Canada’s attitude toward its Indians used to be a model of simplicity: “Let them die!” Today, although some of its evils persist, the policy of cruelty and neglect is on the mend

BLAIR FRASER June 1 1950


Canada’s attitude toward its Indians used to be a model of simplicity: “Let them die!” Today, although some of its evils persist, the policy of cruelty and neglect is on the mend

BLAIR FRASER June 1 1950



Canada’s attitude toward its Indians used to be a model of simplicity: “Let them die!” Today, although some of its evils persist, the policy of cruelty and neglect is on the mend


Maclean's Ottawa Editor

FOR the first 70 years of Confederation Canadian policy toward the Canadian Indian was simple: “Wait for him to die out.” Nominally he’s a ward of the Crown, and we do treat him from birth to death as a minor whose affairs we whites must supervise. But we treated him more like an illegitimate stepchild.

We gave him land to live on -5*^ million acres in 2,210 reserves. Some afe ample tracts of farmland (especially those of powerful war bands like the Blackfeet and the Bloods, who made their treaties tomahawk in hand). Others are little patches of rock, marsh and shrub, or slum areas on f he edge of towns.

We promised him the right to hunt and fish as of old a promise consistently broken all over Canada.

We undertook to provide schools to loach him white man’s ways. Of .‘11,000 Indian children of school age today more than one quarter have no schooling at all and only about 400 are in high school.

To the 61,000 Indians covered by formal treaty

we promised cash, and this is one promise scrupulously kept. Treaty payments are made annually —$4 or $5 to each man, woman and child, up to $25 for chiefs.

The other commitments didn’t seem important. Pledge or no pledge it seemed wasteful to educate a man so nearly extinct. The State left that largely to missionaries, with a handout to cover part of the cost. Medical care was even less desirable; besides, it hadn’t been specifically promised. Canada spent less than $1 million a year on Indian health services before the war, and much of that went to political hacks like the “part-time doctor” on an Alberta reserve whose contract stipulated at least a visit a month. He’d leave Calgary at midnight on the 31st, return on the 1st, and make that trip do for two months. Nobody minded. The Indian was dying out.

The Indians fooled us. In spite of recurrent epidemics, a TB rate 15 to 40 times the white rate, the death of one baby out of every five born — the Indian about 30 years ago stopped decreasing. From a low of about 100,000 after the flu epiden ic of 1919 they have grown to 133,000 and are adding 3,000 each year. The policy of waiting for them to die has had to be abandoned.

It isn’t true, as some Indians think, that the white man’s reaction was to try to restore the trend toward extermination. A lot has been done for Indian welfare in the last few years. We’re spending six times as much over all, and 10 times as much on Indian health, as we spent before the war. Five hospitals 18 nursing stations, 150 schools and 3,300 new homes have been added since 1946—not enough, perhaps, but a fair showing for four years. The TB death rate is still 11 times the white rat?, but at least it’s 42% lower than it was in 1938. For three years a parliamentary committee sat to study Indian affairs, and this year the Indian Act— virtually unchanged since 1876—has been rewritten and a new Act laid before Parliament.

It is true, though, that in 1931, as an economy measure, the Government ordered no more Indian TB cases admitted to hospital.

It’s true that Indian treaty rights are still being violated. All treaties guaranteed him the right to hunt and fish freely. But the pledge was federal; game laws are provincial and the Indian is told he must obey them.

Last year Alberta wrote a new set of fishing regulations and sent them to Ottawa for approval. Without consulting the Indian Affairs Branch, Cabinet endorsed the new rules by order-in-council. Alberta Indians who live mainly on fish were suddenly told they could fish only one day a week. How do you catch a week’s food in one day?

For 23 years Ottawa has accepted the idea that indigent persons of 70 and over deserve a pension, of which the federal

Continued on page 52

Continued from page 9

share is now $30 a month. But as the Indian Act says, “ ‘person’ means an individual other than an Indian.”

Four thousand aged Indians get, in lieu of pension, a monthly ration of groceries —that even in the far north wouldn’t cost more than $15 retail. Man and wife get, not twice as much, but 1 Vi times as much. Two years ago a cash allowance of $8 a month was

Indian Affairs would like to pay Indians at least the federal share of the regular old-age pension. The parliamentary committee recommended it three years running and Parliament

approved all the committee’s reports.

Still the Treasury Board, the finance committee of Cabinet, has refused the request for three years past and again this year. Hon. Douglas Abbott, chairman of the Treasury Board, says he wants to be sure an aged Indian needs $30 a month to live on.

But of all the Government's recent acts perhaps the most disturbing was a purge of Indian bands that began in 1942. This was the first major policy change the Indian could observe after he’d turned the corner away from extinction. It looked as if the white man, nature having failed him, was calling in law to rid him of his red ward.

In northern Alberta 663 people were put off reserves on which, in most cases, they’d spent their lives. Many spoke nothing but Cree; few could read or write. They were people of mixed

blood, but all regarded themselves as Indians and had been so accepted by Ottawa for anything up to 60 years they didn’t know how to be anything else. Starting in 1942, Ottawa examined their papers and said to each, “You’re not an Indian, you’ll have to get out.”

Missionaries and others protested loudly; 516 of the expelled Indians appealed. Mr. Justice W. A. Macdonald, of Calgary, was named a royal commission to look into the matter. In a stinging report he rejected the interpretations of law on which the purge had been based, and recommended that all hut 77 appellants 1M: restored to Indian status.

The Macdonald Report was suppressed until the parliamentary committe pried it out three years later Its recommendations were ignored. Only

129 were readmitted: the rest are still

At Driftpile. near Lesser Slave Lake, a young Indian was pointed out as the illegitimate son of a white trader. The aged chief dictated an affidavit to this effect to an interpreter, and he and two councilors signed it with their X marks.

Before Judge Macdonald the young man’s Indian father testified under oath: “Robert was born before his

mother and I were married, but I’m his father. I’ve always treated him as my son.” The old chief said he’d “understood” Robert’s real father was white; he didn’t know.

Judge Macdonald said Robert should be taken back. Ottawa paid no attention; Robert is still out.

There were hundreds like that. By the letter of the act they were not Indian, but they’d been accepted as such for whole lifetimes.

Education From the Churches

True, there had been abuses. Often missionaries registered babies as Indian. knowing they weren’t. The motive was usually humane—if there was no one to care for the child the easy course was to call him an Indian. He grew up on the reserve and in Indian schools, knowing the Indian life and no other.

Occasionally the motive was less creditable. Once a white Protestant family adopted a baby. By mistake the Alberta Government sent a Catholic orphan. The local R. C. missionary took the child from his foster parents and placed him with an Indian Catholic family. In due course his name turned up on the band roster.

That infant, now a man whose life and language are Indian, was expelled in the purge. He was wrongly admitted in the first place—but by whose fault? His own, at the age of three months?

The relations between the churches and State also complicate the problem of Indian schools. By law Indian education is a federal responsibility; in fact Ottawa used to leave the initiative to the Roman Catholic, Anglican and United Churches. The Government paid part of the costs (about half until 1948) but had no control over mission schools.

Even today, out of 21,000 Indian school children, 9,000 are in residential schools staffed and operated by the churches. The proportion used to be much higher.

I spent a day at the Catholic school in Kamloops, B.C., the biggest and perhaps the best in Canada. The staff is keen and able. The 350 children look happy and healthy, better fed and clad than they’d be at home. The better Protestant schools (I visited two) are almost equally good.

Unhappily the best is not the typical Indian school. Take the Mohawk Institute, at Brantford, Ont., an Anglican school once regarded as a show place of Indian education. In March a grand jury found conditions at the institute “deplorable.” I was there a week later and I didn’t think this language immoderate. A cow barn nearby was much warmer and better

The Rev. E. J. Staley, principal of the United Church school at Edmonton, himself a minister, said. “We must get these schools out of the control of the churches. The present system is ruinous.”

I asked why.

“They can’t afford qualified teachers. When they get a minister who can’t hold a church,” he added with a grin, “they make him principal of an Indian school.”

Figures bear him out. In 1947

Roman Catholic residential schools had 139 teachers. Only 37 had normal school, 10 had Arts degrees and “several” were Bachelors of Education. The rest were teachers whose own education ended in high school.

The Anglican record is better—26 of 38 teachers have certificates and five are university trained. Complete figures aren’t available for United Church schools but their standards have improved lately. However, the Protestant churches themselves say they can’t carry the load. “It is the considered opinion of the United Church,” said its brief to the parliamentary committee, “that the time has come seriously to consider the establishment of Indian education on a completely nonsectarian basis.”

Since 1948 the Government has paid the children’s board at residential schools, but the churches still pay teachers, staff and other charges. It cost the Anglican Church alone $100,-

Suddenly Came More Money

But this picture is changing today.

1 visited several of the 150 government day schools built since 1946—they’re bright, warm, well-equipped. Teachers are now civil servants with pension rights and first-class salaries; since 1947 the number of teachers with first-class certificates has been nearly doubled. From 1945 to 1949 the education budget more than doubled

— up from $2,270,000 to $5,380.000, which is more than the whole Indian Affairs Branch had before the war.

The whole increase of Indian school population since 1938 has gone into State day schools. Even in the best residential school, all that the Indian child learns is alien to the life to which he returns at home, but the day schools are trying with some success to influence the community.

What came over the Government five years ago, after 75 years of complacent neglect? There are several answers.

Indian Affairs got a good director

— R. A. Hoey, former Minister of Education in Manitoba. He has now retired but his successor, Major D. M. MacKay, is an equally able man who had a fine record as Inspector of Indian Affairs in B. C. They have put good men into key jobs, and relieved the frustration of those who were there already.

Indian health was shifted to Health and Welfare, which gave another cabinet minister a personal interest. Brooke Claxton, the first Health and Welfare Minister, and his successor, Paul Marlin, were both appalled by what they found; both have worked hard for improvement.

Several ministers and M.Ps. including Prime Minister St. Laurent, attended United Nations meetings where the problem of backward nations came up. The Canadians remembered with a pang of guilt the “backward nation” within our own borders.

Finally the parliamentary committee was set up. The Government, perhaps apprehensive of the tale about to he unfolded, moved hastily to give it a happier ending. Money became suddenly plentiful

In the North an intensive fur conservation program has begun Ottawa’s spending $350,000 on it this year, four provinces an equal amount. Results are already sensational. Beaver output has been multiplied many times and is becoming a stable industry. It means a new least; of life for the “hush Indian.”

The Indian health budget is now about $11 millions a year. Infant mortality was 179 per 1,000 in 1936,

111 in 1948. TB death rate per 100,000 was 723 in 1938. 413 in 1949. Last year 75% of all Indians were X-rayed, even though half of them are seminomads in the bush.

The open sores are being bound up, the crying scandals removed. We are coming to the fundamental question: What, in the long run, do we do with the Indian? What do we want to make of him, and how?

For a fewbands, a few individuals, the problem hardly exists. The Six Nations reserve near Brantford, whose people have been there for more than 150 years, is a prosperous rural community. Many have outside jobs. A California doctor motors home every year or two to his farm on the reserve. G. C. Monture, a senior Government official who was one of Canada’s representatives in Washington during the war, is a member of the Six Nations.

On the Blood reserve in Southern Alberta a farmer recently died leaving $180,000 to his heirs. Some Caughnawagas, bridge builders of international fame, earn as much as $12,000 a year.

But for every one such Indian there are hundreds whose cash income is negligible. Northern trappers were said to earn about $150 a year up to the end of the war; they now make about $400.

I talked through an interpreter with an Indian trapper in northwestern Ontario.

That man lived in a settlement of about 200 people where 15 TB cases were found by an X-ray team last summer. Of eight babies born since last July five died. “They died of dirt,” said the Hudson’s Bay Company man, who is the nearest thing to a doctor within 100 miles. Not a cabin has a privy; drinking water comes from the lake. Midwives tie off the umbilical cords of infants with bits of yarn. Up to 18 months, babies are still carried on a board laced into a stockinglike nest of moss. Yet their homes are a sharp contrast to the ramshackle shanties in some forest villages.

They were a “good” band, the Hudson’s Bay man explained, because they’d had so little contact with whites. Until 1932, even the nearest trading post was 50 miles away and seldom

Now They Eat Store Food

At Kamloops, right on the edge of town, is an Indian village that’s one of the worst, I was told, in all Canada. Eleven people live in one tarpaper shack. One pump serves the whole village. Few houses have privies. Indian Affairs won’t spend a cent repairing these squalid huts—instead, anyone who wants a better home may have a brand-new one out on a farm nearby, with plenty of good land. But most of the Indian families prefer their hovels; they don’t like farming.

Apparently the first effect of contact with the whites is always bad. The Indian doesn’t know how to be thrifty with white men’s money, or healthy with white men’s food. II’H not just whisky and TM even the moHt innocuous things corrupt him.

On a Gulf of St. Lawrence island one Indian had a sensationally good season so he bought a car. The only road was a lumber track three quarters of a mile long and the proud motorist spent the summer driving up and down it. When winter came he left the car out, omitting to drain the water from the radiator. In the spring his car was worthless and he was hack on relief.

Northern Indians have learned to eat "store food” white flour, lard and tea. Family allowances, which in the IMIHII are paid in goods, have mended this situation a good deal. Mush

Indians today (much to their own disgust at first) get citrus juices, tomatoes, powdered milk.

The Indian used to eat a fish whole, entrails and all. White men taught him that it’s nasty to eat fish guts. Today the Indian cleans his fish and throws away a natural source of vitamins.

Handouts won’t solve the Indian problem. Too many seem content with their treaty money, their relief groceries, their squalid but secure reserves. They don’t seem to want anything except “more.”

It all comes back to the problem of education. Indian schools from now on will offer the standard curriculum of the province, with three important variations. There will be special emphasis on hygiene, with simple illustrated textbooks. There will be courses in Indian history and culture, to restore a pride of race that’s largely lost. There will be special vocational training, varied by region and circumstance. At the residential school in Sioux Lookout, Ont., for instance, the boys have their own trap line; they go out in groups with an instructor. Last winter it earned them $700.

Can't Spend Their Own Cash

But with this progress some curious gaps remain—and some of them may even survive the rewriting of the Indian Act. If an Indian rents a bit of property on a reserve he has to do it through Ottawa. The lessor pays the rent to the Indian agent, the agent sends the cheque to Indian Affairs headquarters, Indian Affairs hands it to Treasury for deposit in the Consolidated Revenue Fund: then Indian Affairs issues a requisition for the same amount and, in due time, gets a cheque from Treasury; this cheque is sent to the Indian agent, who pays it to the Indian. Often it takes months.

Indians can’t spend their own band funds without Ottawa’s consent—a wise enough precaution since the capital is intended for posterity too. In the past, consent was often refused even to highly reasonable requests. One Indian agent, taking over his new job 15 years ago, found that Indian farmers were being refused loans on the ground that “previous loans are unpaid.” On enquiry he learned that the “previous loans” had been issued to the fathers, in some cases even the grandfathers, of the farmers now blacklisted. Meanwhile farms were left in weedy ruin for lack of money for seed and gear.

That sticky attitude has pretty well vanished now, but the Indian doesn’t always realize it. Delays remain. This old, highly centralized system, with so much having to be cleared through Ottawa, puts an impossible burden on the still inadequate staff of the Indian Affairs Branch.

Inspector Andrew Hamilton, of Manitoba, told the parliamentary committee he had charge of 101 reserves and 25,000 Indians. In 1946 his office received 3,200 letters and sent 2,500, as well as 340 vouchers. For office staff he had, at that time, one stenographer.

Small wonder that delays persist to keep the Indian’s suspicion alive. Small wonder, in the light of the long past, that the Indian distrusts the white man's professed good intentions.

One old Sarcee recently said to his chief: “There’s something wrong. This last few years they’re giving us things I we used to have to beg for, time after time. You wait; they’re planning some dirty trick.”

This year, for the first time since 1876, Parliament has a chance to show this old man he’s wrong, if