Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Issues to Ponder

One in every four humans is Chinese.

Now, look at the person on your right. Look at the person on your left. Look at the person behind you.

Draw your own conclusions.


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Welcome Russia!


A rather odd circumstance--checking the stats for this blog just yesterday, I discover that I now have a huge audience in Russia. I have over one hundred times more readers in Russia than I do from Canada, even though Canadian affairs are the usual focus of the blog.

Canada is only my fifth largest audience. Immediately following Russia, although at only one tenth the audience, is --- Mauritius. That, too, is pretty remarkable, considering the total population of Mauritius.

It goes without saying, I suppose, that I have done nothing to promote this blog in Russia or Mauritius.

In fact, I have done nothing to promote this blog anywhere.

Thanks, readers!


Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Famous Last Words of Po U



I came as nothing, echoes in my ears;
Things went mad for maybe fifty years.
I've worn the masks of glory and of shame;
Now all masks are nothing once again.


- Po U (16th Century) was head of the Korean Zen order, Korean Minister of Justice and of Defense. He was assassinated at age fifty by nine strong men striking him in the stomach with mailed fists. He collapsed three days later, vomiting blood.

-- Stephen K. Roney



Free Private Schools



All Saints' Residential School


The judge has entered the court, and Exhibit A for the charge of cultural genocide against Canadian Indians is now entered in evidence: the residential schools.

In 2008, the “Truth and Reconciliation” Commission was duly formed and funded to investigate the atrocity. Seven years and sixty million dollars later, it writes, in its summary report, “Residential schooling was always more than simply an educational program; it was an integral part of a conscious policy of cultural genocide” (Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future, p 55). So there.

The very first words of their summary report are:

“Canada’s residential school system for Aboriginal children was an education system in name only for much of its existence. These residential schools were created for the purpose of separating Aboriginal children from their families, in order to minimize and weaken family ties and cultural linkages, and to indoctrinate children into a new culture—the culture of the legally dominant Euro-Christian Canadian society, led by Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald” (ibid., p. V). The residential school system had “paternalistic and racist foundations” (p. VI).

Irwin Cotler, when Justice Minister, called the residential schools "the single most harmful, disgraceful and racist act in our history."

Strong words. They must have been something terrible. But exactly how?

The first charge against them is sexual abuse of the children. No doubt it happened. But this was the fault of individuals, surely, not an intended feature of the system itself. We do not and cannot know how widespread it really was—such charges are by their nature usually one person’s word against another’s. Moreover, we are learning with ever greater frequency that such sexual abuse is a risk at schools everywhere. The unfortunate truth is that, if you are a pedophile, a bully, or a sadist, classroom teaching is an ideal career—the second-best opportunity anywhere to practice your favourite hobby. More so in a remote residential school.

But on this score, would aboriginal children have been better off at home? Some, no doubt. But if you are a pedophile, a sadist, or a bully, there is one situation, and only one, that gives you more opportunity than does teaching to practice your predilection: having your own kids. Ideally in a remote location, even more remote than a consoludated residential school. More kids by far are molested or abused by family members than by teachers or strangers.

Because of their magnetic attraction for pedophiles and sadists, it seems a good idea to run residential schools on religious lines, and require of teachers demonstrated religious commitment and good moral character. Hypocrisy is always a possibility, but this is the test obviously required. A vow of celibacy, as with Catholic religious, is an even stronger test, evidence of both religious commitment and a general lack of compelling interest in sex. Given this, the Indian residential schools, being religious institutions, seem to have done a better job of protecting their charges from sexual or emotional abuse than the typical private school, perhaps the typical public school. If there was still abuse, alas, this world is ever far from being perfect.

In class.

And even if it were much more common than it seems to have been, sexual abuse of students would involve only a small minority of students. No; the schools must be demonized on other grounds.

And demonization seems to be the point. It certainly seems that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission had no interest in arriving at the truth. It heard almost solely from self-selected “victims,” rather than trying anything so scientific as a random survey. Few ex-staff were heard from. There was no cross-examination of witnesses; the commission shared the general prejudice that Indians and other aboriginals are incapable of telling a lie. Even if self-interest, such as receiving government compensation, were involved.

The summary report also seems to favour anecdotes that subtly evoke the Nazi death camps. For example, there seems to be an allusion to the crowded, windowless cattle cars of Eastern Europe in its accounts of leaving for residential school:

“Larry Beardy travelled by train from Churchill, Manitoba, to the Anglican residential school in Dauphin, Manitoba—a journey of 1,200 kilometres. As soon as they realized that they were leaving their parents behind, the younger children started crying. At every stop, the train took on more children and they would start to cry as well. 'That train I want to call that train of tears.'” (Truth and Reconciliation Commission, op. cit., pp. 37-8).

For most children, the first day of school is probably traumatic. More so if the school is residential. Still, we do not often see this as an argument for keeping children out of school, nor for seeing school as a sort of holocaust. Reference to a “train of tears” seems just a trifle over the top.

The Commission seems to relish the fact that children, on arrival at school, had their heads shaved. Just as in photos of inmates of the concentration camps. It was for “delousing”? Sure; that’s what they said at Auschwitz when they herded Jews to the gas chambers.

“'When we arrived we had to register that we had arrived, then they took us to cut our hair.' Bernice Jacks became very frightened when her hair was cut on her arrival at a school in the Northwest Territories. 'I could see my hair falling. And I couldn’t do nothing. And I was so afraid my mom … I wasn’t thinking about myself. I was thinking about Mom. I say, “Mom’s gonna be really mad. And June is gonna be angry. And it’s gonna be my fault.’” (Truth and Reconciliation Commission, op. cit., p. 38).

Campbell Papequash interprets this as a deliberate humiliation. “And after I was taken there they took off my clothes and then they deloused me. I didn’t know what was happening but I learned about it later, that they were delousing me; ‘the dirty, no-good-for-nothing savages, lousy’” (ibid., p. 38).

Kuper Island Residential school


But children really do get head lice. The best way to protect against them spreading through the school is indeed to shave all the kids' heads when they first arrive. Head lice are not good company.

One thinks of Marx's observation that history repeats itself--first as tragedy, then as farce. This seems only an amusing children’s pantomime of the holocaust. I was apart from parents on the train! They cut my hair!

Another charge made, and made in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report, is that the existence of the residential schools was an insult to the abilities of Indians as parents. Didn’t the existence of such schools imply that the government did not trust them to look after their own kids?

Not really—if only because it was the Indians, not the government, who wanted such schools. But, if there was a general concern among whites as well as Indians about the state of the aboriginal family, it would seem to be with some reason. “By 1960,” the Commission itself reports, “the federal government estimated that 50% of the children in residential schools were there for child-welfare reasons” (Truth and Reconciliation Commission, op. cit., p. 68). “Some children had to stay in the schools year-round because it was thought there was no safe home to which they could return” (ibid., p. 72). Indeed, “[i]n 1977, Aboriginal children accounted for 44% of the children in care in Alberta, 51% of the children in care in Saskatchewan, and 60% of the children in care in Manitoba” (ibid., p. 69). Today, although aboriginals are only 4% of the Canadian population, half the children in foster care are aboriginal (APTN National News, May 8, 2013). The residential schools may have been needed if for no other reason than to protect many of the kids sent there; it may be tragic for many aboriginal children that they no longer exist. There is, as we are all aware, an epidemic of alcohol and “substance” abuse in aboriginal communities. Less than half (49.6%) of aboriginal children are currently living with both parents (ibid.).

Okay, so maybe it was better than home in some ways. But, the Commission argues, the food was lousy. One Indian Affairs agent complained of one school, in 1897, they report, “The bill of fare is decidedly monotonous and makes no allowance for peculiarities of taste or constitution” (Truth and Reconciliation Committee, op. cit., p. 89). “A 1966 dietician’s report on Yukon Hall in Whitehorse observed that although the Canada Food Guide requirements were being met, 'because of the appetite of this age group, the staff are finding 66¢ per day per student is limiting.' In 1969, an official at Coudert Hall in Whitehorse wrote, 'The $0.80 alloted [sic] per student for food is not sufficient. In the north we find prices sky high.' To cope with the problem, the residence sometimes had to buy 'less meat and served maccaroni [sic] products.' A November 1970 inspection of the Dauphin, Manitoba, school noted that the 'menu appears to be short of the recommended two servings of fruit per day'” (p. 90-91).

That’s tough. Only one serving of fruit a day. Still, rather weak tea in the annals of historic genocide. Anyone who has lived with a cafeteria meal plan has probably had similar complaints. My favourite is when my college plan regularly served boiled barley as the vegetable. That at an expensive private college in the US Northeast. If anything, the documentation the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has produced shows that the government took some interest in and trouble with the quality of food students were getting. If it was a bit sparse in current terms, for those not attending exclusive colleges, it should be measured against what the students were likely to eat in those days if they stayed home. According to the native activists themselves, on reserve they were starving.

Moose Factory


Nor do all former students complain about the food, if you seek sources beyond those offered in the Truth and Reconciliation report. Dora Churchill, who went to St. Anthony's Residential School in the 1950s, recalls instead, “There was a lot of food, we were practically forced to eat. Every day there was delicious fresh bread, porridge, peanut butter and lots of stew. I was a picky eater back then, and the food was always very good” (Thomas Thorner and Thor Frohn-Nielsen, A Country Nourished on Self-Doubt, U of T Press, 2010, p. 400). Was Churchill’s experience the common one, or was the tragic lack of a second serving of fruit? Without a decent survey, we can only guess.

But bad food was not the worst. As part of their more general attempt to destroy Indian culture, the schools reputedly deliberately separated family members within the school: brothers and sisters were not allowed to spend time together. One former student laments, "So even though I was there with my sister and I only seen her about four times in that year and we're in the same building in the same mission. They had a fence in the playground. Nobody was allowed near the fence. The boys played on this side, the girls played on the other side. Nobody was allowed to go to that fence there and talk to the girls through the fence or whatever, you can't" (http://www.pressprogress.ca/14_first_hand_stories_underlining_how_residential_schools_tried_to_get_rid_of_indigenous_cultures)

I’m sure it was all terribly traumatic. Although it never occurred to me to find it so, going to a Catholic school. They all used to be segregated by sex. Besides preventing premature sexual experimentation, the best current studies suggest that separating the sexes for their schooling improves results for both boys and girls. They are simply interested in different things.

Never mind; the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is not that troubled by such trifles. They are more concerned that the schools provided, on the whole, a substandard education. The summary report laments:

“Much of what went on in the classroom was simply repetitious drill. A 1915 report on the Roman Catholic school on the Blood Reserve in Alberta noted, 'The children’s work was merely memory work and did not appear to be developing any deductive power, altogether too parrot like and lacking expression.' A 1932 inspector’s report from the Grayson, Saskatchewan, school suggests there had been little change. 'The teaching as I saw it today was merely a question of memorizing and repeating a mass of, to the children, ‘meaningless’ facts.'” (Truth and Reconciliation Commission, op. cit., p. 72).

Anyone familiar with the history of educational theory, however, will recognize these as the standard complaints among educational reformers of the day against traditional schools generally. There is no reason to suppose that Indian residential schools stood out in this way. And more recent educational reformers have called these assumptions into question. There is now a “back to basics” movement that argues we have gone astray by abandoning this approach. Standardized tests in basic skills are now all the rage.

If it was an inferior education, this is not evidence of it.

A large part of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's case against the residential schools as academic institutions is the latter’s emphasis on religion and morals. “The churches,” the Commission report seems to complain, “placed a greater priority on religious commitment than on teaching ability” (ibid., p. 73). “In the minds of some principals, religious training was the most valuable training the schools provided. In 1903, Brandon, Manitoba, principal T. Ferrier wrote that 'while it is very important that the Indian child should be educated, it is of more importance that he should build up a good clean character'” (ibid., p. 73).

Indian family cruelly separated at residential school in Saskatchewan


Welcome to the traditional philosophy of education everywhere. As to selecting teachers, this was a standard approach to choosing them at the time and at most times; especially, of course, in religious institutions. It is also highly defensible. What is education? What do you want the children to learn? Surely, for anyone with the slightest moral feeling, you are educating souls, just as Principal Ferrier understands. Even if a secular school, you are educating for good citizenship. You want before all else to impart basic morality. Accordingly, moral awareness and good character is the most important quality in a teacher, the more so since he or she is going to become a model to the students. Conversely, what could be more harmful than a teacher who is a model of immorality?

It is surely decadent to think otherwise.

“Teaching ability,” on the other hand, is an awfully awkward thing to measure. Other than knowledge of the subject taught, people disagree endlessly on what makes a good teacher. Moral character is easier to document. And probably the essential element to make a good teacher.

“Because the pay was so low,” the Commission then laments, “many of the teachers lacked any qualification to teach. … In 1955, 55 (23%) of the 241 teachers in residential schools directly employed by Indian Affairs had no teacher’s certificate. In 1969, Indian Affairs reported it was still paying its teachers less than they could make in provincial schools. 'As a result, there are about the same number of unqualified teachers, some 140, in federal schools [residential and non-residential] now, as ten years ago'” (ibid., p. 73).

But is this so damning? Nobody, in fact, has ever objectively demonstrated that any formal “teaching qualification” produces better teachers. Private schools that are not required to hire teachers with teaching qualifications regularly post better student academic results than public schools that do. And many principals will say the ability to bypass formal credentials is a big reason why. Nor does pay seem to matter. Private schools in Canada also usually pay their teachers less, yet get better results on standardized tests. The Finnish public system, a world-beater by many measures, pays its teachers less than most developed countries. A good teacher, it appears, does not do it for the money.

They might, on the other hand, do it out of some religious commitment.

The next serious charge raised against the residential schools is that they were compulsory. Doesn’t that make them like jail, or, better, a concentration camp? “Where residential schools were the only option, children were often forcibly removed from their families, or their families were threatened with fines or prison if they failed to send their children” (Wikipedia). Sometimes Mounties would knock at the family door to drag them off.

But wait. This, right or wrong, is the same law that applies to all Canadian children. Sending your children to school, and attending school, is compulsory; although some leeway has been granted more recently for home schooling.

St. Mary's Residential School


Now we get to something less laughable: an alleged high death rate among students. Something must have been wrong, very wrong, if kids were dying in droves. If they were not deliberately slaughtered, the living conditions must have been appalling. Thomas King, in his bestseller The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America (Penguin/Random House), calls the schools “death traps.” He says that up to half of the 150,000 Indian children who attended died: “Up to 50 per cent of them lost their lives to disease, malnutrition, neglect and abuse – 50 per cent. One in two” (King, op. cit., p. 120). That would be 75,000 little corpses.

King does not say where he gets his figures. But since his book won several literary prizes, and sold well, these numbers seem to have entered the popular consciousness.

However, the number the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is able to verify is about 3,000. A fair bit less than 75,000. This might be an undercount; records are sketchy. Perhaps the real number is 4,000; perhaps even 6,000. But that is a rate of 2% to 4%, not 50%. If 2% still sounds high, this was in a day when childhood diseases were rampant and more deadly: tuberculosis, polio, measles, scarlet fever, and so on. The Spanish flu epidemic of 1918-19, part of the period under study, by itself produced a global death rate of 3-6%.

To be clear, Canada as a whole did better than did the schools. The death rate at the residential schools in earlier years was still 4.9 times higher than in the general Canadian population (Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future, p. 93). But here the real test should be, was it higher than among Indian children staying on the reserves? This seems unlikely; the Commission's own observations hint that the death rates there were comparable. The most common cause of death in both places seems to have been tuberculosis, an epidemic second only to smallpox among aboriginals generally. In the Jesuit Relations, Father LeJeune observes that it is widespread among the Indians of New France: “They are nearly all attacked by this disease, when young” (Jesuit Relations 6, p. 261-3).

As if to prove the point, once effective treatment for TB was found, the death rates at the schools declined to something close to the national average (Truth and Reconciliation Commission, op. cit., p. 93).

“The tuberculosis health crisis in the schools,” the Commission itself admits, “was part of a broader Aboriginal health crisis that was set in motion by colonial policies that separated Aboriginal people from their land, thereby disrupting their economies and their food supplies” (ibid., p. 93). Whether this was indeed the cause—Father LeJeune blames Indian forms of food preparation--this passage admits that tuberculosis was a problem on the reserves as well as in the schools. “For Aboriginal children,” they note elsewhere. “the relocation to residential schools was generally no healthier than their homes had been on the reserves” (ibid., p. 95). No healthier. At worst, the schools cannot be blamed for the deaths; the children were no worse off for being at school.

The government, moreover, took what action they could.

Classroom, Fort Albany


“Instead of closing schools or turning them into sanatoria, the government’s major response to the health crisis was the negotiation in 1910 of a contract between Indian Affairs and the churches. This contract increased the grants to the schools and imposed a set of standards for diet and ventilation. The contract also required that students not be admitted 'until, where practicable, a physician has reported that the child is in good health'” (op. cit., p. 99).

Unfortunately, tuberculosis can remain for years in a latent state—and they did not in those days have x-rays. Many students no doubt came to school with unsuspected cases of the illness, which then spread.

Dr. Joseph Murphy, Medical Supervisor of the US Indian Service, offered this analysis of the problem in 1911:

“It has been a matter of observation for many years that a certain proportion of pupils at non-reservation and reservation boarding schools developed pulmonary tuberculosis and had to be returned to their homes. Sanitary conditions, cleanliness and nutrition were far better at these institutions than at the Indian homes, and it seemed that there must be some vital defect in the school methods. While there may have been sanitary defects in the school system contributing to this high morbidity, it is at present well recognized that many children come to the school with latent or partially-arrested tubercular infection” (Murphy, “Health Problems of the Indians,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, p. 107).

It might not be a terribly good idea to collect a lot of children together at some central point, like a school—just as movie theatres and dance halls are closed during an epidemic. General contact helps spread the disease. At the same time, it is likely that any ill students had access to more medical care at a residential school than on a remote reserve.

“Doctors and dentists made regular visits to residential schools to treat sick children, something that may not have happened if they had been living in their home communities, for those in southern Canada, or if they had been out on the land hunting and fishing with their parents, for those in the North” (Rodney Clifton, ‘Residential Schools Story More Complicated,’ Frontier Centre, May 1, 2003).

The death rate might have been higher at the residential schools than among the general population in part because the schools were relatively remote from medical care. But, by the same token, the reserves were even more remote.

So much for the imaginary gas chambers. But the original charge remains. It is, after all, for all it’s worth, “cultural genocide,” not real genocide. The residential schools, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and almost everybody else maintains, were there to wreck Indian culture.

Most notably, according to the reports, schools did this by preventing the students from speaking their own, Indian, languages.

Interestingly, however, although you will see this charge often, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, after its seven-year investigation, seems unable despite its bias to make this claim—at least, it does not claim that this was a systematic practice everywhere. Here is the statement they have produced:

“The government’s hostile approach to Aboriginal languages was reiterated in numerous policy directives. In 1883, Indian Commissioner Edgar Dewdney instructed Battleford school principal Thomas Clarke that great attention was to be given 'towards imparting a knowledge of the art of reading, writing and speaking the English language rather than that of Cree.' In 1889, Deputy Minister of Indian Affairs Lawrence Vankoughnet informed Bishop Paul Durieu that in the new Cranbrook, British Columbia, school, mealtime conversations were to be 'conducted exclusively in the English language.' The principal was also to set a fixed time during which Aboriginal languages could be spoken. In 1890, Indian Commissioner Hayter Reed proposed, 'At the most the native language is only to be used as a vehicle of teaching and should be discontinued as such as soon as practicable.' English was to be the primary language of instruction, 'even where French is taught.' The Indian Affairs 'Programme of Studies for Indian Schools' of 1893 advised, 'Every effort must be made to induce pupils to speak English, and to teach them to understand it; unless they do the whole work of the teacher is likely to be wasted'” (Truth and Reconciliation Commission, op. cit., p. 80).

None of these, presumably examples of the policy at its “worst,” involves a ban on speaking Indian languages. They are to be used, if sparingly, in instruction, or time is to be set aside for them. The issue seems not to be speaking Indian languages, but making sure that pupils also speak English. Is that so bad? Does learning a new language make you lose your first one? If, in aid of this objective, in some places and at some times use of the first language was forbidden, this is recognized standard practice in language learning, commonly found in any language centre. Total immersion is generally thought to be the fastest way to acquire a new language.

Indian residential school students forced to have their hair shorn. No, wait...


Indian languages were indeed discouraged, according to former faculty, in residential schools that included children from different tribes, and so of different languages. English was the lingua franca; using one's native language tended to be divisive, to lead to gangs and cabals, especially hurtful to vulnerable minorities. And as a practical matter, one would not be understood.

“Others had day populations and boarders from farther afield. Some served very scattered populations and were entirely residential; prohibitions against speaking Indian were more common at these, especially where the students came from different tribes historically at war with each other” (Partrick Donnelly, “Scapegoating the Indian residential schools,” Alberta Report Newsmagazine, 01/26/98, Vol. 25 Issue 6, p6).

In other schools, rather than trying to suppress native languages, faculty encouraged their use, sometimes against the opposition of parents.

“The French Oblates and Jesuits, among others, made it a practice to teach in the native tongues even in the face of pressure from the federal government, and, as the years passed, increasingly from native parents themselves, to teach the children in French or English” (J. Fraser Field, ‘The Other Side of the Residential School Question’, Vancouver Sun, December 5, 1996). This is the continuation of a longtime Jesuit policy, remarked upon elsewhere. They were on the whole supportive of Indian culture. Their interests were religious; why carry water for one culture over another? Easier for one Jesuit to learn Dene than for 500 Dene to learn English.

In the Anglican school at Onion Lake, similarly, the children were taught to “read and write both Cree and English” (Truth and Reconciliation Commission, op. cit., p. 83). At the Churchill school, according to former student Alex Alikashuak, “there were no restrictions on the use of Aboriginal languages.” “The only time, real time we spoke English was when we were in the classroom, or we’re talking to one of the administration staff, or somebody from town that’s not Inuit, but otherwise we, everybody spoke our language” (ibid., p. 83).

“One of us worked as the Senior Boys’ Supervisor in Stringer Hall,” write Rodney Clifton and Hymie Rubenstein in the National Post, “the Anglican residence in Inuvik, N.W.T., for the 1966-1967 school year, and also lived in Old Sun, the Anglican Residential School on the Blackfoot Reserve (Siksika First Nation) in Southern Alberta, in the summer of 1966.
In each of the two sex-segregated junior dormitories at Stringer Hall, there were four female supervisors, two young Inuk women and two older non-aboriginal women. Many of the young Inuit students did not speak English and the Inuk supervisors spoke to them in Inuktitut. None were punished for doing so.
Virtually all of the Dene students spoke English as their second language which was the only way they could communicate with English-speaking Inuit. Most of the supervisors, and especially the residential administrator and the matron, used Inuktituk words and facial expressions when communicating with the children, including the Dene and white children” (Clifton and Rubenstein, “Debunking the half-truths and exaggerations in the Truth and Reconciliation report,” National Post, June 4, 2015).

Even where Indian languages were discouraged, this does not seem to have been strictly enforced; just what one might expect if it was done solely for purposes of efficient language learning. Donald Cardinal recalls that, although speaking his native Cree was officially prohibited at his residential school, “he cannot remember ever being punished for it” (Patrick Donnelly, op. cit.). Rufus Goodstriker, who attended St. Paul's residential school in the 1940s, remembers, “We were supposed to speak English, but I spoke Blackfoot all the time anyway” (ibid.).

“After a 1935 tour of Canada,” the Truth and Reconciliation Commission reports, “Oblate Superior General Théodore Labouré expressed concern over the strict enforcement of prohibitions against speaking Aboriginal languages. In his opinion, 'The forbidding of children to speak Indian, even during recreation, was so strict in some of our schools that any lapse would be severely punished—to the point that children were led to consider it a serious offense'” (ibid., p 80-1).

This supposedly condemns the schools. Yet the main thrust is that speaking native languages was not a serious offense. Any administrators or teachers who acted otherwise were in violation of policy. And church authorities were taking action against it.

Predictably, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission also takes some school administrators to task for objecting to the potlatch and the sun dance. It is no longer fashionable to be against the potlatch or the sun dance. But as we have seen, there were valid reasons to be against both, on the basis not of some religious or cultural prejudice, but of human rights.

“Evelyn Kelman recalled that the principal at the Brocket, Alberta, school warned students that if they attended a Sun Dance that was to be held during the summer, they would be strapped on their return to school” writes the Commission. “… In 1943, F. E. Anfield, the principal of the Alert Bay, British Columbia, school, wrote a letter encouraging former students not to participate in local Potlatches, implying that such ceremonies were based on outdated superstition, and led to impoverishment and family neglect” (ibid., p. 83).

Even if, however, this was a matter of cultural intolerance, and of wishing to suppress native culture, rather than concern for human rights, the schools and their administrators were not the parties to accuse. At this time, both the potlatch and the sun dance were illegal. Whatever you might think of the actual ceremonies, it is the duty of an educator in a government-funded school to teach his charges, at the least, to obey the law.

Sun dance


“The missionaries who ran the schools,” the summary report elsewhere states, “played prominent roles in the church-led campaigns ... to end traditional Aboriginal marriage practices” (ibid., p. 4). To be clear, that would be traditional marriage practices like polygamy and temporary marriage. The Jesuits were definitely not keen on this. It is hardly suprising to find Catholic religious schools, after all, speaking in favour of Catholic moral teachings. Why else would you have a Catholic school?

On the whole, were the schools hostile to native culture? The answer is not clear. “Some schools even stimulated resistance to assimilative efforts and helped preserve and advance native culture. As one reviewer noted in her review of St. Mary’s School in Mission and the Qu’Appelle Industrial School at Lebret, Saskatchewan, natives in these schools retained their own cultural institutions in the form of dancing groups and traditional gatherings. When St. Mary’s closed in 1984, native dances by native staff were part of the chapel liturgy” (J. Fraser Field, op. cit.). “The Canadian Welfare Council’s 1967 report on nine Saskatchewan residential schools described 'an emphasis on relating course content to the Indian culture' ... By 1968, the Roman Catholic school in Cardston was incorporating Blackfoot into its educational program. In some schools, Aboriginal teachers were brought in to teach dancing and singing” (Truth and Reconciliation Commission, op. cit., p. 83).

St. Phillip's Anglican School, Fort George.


Rena Martinson, co-head of St. Phillips Anglican School in Fort George, Quebec, learned Cree. She went with the students on seal hunts, and adopted four native children (Garett Williams, ‘Woman honoured for positive impact at residential school,’ Kenora Daiy Miner & News, December 21, 2010). Oblate Father Antonio Duhaime, principal of Duck Lake Residential School from 1962 to 1968, and of St. Mary’s School from 1968 to 1980, learned Blackfoot and was inducted as an honourary chief. He laments the struggles he had with parents who badly wanted their children to learn English.

“The parents brought us their kids in September, and said ‘Father, I want my children to learn English’ and now they’re accusing us of forbidding them to speak their native languages. If some of the natives are successful today, they can thank the residential schools. No one else was interested in the Indian people back then” (Patrick Donnelly, “Scapegoating the Indian residential schools,” Alberta Report, 01/26/98, 25:6).

As noted before, the natural impulses of missionaries and missionary teachers were to support native culture, not to discourage it. It made evangelization easier, it protected the children from the immoralities attendant on culture shock, and it increased the missionaries’ own influence.

“Some school administrators and supervisors were aboriginals,” reports one former student who later went on to become a staffer. “At Stringer Hall, for example, two of the six residential supervisors were Inuit women. Did aboriginal supervisors abuse the children under their care? Do both the children and the supervisors deserve compensation? Some children in residential schools were not aboriginals. I myself attended a United Church residential school in the early 1960’s, and when I was a supervisor at Stringer Hall, about 12% of the 280 students were non-aboriginal. Children of school administrators, white trappers, missionaries and merchants attended these schools. If aboriginal people are going to receive compensation, do the non-aboriginal students also deserve compensation?” (Rodney Clifton, ‘Residential Schools Story More Complicated,’ Frontier Centre, May 1, 2003). After all, with all the emphasis in some schools on aboriginal culture, weren’t the European students suffering “cultural genocide”?

As we have already seen, there is more than an undertone of hostility towards these religious schools for actually teaching religion. It offends our contemporary secularism, it seems; but to make this charge against religious schools is ridiculous. “The residential school system,” the Truth and Reconciliation Commission explains, “was based on an assumption that European civilization and Christian religions were superior to Aboriginal culture” (op. cit, p. 4). “There was no moral imperative,” the Commission lectures, “to impose Christianity on the Indigenous peoples of the world” (ibid., p. 53). But of course there is such a moral imperative. If Christianity is truth, it is not an act of generosity to leave one’s fellow man in darkness and ignorance. Nor is it necessary to accept that Christianity is truth to understand that those who ran the residential schools were doing so in good faith: one only has to accept that they were not hypocrites, that they themselves believed that Christianity was true.

Mohawk Institute, Brantford


“In the 1960s, when I lived and worked in residential schools,” recalls one former staffer, “it was the evangelistic calling for committed Christians similar to rebuilding houses following disasters in South America. Most residential school employees worked for very little pay, less recognition, and many sleepless nights” (Rodney Clifton, ‘Residential Schools Story More Complicated,’ Frontier Centre, May 1, 2003). This, indeed, may explain why the residential schools cost so little—another complaint levelled against them by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It may not be, or not just be, that the funding was inadequate, so much as that the government got a real bargain by involving religious organizations. Good people are prepared to do much out of compassion and righteousness that they would not do for money. But no good deed goes unpunished—now their very compassion and generosity towards Indians is held against them.

“Although, in most of their official pronouncements, government and church officials took the position that Aboriginal people could be civilized,” the Truth and Reconciliation Commission continues, “it is clear that many believed that Aboriginal culture was inherently inferior” (op. cit., pp. 4-5). Of course, if you believe that Christianity is true, it follows that any other teaching that disagrees with it is, to that extent, false. So some elements of Indian culture, inevitably, would not have been supported by the missionaries. Any more than some elements of mainstream Canadian culture. It also seems perfectly reasonable if they supposed that getting your food by hunting and gathering was significantly less efficient than settled agriculture, that wheels were useful inventions, and that total war was best avoided. The schools and their teachers would probably have upheld all of these propositions. But were these propositions so wrong? After all, most Indians then thought so too. And the Truth and Reconciliation report makes no attempt to disprove them. It instead dismisses any such notions out of hand, apparently on the basis of strict cultural relativism. All cultures are and must be understood to be equal in detail; perhaps, to finish the thought, because all values are themselves culturally determined.

In so many words, as a flat assertion: “there is no hierarchy of societies” (Truth and Reconciliation Commission, op. cit., p. 49).

Common sense and common experience say there is. Paris has more to offer, culturally, than Cleveland. Moreover, if there is not, we face some troublesome issues. Do we have any right, then, to condemn what Hitler did, or to have hanged the defendants at Nuremberg? Weren’t they simply following different cultural assumptions? And what if we build a bridge in India following the principles of Canadian mathematics, our own cultural assumptions? Isn’t it likely to fall down, the culture being different?

But it seems that only given this assumption of cultural relativism does the charge make sense that the residential schools suppressed—instead of, say, built upon and enhanced—Indian culture.

“Taken as a whole,” the Commission complains, “the colonial process relied for its justification on the sheer presumption of taking a specific set of European beliefs and values and proclaiming them to be universal values that could be imposed upon the peoples of the world” (op. cit., p. 53). Is that so wrong? Are there no absolute or universal values? Perhaps we should point out that this is exactly what we are doing when we insist on universal human rights. Too bad otherwise for the Jews, for negro slaves, or for the Armenians.

In sum, the charge that the schools were there to wipe out Indian culture would appear to be simply false.

At this point, someone might bring out the common quotation that they were intended to “take the Indian out of the child,” or to “kill the Indian to save the man.” That sounds harsh. It is usually attributed to Duncan Campbell Scott, poet and longtime bureaucrat in the Department of Indian Affairs. Sometimes it is put instead in the mouth of Sir John A. Macdonald. Chief Justice Beverley McLaughlin, for example, in a speech to the fourth annual Pluralism Lecture of the Global Centre for Pluralism, in 2015, said of the residential schools that “The objective – I quote from Sir John A. Macdonald, our revered forefather – was to ‘take the Indian out of the child,’ and thus solve what was referred to as the Indian problem. ‘Indianness’ was not to be tolerated; rather it must be eliminated. In the buzz-word of the day, assimilation; in the language of the 21st century, cultural genocide.”

Scott never said it. If Macdonald did, he was quoting. The original line is from Captain Richard H. Pratt, American civil war hero, friend of the Indians, and founder of Carlisle College, Pennsylvania. Gruff soldier talk. He thought this would be, indeed, a good idea, to take the Indian out of the child in order to save the man. And perhaps he was right, and perhaps he was wrong. But in the same speech, he insisted that all-Indian residential schools were definitely not the way to do it.

General Pratt with a student.


“Indian schools are just as well calculated to keep the Indians intact as Indians,” he objects, “as Catholic schools are to keep the Catholics intact. Under our principles we have established the public school system, where people of all races may become unified in every way, and loyal to the government; but we do not gather the people of one nation into schools by themselves, and the people of another nation into schools by themselves, but we invite the youth of all peoples into all schools. We shall not succeed in Americanizing the Indian unless we take him in in exactly the same way. … Purely Indian schools say to the Indians: ‘You are Indians, and must remain Indians. You are not of the nation, and cannot become of the nation. We do not want you to become of the nation.’” (Official Report of the Nineteenth Annual Conference of Charities and Correction, 1892, 46–59. Reprinted in Richard H. Pratt, “The Advantages of Mingling Indians with Whites,” Americanizing the American Indians: Writings by the “Friends of the Indian” 1880-1900 [Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1973], 260–271).

If Pratt was right—and what he says makes sense—the problem with the residential schools was exactly the opposite of what is usually alleged. It is not that they tried to assimilate the Indians, but that they prevented this from happening. They were perfectly designed to keep the Indian in the child. They were segregated schools, of the very sort that Brown vs. the Board of Education and the U.S. civil rights movement fought so hard to end for American blacks. By their nature they preserved a sense of Indian differentness, including Indian cultural differentness, whatever the particular content of that differentness might be.

Far from having been imposed on the Indians, it was the Indians who demanded the residential schools. The European way of getting food, by tilling the land, was obviously far superior, far more secure and far more productive, than hunting and gathering. Periodic starvation is not fun. The Europeans knew how to farm; the Indians did not. Obviously, it would be of great benefit to the Indians, and an act of generosity on the part of Europeans, to show their children how.

“The second means of commending ourselves to the Savages, to induce them to receive our holy faith,” explains Father LeJeune in the earliest years of New France, “would be to send a number of capable men to clear and cultivate the land, who, joining themselves with others who know the language, would work for the Savages, on condition that they would settle down, and themselves put their hands to the work, living in houses that would be built for their use; by this means becoming located, and seeing this miracle of charity in their behalf, they could be more easily instructed and won. While conversing this Winter with my Savages, I communicated to them this plan, assuring them that when I knew their language perfectly, I would help them cultivate the land if I could have some men, and if they wished to stop roving,—representing to them the wretchedness of their present way of living, and influencing them very perceptibly, for the time being. The Sorcerer, having heard me, turned toward his people and said, ‘See how boldly this black robe lies in our presence.’ I asked him why he thought I was lying. ‘Because,’ said he, ‘we never see in this world men so good as you say, who would take the trouble to help us without hope of reward, and to employ so many men to aid us without taking anything from us; if you should do that,’ he added, ‘you would secure the greater part of the Savages, and they would all believe in your words’" (Jesuit Relations 6, p. 143-5).


From the beginning the Indians, unlike the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, wanted these schools to be religious in nature. “An Indian chief, residing in the neighbourhood of Lake Simcoe,” reports Rev. Peter Jones (Kahkxwaquonabt), himself an Ojibwe chief, “came to solicit missionary aid. After unfolding their needy state, he observed that they did not wish the labours of the missionary for nothing. They would hunt deer, beaver, &c., and each one would lay aside some skins, and appropriate the avails of them to the support of the mission. As a demonstration of this generous disposition, and of their ardent desire to have their children instructed, the women stripped themselves of their nose and ear jewels, brooches, and breastplates, which had been given them by Government, and sent them to the missionary to purchase books for the school; and these were exhibited on the occasion, as an evidence of their devotion to this sacred cause" (Rev. Peter Jones [kahkxwaquonabt], History of the Ojebway Indians; with Special Reference to Their Conversion to Christianity. Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society. London: 1861, p. 202).

Rev. Peter Jones (Kahkxwaquonabt)


 Jones himself was among the many Indian leaders who pushed for the schools, and specifically for industrial schools, as the residential schools became. He writes, in question and answer format,

“Query No. 10. — What, in your opinion, is the best mode of promoting the moral, intellectual, and social improvement of the Indians? 

 Answer No. 10. — The establishment of well-regulated schools of industry, and the congregating of the several scattered tribes into three or four settlements, which would be a great saving of expense to the Government and to missionary societies, at the same time it would afford greater facilities for their instruction in everything calculated to advance their general improvement.

 … 

 Query No, 24. — Can you offer any suggestions for the improvement of the condition of the Indians?

Answer No. 24. — I would most respectfully suggest — 1st. — The importance of establishing schools of industry as soon as possible, that there may be no further delay in bringing forward the present rising generation” (Jones, op. cit., p. 242-3). 

 “I am now trying to get the Wesleyan Missionary Committee in London,” he writes from England to the Credit River band in 1838, “to establish a central manual labour school. They have given me encouragement to hope that they will take up the subject and put one in operation. I feel very anxious to see an institution of this kind established amongst us, for I am fully persuaded that our children will never be what they ought to be until they are taught to work and learn useful trades, as well as to learn to read and write” (Jones, op. cit., p. 264).

At a general council of the Ontario Ojibwe in 1840, one of the items on the agenda, duly passed, was a request for schooling:

“Thirdly, To consider whether anything can be done to promote their civilization, forming manual labour schools, &c. Colonel Jarvis expressed his happiness to hear that the attention of the chiefs had been directed to this subject ; ... and said that the Home Government was now considering what can be done for the central manual labour schools” (Jones, op.cit., p.115). 

 Chief Jones was no outlier. Most of the Indian chiefs across Canada seem to have made this a priority in any dealings with government. At Treaty 3 negotiations, “Chief Ka-Katche-way of the Lac Seul band came forward to state his willingness to treat, but not without making additional demands for a schoolmaster, seed, agricultural implements, and cattle” (Robert Talbot, Alexander Morris: His Intellectual and Political Life and the Numbered Treaties, U of O 2007, pp. 97-8 ). The demand for schools was made by the Indians for each of the numbered treaties.

And this was no fleeting fancy. It began, as noted, in the early seventeenth century. Rev. Jones was appealing to London in the 1830s. One hundred years later, Gerry Kelly, coordinator for the National Catholic Working Group on Native Residential Schools, noted the same demand, indeed at the time the residential schools were supposedly at their worst: "In several cases, Indian bands asked the government to establish schools. In the 1930s, the Sechelt band near Vancouver lobbied the Oblates for such a school; some aboriginal communities wanted the schools so badly that they built them themselves” (J. Fraser Field, op. cit.).

Alberta: Indian students forced to leave their family and travel to school alone. No, wait...


Some maintain that, if the Indians wanted schools, these were not the kind of schools they envisioned. But this is not so: the residential schools as the government ultimately instituted them seem to follow closely what the Indians asked for. The idea that the schools should be industrial, teaching trades, emanated from the Indians. So did the idea that they should be residential. So did the idea that they should be religious, and run by missionaries.

"Gentlemen,” again writes the Reverend Chief Kahkxwaquonabt/Jones, “… From the knowledge I have of the Indian character, and from personal observation, I have come to the conclusion that the system of education hitherto adopted in our common schools has been too inefficient. The children attend these schools from the houses of their parents, a number of whom are good pious Christians, but who, nevertheless, retain many of their old habits; consequently, the good instructions they receive at school are in a great measure neutralized at home. It is a notorious fact that the parents in general exercise little or no control over their children. Being thus left to follow their own wills, they too frequently wander about in the woods with their bows and arrows, or accompany their parents in their hunting excursions. Another evil arises from their not being trained to habits of industry, so that by the time they leave the schools they are greatly averse to work, and naturally adopt the same mode of life as their parents. 

“Under these considerations, I am very anxious to see manual labour schools established among our people, that the children may be properly trained and educated to habits of industry. I see nothing to hinder the entire success of such a plan, and as [a] school in the Missouri country is answering the most sanguine expectations of its promoters, we may safely conclude that the same success would attend the like operations among our Indians. I am happy to inform you that all the Indians with whom I have conversed highly approve of the project. They are ready and willing to give up their children to the entire control and management of the teachers....” (Jones, p. 276-7). 

Jones/Kahkxwaquonabt went so far as London to put his request for residential industrial schools to the British Foreign Secretary (Jones, p. 277). 

That covers residential and trades education, as part of the Indian design. As to the religious nature of the schools, the Ojibwe Grand Council of 1840 passed the following resolution, addressed to Colonel Jarvis as Chief Superintendent of Indian Affairs: 

 “'Father, — It is our earnest desire that one or more manual labour schools should be established at some of our settlements for the religious education of our children, and at the same time to train them up in industrious and domestic habits. And we beg to state that if our Great Father would render assistance in the formation of such schools, we are willing ourselves to appropriate part of our land payments for these objects” (Jones, op. cit., p. 127).

During his negotiations of treaties 3 through 6, Lieutenant-Governor Alexander Morris similarly reported a “universal demand” for teachers and for missionaries (Talbot, op. cit., p. 157).

If, in the residential schools, the Indians got exactly what they wanted, it was not what the government wanted. By their residential nature, Indian residential schools were obviously more expensive for the government, who was footing the bills, than ordinary day schools would have been. They were paying to feed, clothe, and house as well as educate Indian kids. It was an obvious social benefit for the parents; something rather more impressive than the common current demand for free day care. Accordingly, by 1949, the official policy was to educate the Indians in ordinary schools wherever possible. Most Indians did not go to the residential schools, and from that point there was an official plan to phase them out, on sheerly economic grounds.

Having the right to send your kids to a separate residential school sounds, after all, suspiciously like an upper class privilege. Was this really necessary? Was this fair to non-Indians?

The TRC summary report, apparently aware of this troublesome appearance, asserts, without evidence, that the residential schools were modelled after English “Industrial Schools,” for children convicted of begging or vagrancy, rather than on Harrow and Eton. “The model for these residential schools for Aboriginal children, both in Canada and the United States, did not come from the private boarding schools to which members of the economic elites in Britain and Canada sent their children. Instead, the model came from the reformatories and industrial schools that were being constructed in Europe and North America for the children of the urban poor” (op. cit., p. 59).

This claim seems simply false. The historical record is clear that the Canadian residential school system was, on the basis of a government study by Nicholas Flood Davin, modelled on the US Indian residential school system. That system, in turn, was built on the model of the Carlisle Residential School in Pennsylvania. As to Carlisle’s perception of its position in the world, and the extent to which this was accepted, in its early days it competed in football against Harvard, Yale, and other Ivy League schools. The school band played regularly at presidential inaugurations and at the Paris World Exposition in 1900. Some reformatory.

Carlisle School Band

In any case, the parallel of the English public school removes from all plausibility the objection that it is cruel and unusual to take children away from their families for schooling. If some former residential school students remember their experiences with loathing, so do some former Etonians or Upper Canada College graduates. Witness the movie “If,” George Orwell’s memoir “Such, Such Were the Joys,” or James FitzGerald’s Canadian entry, Old Boys. At the same time, just as with Rugby, Selwyn House, or Brebeuf, many former students remember the residential schools with much fondness.

“The nuns taught us so much. I only remember one nun who was very strict and one nun who made us pray too much. In every society you have people with personalities that are on the bad side. But, I can swear on the Bible that my time in the convent was good. We ate three meals a day, not fancy but nourishing, a lot of recreation, every winter they built us a big slide and we would have fun sliding and we went on many picnics in summer time and in the winter we would go for hay rides, sleighs pulled by oxen” (Cece Hodgson-McCauley. ‘Positive stories from residential school,’ Northern News Service, December 3, 2012).

“We set rabbit snares and ate rabbit. They had pemmican, .... They taught us how to knit stockings for ourselves, to do fancy beading for moccasins and to do quill work, from two quills up to 12 quills. We learned to make our own dresses, they taught how to cook and bake and clean” (ibid.).

“As a journalist since 1979, I’ve heard people credit residential schools with the foundation for learning that allowed them to pursue successful academic careers. … Others tell of being introduced to skills that became lifelong careers, and still others, like my mother, talk of being introduced to a faith that guided the rest of their lives…” (Richard Wagamese, ‘The good side of the residential school story is valid, too’, Calgary Herald/Vancouver Sun, May 12, 2008).

The celebrated Canadian playwright Tomson Highway, Cree, agrees.

"’All we hear is the negative stuff, nobody's interested in the positive, the joy in that school. Nine of the happiest years of my life I spent it at that school. I learned your language, for God's sake. Have you learned my language? No, so who's the privileged one and who is underprivileged?

"’You may have heard stories from 7,000 witnesses in the process that were negative,’ he adds. ‘But what you haven't heard are the 7,000 reports that were positive stories. There are many very successful people today that went to those schools and have brilliant careers and are very functional people, very happy people like myself. I have a thriving international career, and it wouldn't have happened without that school’” (Joshua Ostroff, “Tomson Highway Has a Surprisingly Positive Take on Residential Schools,” Huffington Post, December 15, 2015).

On the grounds that they were too expensive, as noted, the federal government tried to phase out the schools as early as 1945. Guess who objected.

“Having concluded that it was far too expensive to provide residential schooling to these students,” the Truth and Reconciliation Commission explains, “Indian Affairs began to look for alternatives. One was to expand the number of Indian Affairs day schools. From 1945–46 to 1954–55, the number of First Nations students in Indian Affairs day schools increased from 9,532 to 17,947. In 1949, the Special Joint Committee of the Senate and House of Commons Appointed to Examine and Consider The Indian Act recommended ‘that wherever and whenever possible Indian children should be educated in association with other children.’ In 1951, the Indian Act was amended to allow the federal government to enter into agreements with provincial governments and school boards to have First Nations students educated in public schools.” (Truth and Reconciliation Commission, op. cit., p. 68).

Brother and sister cruelly segregated at residential school by sex. No, wait...


However, many Indian parents rebelled.

“When the government revised the Indian Act in the 1940s and '50s, some bands, along with regional and national native organizations, wanted to maintain schools in their communities. Motivations for support of the schools included their role as a social service in communities suffering extensive family breakdown; the significance of the schools as employers; and the seeming lack of other opportunities for children to receive education. In the 1960s, when the government decided to close certain schools, some Indian bands pleaded to have them to remain open" (Wikipedia).

The missionaries added their weight.

“Roman Catholic church officials argued that residential schooling was preferable for three reasons: 1) teachers in public schools were not prepared to deal with Aboriginal students; 2) students in public schools often expressed racist attitudes towards Aboriginal students; and 3) Aboriginal students felt acute embarrassment over their impoverished conditions, particularly in terms of the quality of the clothing they wore and the food they ate. These were all issues that students and parents raised, as well” (Truth and Reconciliation Commission, op. cit., p. 68).

In the summer of 1970, hearing that the Blue Quills residential school was slated to be shut down and their children sent to a local public school, Indian parents took the measure of occupying the school. “It was estimated that over 1,000 people participated in the sit-in, with rarely fewer than 200 people being at the school on any given day” (ibid., p. 70). Instead of being closed, the school was handed over to the local band to operate.

Why now, after wanting them so much for so long, have Canadian Indians generally and officially turned so against the residential schools?

Negotiating for residential schools at Treaty Number 1 talks.


One reason is surely that the schools are a useful scapegoat. If things go wrong on the reserve, if someone drinks too heavily, if folks are poor, if band money goes missing, if someone gets caught in a crime, the residential schools are there to take the blame, avoiding individual or corporate responsibility and preserving community solidarity. Everybody wins. This works despite the obvious fact that areas that never had a residential school, like Labrador or New Brunswick, have exactly the same problems in the same degree as areas that did. Indeed, only thirty percent of native children ever went to residential schools even at their height of popularity. Can you tell the difference?

The second obvious reason for slandering the residential schools is, sadly, there is money in it. Under an agreement reached in 2005, the federal government set up a $1.9 billion fund to pay out an average of $24,000 to anyone who had attended a residential school. Anyone claiming specific abuse can still sue for more. More money is being shovelled in from the various churches who ran the schools.

That’s a good deal more than thirty pieces of silver.


Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Epitaphs



If life were a comedy, I’d be getting married now.


The cartoon over, I await the feature presentation.


You mourn for me? 
I mourn for you. 
Death is a door; 
I'm only passing through.


Dead? Can I get a second opinion?



-- Stephen K. Roney


No Indian Land Was Stolen



Medal presented to Indian chiefs after negotiating the numbered treaties.


After the various claims of genocide, the next charge made is that the land of Canada was stolen from the Indians. “Our home on native land.”

Sounds right. After all, they had it before the Europeans came. Now they hold only a small part of it. Yet they are not rich. How did that happen?

However, the idea that the land was stolen is almost the opposite of the truth. Elsewhere, such things have happened. But in Canada for the most part Indian land was not stolen, and not just seized. It was bought. And this even though there is little question that the British or later Canadians could have just marched in and taken it as a practical matter. No doubt not at first; but sooner or later; as indeed happened often in the US. Instead they, the British and Canadian authorities, recognized Indian ownership of the land, and negotiated treaties to purchase it at a mutually agreed upon price.

This despite the fact that Canadian and British authorities had valid legal arguments at hand that there was no such thing as Indian land ownership in the first place. There was the ancient Roman legal doctrine of “terra nullius,” referring, many held, to any land without an effective government. The various Indian groups did not, for the most part, cultuvate the land; they had no security of possession against other Indian groups; they had little in the way of a legal framwork to recognize or protect property ownership. It could be argued, and has been argued, that before the advent of the Europeans, there was no effective sovereignty over the area of Canada at all. There was, in Hobbes's terms, no “social contract.” It was war of all against all.

Nevertheless, the Europeans negotiated purchase of the land, and paid compensation for it—even though not compelled to do so either in practical terms nor in terms of pre-existing law. Why?

David Laird explains Treaty Number 8 at Fort Vermilion.


In the end, it was simply to keep the peace; to draw the Indians, in orderly fashion, into the social contract. Yes, they could have just wiped out the Indians; but there were obvious moral objections to that. They could have ignored the Indians, but then settlers would have been walking in to a zone of ongoing war. Many would be killed, on both sides, or rather, on all sides. Isn't this any government's job to prevent? Accordingly, the authorities wanted to set relationships with the Indians on some legal basis. The notion of Indian land ownership, and a need to pay for the land used, was a helpful legal framework to help the Indians understand they had something to gain by accepting the social contract. It would convince the Indians that they would be dealt with honourably, if not generously, by the government they thereby formally submitted themselves to.

Lieutenant-Governor Alexander Morris, responsible for negotiating numbered treaties 3 through 6, assigned a reservation and other benefits typical of these treaties to a group of Sioux who had no land claims, having only moved north from the US a dozen years earlier. They were given the same payment as other Indians who did have recognized land claims, for nothing but a promise to keep the peace. Because they, just as much as any other Indian group, were capable of breaking it.

“As these Sioux had been living on the British side for twelve years, Morris promised them a reserve near Portage la Prairie, and promised to forward their requests for agricultural implements along to Ottawa. In exchange, he 'impressed upon them the necessity for their being orderly and quiet, told them that they must on no account trouble the settlers or the other Indians, and must go at once on to their reserve lands - all which they promised.' Morris sealed the exchange by providing the chiefs and councillors with gifts” (Robet Talbot, Alexander Morris: His Intellectual and Political Life and the Numbered Treaties, U of O: 2007, p. 175).

Until 1763, treaties with the Indians generally did not mention land. They were treaties of “peace and friendship.” Nobody thought to include the sale of Indian land, because nobody thought of the Indians as having any land ownership. It was a matter of agreeing to keep the peace between Indians and settlers, wherever the settlers put down roots.

Was this a case of stealing Indian lands? If the Indians themselves had thought so, no doubt they would have negotiated the treaties differently.

Some did object. But the settlers for the most part were not competing with the Indians for resources. They were farming, not hunting. And their presence was advantageous: Europeans had manufactured goods to trade, could ally to protect local Indians against their enemies, and had many useful things they could teach the local tribes. When the hunt was not successful, they had stores of food they could barter; and if the crops failed, they could barter food from the Indians. Accordingly, rather than “stealing the land,” they were in a symbiotic relationship. Father LeJeune, writing in 1634, advocates more settlement specifically for the Indians' benefit. “I think that they would soon become good Christians, if people would come and inhabit their country, which they are for the most part desirous of” (Father LeJeune, Jesuit Relations 6, p 147-9). Nasty, brutish, and short wears thin after a few dozen millennia.

There was not any lack of land to be had. Why would land ownership be an issue, any more than air ownership? As Francis Parkman describes the scene, “Ascending the St. Lawrence, it was seldom that the sight of a human form gave relief to the loneliness … Ascending farther, all was solitude, except at Three Rivers, a noted place of trade, where a few Algonquins of the tribe called Atticamegues might possibly be seen. … At Montreal, there was no human life, save during a brief space in early summer, when the shore swarmed with savages who had come to the yearly trade...” (Francis Parkman, The Jesuits in North America in the Seventeenth Century, p. 7).

Later, of course, this was no longer the case. As settlers came in larger numbers, they inevitably did interfere with traditional Indian means of livelihood—even if, given Canada's vast spaces, and the small Indian population, it might still be theoretically possible to live in the old ways, if anyone actually wanted to. Even then, there was room for all, so long as the Indians too adopted the more efficient European means of producing food. One additional clear motive for the treaties was helping the Indians transition to this new, technically superior, method of living by working the soil. This was desirable to, and desired by, both sides, if primarily for the Indians' benefit. This too, is part of Father LeJeune's early rationale for settlement.

“Now, with the assistance of a few good, industrious men, it would be easy to locate a few families, especially as some of them have already spoken to me about it, thus of themselves becoming accustomed, little by little, to extract something from the earth” (Father LeJeune, Jesuit Relations 6, p 147-9).

The legal notion of Indian land ownership first emerged in British, and so in Canadian, law, in George III's Royal Proclamation of 1763. This immediately followed the Seven Years' War, in which France surrendered its interests in its Canadian possessions. Up to this point, Indian interests were protected by the balance of power between the two European nations: the French would protect them against British encroachment, the British would protect them against French encroachment. But with France driven from the field, the danger was that English settlers could deal with the Indians just as they saw fit. The obvious danger led to the Pontiac Uprising, an attempt to unify the Indians and possibly to bring France back to the continent.

The Indians' friend.


To their credit, the British authorities chose at this moment to protect the Indian interests, even against their countrymen. The Royal Proclamation announced:

“And whereas it is just and reasonable, and essential to our Interest, and the Security of our Colonies, that the several Nations or Tribes of Indians with whom We are connected, and who live under our Protection, should not be molested or disturbed in the Possession of such Parts of Our Dominions and Territories as, not having been ceded to or purchased by Us, are reserved to them. or any of them, as their Hunting Grounds.--We do therefore, with the Advice of our Privy Council, declare it to be our Royal Will and Pleasure. that no Governor or Commander in Chief in any of our Colonies of Quebec, East Florida. or West Florida, do presume, upon any Pretence whatever, to grant Warrants of Survey, or pass any Patents for Lands beyond the Bounds of their respective Governments. as described in their Commissions: as also that no Governor or Commander in Chief in any of our other Colonies or Plantations in America do presume for the present, and until our further Pleasure be known, to grant Warrants of Survey, or pass Patents for any Lands beyond the Heads or Sources of any of the Rivers which fall into the Atlantic Ocean from the West and North West, or upon any Lands whatever, which, not having been ceded to or purchased by Us as aforesaid, are reserved to the said Indians, or any of them.

And We do further declare it to be Our Royal Will and Pleasure, for the present as aforesaid, to reserve under our Sovereignty, Protection, and Dominion, for the use of the said Indians, all the Lands and Territories not included within the Limits of Our said Three new Governments [Grenada, Quebec, and Florida], or within the Limits of the Territory granted to the Hudson's Bay Company, as also all the Lands and Territories lying to the Westward of the Sources of the Rivers which fall into the Sea from the West and North West as aforesaid.

And We do hereby strictly forbid, on Pain of our Displeasure, all our loving Subjects from making any Purchases or Settlements whatever, or taking Possession of any of the Lands above reserved. without our especial leave and Licence for that Purpose first obtained.”

And so Indian title was recognized; but note that it was presented more or less as a donation from the Crown. The proclamation was plainly asserting British sovereignty over the lands while bequeathing land title. Again, the main objective was to bring the Indians into the social contract. Indians legally acknowledged British sovereignty in accepting the notion of title to their lands.

This makes the more modern Indian assertion that they have both land claims and inherent “sovereignty” contradictory. They are not, legally, “nations.”

Not incidentally, this act of generosity towards the Indians became one of the stated causes of the American Revolution.

But never mind—that entire legal apple cart seems to have been overturned by the 2007 Supreme Court of Canada Delgamuukw decision. Chief Justice Lamer, writing the majority decision for the court, suggested that, at the time that British or Canadian jurisdiction commenced, Indians already there had what amounted to “squatters' rights” in common law. Hence, aboriginal land title.

Granted, it seems inherently unfair to leave the Indians with nothing. There is a moral issue here. Yet there is one problem with this logic. In common law, squatters' rights require proof that the party in possession has heretofore exercised exclusive use of the land: “proof of non-permissive use which is actual, open and notorious, exclusive, adverse, and continuous for the statutory period.” This is almost never true of any Indian band, excepting perhaps the semi-settled Iroquoians in the East: nomadic, they naturally travelled through shared territories. None of the “numbered treaties” signed across the Canadian Prairies, for example, was with only one Indian ethnic group.

And so we have a very new concept of “aboriginal land title” as an inherent right. It remains to be seen how it will be played out. Frankly, I suggest that non-treaty Indians be offered essentially the same deal given to those who signed the numbered treaties. Anything else would be unfair; all Indians ought to be treated equally, even if all Canadians are not.

But here, too, land was not stolen. Land title has only recently been recognized, and the treaties are accordingly in the works.

But there is a second issue. This new concept should affect only areas in which cessation of Indian lands by treaty has not yet taken place. But what about the treateis already signed, usually long ago Were, as is sometimes alleged, the treaties swindles, in which the poor naive Indians were not properly compensated? Was it a sharp practice of Peter Stuyvesant to, famously, buy Manhattan for $24 in beads and baubles?

No. Land values rise. If the deals were unfair, why was it almost always the Indians, and not the Europeans, who pushed for the treaties? This argues that the former believed the treaties were, generally, a good deal; and the latter, at the time, did not. The land could have just been taken. All the government got out of it was good will.

“It bears reminding that Amerindians were the first to take the initiative in making treaty, and not the Canadian government (Talbot, p. 79). “The Plains Cree west of Manitoba, especially, had for some time been lobbying for a treaty…. Macdonald had not been keen on extending the responsibilities of the cash-strapped government. He preferred to wait for the demand for settlement to increase before making any treaty ” (Talbot, p. 108). “… [M]any chiefs and councillors were anxious to sign treaties with the Crown so as to establish a relative stability and secure a new means for survival.” (Talbot, p. 79).

In 1871, Cree Chief Sweetgrass petitioned the government:

“Great Father, I shake hands with you, and bid you welcome. .... Our country is getting ruined of fur-bearing animals .... We want cattle, tools, agricultural implements and assistance in everything when we come to settle - our country is no longer able to support us. ... We have had great starvation the past winter, and the small-pox took away many of our people.... We want you to stop the Americans from coming to trade on our lands ... We invite you to come and see us and to speak with us. (Arnot, Statement of Treaty Issues, p. 23; Talbot, p. 79).

Note that according to Swetgrass, it is not a question of the traditional Indian way of making a living becoming no longer viable because of the influx of settlers. Ineed, at this point, there had not yet been any influx of settlers to the Canadian Prairies. It was because the supply of fur-bearing animals was running out. The Cree had become accustomed to making their living trapping and selling to the Hudson's Bay Company. That was what was no longer viable, because of overtrapping primarily by the Indians.

A band from Norway House explained, during talks for Treaty Number 5, that they had come “'to escape from starvation and cannibalism and to adopt the means employed by the white man to preserve life, by disturbing the soil and raising food out of the ground'" (Talbot, p. 125).

“On their journey home, the Colville [a steamer bearing the treaty Commissioners] encountered another group at Dog Head Point, where the Commissioners were again greeted with a feu de joie. The Amerindians, led by Thickfoot, had caught wind of the Commissioners' mission, and 'had been waiting to see us.' They were anxious to sign the treaty: 'Thickfoot said he had cattle and would like to have a place assigned to his people on the main shore, where they could live by farming and fishing. We suggested Fisher River to them, which they approved of. Eventually we decided on paying these Indians - took Thickfoot's adhesion to the treaty.' The meeting ended cordially. 'Thickfoot expressed gratitude for the kindness of the Government, and his belief that Indians of the various Islands and of Jack Head Point would cheerfully accept the Queen's benevolence and settle on a reserve'" (Morris, The Treaties of Canada, pp. 150-151).

In other words, both the Indians and the Canadian government understood the treaties as something primarily done for the benefit of the Indians. It was a matter of “the Queen's benevolence.” Without treaties, they were only too likely to starve—no doubt more so with the disappearance of the bison and the beaver, but then, they had always been likely to periodically starve. Without treaties, too, they were only too likely to get shot, or to shoot each other, or to lose their lands, in endless war. Social contract? Where do I sign up?

But did the Indians understand what they were giving away?

One natural problem was that the Indians were illiterate. And few of them spoke English, the language in which the treaties were written; there being no standard written forms of Indian languages. So it seems entirely possible that in the treaties they waived rights they had no intention to waive. You can understand that they would feel cheated if this was the case.

Lieutenant-Governor Alexander Morris


In fact, there was a real problem of this sort with Numbered Treaties One and Two.

“The earliest treaty implementation challenge that [Lieutenant-Governor Alexander] Morris had to face involved the so-called 'outside promises' of Treaties 1 and 2, signed in 1871. The 'outside promises' consisted of a series of items that the Amerindian leadership insisted had been included in the negotiations with Archibald and Simpson, but had not been written down in the treaty texts. The root of the miscommunication lay between the then-Lieutenant-Governor and the interpreter, the latter apparently having promised more than what was said. Even more, Archibald and Simpson had made different promises. As a result, Amerindians party to the treaty had begun to voice strong complaint by late 1872 that the treaty as they understood it was not being fulfilled” (Talbot, pp. 179-80).

But this would seem to be the exception that proves the rule. This sort of thing, when it happened, seems to have been quickly and easily detected. The treaties were then reopened and renegotiated at Indian request. Having discovered the risks, negotiators were accordingly doubly careful in later talks to make everything clear.

Moreover, the action of the government in renegotiating the treaties shows that there was never an intent to swindle or mislead. That, after all, would have been counter-productive, given the true intention of the treaties. It was not, once again, to purchase Indian land. It was to establish peace and mutual trust with and among the Indians.

Alexander Morris's biographer maintains that the Lieutenant-Governor “knew that anything spoken of in the slightest way as a promise would be taken as writ by the Chiefs. Throughout all of the proceedings, from Treaties 3 through 6, Morris was careful to avoid statements on which he knew he would not be able to deliver” (Talbot, p. 147).

At Treaty 6, Indians were allowed their own interpreter, at government expense, to ensure that they got the full story.

“Morris, ... recognizing Erasmus's talents, the trust placed in him by the Cree, and their insistence on his presence, asked him to interpret the government's words as well. After a few words of reconciliation over glasses of brandy, Erasmus accepted Morris's offer” (Talbot, p. 150).

This interpreter for the Indians also kept his own notes of treaty negotiations. This becomes an additional proof that there was no trickery. “With a few notable exceptions, Erasmus's recollection of the proceedings was significantly consistent with that reported by Morris and recorded by his secretary, Dr. A.G. Jackes” (Talbot, p. 133).

The same practice was followed in renegotiating Treaties One and Two:

“As at Treaty 6, he had his own interpreters and interpreters selected by the Amerindians read out the written settlement of the outside promises clearly. Morris was careful to personally write up the new terms, in part to finalize the agreement, but also to ensure that a record would be available to hold the government and future administrators to account” (Talbot, p. 194).

The numbered treaties


To ensure that the Indian chiefs knew exactly what was in the document, Morris gave them their own copies. If they could not read them themselves, they could get a trusted translator to check and confirm terms.

“Having seen the significance Mawedopenais had attributed to the Treaty text the previous year, Morris and the Commissioners had resolved to provide each Chief with a copy. It would stand not only as a symbol of the compact being made, but also as a means to ensure that future generations, on both sides, would be held accountable to the promises made: 'we have had the treaty written out, and we are ready to have it signed, and we will leave ... with any Chief you may select... a copy written out on skin that cannot be rubbed out and put up in a tin box, so that it cannot be wet, so that you can keep it among yourselves so that when we are dead our children will know what was written.'” (Morris, The Treaties of Canada, 122-123).

“As at previous treaties, the signing of Treaty 6 ended in ceremony. After each of the signings at Forts Carlton and Pitt, Morris provided the Chiefs with medals, representing and commemorating the agreement, uniforms and flags, which afforded recognition for the Chiefs and Councillors as officers of the Crown, and copies of the treaty, so that the promises made would not be 'rubbed out'” (Morris, p. 208; Talbot, p. 154).

One claim often heard today is that Indians believed they were only giving up rights to the land “to the depth of a plough.” That is, they were allowing the Europeans use exclusively for tillage of land that remained theirs. So—they retain mineral rights. Yet, surprisingly, the question of mineral rights actually came up at Treaty 3 negotiations, and Alexander Morris explained that tribes did not retain mineral rights on land outside their reserve. “He ... told the Saulteaux that they would have mineral rights on their reserve lands, but not on Crown land” (Talbot, p. 100).

Indeed, whenever the cessation of land title was part of the treaty terms, legal language went the full monty to ensure that this cessation was understood as absolute. In the numbered treaties, the phrase used is “do hereby cede, release, surrender and yield up to the Government of the Dominion of Canada, for Her Majesty the Queen, and Her successors forever, all their rights, titles and privileges whatsoever, to the lands included within the following limits.” Hard to read mineral rights out of that. The Douglas treaties in BC included similar biolerplate: the Indians “do consent to surrender, entirely and for ever, to James Douglas, the agent of the Hudson's Bay Company in Vancouver Island, that is to say, for the Governor, Deputy Governor, and Committee of the same, the whole of the lands. ... It is understood, ..., that the land itself, with these small exceptions, becomes the entire property of the white people for ever” (Teechamitsa Treaty, 1850).

Treaty accession celebration, Fort Severn, Ontario, 1930.


The Robinson Treaty with the Ojibway of Lake Superior reads

“the said chiefs and principal men do freely, fully and voluntarily surrender, cede, grant and convey unto Her Majesty, Her heirs and successors forever, all their right, title and interest in the whole of the territory above described, save and except the reservations set forth in the schedule hereunto annexed.”

Along with its assertion of inherent aboriginal title, the Supreme Court's recent Delgamuukw decision introduced another wrinkle to Canadian aboriginal affairs. Chief Justice Lamer ruled:

“Notwithstanding the challenges created by the use of oral histories as proof of historical facts, the laws of evidence must be adapted in order that this type of evidence can be accommodated and placed on an equal footing with the types of historical evidence that courts are familiar with, which largely consists of historical documents.”

The ruling did not refer directly to treaties and treaty rights. But the implications would seem to be broad, and ominous. This could form an argument to open everything back up. What if the descendants of the Indians who signed a treaty maintain an oral tradition that their ancestors agreed to something quite different? All we have to say it is not so are our meagre written texts. Lamer seems to argue that any such claimed oral traditions must now be taken as just as authoritative. Treaty texts be damned.

In a later case, Chief Justice Beverley McLaughlin has ruled,

“In determining the usefulness and reliability of oral histories, judges must resist facile assumptions based on Eurocentric traditions of gathering and passing on historical facts” (Beverley McLaughlin, Mitchell v. M.N.R., 2001, Bruce Granville Miller, Oral History on Trial, Vancouver: UBC Press, 2011).

In another case (Tsilhqotín Nation v. B.C.), Justice Vickers of the BC Supreme Court has written

“I propose to take this entire body of evidence [oral history and legends] into account and to the extent that I am able, consider it from the Aboriginal perspective.”

Those who have read thus far regarding the aboriginal perspective should immediately see a problem. The traditional aboriginal perspective takes no particular interest in factuality. If you dream a thing, it is real. If you dream the white man owes you a million dollars, then...

This is not going to be fun to litigate, and it seems unlikely to end in anything approximating justice.

Even aside from that, Indian oral traditions are, after all, oral. This means they are, in traditional common law terms, hearsay evidence. There are good reasonns why hearsay evidence is not admitted in court: it is rumour, and has undergone all the processes that lead to legend, urban or otherwise. Moreover, it does not allow for cross examination. It is also obviously possible for anyone presenting oral evidence in their own behalf to simply change it to suit their case; all that is preventing this is a sense of personal morality. It's like asking a suspect if he committed the crime, and simply accepting his statement.

Sadly, the modern Canadian legal bench seems to have bought the popular fantasy that Indians, being innocent children of nature, can never lie.

Early settlers and missionaries, living before the Romantic era, thought differently.

Treaty Number 6


“They have a bad habit of taking vengeance,” writes Champlain, “and are great liars, and you must not put much reliance on them, except judiciously” (Champlain, Voyages, Vol. 2, Ch. 4).

“Lying” writes Father LeJeune, “is as natural to Savages as talking, not among themselves, but to strangers. Hence it can be said that fear and hope, in one word, interest, is the measure of their fidelity. I would not be willing to trust them, except as they would fear to be punished if they failed in their duty, or hoped to be rewarded if they were faithful to it. They do not know what it is to keep a secret, to keep their word, and to love with constancy” (Father LeJeune, Relations 6, p. 245).

Harsh words; take them as mere expressions of racism if you like. But if so, is it not as likely that this modern notion that Indians cannot lie, is racist? If Indians are people like everyone else, we cannot just accept their word for everything.

There is early evidence that the Indians themselves fully understood written records to be superior to their own oral traditions:

'Consider, you people,' said he, 'whether you wish to help us, according to the promise made to us by the late Monsieur de Champlain.'

Thereupon Monsieur the Governor asked sieur Olivier and sieur Nicolet, who were present, if it were true that Monsieur de Champlain had made this promise. They answered that, in fact, Monsieur de Champlain had told them that, as soon as the settlement at the Three Rivers was founded, they would be assisted. Now, as I was present at that assembly, I begged Monsieur the Governor to let me answer the Savages; this being granted to me, I told them that they were forgetting part of what had been decided at that meeting. They replied that they had not the use of the pen, as we had, to preserve upon paper the remembrance of what was discussed among them” (Jesuit Relations 12, p. 161).

So, if there was no sharp dealing, and the Indians were on the whole justly compensated for the land, why the continuing protests from the Indians? Why the continued insistence that they have been unfairly treated?

Part of it, surely, is simply the perception that they are relatively poor, and the rest of us are relatively rich. They would not be the only ones to accept this as proof enough that something here is unjust. There may also be a reason deeply imbedded, not in the Indian experience of dealing with the whites, but in the Indian experience of dealing with other Indians.

Father LeJeune writes:

“With all these fine qualities, the Savages have another, more annoying than those of which we have spoken, but not so wicked; it is their importunity toward strangers. ...if they know our dinner hour, they come purposely to get something to eat. They ask continually, and with such incessant urgency, that you would say that they are always holding you by the throat. If you show them anything whatever, however little it may be adapted to their use, they will say, 'Dost thou love it? Give it to me.' ... they would not give you the value of an obole, if they did not expect, so to speak, to get back a pistole; for they are ungrateful in the highest degree.”

He gives this extreme example:

“We have kept here and fed for a long time our sick Savage, who came and threw himself into our arms in order to die a Christian, as I have stated above ...on his account, his children brought a little elk meat, and they were asked what they wished in exchange, for the presents of the Savages are always bargains. They asked some wine and gunpowder, and were told that we could not give them these things; but that, if they wished something else that we had, we would give it to them very gladly. A good meal was given them, and finally they carried back their meat, since we did not give them what they asked for… From this sample, judge of the whole piece” (Fr. LeJeune, Relations 6, pp. 257-9).

It does not sound flattering. Yet this is probably not a flaw in the Indian character; this is an inevitable consequence of tribal life. And Father LeJeune is probably wrong to think they act differently among themselves. Exactly the same things are said by anthropologists of the African Bushmen.

“[T]he pervasive occurrence of 'demand-sharing' (see Peterson 1993) may act as a disincentive to increased effort. Everyone who has worked among the Bushmen has commented upon the continual dunning and constant pressures to share that go on. Here is Patricia Draper (1978:45): The give and take of tangibles and intangibles goes on in the midst of a high level of bickering. Until one learns the cultural meaning of this continual verbal assault, the outsider wonders how the !Kung can stand to live with each other .... People continually dun the Europeans and especially the European anthropologists since unlike most Europeans, the anthropologists speak !Kung. In the early months of my own field work I despaired of ever getting away from continual harassment. As my knowledge of !Kung increased, I learned that the !Kung are equally merciless in dunning each other. Both Wiessner (1982:79) and Marshall (1968:94) have commented on the fact that the persistent pressures to share have led the !Kung to limit their work effort, since in working harder they would likely expose themselves to demands to share the fruits of their additional labors” (David Kaplan, “The Darker Side of the 'Original Affluent Society'” Journal of Anthropological Research, 56:3, Autumn, 2000., p. 315).

In the absence of any higher authority, peace and security for each individual, such as it is, depends on keeping the rest of the tribe content. Anyone who has significantly more than others is immediately at risk: there is in the end nothing to prevent the others from just taking it. So, the pressures to “share” are enormous.

The situation and the ethic probably largely continues on modern reserves, preserving at least in part their own traditional governance and essentially communist society. Aside from holding Indians back from attempting or accomplishing anything, it could have a bearing on the constant claims of having been “cheated” by treaty. Tribal life is a training ground for importunate begging. So long as the average Canadian has more than the average Indian, by traditional Indian cultural mores, the average Canadian is obliged to hand it over.

And so it goes. So long as the sun shines and the grass grows.