The Indian Is Not Dying Out

John MacCormac May 1 1913

The Indian Is Not Dying Out

John MacCormac May 1 1913

The Indian Is Not Dying Out

Considerable prominence has been thrust upon the Indian in Canada of late owing to the action of the British Columbian Government in making a settlement of reserves a question of controversy with the Dominion Government. Another movement is on foot in the Dominion to bring all the Indians into a common representation for the purpose of bettering their conditions. It will be a surprise to some readers to know that the Indian is not subject to the white man’s diseases in the manner that has been represented. The Indian has adapted himself to changes of circumstances in many ways that are surprisingly commendable.

John MacCormac

“THE Indian problem? Yes, that will solve itself in a few years, you know. The Indian is dying out.”

How many Canadians, one wonders, would so express themselves if called upon to go on record in regard to the present condition and future prospects of the first citizens of this North American continent?

Assuredly a large percentage, for certainly few questions have been made the subject of so much vague misinformation and of few things has such absolute nonsense on occasion been said, as the problem presented by the aboriginal races of Canada and the United States. Though perhaps little taken into account by the average citizen, the problem is none the less a serious and vital one, and it will never solve itself as popular opinion would have it do. Popular opinion places the

Indian in the same category as the great auk, and it is prone to link him with the fast vanishing buffalo, to whoso extermination, by the way, he himself has largely contributed, but popular opinion is wrong. Any Canadian Indian department official would proclaim it so.

True, he would admit, the Indian, as has been the case with many another aborigine, has passed through a period of exhaustion consequent upon the first contact with civilization, but this once behind him, he either remains stable or begins to increase and multiply again. How to help him to do so is one of the things the governments of two great nations are yearly spending millions on. What is to become of him ultimately is another question. The two together make up the Indian problem, so called.

As regards the first question, the preservation of the Indian from exhaustion, experience has shown several things necessary. The red man's health must be preserved, the stamina of the race in general improved, through education he must be brought to a higher mental level, and Christianity must benefit him ethically. The Indian has been regarded as the sick man in the North American scheme of things, and like any other sick man he has needed nursing. He has needed it through his feverish days, when the virus of a raw and crude civilization was racing through his protesting veins, rainy days when that which he had not laid up for himself according to the scriptural precept,, had to be laid up for him, and dry days, when his throat thirsted for the white man's whiskey. He got the nursing, got the very best, and got it free. Indian departments don't cost the Indian much.


We in Canada, however, think we supplied the better nurses and solved the Indian problem first. The fact that this country's legislation has been federal in character since the British North America Act, and that Canada has followed a consistent policy in dealin with the Indian problem eyer since British occupation, has given her a great advantage in dealing with her native tribes,. Her system has always been the same. It has kept the red man in tutelage to a certain degree ; he has had to be fed when he hungered, but it has finally succeeded in inspiring him with a wholesome respect for civilization, and fór the white man's intentions toward him. The basis of the Canadian system, established by law as far back into history as the 17th century, has been that no Indian should be dispossessed without his consent. You cannot in Canada to-day buy a foot of land from an Indian without a legal surrender from the Crown and from the Indian himself. The result of this policy has been evident. The Biel rebellion has been Canada's only serious trouble with the Indians, and

even then only the Crees went out while the rest of the red men turned a deaf ear to the call of blood and remained loyal.

The Indian is not dying out. His recuperative force is remarkable. In the middle of last century, for instance, the gloomiest of prophecies were made as to the speedy and total extinction of the Six Nations; yet from 1880 to 1910 their increase in Canada was over thirty three per cent. The total Indian population of this country is 103,661 Indians. with some 4,600 Eskimos, British Columbia boasting the greatest number and Ontario following close. The number would be greater were it not for the prevalence of the white plague, which has also become a great red plague. The unsanitary condition of dwellings and premises is the great obstacle in the wav of a general betterment of health, for the Indian's attitude toward spending money in their improvement, has hitherto been as the needle's eye to the camel. But time is telling and the red man is learning the greater good, expressed in terms of prophylaxis.

. Public opinion has never rated the Indian very high as a producer, unless it be of furs. It comes rather as a surprise then, to learn on glancing over the statist!os covering the total production of the Indian population of Canada during the last year, that their total amount is $1,460,462.46, an increase over the preceding year of $85,647.46.


This increase and, in fact, the whole industry, is the direct result of the promotion of farming and the assistance which has been given to ex-pupils of boarding and industrial schools, to establish themselves on the soil immediately after graduation. Figures show that a total population of 89,290 Indians, comprising only those districts where farming is possible, has a total acreage of 58,550 under cultivation, and is carrying on a vigorous live stock industiy. A little further investigation discloses the fact that the Indian is becoming an important factor

in the labor market, sufficient in fact, to account for a million and a half dollars annually as a reward for his labor. The most striking exemplification of the change is in the provinces of Manitoba, Alberta and Saskatchewan. There, where the Indians a few years ago followed their nomadic modes of life in all their aboriginal crudity and labor was delegated to, nay forced on, the squaws, a large proportion are now engaged as farm laborers and their services are sought after. Their training in the industrial and boarding schools has qualified them as expert farm help. True, the labor of Indians so occupied does not go to improve the reserves to which they belong, but on the other hand their absorption in the industrial life of the country is tending, more than any other cause, to the final solution of the Indian problem.

Farming does not, however, absorb the greater portion of Indian labor power. Wages, and the proceeds from various industries, account together for $2,392,965 of total earnings per year. Hunting, fishing and trapping, which the natives of the North American continent have followed from time immemorial, first that they might eat and clothe theselves, and later that they might benefit by supplying the necessities of others, still continue to be profitable, and one million and a half dollars is realized from their combined pursuit every twelve months.

In the pursuit of these different industries the Indian is exhibiting an unsuspected adaptability and more capability than he has ever yet been given credit for. A shining example was the late Dr. Oronyhatekha, executive head of the Independent Order of Foresters

and a financial genius supreme in his own field. The production of even a single mentality such as his is evidence that education is slowly ousting tradition, and the attrition of constant contact with civilization is wearing away heredity.

Education is the big factor in bringing on the Indian millenium; education in its three main phases, social, industrial and moral. On it the government has concentrated its energies, and an efficient and well staffed system of day, boarding and industrial schools has been established with a total enrolment of 11,190 pupils, and a percentage of attendance of 60.44. These schools are carried on altogether through the medium of the religious bodies, the government contributing financial assistance in the form of a per capita grant.

A youthful instructress in an Ontario Indian day school smiled indulgently over her class of button-eyed statuettes in bronze as she spoke of her work of teaching the young Indian idea how to shoot, and assured the interviewer that it did not lack results.

“Yes, the work here is most interesting and, with those who attend steadily, very satisfactory. My pupils are quick to learn and were it not for their difficulty with the language and their bashfulness, they would do as well as white children. The language is the big trouble, though. I find it so difficult to get them to write it correctly, and they do persist in leaving out what they think are superfluous words. You know Indians always use as few words as possible in speaking, and it is well brought out in some of the replies I get from my children. ‘Mind baby’ is the laconic excuse they give me for absence, and ‘Gone town; work’ is another favorite.

“They have a natural taste for bright colors, so I let them do a lot of drawing, which pleases the parents very much. I also try to teach them cleanliness by urging them to keep themselves' and the schoolroom neat. I must say their manners improve greatly after a few months here. But I do wish they would attend more regularly,” and here the youthful educationist sighed.

This matter of irregular attendance

is really one of the most serious that the education of the Indian has to contend with. As ai rule, when school begins each year, at least one half the population of the reserves is absent. A white man who had finished work on his own small farm and was inspired by a laudable desire to accumulate extra wealth outside would leave his wife and children behind to take care of the home. Not so with the Indian. When he seeks fresh fields of employment he must take the whole family with him, and both home and school may then take care of themselves as far as he is concerned. The result is that during the warm season of the year, when conditions are such as to enable the children of even the poorest in the land to attend school regularly if so disposed, the Indian child is in camp with parents or guardians near some town or industrial centre. Early winter finds the whole family back on the reserve with, perhaps, barely sufficient food to keep those in his care from experiencing the pangs of hunger until the return of spring, but with his children poorly clad and unprepared to go from home in the cqld weather even so far as the schoolhouse.

In some reserves, too, the old time

pagan festivals have survived the iconoclastic influences of modern days, and are still held regularly at stated times of the year. They last a week at a time. Religious in nature they are considered of greater importance than the “white man’s education” and all men, women and children attend re■ gardless of the scholastic term. All these various causes of intermittent attendance help to paralyze educational efforts, and hence it is that the progress the majority of these Indian schools make is surprisingly satisfactory under the circumstances. When one listens to pupils, young aborigines whose fathers would have viewed the alphabet with wonder and regarded an arithmetical formula as “bad medicine,” reading with fluency, distinctness and a good accent; when their ready and intelligent solution of mathematical problems, and well executed penmanship and drawing are witnessed, and their undoubted interest in their work apprehended, there is little room or justification for further pessimism in regard to the future of Canada’s red races.

Wherein lies the ultimate economic salvation of the Indian? In education.

What is the real Indian problem of

the present day? And the answer once again is, education.

It has been made the basis of many a short story, but it's hard fact to the officials of the Indian departments of two nations. You will find it under a separate heading in the bluebooks, labeled Degeneration of Graduates in Reserves, and there are as many causes as cures for it. Briefly, it is the difficulty met with in changing these people from hunters and trappers who have been nomads for ages untold, to a pastoral community in touch with the conditions of this modern age.

The difficulty is perhaps not so much in changing the Indian as in keeping him changed. The aboriginal character is always more or less in a condition of flux, and ever ready to flow back into the old mold. The schoolboy who goes back to the reserve with all his newly absorbed knowledge heavy upon him finds himself suspended between heaven and earth. The old people laugh at his “white” ways, and the young people^ who have not enjoyed equal educational advantages seem cut off from him. He has been educated out of touch at the very point where he should be in touch to make a success of life. The accessories of modern civilization, its adequate lighting and heating equipment, its breadmixers, its

washing machines and perhaps its pocket manicures, have bred in him a contempt for things as he will have to meet them on the reserve. There are no organs there, and that is why the case of the Indian girl who asked to remain an extra year in a boarding school because she “was getting along so well in her music,” is a particularly apt illustration of this form of overeducation.


Lack of social sympathy from their white brothers and sisters also contributes to decadence. The color line is drawn, in other words. Here and there one finds flashes of ambition in scholars of the best type who, having nothing in common with the reserves, make for the cities and there find employment as deckhands, shop assistants and carpenters. Money comes easily and they want to spend it. Lacking sympathy from the better class of white people, they find association with the lowest type, the next best thing, and then begins the easy journey along the downward path of degradation. Laws to the contrary, someone may always be found who will sell liquor to the Indian, and thus the sot is bred, while the girls, too “smart” for the Indian villages and unfitted because of hereditary tendencies for city environment, swell the ranks of the white slaves.

These are individual cases, however. In general a wide adherence to the moral code is to be recorded. From their peculiar and distinct position in society, Indians are open to ignorant censure from the very class of the community that stands aloof from all efforts to improve their condition, but, considering their proneness to be sought out and influenced by the less desirable members of the white communities, who tempt them with their own viecs, the Indians stand well as moral and law abiding citizens. The native code of ethics is not, clause by clause, the same as that of the white race, but they are capable of practicing Christian morals, and do so after education and experience. .

What then is the future of the Indian? That first contact with civilization results in seeming decadence and that this decadence, apparently final, with further development proves but the first growth of a later progressive evolution has been indicated. But evolution is an everlasting process, and now that we have embarked our red brother on it we owe it to him to follow it to the end.


What is that end to be?

Absorption and inter-marriage will bring it to pass. Think of the North American continent as a huge basin. Vizualize the Indian as liquid in the basin’s bottom which has never had a chance to slop over the rim. Consider the collective Caucasian as a sponge, drop the sponge in and observe how it soaks up, or if you prefer it, absorbs, the liquid. The analogy is simple, but correct. The white man of Canada and the United States is slowly, steadily and surely absorbing his red brother. The higher the latter’s ascent up the social scale, the more that is done for him by education and Christianization, the quicker will the process be. But even in his present imperfect stage of development it is going on. In the Canadian province of Ontario one whole band has already disappeared. It has not died out; it has simply lost its racial identity. Others will follow and absorption will not cease with the half breed. Ultimately he, too, will disappear and with him will go the old Indian traditions and the barbaric traits which are as impossible to civilization as a vacuum to nature.

In time there will be no more Indians. But there will be a new strain in this new world blood of ours, and a new writing on the palimpset of national character. We believe nowadays in the survival of the fittest. Let it be our hope, therefore, that, gradually freeing ourselves from the inherent weaknesses that were the Indian’s, we may retain, in this North American breed of men, some of the stoic virtues of his race.