Indeed, the idea of Indian Country had many important allies and defenders who were not themselves of Aboriginal ancestry. For instance, Walter O'Meara, a member of an influential Anglican missionary family, participated in the creation of the Allied Tribes of British Columbia and helped to generate the political will that culminated in a parliamentary inquiry into the British Columbia land question in 1927. An Ontario lawyer, Andrew G. Chisholm, devoted a long career starting in the early 1900s to the advancement of many Native claims. Samuel Blake, a Toronto lawyer and member of the executive committee of the Canadian branch of the Church of England's Missionary Society, was another non-Aboriginal activist who criticized many aspects of Canadian Indian policy. He was especially active in opposing the growing dependence on residential schools. In 1908, an era when government and church conduct of Indian Affairs was rarely placed in the political spotlight, Blake wrote a controversial pamphlet that lamented the utter foolishness of an approach that "must thrust everything out of the Indian and turn him into a white man in order to make him fit for citizenship." Initiatives in the field of Indian education should be directed, Blake argued, at engendering "pride" in Aboriginal culture and heritage, rather than to "rob the Indian student of his language, traditions and all that has made him love his home, and cemented the tie between himself and his parents."9

While this kind of non-Aboriginal involvement in the political life of the First Nations has recently been criticized as paternalistic or a variant of "voice appropriation,"10 these non-Aboriginal activists also have many defenders inside and outside of Indian Country. Their activist endeavours can be seen as directed at making Canada a better and fairer society for everyone, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal alike. Their role in First Nations politics also seems consistent with old Aboriginal approaches that eschewed racial definitions of who properly belonged in their clans, nations, and confederacies.

1907 - The Bryce Report on Health Conditions in Residential Schools

Department of Indian Affairs chief medical officer Dr. P.H. Bryce conducted an official investigation of the residential schools in Western Canada focusing on health conditions there. In his 1907 report, Bryce revealed the alarming results of his survey of 15 schools. He provided a statistical analysis of the extent of tuberculosis in the schools and discovered the death rate among pupils in these institutions to be 24 per cent. Had the study included other schools or covered an extended period of time, the death toll might have been higher still, a fact acknowledged by Deputy Superintendent of Indian Affairs D.C. Scott. The report laid blame for this disastrous state of affairs on the churches who were mismanaging the schools, but more particularly on the government. Chronic underfunding did not permit the construction or maintenance of reasonable structures or the provision of adequate food. As well, the department controlled the health standards and regulations to which the schools were subject, as a result of an Indian Act amendment of 1892. Bryce pointed out that these regulations were poorly applied, if at all. Bryce's report received a great deal of publicity, in part because of the horror stories it related, but also because it gave ammunition to critics of the residential school system who wished to see it brought down for other reasons. Despite the media attention and an acknowledgment of the problems by senior officials, disease and death continued unabated. Bryce resigned from the department in 1921 and the following year published a tract entitled The Story of a National Crime. The work castigated the government and the department in particular for their continued neglect of this issue.

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1908 - The Paget Report on School Conditions

F.H. Paget, an accountant in the Indian Affairs Department, was appointed to survey the physical conditions of the schools in the West. His report served as a companion piece to Bryce's investigation. Paget found, not surprisingly, that school buildings were unfit for use and suffered from flawed heating, ventilation, and drainage facilities. He drew the logical connection between these conditions and the prevalence of disease, especially tuberculosis. The report was another example of both the government's awareness of the situation in Western residential schools and its reluctance to take action to remedy these problems.

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Written By

Anthony J. Hall
Professor of Globalization Studies
University of Lethbridge


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