Canada – Canadian Indians

THE question of the true aborigine is a fruitful subject for scientific discussion all the world over, and it is well for the plain historian to evade the issue by plunging through the mists of antiquity to practical historic records of the people found in the country by early settlers. It is quite evident that the Indians of Cartier’s time were mere wandering tribes, for when Champlain came seven years later to Stadcona and Hochelaga, the tribes which had been there in Cartier’s time had vanished and in their place were bands of wandering Algonquin Indians. Cartier left behind him a short and primitive vocabulary of Indian words which seemed to show that his Indians were of the Iroquois stock. The Algonquins and the Huron-Iroquois were two great families of Canadian Indians, alike physically, but clearly separated from one another by essential differences in languages and customs. They occupied the country bounded, roughly, on the north by Hudson’s Bay, on the west by the Mississippi, on the south by Virginia, and on the east by the Atlantic.

The Algonquins were by far the most numerous and most widely distributed ; their language, or dialects of their language, were to be found scattered north, south, east, and west. In Nova Scotia and Cape Breton were to be found the Micmacs, famous in song and legend for their cruelty and ferocity, who were hunters and fishermen pure and simple, whereas the Algonquins made some pretence of tilling the soil. Practically the only crop of any importance was maize, and this only in New England or thereabouts where the climate was congenial.

On the St. Lawrence were wandering Algonquin tribes, and at Georgian Bay were Hurons numbering in all some 20,000, living in villages stockaded and fenced, in the same fashion as was Hochelaga.

The word Huron is said to have been derived from the exclamation of some Frenchmen, who, when they first saw the way in which some of the Indians wore their hair, cried ” Quelle hures ” (” What wild heads of hair “).

The internal economy of the tribes is worth a passing notice. It appears that the Huron nation was a Confederacy of tribes, each of which was divided into two classes ; two Chiefs, one for peace and one for war, assisted by a general council constituted the government. Each tribe was self-contained and largely self-governing, and the Council was the ruling factor in all decisions taken.

As in all other countries where the advance of civilisation has spelt the gradual extinction of the aborigine, so the once wild and splendid Canadian Indian is dying out. In the outlying districts, where as yet the settlements have made little progress, the Indians continue to live their free life, trapping and hunting, and their mortality tables, although high, are not excessively so. Yet even in this comparatively natural state the visit of the Indian agent or inspector, paying to each man, woman, and child the annuities granted for the surrender of their lands, must be an ever-recurring reminder that the time is not very far distant when they will be driven into the idleness of a Reserve, which in a few generations means death to the individual and extinction to the tribe.

Very few Indians of to-day dress in blanket or deerskin such as were worn by their forefathers. Feathers are very rarely seen, except on show-days or very high state occasions, and the traveller arriving at some inland trading-post is disappointed to find that the Indians are dressed in the comfortable but unpicturesque European garb of today.

There is in Canada a Department of Indian Affairs which deals with the Indian question in a manner in which common sense and sympathy are happily blended with an intimate knowledge of the people under its charge.

An endeavour has been made to advance the Indians as far as possible in the arts of civilisation. They are encouraged to till the soil or to engage in some other remunerative occupation to keep them healthy and happy. In connection with this it is indisputable that in Ontario many bands which fifty years ago gained their livelihood by hunting and fishing have settled down to till the soil, and now are able to compete quite success-fully with their white neighbours. This is particularly true of those bands residing in the middle of Ontario, where there are Indian agricultural societies which hold exhibitions and encourage agriculture. The reports received regarding these exhibitions say that the produce raised by Indians is equal to any in the district.

A few of the Indians of Ontario have also entered into competition with their white neighbours in industry and commerce, a few have adopted the profession of law or medicine, some again have become missionaries to the very bands from which they sprang.

In Quebec the status of the Indians has changed little in the last half-century, since Quebec being older and more closely settled the Indian naturally took his place in the essential economy of the province at an earlier date. The men are employed, as a rule, as hunters, guides, fishermen, or gun bearers. They are expert in the making of snow-shoes and lacrosse sticks, while the women are clever at basket-making and fancy work. In the maritime provinces the occupations are much the same as in Quebec.

In British Columbia the Indians are chiefly occupied in fishing, fruit canning, hunting, as guides, or prospectors, or in the timber industry ; and many .are highly prosperous. In Manitoba the great possibilities of wheat have attracted a few Indians to farming, but mainly they have held to their old occupations, and pass their lives as fishermen or woodsmen. An interesting and very striking change has taken place with regard to the mode of life of the Indians in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Up to about 1879 the Indians were purely and solely hunters, dependent both for food and clothing upon the buffalo and other animals which ranged through the provinces in vast numbers. The disappearance of the buffalo in about 1878 compelled the tribes to adopt at once some other means of earning a livelihood. In 1879 the govern-ment sent out farming instructors who were located in different districts, and from that date onwards the Indians have made a steady and most remarkable progress as agriculturists.

Many of the bands have become self supporting, and others are rapidly becoming so. The reports of the inspectors and agents of the Department of Indian Affairs are supremely interesting reading as showing the steady improvement of the race in occupations for which it has no hereditary inclination. The following typical report is from Inspector Graham on the Indians of the south district. ” There has been a steady improvement in the manner in which the Indians are cultivating their lands. The system of summer fallowing one-third of the cultivated land every year is pretty generally practised now. Last summer was a favourable one for breaking new land, and I am pleased to be able to report that a large area was brought under cultivation, and the land ready for crop this spring will exceed that of any previous years. The reserves of all the agencies in this Inspectorate are now pretty well surrounded by white settlers, and as the country is filling up the game is fast disappearing. As a result, the Indians realise that they have to earn a living from the soil and cattle raising. It was not long ago that the Indian was quite indifferent about farming, and if everything did not go well, for instance, a crop failure, this was sufficient to discourage him, and he would abandon his land and go hunting and roaming. This day has now passed, and he realises he has to do the same as his white brother, and keep at it in order to make a living. The cattle industry has been a very profitable one for the Indians during the past year. Over 500 head were sold and shipped out of this Inspectorate, and the prices realised were from 38 dollars to 45 dollars per head. The Indians own some of the finest cattle in the province, and their beef cattle are much sought after by the buyers. In addition to the cattle sold, the Indians beefed for their own benefit several hundred head, and notwithstanding this the herds have not decreased.”

The inspector further reports that the Indians in his province have bought many implements, horses and harness, and that in the agencies there are complete steam-threshing outfits.

Mr. R. N. Wilson, agent for the Blood Indians, numbering 1,174, reports that at the last round-up of cattle the Indians at his agency branded 1,167 calves, and that the whole herd was carefully numbered and found to contain over 7,000 head. It is a striking fact that the Blood Indians have begun to grow wheat. In 1907 sixty acres each sown by fifteen of them produced 23,000 bushels. ” At the conclusion of the threshing,” continues the Inspector’s report, “the wheat was sold, hauled ten or twelve miles and shipped to Fort William, the twenty cars having been loaded in thirty days. Out of the proceeds of the crop each Indian paid back to-the Trust fund all advances that had been made to him, including cost of breaking the land, fencing, etc., and after all settlements each had a very substantial balance to his credit at the bank, where much of it still is.”

In consequence of this advance in agricultural knowledge, Mr. Wilson reports that a large number of the Indians under his charge are now self-supporting.

The two main agencies which have contributed to the educational advancement of the Indians have been the labours of the Christian missionaries, and the schools supported by the government. The Roman Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, and the Presbyterian Churches have all done their share in helping to instruct the Indians, and the results of their labours may be judged by the fact that of 111,000 Indians about 77,000 are Christians or nominally so. The educational work among the Indians is mainly carried on in the provinces. In the unorganised districts where there are 15,000 Indians only a few missionary day schools are maintained. During the last thirty years enormous progress has been made in establishing schools for Indians. In the year 1878-9 the whole Indian appropriation by the Canadian govern-ment was 16,000 dollars, for 1910-11 the appropriation is 480,000 dollars.

The Dominion government contributes to the aid of three classes of schools for Indians :—Day schools, boarding schools, and industrial schools. Most of these are conducted under the auspices of one or other of the Christian denominations. Of day schools there are 231 with 6,531 pupils on the roll, and an average attendance of 3,129. This small average is due to the fact that the Indians are away from their Reserves for several months in the year engaged in trapping and fishing. To overcome these difficulties, as well as to give the children as early as possible some industrial training, boarding schools have been established. There are now fifty-seven boarding schools in Canada with an attendance of 3,331, and there are industrial schools to the number of twenty with an attendance of 1,613.

The boarding schools are naturally residential ; the pupils are fed and clothed, and in addition to instruction in the ordinary branches of an English primary education, the boys are trained in gardening, care of animals, primitive farming and odd jobs.

In the industrial schools, which are also residential, the technical education is more advanced, and besides agriculture the boys are trained in carpentry, shoe-making, blacksmiths’ work, baking, etc.

In all schools the girls are taught a little housewifery, tidiness and neatness in their rooms, personal cleanliness, cooking, washing and dressmaking. General instruction is also imparted to the pupils, and is by no means the least part of the curriculum. The effect of these boarding schools on the pupils is very marked when the Indians return to live on their reservations. It is apparent at once on entering an Indian house whether the girl has been a graduate at school or not. The general tidiness and cleanliness, the cooking, and the arrangement of the household speak for themselves. The industrial school graduates are generally helped by the Department of Indian affairs when they return to the Reservation, such help taking the form of a loan of horses, oxen, and a few argicultural implements to begin with. In a satisfactorily large number of cases the boys settle down on the land, and become good and useful citizens. Of failures there are many, from a variety of causes, but when it is remembered that a generation ago these Indians were pure savages, the results are sufficiently encouraging for the Canadian government to go forward with the assistance of the Department of Indian Affairs animated as it is by the best traditions with full hope of success.