October 7, 1994 Halifax Herald

Early Indian Act: racist product of sick minds

Would you believe, in order to accommodate the racist desires of the white majority, there once existed in our country a law which permitted the forced relocation of a First Nation community? Well, my friends, there was. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Section 52 of the Indian Act provided the legal means by which the movers of government could realize such a relocation. The entire section is too long to be reproduced here; however, paragraph (1) should amply demonstrate its evil intent.

“In the case of an Indian reserve which adjoins or is situated wholly or partly within an incorporated town or city having a population of not less than eight thousand, and which reserve has not been released or surrendered by the Indians, the Governor in Council may, upon the recommendation of the Superintendent General, refer to the judge of the Exchequer Court of Canada for inquiry and report the question as to whether it is expedient, having regard to the interest of the public and of the Indians of the band for whose use the reserve is held, that the Indians should be removed from the reserve or any part of it.”

It is noteworthy how the racism abounding in Canada at that time even surfaced in the way the section is worded. "Indians" were not even considered to be part of the Canadian public.

In the early 1900s, the before-mentioned provision of the Indian Act was used in Nova Scotia by some of Sydney's white residents to relocate the Membertou Band. At that time, the Band was located at about where the Holiday Inn is found on Kings Road.

The residents, proceeding in accordance with the legal requirements of Section 52, soon had the matter before the court. The court, after reviewing the so-called facts, reported to the Governor in Council that the request of the whites should be honoured and that the "Indians" removed. The Governor in Council concurred and, thus, the Membertou Band was forcefully relocated to its present locality. The Membertou Band members have never been compensated for this outrage.

Since it was first proclaimed in 1876, the Act has been amended several times. During the process, several Sections similar to 52 were added. These racially motivated products of sick minds ranged from regulating when and where First Nation members could dance, to such things as how they would be punished if they dared to get an education, their use of pool-rooms, who could be a member of their community, and so on. If it were feasible in this limited space, I would impart many more of these shocking provisions.

Although unable to cite a wide variety, I will pass along one more. The following Section demonstrates just how far the country's leaders were willing to go in their efforts to prevent First Nations from taking legal action against them. It also demonstrates an admission on the part of government leaders that they viewed their conduct in handling the trust responsibilities associated with managing the affairs of First Nations as not being above-board. Why else would they try to protect their behinds?

“Every person who, without the consent of the Superintendent General expressed in writing, receives, obtains, solicits or requests from any Indian any payment or contribution or promise of any payment or contribution for the purpose of raising a fund or providing money for the prosecution of any claim which the Tribe or Band of Indians to which such Indian belongs, or of which he is a Member, has or is represented to have for the recovery of any claim or money for the said Tribe or Band, shall be guilty of an offense and liable upon summary conviction for each such offence to a penalty not exceeding two hundred dollars and not less than fifty dollars or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two months.”

The Indian Act had provisions that could have given the First Nations a large measure of self-government many moons ago. However, for many reasons, including incompetence and negligence, but foremost among them racism, the bureaucrats did not lift a finger to make an honest attempt to assist the First Nations with the process of setting up the modern and accountable government structures needed by them to cope with a new and largely foreign circumstance.

Ironically, although the Act was formulated by government as a tool to eradicate forever from Mother Earth Native American cultures, it instead, because of its paternalistic provisions, provided a mechanism for their survival.

Next, the Residential School at Shubenacadie.

Daniel N. Paul


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