Canada – The Native Races and Their Future

HAVING spoken of that portion of Canadian territory chiefly occupied by the various tribes, a brief chapter on their present condition and future prospects may now be given. The latest report at the Indian Department shows that there are about one hundred thousand Indians, so far as known; in the Dominion of Canada. This is exclusive of the Eskimo. Contrary to the generally accepted theory, the native races, in this country at least, seem to be increasing rather than diminishing. A large number of the Indian population are now under treaty with the Dominion Government, and receive certain annual payments in lieu of the forfeiture of their lands, besides having certain sections reserved for their own use.

The Indian nature is somewhat complex and hard to thoroughly understand. His mode of life for centuries has been nomadic, and his means of subsistence has been the chase or the pursuit of war. It is therefore to be expected that he would not take readily to settled habits of life, or show any great aptitude to the cultivation of the soil. In consequence of this, therefore, no serious attempt has ever been made to turn the Indian from his natural born proclivities to the industries of civilized labor. In this we believe a great mistake has been made, and an injustice done both to the Indian and to the country. This is the outcome of an imperfect understanding of the capabilities of the Indian nature.

The present treatment of the Indian, just as the Government may desire to be in their dealings with him, is calculated to debauch him and unman him rather than to uplift and bless ; and the whole system is pursued on the assumption that the Indian is incapable of civilization and unworthy of citizenship. It is gratifying to believe that opinion is beginning to change in this respect, though probably the present mistaken system of tutelage and segregation will continue for some time, so difficult is it to break away from established usage. A movement in the right direction is now being made in some parts of the United States, but happily in this country Indian affairs have been managed with much more justice, and the baleful effects upon the Indian have not been so apparent.

The Indian, complex as his composition may be, and mysterious as to his origin as he certainly is, has yet many redeeming qualities, and many noble representatives of the race have been raised up from time to time. It is doubtful if any race could produce better types of manhood than were exhibited in the characters of Tecumseh and Joseph Brant, and these are but samples of many who have lived, and do live even today, though not coming into the same degree of prominence. It is quite evident, however, that the present system of dealing with the Indians does not tend to develop their highest qualities, and thus it is, after one hundred years have passed away, no real advance has been made upon these ancient noble red men, though, perhaps, they may be in some respects more highly educated. What the Indians really need is not segregation from the masses of the people, but every encouragement to mingle with them, to be thrown entirely on their own resources, and made to feel that all the responsibilities and privileges of citizenship are within their reach. In individual cases where this policy has been pursued the Indian has generally been a success. Dr. Oronhyatekha is a noble example of the possibilities of this noble race, as are others of lesser note ; and there is no reason to believe that vast numbers of Indians could not be readily assimilated with the general population, to the advantage of both.

What a mistaken policy it would be if the Government compelled all foreign peoples coming into our country to live by themselves, denying them the privileges of citizenship, or hope of assimilation into the body politic. A policy of this character pursued for any length of time would break down all national life, extinguish national sentiment and undermine the foundations of the State. There seems to be no better reason for pursuing this policy in connection with the Indians than with any other class of the population. It is, of course, true that his assimilation would of necessity be a slow process, but nevertheless it would not be impossible of accomplishment.

In the early history of Canada we have evidences of the possibilities of this principle. Then the white people were a small minority and were largely dependent on the Indian, and the Indian’s friendship, for the success of the fur trade and for personal safety, was essential. Under these conditions the Indian mingled with his white brother largely on the conditions of comparatively equality. Intercourse with the outside world was practically cut off, and the white trader or settler, both French and Scotch, frequently took an Indian wife, and as a consequence the population of Manitoba at the time of the union had many representatives of these unions. Some of these men rose to distinction, as, for instance, Hon. John Norquay, at one time Premier of Manitoba, and many others. The conditions which prevailed in the early days of Manitoba’s history were the outcome of natural conditions, and tended to the general uplifting of the Indian, and doubtless if the present system of segregation were not in vogue, that tendency would be the same at the present time.

In the meantime the experiment is being made in the United States, and will be watched with much interest. It seems impossible that the native Indian could ever remain a foreign element in the population of the country, and it is to he regretted that this policy of isolation is being pursued, even with the metis population of the West. There is certainly less to recommend it in their case than that of the Indians, since they have white blood in their veins and bear the name of white men. Now that the country is receiving a considerable portion of foreigners, many from among the lower classes of European populations, without prejudice against the Indians, it is natural to suppose, if the Indians were treated as white men and educated in the duties of citizenship, they would take their place and sucessfully compete with these foreigners, and if they finally lost their identity by intermarriage and commingling it would be the very best method for all concerned for the solving of the Indian problem. This, at least, seems to be the ideal and rational destiny for the native races of our country, though it requires time for its accomplishment. This whole question of the treatment of our native races is worthy of the highest statesmanship of which the leaders of our country are capable. Let us hope for a new day to dawn in the prospects of these people, that it may be said of our Indians, as it is now being said of some of their kindred in the Indian Territory of the South. ” Meanwhile the Indian is passing into the everyday world. He is leaving romance and becoming practical. He is getting the benefits of civilization—and it is high time. He is better off than ever before, and if he has manhood he will show it.” And doubtless he will, if given a proper chance.