entire Dominion.  In a general summary it is only possible to touch very lightly upon the many and varied activities of the Department.
     It is an interesting fact that this Department is one of the oldest governmental organizations in the Dominion.  Procedure and methods of dealing with Indians have been continuous since the times of Sir William Johnson, who was Superintendent General of Indian Affairs in the colony of New York.  After the conquest he extended to the territory now known as Canada the principle of administration which had made his treatment of the Indians a success.
     The present Department is constituted under a statute of 1880; it has been previously attached to the Department of State, The Privy Council, and the Department of the Interior.  The administration is carried out at headquarters by the Deputy Superintendent General of Indian Affairs and a staff of seventy-five.  The Outside Service is carried on by two Indian Commissioners, one in the prairie provinces and one in British Columbia, and by a staff of Inspectors, Indian Agents, Medical Officers, Teachers, Farming Instructors, Constables and so forth.  There are in all 116 Indian agencies distributed throughout the various provinces and territories. 
     The Indians are minors in the eye of the law; they are protected by the Indian Act which exempts real and personal property on Indian reserves from seizure for debt, prohibits the sale or gift of intoxicants to Indians, the consumption or possession of intoxicants by Indians or on an Indian reserve, restricts trading with Indians, and otherwise provides for the safe guarding of their interests.  In respect to those matters, which are not specifically covered by the Indian Act, the Indians are subject to the criminal and civil laws of the country.  The duties of the Department are to administer and protects the estate of the Indians and to carry out the policy of the Government for their advancement towards civilization.  The rights and privileges of the Indians, and the powers of the Governor General in Council and the Superintendent General are defined by the Indian Act, which was first passed by the Parliament of Canada [page 399] after the Union; it has been re-enacted with various amendments and additions by the Dominion Parliament.




In Canada we have over 108,000 Indians according to a census made by the department in 1929 which, by the way, shows a considerable increase over the census of former years indicating that our aborigines are more than holding their own in point of numbers.  But what is meant by the term Indian?  The designation as everyone knows was first applied wrongly to the natives of the New World by early navigators who thought they had reached India.  Certain ethnologists try to correct this misnomer by the compromise name “Amerind” made up of the first syllables of “America” and “India.”  This has not taken hold and our aborigines will always be know as Indians.  Racially, even having regard only to our own Dominion without reference to the numerous tribes of the United States, Central and South America, the appellation is as general as “European.”  That is to say, there are approximately as many distinct languages and races among the Indians of Canada as there are in Europe.  There is the great Algonkin stock which includes the Micmacs of the Maritime Provinces, the natives of northern Quebec, the Ojibwas and Chippewas of Ontario and the Crees and Blackfeet of the plains; there are the Iroquois, distinct people; the Athapascans of the far north; while in British Columbia we find a veritable babel of tongues, so many and diverse are the tribes that inhabit there.  But although generically the word Indian “little meaning little relevancy bears,” legally in Canada it is defined in no uncertain terms.  The Indian Act under which our department administers the affairs of the Canadian Indians, states that an Indian is:
     (i)     any male person of Indian Blood reputed to belong to a particular band,
     (ii)    any child of such person,
     (iii)   any woman who is or was lawfully married to such person.
Thus any person whose father was the son of a white man by an Indian mother and whose mother was an Indian would be white in law although a three quarter Indian breed by blood.  On the other hand a person whose direct paternal forbear of two centuries ago [page 400] was an Indian, is an Indian in law although by successive inter-marriage all trace of Indian blood may have been bred out.  Thus in the older parts of Ontario and Quebec it is not uncommon to find Indians under the law with fair hair and blue eyes and English or French names. 
     The linguistic tribal origin of the Indians of Canada by provinces is as follows:—
     Ontario:  The great majority of the Indians of Ontario are Ojibwas, and are of Algonkin stock.  The Oneidas of the Thames, the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte, the Mohawks of the Parry Sound district, and the Six Nations of the Grand River, are of Iroquoian stock.  There is a band of Pottawattamies at Walpole Island, and Delawares at the Caradoc agency; these are of Algonkin stock. 
     Quebec:  The principal tribes found in Quebec are:  Iroquois at Caughnawage, Lake of the Two Mountains, and St. Regis; the Hurons of Lorette are also of Iroquoian stock; the Montagnais, who are of Algonkin stock, at Bersimis, Mingan, Lake St. John, Seven Islands; the Abenakis, also of Algonkin stock, at Maria and Restigouche; and the Malecites, also of Algonkin stock, at Viger.
     New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island:  The Indians of these three provinces are all of Algonkin stock and all belong to the Micmac tribe with the exception of certain bands of Malecites in New Brunswick.
     Manitoba:  The majority of the Indians of Manitoba belong to the Ojibwa race, which is of Algonkin stock.  Bands of Swampy Crees are found at the Norway House and Fisher River agencies and in the York Factory district; these are also of Algonkin stock.  The Indians located at the Griswold agency are Sioux; there are also Sioux at the Birtle and Portage la Prairie agencies.  There is a band of Chipewyans at Fort Churchill; this tribe is of Athapascan stock. 
    Saskatchewan:  The most numerous tribes among the Saskatchewan Indians are the Ojibwas, Swampy Crees, and Plain Crees, who all belong to the great Algonkin stock.  In addition to these, Sioux Indians are found at the Assiniboine, Moose Mountain, Qu’Appelle and Carlton agencies, and on the Moose Woods reserve.  In the Onion Lake agency there is a band of Chipewyans, who are of Athapascan stock.  There are also a few Chipewyan Indians in the Ile à la Crosse district. [page 401]
     Alberta:  The Alberta Indians are of Algonkin stock, with the exception of the Sarcees near Calgary and the Beavers and Slaves in the Lesser Slave Lake agency, who are Iroquoianl and the Stonies, who are of Siouan stock.  The Algonkin Indians of Alberta are subdivided into Blackfoot nation, comprising the Indians of the Blackfoot, Blood and Peigan agencies; Plain Crees found in the Lesser Slave Lake, Saddle Lake, and Hobbema agencies, and a band of Ojibwas at Moberly Lake, in the Lesser Slave Lake Agency.
     British Columbia:  The Indians of the Bella Coola, Cowichan, Kamloops, Lytton, New Westminster, Vancouver, and Okanagan agencies belong to the Salish tribe.  The Kootenay tribe is located in the agency of the same name.  The Kwakiutl-Nootka tribe is located at the Kwawkewlth and West Coast agencies; the Haidas, in the Queen Charlotte Islands; the Tlingits, in the Stikine; and the Tsimshians in the Skeena agency.  The Indians of the Babine, Stuart Lake and Williams Lake agencies belong to the Athapascan race. 
     In addition to these there are about 2,500 nomadic Indians in the Province who cannot be correctly classified according to linguistic stock or tribal origin.
     Northwest Territories:  The principal tribes found in the Far North are the Slave, Hares, Loucheux, Sicannies, Dogribs, Yellow-knives, Chipewyans and Caribou Eaters.  All these tribes are of Athapascan stock.  There are a few Crees in the neighbourhood of Chipewyan.  These are of Algonkin stock.  The most northerly tribes are the Takudah, who extend to the Mackenzie Delta; and the Copper Mines, who are located along the Coppermine river.  The territory occupied by these two last-mentioned tribes is contiguous to that inhabited by the Eskimo.
     Yukon:  The Forty Mile, Blackstone, and Moosehide bands belong to the Takudah tribe.  There is a band of Slavies at Lancing Creek who migrated from Fort Good Hope, on the Mackenzie river; another band of Slavies, called Nahanies, is located at the headwaters of the Pelly river.  All these Indians are of Athapascan stock.  At Mayo, Selkirk, Little Salmon and Carmacks there are bands belonging to the tribe known as Stick Indians.  Bands belonging to the Tlingit tribe are found at Whitehorse, Teslin Lake, Champagne Landing, and Carcross. [page 402] 


Economic Advancement of the Indians


The Indians of Canada have made remarkable progress in economic status particularly during the past decade and a half.
     The area of the land under cultivation by Indians was 235,028 in 1930, as compared with 173,198 acres in 1916.  Their live stock in 1930 included 42,266 horses and 52,393 cattle as compared with 35,315 horses and 37,188 cattle in 1916.  The total income of the Indians was $9,392,641.84 in 1930, as compared with $6,241,497 in 1916.  If the department’s annual estimate of the number of Indians is used, the per capita figure of income is $86.00 in 1930 as compared with $59.00 in 1916.
     An important division of the work of the department is the collection and expenditure of the Indian Trust Fund, which arose from the sale of lands and timber and other sources, and which now amounts to $15,270,242.99, bearing interest as part of the public debt.  The capital is spent for purposes properly representing capital, such as public works and community equipment, and the interest in cash distributions, medical attendance and relief.
     The amount expended by the Dominion Government from public funds for Indians for the past fiscal year, 1930-31, was $5,331,853.55.
            While the Indians as a class are self-supporting, it is necessary to assist from time to time Indians who are unable to provide for themselves the necessaries of life.  This need sometimes arises by reason of starvation among hunting Indians, or losses either by flood or fire; naturally there is also upon each reserve a class of indigent Indians, as in the case of white communities.  Either Indian Trust Funds or funds provided by Parliament are the only sources by which relief can be granted.  The department is the distributing agency, and its responsibility for relief corresponds to that of Municipal Authorities.
     The economic adjustment of the Indians to modern life is a large problem engaging the close attention of the department in all settled parts of the Dominion.  The policy of the department and the efforts of the staff are directed towards making the Indians self-supporting.  In the older provinces of Ontario and Quebec they are leading the normal life of the ordinary Canadian citizen, either engaged in agriculture on the reserves or mingling with the general population.  We have practising physicians, graduates of universities, and [page 403] men and women engaged in clerical and business occupations.  The larger portion of the Indian population of Canada is west of Lake Superior, and it was adopted in a primitive state by the Dominion shortly after Confederation.  The aboriginal title to the vast area east of the Rocky Mountains was extinguished; annual gifts of cash, special reserved lands, assistance in agriculture, and education, were promised by the Government.  In the Prairie Provinces, particularly, an intensive policy of agricultural assistance has been necessary.  When the Buffalo failed in 1878, the Indians were left destitute and they had to be rationed.  Today as a direct result of state measures through the introductions of agriculture and stock raising under departmental supervision the grandsons of the intrepid riders of the plains who chased the thundering herds, are engaged in the less spirited by more progressive occupations of grain growing and ranching.  And they are successful.  Their crops compare favourably with those of the white farmers, their herds are of the best and now hardly a pound of gratuitous food is issued to save the old and sick.  The department has made these Indians self-supporting in two generations; a remarkable transition.
      The situation of the British Columbia Indians is unique.  They were a mountain and sea people, gaining substance from the game of the Rockies or from the salmon fisheries.  Their feuds were of even a more bitter character than the animosities of the Plains Indians, and turbulent times were common amongst them.  No native craft has ever equalled their seagoing war canoes.  Their domestic arts were highly developed, and their basketry, beautifully wrought domestic utensils were carefully worked and ornamented with characteristic design, and their waterproof garments, woven from the bark of trees, showed an extraordinary adaptation of natural means to an end.
     Anthropologists have found in their myths and religious ceremonies an inexhaustible field for investigation, and volumes have been written in elucidation of their manners and customs.  Civilization also came to these people not in the guise of an evangel, but with a sinister aspect.  It struck at the very root of the tribal existence.  For years the women were sacrificed to the licence of the white men of the coast, often with the connivance of the native males; disease and whisky worked swiftly, and destroyed them.  After these staggering blows the race is only now beginning to recover.  A population [page 404] which was variously estimated at from 40,000 to 50,000 in about the year 1871, when British Columbia came into Confederation, has now dwindled to 25,107.  Nowhere in Canada are the Indians a greater factor in the labour market than in this Province.  They are the mainstay of the fisheries of the Fraser and Skeena Rivers.  The labour of the women is valued in the fish canning factories, and an Indian fisherman is always sure of employment is he has a number of women who can be useful in packing the fish.  The men themselves are excellent fishermen, but not without the usual native failing, lack of steadiness.  They are excellent boat-builders, and can readily manage gasoline boats and engines.  In the high and lonely parts of this wonderful Province there are Indians who are as primitive as those who first looked upon Vancouver.
     Although no cession of the Indian title in British Columbia has ever been sought or obtained, the Provincial Government has set apart adequate reserves, and the Dominion Government has extended to the natives the same system of education, agricultural assistance, and administration supervision as in the Prairie Provinces.  Many of the reserves are suitable for stock-raising and some Indians have been successful in breeding cattle and horses, while in other localities fruit culture and the cultivation of beans and peas offers suitable employment.  The outlook in British Columbia is certainly encouraging; there is fine material among the natives to make good British citizens, and in two or three decades we may expect that a large number of Indians will have been absorbed into the ordinary life of the Province.


The Plight of the Hunting and Fishing Indians


From the foregoing it is obvious that satisfactory progress is being made in the economic development of the Indians in the settled parts of the Dominion.  On the other hand the condition of the Indians in the northerly and outlying districts who are still dependent upon the chase for their livelihood has become a matter of grave concern to the department.
     During recent years there has been an alarming increase in the number of white trappers who are encroaching upon hunting grounds in the northern parts of the various provinces, which were formerly used by Indians only.  White trappers are using poison [page 405] extensively, and this illegal and vicious practice is becoming a grave menace to game conservation.  Not a single instance of the use of poison by any Indian trapper anywhere in Canada has ever come to the attention of the department.  It is felt that unless some protection is afforded, the Indian trappers in the northern regions, where other means of livelihood are not available, may become dependent, owing to the depletion of the game.
     Hunting and fishing are the aboriginal vocations of the primitive Indians.  By immemorial usage the Indians are conservationists of the game and fish, and may be expected to continue so, if protected; on the other hand, if whites are allowed to deplete the fish and game on Indian hunting grounds, the Indians themselves will naturally take all they can, while they cane, and there is grave dangers that such a situation may bring about intensive competition between whites and Indians, ending in the virtual extermination of valuable species.  Indian families, in most cases, are permanent residents, and their hunting grounds are recognized among themselves, and handed down from one generation to another, whereas white trappers are frequently of the itinerant class, whose practice is to trap out an area and then move elsewhere.
     In the opinion of the Department, the only satisfactory solution of these problems will be to set aside adequate areas in which Indians only shall be allowed to hunt.  This plan has already been carried out, with success, by the Dominion Government in the Northwest Territories, where Indian hunting reserves for the exclusive use of the aborigines, have been set aside by Order of His Excellency in Council with satisfactory results.
     In the province of Quebec two Indian hunting reserves were set aside by Order of the Lieutenant-Governor in Council dated the 21st day of April, 1928.  These reserves may be described as follows: —

     The first, named Abitibi reserves, bounded on the south and north by the 49th and 50th lines of latitude, on the east by the 78th line of longitude, and on the west by the frontier line between Quebec and Ontario, the whole comprising an approximative extent of 4,000 miles.
     The second, named Grand Lake Victoria Reserve, bounded on the south and north but the 47th and 48th lines of latitude, on the east by the extension towards the south of the division line of the townships of Cambray and Vimy to its meeting with the 47th line of latitude, on [page 406] the west by the extension towards the south of the division line of the townships Chabert and Landanet to its meeting with the 47th line of latitude, the wholee forming an approximate extent of 6,300 miles.
     The Honrouable Minister recommends moreover that a licence to trap be issued free to any Indian who may hunt in such reserves, and at the end of the season, the a report of the quantities and kinds of fur taking by each of them be made by them or through their Missionary.

     In considering this question, it should be understood that the department only desires special hunting privileges for Indians in the outlying districts where other sufficient employment is not available.  In the settled and organized localities, the department affords the Indians ample opportunity for agricultural and industrial pursuits, and discourages them from dependence on the chase. 
     Another source of hardship to Indian bands in various parts of the country is the commercialization of fishing waters in the vicinity of Indian reserves, without consideration for the needs of the Indian population.  In some cases exclusive licences have been granted to white fishing interests covering waters fronting reserves upon which the Indians had originally located themselves expressly on account of the fishing advantages.  To be cut off in this arbitrary manner from their natural food supply is a serious and unmerited misfortune for the Indians concerned.  These condition, needless to say, are not within the control of this department, which, however, loses no opportunity to obtain redress and protection for its wards.
     An important and gratifying departure in the interests of the hunting and fishing Indians of Alberta and Manitoba is revealed in the recent Agreement made on the 14th of December, 1929, between the Domnion of Canada and the provinces aforesaid, both of which contain a provision for the taking of game and fish for food by Indians at all times of the year.  The clause, in each Agreement, reads as follows, —

     In order to secure to the Indians of the province the continuance of the supply of game and fish for their support and subsistence, Canada agrees that the laws respecting game in force in the province from time to time shall apply to the Indians within the boundaries thereof, provided however, that the said Indians shall have the right, which the province hereby assures to them, of hunting, trapping and fishing game and fish for food at all seasons of the year on all unoccupied [page 407] Crown lands and on any other lands to which the said Indians may have a right of access.

     Closely associated with the general development of the Indians are the more specialized fields of education and healthy supervision.  These problems have assumed such proportions that each requires separate administrative organization and policy in the establishment of the department.
     In view of the popular interest that has been manifested in these subjects, the writer has prepared a somewhat detailed description of the department’s activities in connection therewith arranged under appropriate sub-headings.


Indian Education


Very early in the administration the necessity arose for the education of the natives and the early missionaries began to instruct the Indians.  Early in the nineteenth century schools were established and it was found that the best results came from residential schools.  This has led to a wide development and we have now 350 Indian schools in operation, with a pupilage of 15,743.  The Department has had to close co-operation of religious denominations in the education of the Indian.  Thus Christianization and education go hand in hand.  The residential schools are conducted by the Anglican, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian and United Churches.  High tribute must be paid to the zeal and self-sacrifice of those engaged in the work and the effectiveness of our system of joint control has been demonstrated beyond question.  Education is free:  the Government provides the buildings and pays the managing authorities a per capita grand for each pupil in residence.  In addition to the regular academic subjects, the girls are taught domestic arts, and the boys agriculture, the care of the cattle and the use of ordinary tools.  Considerable success has followed this plan.  Elsewhere day schools meet more nearly the educational requirement.  The mental endowment of Indians is hardly inferior to that of other races.  We find that where there has been long contact with civilization Indian pupils of the present can compete successfully with white children.
     It may be of interest to briefly sketch Indian educational activities of 1867.  All the early efforts with Indian children were wholly [page 408] missionary in character—for nearly 200 years the work was carried on without financial assistance from the Governments.  There is record of Recollet Fathers’ schools for Indian children in New France as early as 1616; the Jesuits were active early in the 18th century:  and settlers in the British colonies established little centres of Christianity at this period.  These intermittent and only partly successful efforts were continued under British domination—prominence being given to instruction in religion.  Even the education of white children received very little attention—in fact the first school in Upper Canada (1784) was for the Mohawk Indians who had settled on the shores of the Bay of Quinte and the first church to be erected in the province (1785) was for the Six Nations Indians of the Grand River Reserve, near Brantford.
     Prior to Confederation, day schools were successfully conducted at Lorette, St. Regis and Pierreville in Lower Canada.  At Caughnawaga, educational work was made nearly impossible by local difficulties.  However, there were interesting experiments at Chateauguay and Christieville, where Indian boys from Caughnawaga were taken into residence and given a training in the classroom and on the farm.  All these schools activities received grants from Lower Canada.  The Seminary of St. Sulpice, at Oka, maintained a farm school, at which Indian boys were enrolled.
     In Upper Canada, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts organized the earliest Indian school on the Tyendinaga Reserve (Bay of Quinte).  The New England Company, an evangelical organization chartered in 1661 in the reign of Charles II, the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society and the Jesuits interested themselves in Indian education work early in the 19th century.  Approximately forty day schools were established in Upper Canada prior to Confederation, but there is record of only two of them receiving grants from the Governments of the day.  Special institutions for the education of Indians were established at this time:  The Mohawk Institute by the New England Company; the Alderville and Mount Elgin Boarding School by the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society, and the Wikwemikong Boarding School by the Jesuits.  In addition, there was a community training centre established by the Governor of Upper Canada at Manitowaning, on Manitoulin Island.  This enterprise was for the education of both young and old; but, as it did not appeal to the Indian temperament, it was abandoned in 1856, after twenty years of effort. [page 409]
     It should be recorded that in 1848 certain Indian bands in Upper Canada agreed to set apart for the purpose of education one-quarter of the amount received in commutation of their annual distribution of ammunition.  This Indian school fund was used largely for the maintenance of the Alderville and Mount Elgin Boarding Schools, payments being made on a per capita grand basis—so much per child per year.  Right at the outset of governmental association with Indian educational activity, we find two of the outstanding characteristics of the present system—church co-operation in the work and per capita grant payments to residential schools.
     Prior to Confederation there was practically no organization of Indian schools in other parts of Canada.  Missionaries interested in the education of Indian children were opportunists—classes being conducted whenever and wherever the activity gave promise of even a little success.  The New England Company experimented with foster homes for Indian children in New Brunswick even before it applied its energy and funds to the work among the Six Nations.  A Church of England chaplain to the Hudson’s Bay Company conducted a boarding school for Indian children on the Red River as early as 1822.  A Roman Catholic priest tried an agricultural school for young Indians at Baie St. Paul, now St. Eustache, Man., in 1883.  There is record of day schools in various parts of the West, all conducted by Roman Catholic, Church of England and Methodist missionaries.  In British Columbia the New England Company began work early in the 19th century from which developed the present Lytton Indian Residential School. 
     At Confederation Indian schools were supported for the most part by missionary societies, religious orders and the Indian bands—little financial assistance being given by the legislatures.  Low salaries were paid and the attendance was irregular and, as a consequence, the schools were not effective.  When the British North America Act placed the responsibility for the Indians of Canada with the federal Government, reports from Indian schools were forwarded to the Department of the Secretary of State, a branch of which was made the administrative office for Indian Affairs.  In 1867 one residential school, the Mount Elgin Institute, with an enrolment of 52, and forty-nine day schools with a total of 1,664 pupils—all in Ontario and Quebec—were recognized by the Indian office.  There were several Indian schools, entirely missionary in [page 410] character, that did not make returns to the Government.  The two most important of these were the Mohawk Institute at Brantford, supported by the New England Company, and the Roman Catholic boarding school at Wikwemikong.
     The annual report of the Department for the fiscal year ended March 31st, 1930, showed that the total Indian population in Canada was 108,012.
     During that fiscal year, 78 residential schools and 272 day schools were in operation, a total of 350 centres of Indian educational activity.  The following table shows the increasing nature of Indian educational work: —


Fiscal Year
Average attendance
Percentage of attendance


     It will be noted that, for the first fiscal year mentioned above, the total enrolment was 15,743 and the average attendance 11,579.  The enrolment for the year is the largest and the attendance the highest year reached.  These figures show an increase of over 50% within the last 10 years. [page 411]
     In addition to the regular academic work at all Indian schools, there is the very important vocational training at the residential schools.  Farming, gardening, care of stock, manual training and domestic instruction are being given more attention by the Department and the churches.
     At all Indian schools, provincial curricula are followed and fully qualified teachers are engaged whenever possible.
     All Indian schools are regularly inspected by officers of the Department.  In addition, Provincial School Inspectors visit all classrooms and report on the academic work, except in the provinces of New Brunswick and British Columbia, where there are special Indian School Inspectors.
     The Department makes a practice of assisting the most promising and industrious graduates of Indian schools.  During the fiscal year 1929-30, approximately 160 young Indian men and women were helped to continue their studies or establish homes.  The Department and the churches interested are continually trying new schemes and searching for better methods of helping the graduates of Indian schools to establish themselves.
     In the past, the funds of certain Indian bands were used to meet some of the costs of conducting day schools on their reserves.  For the past two years, however, all expenditure has been provided by Parliamentary Appropriation and thus the programme of free education isnow extended to all Indians in Canada.  The expenditure for Indian education for the fiscal year ended March 31st, 1930, amounted to $2,330,438.21.
     The Indians’ capacity for intellectual development compares favourably with that of whites.  Our wards who have attended high schools and colleges have in many cases led their classes and are now making good in professional life.  A few years ago, an Indian boy was gold medalist at Upper Canada College.  In the main, however, vocational training, followed by supervision on the reserves, is the more important factor in the educational programme.


Indian Health Supervision


All matters appertaining to the health of Indians are conducted by the Department of Indian Affairs.  The departmental staff was strengthened by the addition of a medical director, and the creation [page 412] of a definite Medical Branch, a few years ago, which has proved of great value in supervising and co-ordinating the various health activities.
     The total expenditure from Public funds for Medical services to the Indians for the fiscal year ended March 31,1931, was $1,050,727.19.


Communicable Diseases


Epidemics of communicable disease arise from time to time on Indian Reserves.  The department has devised a set of regulations for the control of these diseases which has been of great advantage.  Constant effort is put forth to keep vaccination against smallpox up to date, and a beginning is being made towards immunization against diphtheria.
     Although the department is sometimes handicapped in the beginning of an epidemic by the reticence of the Indian in such matters, it has an advantage over white communities in the matter of the possibility of enforcing regulations once the outbreak is discovered.  In a recent outbreak of smallpox practically every Indian was vaccinated within one week after the diagnosis was established, a procedure which would be difficult to carry out in any white Canadian community.  The services of travelling nurses are of value in epidemics, as they are at once available for duty in such emergencies anywhere in the district which they cover.
     The Department of Indian Affairs has no reason to feel ashamed of its medical service from a remedial standpoint.  No appeal for medical treatment from a Canadian Indian goes unheeded, and no medical expense is spared to give the sick Indian the benefit of the best medical and hospital care available.  There is, however, a vast field of preventive medicine which would yield a rich harvest in improved health and economic efficiency of Indians.  It is the aim of the department to greatly extend the preventive side of its effort, but such action must await the provision of increased funds, and to some extent, the awakening of interest in Indian health, on the part of both the Indians themselves and the general public, in the one case toward the support of the Government in making increased expenditure, and in the other towards the realization of the need of improvement.  [page 413]
     Venereal disease exists among the Indians as among the white population.  During the year under review special effort has been made to discover and bring under treatment all cases of syphilis.  It has not been found that there is any cause for alarm in the situation.  Many reserves do not appear to have any cases, and where the disease does exist, the affected Indians will submit willingly to treatment.


Diseases of the Eye


Trachoma is reported from time to time as existing among Indians.  The committee which investigated tuberculosis in British Columbia also interested itself in eye conditions, and from this and other sources of information, it may be stated that this eye disease is very rare among Canadian Indians, if indeed it exists at all.  There is, however, a condition which is prevalent in the mountains and foothills, and occasionally appears elsewhere, which is of importance.  It consists of an acute inflammation of the eye, with a small ulcer on the eyeball, and often leads to impairment of vision.  It occurs chiefly among the undernourished children, and is probably to a large extent a deficiency disease.  The department is devoting special attention to its treatment.  A survey of certain reserves in Alberta and British Columbia was carried out in order to discover the incidence of certain forms of eye disease.  The work was done by a highly trained specialist.  His findings showed the necessity for immediate action, but funds are not available to carry on the work as planned.




During the summers of 1926 and 1927 a committee of experts under the auspices of the Canadian Tuberculosis Association, carried out for the department a survey of tuberculosis among the Indians of British Columbia, and presented a very valuable report.  Their findings agree with those of investigators in other parts of the country and with the observations of departmental physicians.  Tuberculosis is about five times more common among Indians than among the general population.  Several factors contribute to its prevalence.  In many tribes tuberculosis has been comparatively recently introduced, [page 415] and the resistance possessed by the white race has not yet been acquired.  The food supply which would produce in the individual the robust health to enable him to resist invasion by the disease and to cast it off after invasion by the disease and to cast it off after invasion is not available, nor have the Indians learned in many cases to make good use of the supplies to be had.  Living conditions are far from ideals, and ignorance prevails as to the method of spread and contagion.  With the exception of a few tribes, the Indians have not the background of education and experience which would enable them to take full advantage of the knowledge of public health available at the present day.  It is regretted that it is not possible to report more progress in combating this the most important of diseases among Indians.  The necessity far exceeds both the facilities and the funds available.  There are several reserves where the number of infectious cases is so small that the disease might be stamped out if it were possible to devote the whole of the appropriation for this purpose to these reserves.  But equally strong appeals for help come from almost every reserve.  At the present time it is being found necessary to refuse applications for sanatorium treatment due to lack of funds for maintenance.  The department appeals to the interest of Parliament for funds with which additional personnel and facilities may be provided.  The proper course undoubtedly is to attack the disease in its weakest places, viz. on reserves where there are small numbers of cases, and where the resistance of the Indians to it is relatively high.  This will involve intensive effort, carried out by personnel of more than ordinary training and experience, and, for this reason, costly.  It will also involve, in some provinces, the provision of more sanatorium accommodation.  At the same time the work now being done, and which consumes all available funds, cannot with humanity be lessened.
     The department does not maintain sanatoria for the treatment of tuberculosis but is able, in most provinces, to utilize the institutions engaged in this service.  Advantage is taken of this privilege up to the limit of available funds for maintenance of patients.  Many tuberculosis Indians are also accommodated in local hospitals.  Special food, particularly milk, is issued to patients who either cannot be accommodated in sanatoria, or who will not take advantage of the opportunity to go there. [page 415]   


Hospitals and Nursing Stations


No new hospitals have recently been erected by the department.  Assistance has been given, however, in erecting some hospitals in remote places where the Indians form such a substantial part of the populations that the department finds it necessary to assume a position of the capital cost of establishing or rebuilding hospital institutions.
     A nursing station was built at the Fisher River agency in Manitoba.  This is a residence for a public health nurse, and has no regular hospital accommodation except a bed for an emergency case.  The department hopes to extend this type of activity, and is now establishing another similar unit at Hobbema, Alberta.  The advantages of the nursing station unit are obvious.  It is relatively inexpensive, and so may be provided for a larger number of reserves.  It enables a nurse to reside at the reserve, where her work and influence may be continuous.  It provides a centre where the sick may come to see the doctor at appointed times, and where the doctor may have the assistance of the nurse and equipment of the station.  The nurse is not confined to an institution carding for serious cases who require the treatment afforded by a completely equipped hospital, or, as is sometimes the case, chronic cases who can quite well be treated at home with the advice and occasional visits of the nurse and doctor.  Most important of all, it provides a service to the mothers of growing children, who can profit by frequent instruction. 


Public Health Nursing Service


Important additions have been made to the staff of public health or travelling nurses.  Four such nurses have been appointed in British Columbia, two in Ontario, and one in New Brunswick.  The standard of qualification for this and other classes of nurses has been raised, and the compensation increased, and the department is now in a position to attract the very best nurses to its service.  Only those having a university training in public healthy are eligible for appointment to the highest grade.  Particular attention has been devoted during the year to this phase of health work, and a study has been made of the methods of provincial and voluntary nursing organizations.  Very encouraging reports are being received of the [page 416] increased efficiency of the nurses, and of the benefits they are carrying to reserves to which new nurses have been assigned.
     In places where the number of Indians is not large enough to justify the employment of a more highly skilled worker, the services of a neighbour white woman are retained as a field matron.  These women have usually the advantage of the advice of a physician, and in some cases of visits from the travelling nurses.  Some of them possess considerable nursing experience, but their main function is to give instruction and advice in housekeeping and the care of children. 
     The department is also making a beginning in the way of cooperation with various provincial and voluntary organizations which maintain District Public Health nurses.  In some cases the assistance of the department makes it possible for a district nurse to be employed in a municipality to the mutual advantage of both the Indians and the white people there.


Doctors’ Services


In some remote places the department employs full time physicians, and in several instances these doctors furnish the only medical service available for the white population as well as Indians.  Seven such positions are maintained, and in four other cases the position of Indian Agent is filled by a doctor.  For the most part, however, the needs of the Indians are served by the employment of a physician, on part time salary, or on call, who resides near the reserve.  There are over two hundred and fifty doctors so employed.  The services of specialists in surgery, and eye, ear, nose and throat diseases are retained in large centres for the benefit of Indians in the surrounding country.
     There are certain districts, where the Indians are of such primitive and nomadic habits and live over such an extended area that it is impossible to do more than send a doctor once a year to visit them when they are collected to meet the department official who pays the annuity money.  The doctor accompanies the paying officer, treats cases of disease, vaccinates the Indians, and gives them simple talks on health and sanitation.  In northern Quebec a doctor has been employed for several summer seasons to patrol the Transcontinental railway, and his work has resulted in a considerable [page 417] improvement in habits of living among the Indians of the region.  Some of the journeys made by these doctors involve great hardship.
     A highly qualified doctor, who also acts as Indian Agent, has been stationed at Moose Factory, on James Bay.  Hitherto the only medical service available in that area has been the annual visit of a doctor with the treaty paying officer, and a small hospital at Fort Albany, conducted by a religious order.  The doctor has found it possible to perform some major surgical operations with very small facilities, and his visits may be expected to prove of very welcome assistance to the sisters at their remote station.  The approach of the railway to Moose Factory holds out a prospect of substantially increasing medical facilities on the bay.


Part-Time Doctors and Local Hospital Services


There have been no notable extensions in these services during the year.  The department employs the available doctor and patronizes the local hospital to the extent of the requirements in each locality.  Specialists’ services are afforded for cases beyond the skill or facilities of the local physician.  It is noted that there is a steady increase in the demand on the part of the Indians for modern medical treatment, and in the interest displayed by part-time doctors in their Indian work.  The department finds it constantly necessary to revise the salaries of these doctors to correspond with their increasing services.


Departmental Hospital


The department hospitals at the Six Nations reserve in Ontario and the Blackfoot reserve in Alberta have been patronizes by the Indians to such an extent that it has been found necessary to provide more space.  This is being done by erecting nurses’ residences, thereby adding to the comfort of the staff, and making their rooms in the hospitals available for patients.  The new hospital at the Blood reserve is operating with the greatest satisfaction.
     A separate wing for Indian patients was erected at Cochrane, Ont.  It is conducted by the Lady Minto Hospital, the department [page 418] paying the salaries of part of the staff and a daily per capita grant to the hospital.
     There is a remarkable increase in the amount of medical attention demanded by the Indians of northern Ontario.  At Cochrane, Chapleau, White River, Armstrong, and many other points they are reporting for treatment in large numbers.


Medical Branch of the Department of Ottawa


It may not be out of place to refer briefly to the activities of the medical branch of the department at Ottawa.  The Director of Medical Services was appointed in 1927, and much of his time has been occupied in surveying the problem in the field and at headquarters.  It has been found possible to place the system of dealing with doctors and hospitals on a somewhat more regular basis and to bring into operation a standard schedule of fees paid for doctors’ services.  The supply of drugs for use by dispensers on reserves has been systematized.  Economies have been effected in some respects, but it is necessary to extend the service.  The most important and far-reaching accomplishment has been that of devising a Public Health Regulation which clearly defines the responsibilities and power of Indian agents and departmental physicians in dealing with outbreaks of communicable disease, and gives definite instructions for prompt action.  This regulation may be stated to have the effect of applying to Indian reserves the public healthy regulations of the province in which the reserve is situated.  The Indian agent is responsible directly to the department for this duty and acts under advice of the reserve physician.  Application of this regulation has had the effect of checking several outbreaks before they had a chance to get headway without the necessity of reference to superior authority.
     The activities of the Medical Branch cannot fairly be judged by the visible results.  Forces are being gathered and plans laid which, if funds were available should enable the department to report a very considerable degree of progress within the next few years.
     In the preceding pages the writer has endeavoured to give an account of the administration of Indian Affairs in Canada down to the present date in as much detail as space would permit.  Before concluding it may be desirable to devote a few paragraphs to consideration [page 419] of the period of transition which the Indian is now undergoing, and his prospective status in society when the weaning process has been completed.




After a century of contact with civilization the Canadian Indian is a difficult subject to treat within the limit of a brief article.  His vocations are so varied, his dwelling places are scattered so about the broad Dominion that no generalities will serve; a positive statement here becomes a negative there; each fact requires a qualification.  Asked to describe a Canadian Indian, one might choose between the medical graduate of McGill University, practising his profession with all the authority of the faculty, or a solitary hunter, making the round of his traps in the remote north country.  Each portrait might be drawn to the life, the difference would be absolute, both would be truthful.
     It would be gratifying if increases in expenditure and in wealth could be matched by a corresponding increase in population, but it is clear that the Indian population since Confederation has decreased.  There are no reliable statistics on which to base a comparison, but it is certain that there has been considerable diminution in numbers.  The present total population of 108,102 may be considered stable, as the decline has now been checked and the future of the race is fairly assured.  In general the Indian has proved that he can withstand the shock of contact with our civilization, and that he can resist the manifold evils of that contact, and transfer his native energy to the channels of modern life.
     The department is confronted with serious problems in the slow process of weaning the Indian from his primitive state.  For some of the obstacles to progress the public must be held responsible.  In the minds of the promoters of fairs, stampedes and affairs of the kind, particularly in the western provinces, the Indian is regarded as an asset when decked out in feathers and war-paint, and exhibited for the entertainment of the curious.  In this way the Indians are induced to leave their reserves for considerable periods, and generally at times of the year when they should be engaged with their agricultural duties.  In addition to he distractions provided by white show-men, there are the aboriginal ceremonies to contend [page 420] with.  Like all people living close to nature, the Indians perform rites at the time of the summer solstice, notable among these ancient native customs is the Sun Dance of the Plains.  The Indian Act prohibits the appearance of Indians in native costume without the consent of the Superintendent General at pageants, and also dances or ceremonies involving mutilation of the body.  It may seem arbitrary on our part to interfere with the native culture.  The position of the department, however, can readily be understood, and it is pointed out that Indians will spend a fortnight preparing for a sun-dance, another fortnight engaging in it, and another fortnight to get over it.  Obviously this plays havoc with summer ploughing.
     Another picturesque native custom which the Government has found it necessary to legislate against is the pot-latch of British Columbia.  This in brief was the method followed by Indian tribes in the west coast region of visiting one another for the purpose of promoting social intercourse; settlement of intertribal debts; arrangement of marriages and so forth.  The giving away of gifts on a lavish scale was one of the most prominent features of the pot-latch.  Before the advent of the white man this plan undoubtedly served a useful purpose and was adequate to the needs of the people.  Obviously, however, with the introduction of the new money system of economics; the engagement of Indians as wage earners in industry, the effects of the pot-latch, if the practice were unchecked, would be disastrous.
     These inherent difficulties are being overcome, and each new generation becomes noticeably more adaptable to modern conditions.
     In the newer provinces where association of the Indians with whites covers but a short period, the reserve system is undoubtedly the only satisfactory one. 
     It is intended to ensure the continuation of the tribal life and that of the individual as an Indian, and as well to render possible a continuous and consistent administrative policy directed towards civilization.  If there were 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 à terre.”  The Indians wander away from it and return to it as the nomadic instinct prompts, no doubt bringing back much undesirable knowledge and experience.  But this mingling with the outside world was less injurious than a strict confinement within boundaries [page 421] would have been, even had such confinement been possible.  In the older provinces, however, where Indians have mixed and intermarried with whites for more than two centuries, the efficiency of the reserve system tends to weaken.  In Southern Ontario and Quebec, as has been mentioned before, there are communities of Indians who for the most part show little trace of their ancestry, either in their physiognomy, colour or habits of life.  There is no apparent reason why these groups should not take their place in the community and assume the responsibility of citizenship.  In other words they should be enfranchised under the provisions of the Indian Act.  As the Act stands, however, an Indian can only be enfranchised on his own application, and while a considerable number have taken advantage of this opportunity, the majority cling to wardship.  This attitude is largely actuated by the exemption provided for Indians under the Act, such as freedom from taxation, and the protection of property, both real and personal on an Indian reserve from seizure for debt.  The Government on its part as a result of influences that have been brought to bear, is hesitant to enforce enfranchisement upon the Indians, even those whose Indian blood has been reduced to a small percentage through intermarriage. 
     In order to train the Indians with a view to eventual citizenship, the Indian Act confers a certain measure of local autonomy upon the Indian bands through the Chiefs and Councillors, which correspond to that exercised by rural municipalities, except that the band regulations require the approval of the Governor in Council to become effective.  Among the questions dealt with by the Indian Councils under the Indian Act are the following:—

(a)  the care of the public health;
(b)  the observance of order and decorum at assemblies of the Indians in general council, or on other occasions;
(c)  the prevention of disorderly conduct and nuisances;
(d)  the prevention of trespass by cattle, and the protection of sheep, horses, mules and cattle;
(e)  the construction and maintenance of watercourses, roads bridges, ditches and fences;
(f)  the construction and repair of school houses, council houses and other Indian public buildings, and the attendance at school of children between the ages of six and fifteen years; [page 422]
(g)  the establishment of pounds and the appointment of pound keepers;
(h)  the locating of the band in their reserves, and the establishment of a register of such locations;
(i)  the repression of noxious weeds.

     Among the more primitive tribes of Indians, the Chiefs and Councillors are hereditary or appointed during pleasure by the department.  In the older provinces, however, the bands are under the elective system; the usual term of office being three years.  A few of the more advanced bands elect their Chief and Councillors annually.
     From the foregoing it will be seen that the problem of Indian administration is highly complex.  It is the opinion of the writer, however, that by policies and activities such as have been outlined, the Government will in time reach the end of its responsibility as the Indians progress into civilization and finally disappear as a separate and distinct people, not by race extinction but by gradual assimilations with their fellow-citizens. [page 423]


[back to Index / Next]