To get the centralization show on the road, in late 1939 and early 1940, Indian Affairs bureaucrats in Ottawa formulated a plan for the creation of two Indian agencies on the two Reserves in Nova Scotia where the Mi'kmaq were to be relocated-Shubenacadie and Eskasoni. Before implementing the plan, the planners deemed that the land base of the two Reserves was too small for the needs of the envisioned communities and therefore had to be increased substantially. At the same time plans were being prepared to build compounds on the two Reserves to house agency staff and the teachers for the envisioned schools.
During 1941, letters were exchanged between Premier of Nova Scotia A.S. MacMillan and federal Minister of Mines and Resources T.A. Crerar concerning the feasibility of centralizing the province's Mi'kmaq Bands. In his memo to the Premier dated April 24, 1941, the Minister provided an outline of the plan and asked for the Premier's support:
"It is of course not my wish to make any radical changes in the administration of Indian Affairs in your Province without first letting you know what we plan to do. While the Indians are the "Wards" of the dominion, their welfare is a matter in which the Provinces are also interested. The co-operation we receive from the Provinces makes our task less difficult or, to put it into other words, the more co-operation we receive from the Provinces the more quickly will it be possible to improve the physical welfare of the Indians."
In the same letter the Minister also informed the Premier that he would be appointing a bureaucrat to come to Nova Scotia to investigate possibilities of acquiring additional lands for the implementation of centralization. He advises that a W.S. Arneil, by reason of experience in land settlement work with the "Soldier Settlement Board," is specially qualified for the task. Mr. Arneil actually knew nothing about First Nations peoples or the laws surrounding the administration of "Indian lands," but in their opinion he was eminently qualified.
The Minister wrote his letter on April 24, 1941, and the Premier gave his full support to the concept, without much review, only five days later:
Dear Mr. Grerar:
I have your letter with regard to the Indian Reserves in this Province and note carefully all that you have to say. This is entirely a new departure and no doubt will meet with some opposition from the Indians themselves-this, due to the fact that a number of these reservations are located near towns, for instance Shubenacadie, Truro, etc. and being near of course the Indians have the habit of spending their time loafing around the towns. However, I think if an agreement could be reached that the idea is a practical one and there are plenty of vacant lands where they can be placed in this Province.
I shall be glad to meet your representative when he comes, and go into the matter with him and shall also put him in touch with the proper persons in our Lands and Forests Department as well as with our Farm Loan Board which is also an operating body. Possibly when he comes to Halifax he had better see me before discussing this matter with others.
It seems that Premier MacMillan may have harboured hopes of putting the Mi'kmaq as far away from White settlements as the boundaries of Nova Scotia might permit. It's a wonder he didn't recommend Sable Island. His quick response to the proposal was truly amazing, in stark contrast to the usual way such matters progressed.
The "qualified" bureaucrat Arneil, with the impressive title of Inspector of Indian Agencies, began his inspections and appraisals of the Reserves and their inhabitants in the Maritime Provinces shortly thereafter. He quickly began to issue short preliminary reports; one of the first was on Eskasoni. His lack of experience regarding Nova Scotia winters is obvious when he states, "because the houses there are mostly shells, they are very hard to heat, but adequate."
As one who has lived in an uninsulated house during a Nova Scotia winter, I can attest to the fact that they are not adequate! I remember waking up after a cold winter's night to find a considerable frost build-up around where my nose was sticking out of the blankets. To avoid freezing to death in cold weather we piled every coat in the house onto our beds.
Mr. Arneil also stated that more than 75 percent of the Mi'kmaq in the province of Nova Scotia were in favour of centralization. As he was in contact with only a few during his travels throughout the Maritimes, this is an outrageous assessment. It would appear that one of the most valued qualities sought in prospective "qualified" employees of the Department was the ability to play fast and loose with the truth when it comes to statistics on Band members.
In 1942, with the Privy Council's endorsement of two agency locations in both Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, the Department hired four full-time Indian Agents and implemented its centralization plan for the Maritimes. Thus a new challenge to the survival of the region's Mi'kmaq and Maliseet cultures was created.
Click on the following URLs to read about how Centralization was begot, developed, and abandoned.
Centralization Plan Roots
Centralization Plan Developed
Centralization Plan Abandoned - 1950
Centralization - Product of White Supremacist Bureaucrats
ChiefBen Christmas - Mi'kmaq Centralization opponent Hero
Department of Indian Affairs Ration Rates - 1940