|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.