TREATY DAY WITH OJIBWAYS 1911
By James Henry Pedley
The Globe Toronto March 9, 1912 page 2
You have heard of Canada’s duty to herself – and of Canada’s duty to the Empire.
You have gloated over her natural resources, you have debated hotly the question of reciprocity and its probable bearing upon the future welfare of the country.
But was it ever brought home to you, prosperous Canadian, that this Canada of yours is not yours after all; that it is a leasehold property, leased by the many from the few, and that you pay every year a portion of the rent?
We are but tenants in the land which we so proudly call our own. Not so many miles to the Northward, living a simple life in tents and lowly shacks, dwell our landlords. They are not harsh and overbearing, those owners of our soil; nay, rather are they humble and submissive in spirit, thankfully accepting from their tenants a paltry handful of crumbs, let fall from the heaped-up table of the land’s fruitage, the fullness of which they were incapable of reaping for themselves.
Among the Cabinet Ministers of the Dominion of Canada is numbered the Minister of the Interior. From his office at Ottawa he directs those administrative departments which come under his control. The Department of Indian Affairs is one of these. It is presided over by a Deputy Minister and carries on its work through the medium of Indian agents distributed throughout Canada, and one of the most important duties of each agent consists in “paying off” the Indians in his district, according to the treaties made at different times in the past between the redmen and the whites.
Not all the Indians in Canada receive “treaty- money” – some tribes, perhaps more sagacious than the others ( although this is open to question ), demanded citizenship and voting rights in return for the sacrifice of their ancestral haunts; but in the majority of cases the forefathers of the present day Indians gave way before the onward march of a force which they were powerless to withstand and sank their national freedom on a state of dependency. Exempt from all public burdens, such as taxation, they have given up their individuality and have become mere wards of the Canadian people, virtually supported out of the State Treasury.
In many ways the lot of the Indians is by no means a hard one. In addition to the four dollars “treaty money” due annually to every member of every band ( I refer now especially to those bands included in the provisions of the James Bay Treaty ), of whatever age or sex, each Indian receives an elementary education at an Indian school, is supplied with ordinary medicines free of charge, and is given opportunity of consulting a skilled white doctor at least once a year. He has a reserve to dwell upon in the summer and a hunting ground set apart for his use in winter, and if furs are scarcer now than in the old days they bring a better price, so that the dark-skinned hunter has lost nothing by reason of the changed conditions. More, he is allowed to shoot almost any animal or bird for food at any time of the year, and should he, despite these privileges, become destitute, it is his right to demand aid from the Government. The prosperity of the individual seems assured, but for the race there is only one outlook, and that is – death.
Under the present system ambition is killed and self-respect is lost, so that the name “Indian,” once calculated to ispire awe or fear, with also a touch of admiration, now incites only feelings of pity or, as often, contempt in the breast of the whiteman who has succeeded him.
“Lo, the poor Indian,” wrote the poet – it was well written.
At Flying Post, a station of the Hudson’s Bay Company, fifty miles north of Biscotasing, on the Canadian Pacific Railway, resides a band of Ojibway Indians, about one hundred and thirty in all. At Fort Metagami, fifty miles to the southeast, there is another band, and every summer Mr. H. A. West, the Indian agent in that district, who lives in Chapleau, draws a thousand dollars from the bank there and makes the trip by canoe to Flying Post and Fort Metagami, paying Canada’s rent in bright new one- dollar bills. With him are a doctor, a clerk, an Interpreter and a cook, as well as four Indians to do the heavy work. On the fifth or sixth day out the party draws nigh the first post to be visited.
On the last portage a spruce pole is cut, which is set up in the bow of one of the canoes, and to this improvised flagstaff is fastened a weather-beaten Union Jack, a symbol of British might and good-will. We are approaching a community far off from human intercourse, a place where our visit is a thing long looked forward to and long remembered, so that it behooves us to make some show of ceremony. Our guns ready loaded, we are prepared to make a triumphal entry. The “flagship” bearing the precious pay-valise, takes a slight lead; and with long shoulder strokes we drive the two canoes around the last bend and into full view of the post – a cluster of log buildings, flanked by the tents and bark wigwams of the Indians, and far back on the hill a little church. The wooden buildings in the foreground are the property of the Hudson’s Bay Company, and in a moment, in answer to our first rifle-shot, the Canadian Ensign, its lower corner embellished with the Company’s device, is run up on the flagstaff. Simultaneously the report of a shotgun reaches our ears, followed by another and another, until it seems as if every gun in camp is pouring forth his quota of noise to swell the tumult. A moment’s lull to permit the reloading, and now is heard the baying of hounds mingled with the shrill barking of mongrel curs. The shore is alive with these animals each striving to be the loudest to raise the note of welcome ( or is it the opposite?); wherefore Fred, our French-Canadian cook, is moved to murmur in his quaint near-English, “Ho, de dogs he make saluting too, him,” Again and again as we draw near, and the sound of firing rolls over the water, and our rifle makes answer. And the higher ground is dotted with expectant figures long before we reach the landing. This is the big event of the year for the dwellers at this post, and our welcome by the portly Hudson’s Bay Factor is both hearty and sincere. Five minutes later finds us the centre of a dark-skinned group shaking hands promiscuously, and answering the guttural “ B’ jou’s” of the men and women of the band. All familiarities over, we take ourselves off to our projected campground to superintend the preparation of a camp.
To be continued.
This is a long article, quite detailed and using “non-politically correct language” of the year 1911.