|Previous Article||Next Article||FNPI Search||Home||Previous Year||Next Year||Year List|
The goals of official Indian policy have been to remake Indian people in the image of European manners and values eventually eliminating their separate culture.
For the Indian people they are not mere abstractions, existing only in legal theory or in nostalgia for a vanished past. They are concrete, durable, fixed in the accumulated experience of reserve life, and they define the position from which all discussions of Indian development must begin.
The Western Treaties were thus more than a contractual undertaking by the Crown to grant certain payments, rights and benefits to the Indian people, for all time, in return for cession of the tribal land and Indian commitment to keep peace and obey the laws of the land. Beyond these specific terms, the Treaties were an affirmation of Tribal and Band integrity and recognition of the right of Indian people to manage their affairs on their own lands in accordance with custom and tradition.
While disruption of the plains environment in the 1870's was of catastrophic proportions for the Indians and forced the necessity of sweeping adoptive change, nothing in the statements of Treaty Commissioners to Chiefs and Headmen suggested the rapid implementation of a program of directed cultural genocide and forced assimilation into the enveloping Canadian society.
The Indian policy was described as "tribal communism" by Departmental officials. It was assaulted selectively and comprehensively; the principal targets of attack were traditional Band leadership, co-operative production and sharing, village settlement pattern, religious beliefs and sacred ceremonials. These and other manifestations of Indian culture were to be exorcised and replaced by Euro-Canadian institutions, values and behaviour. All this was to take place on the reserve which, in the context of Federal philosophy were not an Indian homeland for all time but temporary laboratories for a program of forced culture change.
While the powers of the Minister and his deputies were greatly reduced in the Indian Act of 1951, and most of the repressive and suppressive measures (including compulsory enfranchisement) dropped, the goals of Indian policy remained the same: to assimilate Indian people into Canadian society and eventually to dismantle the reserve system. The policy goals were not themselves in question; only the means used to achieve them were in need of revision, because it was clear to the policy-makers that the reserve system, intended to be temporary, was rapidly assuming an alarming permanence.
Earlier Indian Acts had also given Band Councils considerable authority. The authority was not properly used or encouraged by the Government. Sections which allowed Bands to hire their own teachers were removed and the authority placed with outside agencies. The 1951 Indian Act made provision for less federal and Indian control and more provincial control.
The detribalization policy was more seriously damaging in another way. There may be little value now, in harking back to "what might have been", yet we do it to make a point. Common sense and the living experience of our people tell us that if we had been allowed to adapt on our own terms; to direct the process of change and development from within our communities with that Government assistance and good will which Treaty Commissioner Morris assured our forefather would always be forth coming; our reserves would not be in their present state of under development and deprivation. But we were denied the opportunity to develop our own institutions to meet the needs of change Institutional control over the Band government, education, religion and other activities was taken from us and, as a consequence, several generations of Indian people have little experience of institution-building as a normal process in community growth and change. Some of us say that several more generations will be required to correct this structural incompleteness.
The Second World War made the Indians' presence much more apparent. Many Indian men had voluntarily signed up and seen active duty in the Armed Forces. The result of the increased consciousness to Indian problems was the Indian Act hearings in 1947 which were followed by the 1951 revised Indian Act.
Many Indian leaders and concerned citizens came forward and expressed their views at Indian Act hearings. One such well intentioned individual was Dr. Jenness, a professor at the University of British Columbia.
His plan was entitled "The Liquidation of Canada's Indian Problem within Twenty five Years" - It consisted of four items; first, separate schools were to be abolished and Indian children were to be placed in provincial
Dr. Jenness was lauded by the committee and all felt that they had been presented with a workable plan. One question remained unanswered. What about Indian Treaty Rights?
This plan was largely implemented except for the abolishing of reserves and the enfranchisement of Indians. This is not to suggest that it was not attempted.
This plan was largely responsible for the push in the late 50's and early 60's to establish integrated schools in non-Indian communities. The plan also led to the start of fragmenting Indian services. The first department to be removed from the jurisdiction of the Minister of Indian Affairs was Indian Health Services.
Long range plans were developed to transfer services to other departments and eventually to the provinces. Plans for the establishment of joint schools, for example, were developed years ahead of their implementation in isolation from Indian people.
The Chiefs from the Indian Association of Alberta and the Executive Council of the National Indian Brotherhood met a year later with the Federal Cabinet. At that time, the Minister of Indian Affairs assured the delegation that the White Paper was dead. The Prime Minister followed with a commitment that his government "would take 5, 10, 15, or 20 years if necessary" to carry out the necessary dialogue and consultation with Indian people. The Prime Minister further assured the delegation by stating "We will not force anything on you", promising that no new policies would be undertaken without the involvement and consent of the Indian people.
In her latest royal tour of Canada, Queen Elizabeth II, made a further commitment from the Crown in respect to Treaties, "You may be confident of the continual co-operation of my government which represents your people as it represents all the people of Canada. You may be assured that my Government of Canada recognizes the importance of full compliance with the spirit and terms of your Treaties."
In spite of these assurances, the Department of Indian Affairs has gone ahead and developed guidelines and circulars which seriously alter and jeopardize our traditional form of government.
The past century has seen our Treaties under constant bombardment from other acts and legislation which conflict and attack our special status. We will not accept these new guidelines or any legislation developed in our absence which abrogate our Treaties.
Our Treaty rights are non-negotiable and not subject to compromise. We are now demanding that legislation be brought forward bringing an end to the assimilation policies and further legislation be brought forward reaffirming our Treaties and special status.