Duncan Campbell Scott

Addresses‚ Essays‚ and Reviews

The First People


The original Canadians, the Indians, will contribute a special quality to the general welcome accorded their Majesties.  They are inheritors of a tradition which is perpetuated not only in formal “treaties” but in memory also.  The King was the Great Father of the Indians who was mindful of his children, to whom they could look for justice, who was the source and guardian of their charter of rights and privileges.
     This tradition will stir the minds of the Iroquois to recall the eighteenth century, when they were allies of the Crown, a sovereign people in their own country.  The Six Nations, the Iroquois Confederacy, were then, as they are now, the exponents of all that is admirable in the Indian character and there are a few who still think of alliance as the basic relationship.  But only a few; it took the stern realities of the Revolutionary war and all the struggle to establish and maintain themselves on the Grand River to make them realize that they were subjects of the Great Father and no longer partners in sovereignty.  The idea of a law stronger than their own tribal laws prevailed and spread abroad wherever contact was made with the aborigines, and we can quote the words of a prairie chief, spoken in 1876: “Have compassion on the manner in which I was brought up; long ago it was good when we first were made.  I wish the same were back again.  But now the law has come and in that I wish to walk.”
     Any estimate of the population of the territories covered by the Dominion of Canada when the white man first explored the country is conjectural, but the most trustworthy places the number at 220,000.  The reliable census of the present gives us a total of 114,000. 
     The vicissitudes of the race in the intervening years have been so many and so sever that its preservation is a tribute to its strength.  [page 465]
     Maladjustment between aboriginal and civilized systems, disease in violent form, the hazards of a nomad life have all taken toll.  But it can now be reasonably asserted that the Indians of Canada will not perish through years of gradual decline in loss of character and stamina.  That assertion may be supported by a survey of the policy of the Dominion Government adopted from British Colonial precedents, which stresses the education of the Indian, his protection while in a state of tutelage, and which acknowledges and assists missionary endeavour and experiment both in education and Christianization. 
     Every thread of that policy and the spirit of the Indian Act, that Dominion Statute which established the legal status of the Indians, point to that end.  It was a wise provision of the British North America Act which gave to the Dominion the power to legislate for Indians; this ensured a uniform administration.  Descent was fixed in the male line, which disposes of doubt as to the legal status of any individual and Indian Reserve lands were protected from the pressure of encroaching settlers.
     The Indian Reserve is in fact that foundation of Indian policy.  The special areas set apart by agreement between the Crown and the Indians cannot be alienated without the consent of both parties.  While enjoying freedom to go and come, to acquire property elsewhere and to use all his faculties in a larger life, the Reserve has given the Indian a needed sense of security. 
     In the older Provinces, after more than a century and a half, the results of the policy are evident.  In Ontario and Quebec the highest type of the Indian social unit and of the individual live is worthy of comment.  We find reserves developed for agriculture and stock-raising or as village communities; and everywhere we find individuals actively engaged in our cities and towns.  They enter the professions, teach in both white and Indian schools, fill clerical positions in the public service and in business; they are expert workers in the construction of bridges and buildings where steel is used; they are valued as domestic servants, and, in fact, are to be discovered in every walk of life.
     The word “discovered” is used advisedly, for these Indians speak English or French fluently and often can hardly be distinguished by physical characteristics from their fellow-Canadians.  They are imitative and quick to adapt themselves to modern conditions.  They own and operate automobiles and agricultural and [page 466] domestic machinery, and the telephone, the radio, and the gramophone are in common use.  There is, of course, derogation from the highest standard, but it is well maintained, and at the lowest level the Indian does not fall below the white.
     Several of these Indian communities and many individuals are now ready for the full responsibilities of citizenship.  The Indian Act provides for this final change; numbers have given up their Indian status; many more are deterred by the conviction that government guardianship is a positive benefit.
     When we look to the west, to the Prairie Provinces where the relationship has existed for only about 75 years, we find different but not discouraging conditions.  The Indians east of the Great Lakes never had to face such a major catastrophe as disappearance of the buffalo; and the Government never had to provide suddenly for them a food supply and a method of livelihood.
     But in the west these problems confronted both parties and have to be solved quickly.  The government provided rations and the Indians had to become accustomed to eat bacon and flour.  Instruction in farming and ranching was introduced and lavishly supported, and the Indians, whose physique and habits were ill-adapted for labour, had to become inured to novel hardships.  But the result has been, upon the whole, a success which can be measured by millions of bushels of grain poured into the elevators and thousands of cattle marketed or consumed by the Indians.
     The natives of British Columbia are, anthropologically, the most interesting of the Dominion Indians.  They are a mountain and sea people, and in their primitive state possessed the vigorous qualities which come from these environments.  They have deteriorated now and are fighting what may be a losing battle with our civilization, which in some of its most degrading features has treated them cruelly.  It is beyond the scope of this article to deal with the subtle characteristics of the social systems of the Northern tribes or to set forth the mastery with which they put their natural assets to practical use, or to dwell upon their desire for something beyond the practical which resulted in unique carving and ornamenting by pigment or by other means upon even the most humble of their utensils.
     Very little can be recorded of progress among the hunting and fishing Indians[,] that large division which supplies the market with furs.  Their children are in boarding schools and medical attendance and hospitals are freely provided, but they are subject to all [page 467] the vicissitudes of the chase and to the competition of white hunters.  Progress under these conditions is imperceptible, but the administrative outlook is enlightened and sympathetic, and the effort to add a permanent supply of buffalo meat to the native food stocks is one of the most interesting of later developments.
     An educational system covers all the provinces and has the assistance of the religious denominations interested in the Christianization of the Indians.  The work of day and boarding schools is carried on in modern, well-equipped buildings by qualified teachers.  Results in the Eastern Provinces are gratifying, and, allowing for inherent difficulties, the degree of success is noticeable even among Indians whose forebears were nomadic.
     A highly proficient professional medical service has been developed, and proved methods for the prevention and cure of tuberculosis are generally applies and trachoma is being controlled.  The instruction of prospective mothers and care of children in their first days and years has resulted in the decrease of infant mortality.  Many well-equipped hospitals have been established on reserves and a determined effort is being made to save the race by scientific methods adapted to the special field of operation.
     This review will not have failed to give an impression of native tribes surviving with a reasonable hope of permanence and with the destiny of final disappearance as a distinct class; not through a process of neglect and decay, but by gradual increase of capacity for civilized life and by mergence with the population of the Dominion.  [page 468]


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