That centralization and racism were synonymous was amply demonstrated throughout the founding and implementation of the plan. Without a doubt the prime factor in choosing Eskasoni and Shubenacadie was the desire to accommodate the White population's wish to move the "Indian problem" out of sight and out of mind. J. Ralph Kirk, Member of Parliament for Antigonish-Guysborough, affirms this in a memo he wrote on November 15, 1944, to the Director of Indian Affairs, Mr. Hoey:
"Would you be good enough to advise me as to whether or not the Department of Indian Affairs intends to take any move in the near future respecting the transfer of all Indians in Nova Scotia to one or two central places of habitation?
I have had inquires from some of my constituents, expressing the hope that the Indians living in the neighbourhood of Bayfield, N.S. would be moved away from there soon, and this leads me to inquire as to the present status of the Department's plans in this connection.
Your early reply re the matter will be much appreciated.
J. Ralph Kirk."
Responding to Mr. Kirk's inquiries, the Acting Director of the Department's welfare program penned the following letter dated January 6, 1945:
"As you are no doubt aware, for many years the problem of how to administer the affairs of the small group of Indians in Nova Scotia has been a matter of serious concern and in order to place it on the soundest possible basis a partial consolidation of the Reserves and the gradual centralization of the Indian population has been decided upon.
I am sure you will appreciate the difficulties and wasteful expenditure of public moneys that are involved in trying to educate, hospitalize, train and care for the relatively few Indians of your Province when they are scattered in small groups and on widely separated reserves selected with little regard either to adequacy of area, suitable as to character of the land, or to the amenities of the situation of important white settlements.
I am sure you will agree that the worst conditions prevail on those reserves that are located on the outskirts of important industrial cities and communities, and in such locations it has been our experience that vice, immorality and poverty exist to a much greater degree than prevails where the Indians live closer to nature and in a less artificial environment.
With the hope of improving conditions, plans were made toward consolidation and centralization of the reserves in the knowledge, may I say, that under such a plan we would be able to offer the Indian better educational and vocational facilities, added attention to his physical, moral and spiritual welfare, and to create a condition more closely approaching a self-sustaining livelihood for him than is possible at present. It was felt that we would also improve the amenities of the White communities which are not improved by the immediate presence of isolated groups of Indians.”
Hoey, in a follow-up memo dated November 16, 1944, to Kirk, assured him: "I can state, however, without hesitation, that there has been no change in the Government policy and that the work of centralization will be expedited by us to the utmost extent possible." To persuade members from other Nova Scotia Bands to move from elsewhere on Cape Breton Island to Eskasoni, or from other locations on the mainland to Shubenacadie, the Department began a propaganda campaign that ran for several years. It painted a rosy future of self-sufficiency in the centralized communities-jobs galore, excellent housing, schools, recreation facilities; most important, food would be plentiful, preventing any more near famines; and accessible medical services would be provided. Clearly the Department deliberately lied to entice the People to move.
As could be expected the promised land never materialized. But in the short term unsustainable economic development was in full swing which helped give credibility to the propaganda. Sawmills were established on both central Reserves and new houses were built with the lumber produced. Tree cutting proceeded as if the wooded areas on both Reserves were inexhaustible, which of course they were not, keeping the sawmills running at full blast. Both mills paid scab wages and were hit by labour unrest around 1946. After the strikes were over, the men were still paid scab wages.
In answer to inquiries from Ottawa regarding the strike the Indian Agent wrote: "There didn't seem to be any communistic connotations to the strike at Eskasoni." It is a testament to the level-headed thinking and intelligence of the First Nations peoples that during all the oppression they endured after Confederation they didn't turn, like other oppressed people in many parts of the world, to extremism to find solutions for their problems.
Click on the following URLs to read about how Centralization was developed, implemented, and abandoned.
Centralization Plan Roots
Centralization Plan Developed
Centralization Plan Implemented - 1942
Centralization Plan Abandoned - 1950
ChiefBen Christmas - Mi'kmaq Centralization opponent Hero
Department of Indian Affairs Ration Rates - 1940