We might expect fairness

Excerpt from Peace and Good Order by Harold R. Johnson

This is an excerpt from the book Peace and Good Order by Harold R. Johnson.

In Canada there is a widely held expectation that the law will be fair. Indigenous Peoples expect that when a white man kills an Indigenous person, he will be treated with the same sternness that has been applied to us. Law is fundamental to the relationship between Indigenous Peoples and settlers. But while we might expect fairness, our experience has been otherwise.

Everything that has been done to Indigenous Peoples has been legal. Law was used to deny us access to the natural resources within the territories we share with settlers. Law has been used to confine us to tiny plots that are economically unsustainable. Under the pass system, introduced by law in 1885 and not repealed until 1951, Indians needed the permission of the Indian agent to leave our reserves to visit neighbouring relatives or to go hunting or fishing or gathering, and the Indian agent relied upon the police to enforce his decisions to deny permission. Law gave huge tracts of our territory to foreign corporations to exploit the natural resources, depriving us of sacred sites, food sources, medicines and income. We were arrested if we entered into territory where our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents had lived, hunted, fished, trapped and gathered. When the Prince Albert National Park was created in 1927, it was the RCMP who came to tell my mother’s family that the territory where they lived and found sustenance had become a park and they had to leave their houses and their gardens and the trails and the land and animals they were familiar with and move somewhere else.

Canadian law determined who we were. Under the terms of the Indian Act, if a First Nations woman married a non–First Nations man, she lost her status as an Indian. She and her children lost their right to hunt, fish and gather. If they were caught hunting or fishing, they frequently were arrested, charged, convicted and sentenced to jail—for the crime of feeding their families. I can remember when I was young and my mother’s brother Ben was arrested and sent to jail for hunting. Not only did his immediate family suffer; the entire community suffered because Ben was an exceptional hunter who provided meat to a lot more people than just his wife and children. I was born in a small northern community of trappers and fishers to a Cree mother and a Forest-Finn Swede father. It was not until 2011 that the Indian Act was changed and Canadian law recognized me as an Indian.

Indigenous Peoples were not only the subject of laws that encircled and diminished us. We were also denied the ability to resist those laws. Any other Canadian citizen who was the subject of an unjust law could challenge that law in court. We could not. From 1927 until 1951, it was against the law for Indigenous people or communities to hire a lawyer, without the government’s consent, to bring claims against the government to restore lands or rights taken away by that government.

Law has been used to compel us to surrender our children to residential schools, where horrors were inflicted upon them in an attempt to eradicate our culture and language. The police were instrumental in rounding up our children. (My mother attended a residential school for one year, in about 1930, and several of my cousins were sent in the 1970s and ’80s. My siblings and I were spared that horror.)

Law was used again in the 1960s, when social workers, accompanied by police officers, removed Indigenous children from their homes on the pretext that they were not being cared for properly. After my father died, my mother was told that if she continued to take me and my siblings out of school to go to the trapline with her, the government would take her children away. In 1967, if you told an Indigenous woman with one year of schooling and six children at home that you were going to take her children away from her, she would do anything she was told. My mother surrendered her independence. She moved us to a larger community, where she was forced to go on welfare.

And law has been used to fill the jails with Indigenous men, women and children at rates that continue to rise. Not only are Indigenous people more likely to be sentenced to prison, but they are also subject to some of the restrictive types of punishment, including segregation, high-security classifications and involuntary transfers.

To say that law and justice have failed Indigenous Peoples in Canada is a vast understatement. Law and justice appear to be the tools employed to continue the forced subjugation of an entire population.

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

Peace and Good Order – Summary

Here is the book summary:

An urgent, informed, intimate condemnation of the Canadian state and its failure to deliver justice to Indigenous people by national bestselling author and former Crown prosecutor Harold R. Johnson.

In early 2018, the failures of Canada’s justice system were sharply and painfully revealed in the verdicts issued in the deaths of Colten Boushie and Tina Fontaine. The outrage and confusion that followed those verdicts inspired former Crown prosecutor and bestselling author Harold R. Johnson to make the case against Canada for its failure to fulfill its duty under Treaty to effectively deliver justice to Indigenous people, worsening the situation and ensuring long-term damage to Indigenous communities.

In this direct, concise, and essential volume, Harold R. Johnson examines the justice system’s failures to deliver “peace and good order” to Indigenous people. He explores the part that he understands himself to have played in that mismanagement, drawing on insights he has gained from the experience; insights into the roots and immediate effects of how the justice system has failed Indigenous people, in all the communities in which they live; and insights into the struggle for peace and good order for Indigenous people now.

Copyright © 2019 by Harold R. Johnson.

You can find more details here on Goodreads and on StoryGraph.

A braid of stories

This is a quote from the book Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer.

Quote by Robin Wall Kimmerer, “So I offer, in its place, a braid of stories meant to heal our relationship with the world.”

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

If you’re interested, you can read an excerpt from the book here.

Braiding Sweetgrass – Summary

Here is the book summary:

As a botanist, Robin Wall Kimmerer has been trained to ask questions of nature with the tools of science. As a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, she embraces the notion that plants and animals are our oldest teachers.

In Braiding Sweetgrass , Kimmerer brings these lenses of knowledge together to show that the awakening of a wider ecological consciousness requires the acknowledgment and celebration of our reciprocal relationship with the rest of the living world. For only when we can hear the languages of other beings are we capable of understanding the generosity of the earth, and learning to give our own gifts in return.

Copyright © 2013 by Robin Wall Kimmerer.

You can find more details here on Goodreads and on StoryGraph.

Wiingaashk, the sweet-smelling hair of Mother Earth

Excerpt from Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Photo by Jesse Gardner on Unsplash

This is an excerpt from the book Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer.

Hold out your hands and let me lay upon them a sheaf of freshly picked sweetgrass, loose and flowing, like newly washed hair. Golden green and glossy above, the stems are banded with purple and white where they meet the ground. Hold the bundle up to your nose. Find the fragrance of honeyed vanilla over the scent of river water and black earth and you understand its scientific name: Hierochloe odorata, meaning the fragrant, holy grass. In our language it is called wiingaashk, the sweet-smelling hair of Mother Earth. Breathe it in and you start to remember things you didn’t know you’d forgotten.

A sheaf of sweetgrass, bound at the end and divided into thirds, is ready to braid. In braiding sweetgrass—so that it is smooth, glossy, and worthy of the gift—a certain amount of tension is needed. As any little girl with tight braids will tell you, you have to pull a bit. Of course you can do it yourself—by tying one end to a chair, or by holding it in your teeth and braiding backward away from yourself—but the sweetest way is to have someone else hold the end so that you pull gently against each other, all the while leaning in, head to head, chatting and laughing, watching each other’s hands, one holding steady while the other shifts the slim bundles over one another, each in its turn. Linked by sweetgrass there is reciprocity between you, linked by sweetgrass, the holder as vital as the braider. The braid becomes finer and thinner as you near the end, until you’re braiding individual blades of grass, and then you tie it off.

Will you hold the end of the bundle while I braid? Hands joined by grass, can we bend our heads together and make a braid to honor the earth? And then I’ll hold it for you, while you braid, too.

I could hand you a braid of sweetgrass, as thick and shining as the plait that hung down my grandmother’s back. But it is not mine to give, nor yours to take. Wiingaashk belongs to herself. So I offer, in its place, a braid of stories meant to heal our relationship with the world. This braid is woven from three strands: indigenous ways of knowing, scientific knowledge, and the story of an Anishinabekwe scientist trying to bring them together in service to what matters most. It is an intertwining of science, spirit, and story—old stories and new ones that can be medicine for our broken relationship with earth, a pharmacopoeia of healing stories that allow us to imagine a different relationship, in which people and land are good medicine for each other.

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

Braiding Sweetgrass – Summary

Here is the book summary:

As a botanist, Robin Wall Kimmerer has been trained to ask questions of nature with the tools of science. As a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, she embraces the notion that plants and animals are our oldest teachers.

In Braiding Sweetgrass , Kimmerer brings these lenses of knowledge together to show that the awakening of a wider ecological consciousness requires the acknowledgment and celebration of our reciprocal relationship with the rest of the living world. For only when we can hear the languages of other beings are we capable of understanding the generosity of the earth, and learning to give our own gifts in return.

Copyright © 2013 by Robin Wall Kimmerer.

You can find more details here on Goodreads and on StoryGraph.

History is the stories we tell

This is a quote from the book The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King.

Quote by Thomas King, “Most of us think that history is the past. It’s not. History is the stories we tell about the past. That’s all it is. Stories. Such a definition might make the enterprise of history seem neutral. Benign.
Which, of course, it isn’t.”

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

If you’re interested, you can read an excerpt from the book here.

The Inconvenient Indian – Summary

Here is the book summary:

The Inconvenient Indian is at once a “history” and the complete subversion of a history—in short, a critical and personal meditation that the remarkable Thomas King has conducted over the past 50 years about what it means to be “Indian” in North America.

Rich with dark and light, pain and magic, this book distills the insights gleaned from that meditation, weaving the curiously circular tale of the relationship between non-Natives and Natives in the centuries since the two first encountered each other. In the process, King refashions old stories about historical events and figures, takes a sideways look at film and pop culture, relates his own complex experiences with activism, and articulates a deep and revolutionary understanding of the cumulative effects of ever-shifting laws and treaties on Native peoples and lands.

This is a book both timeless and timely, burnished with anger but tempered by wit, and ultimately a hard-won offering of hope—a sometimes inconvenient, but nonetheless indispensable account for all of us, Indian and non-Indian alike, seeking to understand how we might tell a new story for the future.

Copyright © 2012 by Thomas King.

You can find more details here on Goodreads and on StoryGraph.

Forget Columbus

Excerpt from The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King

Photo by Abigail Loney on Unsplash

This is an excerpt from the book The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King.

Most of us think that history is the past. It’s not. History is the stories we tell about the past. That’s all it is. Stories. Such a definition might make the enterprise of history seem neutral. Benign.

Which, of course, it itsn’t.

History may well be a series of stories we tell about the past, but the stories are not just any stories. They’re not chosen by chance. By and large, the stories are about famous men and celebrated events. We throw in a couple of exceptional women every now and then, not our of any need to recognize female eminence, but out of embarrassment.

And we’re not easily embarrassed.

When we imagine history, we imagine a grand structure, a national chronicle, a closely organized and guarded record of agreed-upon events and interpretations, a bundle of “authenticities” and “truths” welded into a flexible, yet conservative narrative that explains how we got from there to here. It is a relationship we have with ourselves, a love affair we celebrate with flags and anthems, festivals and guns.

Well, the “guns” remark was probably uncalled for and might suggest and animus towards history. But that’s not true. I simply have difficulty with how we choose which stories become the pulse of history and which do not.

In 1492, Columbu sailed the ocean blue.

On second thought, let’s not start with Columbus. Helen was right. Let’s forget Columbus. You know, now that I say it out loud, I even like the sound of it. Forget Columbus.

Give it a try. Forget Columbus.

Instead, let’s start our history, our account, in Almo, Idaho. I’ve never been there and I suspect that most of you haven’t either. I can tell you with certainty that Christopher Columbus didn’t discover the town. Nor did Jacques Cartier or Samuel de Champlain or David Thompson or Hernando Cortes. Sacajawea, with Lewis and Clarke in two, might have passed through the general area, but since Almo didn’t exist in the early 1800s, they couldn’t have stopped there. Even if they had wanted to.

Almo is a small, unincorporated town of about 200 tucked into south central Cassia County in southern Idaho. So far as I know, it isn’t famous for much of anything except and Indian massacre.

A plaque in the town reads, “Dedicated to the memory of those who lost their lives in a most horrible Indian massacre, 1861. Three hundred immigrants west bound. Only five escaped. Erected by the S&D of Idaho Pioneers, 1938.”

Two hundred and ninety-five killed. Now that’s a massacre. Indians generally didn’t kill that many Whites at one time. Sure, during the 1813 For Mims massacre, in what is now Alabama. Creek Red Sticks killed about four hundred Whites, but that’s the largest massacre committed by Indians that I can find. The Lachine massacre on Montreal Island in Quebec in 1689killed around ninety, while the death toll in nearby La Chesnaye was forty-two. In 1832, eighteen were killed at Indian Creek near Ottawa, Illinois, while the 1854 Ward massacre along the Oregon Trail in western Idaho had a death toll of nineteen. The 1860 Utter massacre at Henderson Flat near the Snake River in Idaho killed twenty-five. The 1879 Meeker massacre in western Colorado killed eleven. The fort parker massacre in Texas in 1836 killed six.

It’s true in 1835, just south of present-day Bushnell, Florida, Indians killed 108, but since all of the casualties were armed soldiers who were looking for trouble and not unarmed civilians who were trying to avoid it, I don’t count this one as a massacre.

By the way, these aren’t my figures. I borrowed them from William M. Osborn who wrote a book, The Wild Frontier, in which he attempted to document every massacre that occurred in North America. The figures are not dead accurate, of course. They’re approximations based on the historical information that was available to Osborn. Still, it’s nice that someone spent the time and effort to compile such a list, so I can use it without doing any of the work.

I should point out that Indians didn’t do all the massacring. To give credit where credit is due, Whites massacred Indians at a pretty good clip. In 1598, in what is now New Mexico, Juan de Onate and his troops killed over eight hundred Acoma and cut off the left foot of every man over the age of twenty-five. In 163y, John Underhill led a force that killed six to seven hundred Pequot near the Mystic River in Connecticut. In 1871, around one hundred and forty Pinal and Aravaipa Apaches were killed in the Camp Gran t massacre in Arizona Territory. Two hundred and fifty Northwestern Shoshoni were killed in the 1863 Bear River massacre in what is now Idaho, while General Henry Atkinson killed some one hundred and fifty Sauk and Fox at the mouth of the Bad Axe River in Wisconsin in 1832. And, of course, there’s always the famous 1864 Sand Creek massacre in Colorado, where two hundred peaceful Cheyenne were slaughtered by vigilantes looking to shoot anything that moved, and the even more infamous Wounded Knee in 1890, where over two hundred Lakota lost their lives.

Of course, body counts alone don’t even begin to tell the stories of these slaughters, but what the figures do suggest—if you take them at face value—is that Whites were considerably more successful at massacres than Indians. So, the 1861 Almo massacre by the Shoshone-Bannock should stand out in the annals of Indian bad behaviour. After the massacre at Fort Mims, Almo would rank at the second-largest massacre of Whites by Indians.

Three hundred people in the wagon train. Two hundred and ninety-five killed. Only five survivors. It’s a great story. The only problem is, it never happened.

You might assume that something must have happened in Almo, maybe a smaller massacre or a fatal altercation of some sort that was exaggerated and blown out of proportion.

Nope.

The story is simply a tale someone made up and told to someone else, and before you knew it, the Almo massacre was historical fact.

The best summary and critical analysis of the Almo massacre is Brigham Madsen’s 1993 article in Idaho Yesterdays, “The Almo Massacre Revisited.” Madsen was a historian at the University of Utah when I was a graduate student there. He was a smart, witty, gracious man, who once told me that historians are not often appreciated because their research tends to destroy myths. I knew the man, and I liked him. So, in the spirit of full disclosure, I should say that I have a bias towards his work.

Bias or no, Madsen’s research into Almo settles the question. No massacre. As Madsen points out in his article, attacks by Indians did not go unmarked. The newspapers of the time—the Deseret News in Salt Lake City, the Sacramento Daily Union, the San Francisco Examiner—paid close attention to Indian activity along the Oregon and California trails, yet none of the papers had any mention of Almo. Such an event would certainly have come to the attention of Indian Service agents and the military, but again Madsen was unable to find any reference to the massacre either in the National Archives or in the records that the Bureau of Indian Affairs kept for the various states and territories. Nor does the Almo massacre appear in any of the early histories of Idaho.

You would expect that the rescue party from Brigham who supposedly came upon the carnage and buried the bodies of the slain settlers—or the alleged five survivors who escaped death—would have brought the massacre to the attention of the authorities. Okay, one of the survivors was a baby, but that still left a chorus of voices to sound the alarm.

And yet there is nothing.

In fact there is no mention of the matter at all until some sixty-six years after the fact, when the story first appeared in Charles S. Walgamott’s 1926 book Reminiscences of Early Days: A Series of Historical Sketches and Happenings in the Early Days of Snake River Valley. Walgamott claims to have gotten the story from a W.M.E. Johnston, and it’s a gruesome story to be sure, a Jacobean melodrama complete with “bloodthirsty Indians” and a brave White woman who crawls to safety carrying her nursing child by its clothing in her teeth.

A right proper Western.

That the plaque in Almo was erected in 1938 as part of “Exploration Day,” an event that was designed to celebrate Idaho history and promote tourism to the area, is probably just a coincidence. In any case, the fact that the story is a fraud didn’t bother the Sons and Daughters of Idaho Pioneers who paid for the plaque, and it doesn’t bother them now. Even after the massacre was discredited, the town was reluctant to remove the marker, defending the lie as part of the culture and history of the area. Which, of course, it now is.

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

The Inconvenient Indian – Summary

Here is the book summary:

The Inconvenient Indian is at once a “history” and the complete subversion of a history—in short, a critical and personal meditation that the remarkable Thomas King has conducted over the past 50 years about what it means to be “Indian” in North America.

Rich with dark and light, pain and magic, this book distills the insights gleaned from that meditation, weaving the curiously circular tale of the relationship between non-Natives and Natives in the centuries since the two first encountered each other. In the process, King refashions old stories about historical events and figures, takes a sideways look at film and pop culture, relates his own complex experiences with activism, and articulates a deep and revolutionary understanding of the cumulative effects of ever-shifting laws and treaties on Native peoples and lands.

This is a book both timeless and timely, burnished with anger but tempered by wit, and ultimately a hard-won offering of hope—a sometimes inconvenient, but nonetheless indispensable account for all of us, Indian and non-Indian alike, seeking to understand how we might tell a new story for the future.

Copyright © 2012 by Thomas King.

You can find more details here on Goodreads and on StoryGraph.

We are unmovable

This is a quote from the book Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot.

Quote by Terese Marie Mailhot, “She transcended resilience and actualized what Indians weren’t taught to know: We are unmovable. Time seems measured by grief and anticipatory grief. I don’t think she even measured time.”

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

If you’re interested, you can read an excerpt from the book here.

Heart Berries – Summary

Here is the book summary:

Heart Berries is a powerful, poetic memoir of a woman’s coming of age on the Seabird Island Indian Reservation in the Pacific Northwest. Having survived a profoundly dysfunctional upbringing only to find herself hospitalized and facing a dual diagnosis of post traumatic stress disorder and bipolar II disorder; Terese Marie Mailhot is given a notebook and begins to write her way out of trauma. The triumphant result is

Heart Berries, a memorial for Mailhot’s mother, a social worker and activist who had a thing for prisoners; a story of reconciliation with her father―an abusive drunk and a brilliant artist―who was murdered under mysterious circumstances; and an elegy on how difficult it is to love someone while dragging the long shadows of shame.

Mailhot trusts the reader to understand that memory isn’t exact, but melded to imagination, pain, and what we can bring ourselves to accept. Her unique and at times unsettling voice graphically illustrates her mental state. As she writes, she discovers her own true voice, seizes control of her story, and, in so doing, reestablishes her connection to her family, to her people, and to her place in the world.

Copyright © 2018 by Terese Marie Mailhot.

You can find more details here on Goodreads and on StoryGraph.

She transcended resilience

Excerpt from Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot

Photo by Kevin Erdvig on Unsplash

This is an excerpt from the book Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot.

You may want to look up content warnings before reading this book, if there’s certain content you wish to avoid reading about.

Zohar asked my mother if she could sleep next to my bed, on the floor. She listened to me all night. Storytelling. What potential there was in being awful. My mindlessness became a gift. I didn’t feel compelled to tell any moral tales or ancient ones. I learned how story was always meant to be for Indian women: immediate and necessary and fearless, like all good lies.

My story was maltreated. I was a teenager when I got married. I wanted a safe home. Despair isn’t a conduit for love. We ruined each other, and then my mother died. I had to leave the reservation. I had to get my GED. I left my home because welfare made me choose between necessities. I used a check and some cash I saved for a ticket away—and knew I would arrive with a deficit. That’s when I started to illustrate my story and when it became a means of survival. The ugly truth is that I lost my son Isadore in court. The Hague Convention. The ugly of that truth is that I gave birth to my second son as I was losing my first. My court date and my delivery aligned. In the hospital, they told me that my first son would go with his father.

“What about this boy,” I said, with Isaiah in my arms.

“They don’t seem interested yet,” my lawyer said.

I brought Isaiah home from the hospital, and then packed Isadore’s bag. My ex-husband Vito took him, along with police escorts. Before they left, I asked Vito if he wanted to hold his new baby. I don’t know why I offered, but he didn’t kiss our baby or tell him goodbye. He didn’t say he was sorry, or that it was unfortunate. Who wants one boy and not another?

It’s too ugly—to speak this story. It sounds like a beggar. How could misfortune follow me so well, and why did I choose it every time?

I learned how to make a honey reduction of the ugly sentences. Still, my voice cracks.

I packed my baby and left my reservation. I came from the mountains to an infinite and flat brown to bury my grief. I left because I was hungry.

In my first writing classes, my professor told me that the human condition was misery. I’m a river widened by misery, and the potency of my language is more than human. It’s an Indian condition to be proud of survival but reluctant to call it resilience. Resilience seems ascribed to a human conditioning in white people.

The Indian condition is my grandmother. She was a nursery teacher. There are stories that she brought children to our kitchen, gave them laxatives, and then put newspaper on the ground. She squatted before them and made faces to illustrate how hard they should push. She dewormed children this way, and she learned that in residential school—where parasites and nuns and priests contaminated generations of our people. Indians froze trying to run away, and many starved. Nuns and priests ran out of places to put bones, so they built us into the walls of new boarding schools.

I can see Grandmother’s face in front of those children. Her hands felt like rose petals, and her eyes were soft and round like buttons. She liked carnations and canned milk. She transcended resilience and actualized what Indians weren’t taught to know: We are unmovable. Time seems measured by grief and anticipatory grief. I don’t think she even measured time.

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

Heart Berries – Summary

Here is the book summary:

Heart Berries is a powerful, poetic memoir of a woman’s coming of age on the Seabird Island Indian Reservation in the Pacific Northwest. Having survived a profoundly dysfunctional upbringing only to find herself hospitalized and facing a dual diagnosis of post traumatic stress disorder and bipolar II disorder; Terese Marie Mailhot is given a notebook and begins to write her way out of trauma. The triumphant result is

Heart Berries, a memorial for Mailhot’s mother, a social worker and activist who had a thing for prisoners; a story of reconciliation with her father―an abusive drunk and a brilliant artist―who was murdered under mysterious circumstances; and an elegy on how difficult it is to love someone while dragging the long shadows of shame.

Mailhot trusts the reader to understand that memory isn’t exact, but melded to imagination, pain, and what we can bring ourselves to accept. Her unique and at times unsettling voice graphically illustrates her mental state. As she writes, she discovers her own true voice, seizes control of her story, and, in so doing, reestablishes her connection to her family, to her people, and to her place in the world.

Copyright © 2018 by Terese Marie Mailhot.

You can find more details here on Goodreads and on StoryGraph.

Extermination and assimilation

Excerpt from The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King

Photo by Saksham Gangwar on Unsplash

This is an excerpt from the book The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King.

Throughout the history of Indian-White relations in North America, there have always been two impulses afoot. Extermination and assimilation. Extermination of Native peoples, especially in the early years, was not considered “genocide”—a term coined in 1944 by the legal scholar Raphael Lemkin—so much as it was deemed a by-product of “manifest destiny”— term struck in the 1840 when U.S. Democrats used it to justify the war with Mexico. Extermination was also seen as an expression of “natural law,” a concept conceived by Aristotle in the fourth century B.C. and used by the Spanish humanist Juan de Sepulveda in the sixteenth as a legal justification for the enslavement of Native people in the Caribbean and Mexico.

The means of extermination didn’t much matter. Bullets were okay. Disease was fine. Starvation was acceptable. In the minds of many, these were not so much cruelties as they were variations on the principles underlying the concept “survival of the fittest,” a phrase that Herbert Spencer had fashioned in 1864 and that would become synonymous the Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection.

The second impulse, assimilation, argued for salvation and improvement. One of the questions that the Spanish worried over was whether or not Indians were human beings. This was the subject of the great debate organized by the Vatican in Valladolid, Spain, in 1550 and 1551 where the cleric Bartolome de las Casas maintained that Indians had souls and should be treated as other free men, while the aforementioned Juan de Sepulveda made the case on behalf of land owners, arguing that Indians did not have souls and were therefore natural slaves. De las Casas’s position carried the day, but the “Indians have souls” argument provided no more than a philosophical victory and had no effect on the day-to-day actions of Spanish colonists in the New World, who continued to use Indians as slaves to run their plantations.

Neither the English nor the French spent any time with this question. For these two groups, Indians were simply humans at an early point in the evolution o the species. They were savages with no understanding of orthodox theology, devoid of complex language, and lacking civilized manners. Barbarians certainly, and quite possibly minions of the devil. But human beings, nonetheless. Ans as such, many colonists believed that Native people could be civilized and educated, believed that there was, within the Indian, the possibility for enlightenment.

Extermination dominated the early contact period assimilation the latter, until finally, in the nineteenth century, they came together in an amalgam of militarism and social theory that allowed North America to mount a series of benevolent assaults on Native people, assaults facilitated by force of arms, deception and coercion, assaults that sought to dismantle Native culture with missionary zeal and humanitarian paternalism, and to replace it with something that Whites could recognize.

These assaults came singly, in partnerships and from various angles. In general, settlers and missionaries of one flavour or another led the way, taking turns leapfrogging each other into the “wilderness.” In Canada, it was the French and the Jesuits, followed by the English and Anglicans, Methodists, and Presbyterians. In the American northeast and along the Atlantic coast, it was the English and the Puritans, Methodists, Baptists, and Presbyterians, with a smattering of fQuakers and other non-conformists working out of Rhode Island. In the southeast, it was the Spanish and the Jesuits and the Franciscans. In the far west, along the Pacific coast, it was the Spanish and the Franciscans, while, much later and farther north in California and up the Pacific coast, it was the Russians and the Orthodox Church.

Francis Jennings, in his book The Invasion of America, called Christianity a “conquest religion.” I suspect this description is true of most religions. I can’t think of one that could be termed a “seduction religion,” where converts are lured in by the beauty of the doctrine and the generosity of the practice.

Maybe Buddhism. Certainly not Christianity.

Missionary work in the New World was war. Christianity, in all its varieties, has always been a stakeholder in the business of assimilation, and, in the sixteenth century, it was the initial wound in the side of Native culture. Or, if you want the positive but somewhat callous view, you might wish to describe Christianity as the gateway drug to supply-side capitalism.

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

The Inconvenient Indian – Summary

Here is the book summary:

The Inconvenient Indian is at once a “history” and the complete subversion of a history—in short, a critical and personal meditation that the remarkable Thomas King has conducted over the past 50 years about what it means to be “Indian” in North America.

Rich with dark and light, pain and magic, this book distills the insights gleaned from that meditation, weaving the curiously circular tale of the relationship between non-Natives and Natives in the centuries since the two first encountered each other. In the process, King refashions old stories about historical events and figures, takes a sideways look at film and pop culture, relates his own complex experiences with activism, and articulates a deep and revolutionary understanding of the cumulative effects of ever-shifting laws and treaties on Native peoples and lands.

This is a book both timeless and timely, burnished with anger but tempered by wit, and ultimately a hard-won offering of hope—a sometimes inconvenient, but nonetheless indispensable account for all of us, Indian and non-Indian alike, seeking to understand how we might tell a new story for the future.

Copyright © 2012 by Thomas King.

You can find more details here on Goodreads and on StoryGraph.

The same Indian agent

This is a quote from the book 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act by Bob Joseph.

Quote by Bob Joseph, “As I have written in other publications, this is how the process would have unfolded: An Indian agent would ask me my name, I would say “k’ack-sum nakwala”, and they would write down “Bob Joseph.” Often I am asked if I am related to the Josephs from the Squamish First Nation, to which I usually reply, “No, but I’m sure we had the same Indian agent.”

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

If you’re interested, you can read an excerpt from the book here.

21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act – Summary

Here is the book summary:

Based on a viral article, 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act is the essential guide to understanding the legal document and its repercussion on generations of Indigenous Peoples, written by a leading cultural sensitivity trainer.

Since its creation in 1876, the Indian Act has shaped, controlled, and constrained the lives and opportunities of Indigenous Peoples, and is at the root of many enduring stereotypes. Bob Joseph’s book comes at a key time in the reconciliation process, when awareness from both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities is at a crescendo. Joseph explains how Indigenous Peoples can step out from under the Indian Act and return to self-government, self-determination, and self-reliance—and why doing so would result in a better country for every Canadian. He dissects the complex issues around truth and reconciliation, and clearly demonstrates why learning about the Indian Act’s cruel, enduring legacy is essential for the country to move toward true reconciliation.

Copyright © 2018 by Bob Joseph.

You can find more details here on Goodreads and on StoryGraph.

The Indian Act

Excerpt from 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act by Bob Joseph

Photo by Andrew George on Unsplash

This is an excerpt from the book 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act by Bob Joseph.

The roots of the Indian Act lie in the Bagot Report of 1844 that recommended that control over Indian matters be centralized that the children be sent to boarding schools away from the influence of their communities and culture, that the Indians be encouraged to assume the European concept of free enterprise, and that land be individually owned under an Indian land registry system in which they could sell to each other but not to non-Indians. The Bagot Report provided the framework for the Indian Act, 1876.

When the British North America Act (BNA), or what is now known as the Constitution Act, 1867 was issued, it gave, under Section 91 (24), exclusive jurisdiction over “Indians and lands reserved for the Indians” to the federal government. With issue of the BNA, Canada was placed in a position of conflict of interest. On the one hand it was responsible for “Indians and lands reserved for Indians,” while, on the other hand, it was the responsible party for negotiating treaties and purchasing their land for the Crown.

Eight years later, when the regulations that impacted Indians were consolidated into the Indian Act, 1876, we star to get some insight into Indian policy:

Our Indian legislation general resets on the principle, that the aborigines are to be kept in a condition of tutelage and treated as wards or children of the State…[T]he true interests of the aborigines and of the State alike require that every effort should be made to aid the Red man in lifting himself out of his condition of tutelage and dependence, and that is clearly our wisdom and our duty, through education and every other means, to prepare him for a higher civilization by encouraging him to assume the privileges and responsibilities of full citizenship.

But that paternalistic attitude gave way to increasingly punitive rules, prohibitions, and regulations that dehumanized Indians. By the 1920s, Indian policy took on a much darker tone. Duncan Campbell Scott, the Deputy Superintendent General of Indian Affairs, wrote: “I want to get rid of the Indian problem…our objective is to continue until there is not an Indian that has not been absorbed into the body politic, and there is no Indian question, and no Indian Department…”

When details about the atrocities of World War II became known, coupled with the contributions by Indigenous soldiers during the war, Canadian began to judge how the government treated Indians. Information about the staggering number of deaths of children in residential school began to creep out Mainstream Canada took notice. To counter the negativity, the federal government commissioned a series of positive, short films about the schools, one of which signs off with “for the oldest Canadians, a new future.” There was a call for a Royal Commission to investigate Indian Affairs, the conditions on reserves, and discrimination against Indians. While the Royal Commission never took shape, a Special Joint Parliamentary Committee of the Senate and the House of Commons was formed to look into Canada’s policies and the management of Indian Affairs. After two years of hearings, the Joint Committee recommended:

a) The complete revision or repeal of every section in the Indian Act.

b) That Canada’s Indian Act be designed to make possible the gradual transition of the Indian from a position of wardship to citizenship. To achieve this goal the act should provide that:

i. Indian women be given a political voice in band affairs.

ii. Bands should be allowed more self-government.

iii. ands should be given more financial assistance.

iv. Indians should be treated the same as non-Indians in the matter of intoxicants.

v. Indian Affairs officials were to have their duties and responsibilities designed so as to assist the Indians attain the full rights of citizenship and to serve the responsibilities of self-government.

vi. Bands be allowed to incorporate as municipalities.

c) The guidelines for future policy were to be:

i. The easing of enfranchisement procedures

ii. Indians should be given the vote.

iii. When possible co-operate with the provinces in delivering services to the Indian people.

iv. Indian education should be geared for assimilation; ;therefore it should take place with non-Indian students.

Despite the recommendations, a 1951 amendment to the Act did not in fact bring much in the way of relief to Indians from the government’s formidable control over most aspects of their lives. This book deals primarily with the Indian Act and its many reiterations between 1869 and 1951. The Indian Act remains in effect today, with basically the same framework it had in 1876, despite the numerous amendments.

In this book I have endeavoured to provide insight into just 21 of the rules, regulations, and prohibitions of the Indian Act. It is an incredibly broad topic and a vast body of law that, in its entirety, continues to touch on every aspect of an Indian person’s life, from the womb to the tomb. Had I written about the entire Indian Act, it is unlikely anyone would read the book and we would have fallen down in our mission to inform people so that they can understand the past and move towards reconciliation. If you are interested in reading the full text of the Indian Act, 1876 please visit https://publications.gc.ca/collections/collection_2017/aanc-inac/R5-158-2-1978-eng.pdf.

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act – Summary

Here is the book summary:

Based on a viral article, 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act is the essential guide to understanding the legal document and its repercussion on generations of Indigenous Peoples, written by a leading cultural sensitivity trainer.

Since its creation in 1876, the Indian Act has shaped, controlled, and constrained the lives and opportunities of Indigenous Peoples, and is at the root of many enduring stereotypes. Bob Joseph’s book comes at a key time in the reconciliation process, when awareness from both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities is at a crescendo. Joseph explains how Indigenous Peoples can step out from under the Indian Act and return to self-government, self-determination, and self-reliance—and why doing so would result in a better country for every Canadian. He dissects the complex issues around truth and reconciliation, and clearly demonstrates why learning about the Indian Act’s cruel, enduring legacy is essential for the country to move toward true reconciliation.

Copyright © 2018 by Bob Joseph.

You can find more details here on Goodreads and on StoryGraph.