October 21, 1994 Halifax Herald

Racism steered course of natives relocation to centralized reserves

Around the mid-1930s, Canada began to look for a final solution for its "Indian problem" in the Maritimes. In this regard, the Privy Council commissioned Dr. Thomas Robertson to undertake an in-depth study of the living conditions of the "Indians" in the area.

On June 9, 1936, Dr. Robertson submitted his report to the Superintendent General of Indian Affairs. Although he was probably one of the more liberal-minded of whites at that time, Dr. Robertson's racial prejudices shines through in his report. The following are a few examples of his biases.

When discussing the work habits of Native Americans: "...He is a good worker only under (white) supervision...any plan in which there can be any hope for placing the Indian in a position where he may be self-supporting must make agriculture its back-bone, with close and competent supervision its most vital essential." From this point onward, supervision became a byword among the bureaucrats.

If you have ever wondered why First Nations people did not move en masse from reserves, perhaps this quote from Dr. Robertson's recommendation on the subject will give you a partial answer. "Placing the Indians on reserves...the cutting off of all assistance to Indians living off their reserves..." This was to be done in order to force compliance.

By 1940, using this report's recommendations, Indian Affairs had developed their centralization policy. The main thrust of the policy was to relocate all the Micmac and Maliseet in the Maritimes away from their traditional homes unto four unilaterally selected reserves. In Nova Scotia, the reserves selected were Eskasoni and Shubenacadie. It should be noted that, at this time, close to fifty percent of the Micmac in the province lived off-reserve.

Racism played a large role in the development and implementation of the policy. Perhaps this short statement made in a letter sent to J. Ralph Kirk, MP for Antigonish-Guysborough, by the Department's Superintendent of Welfare Programs, dated January 6, 1945, responding to Kirk's inquiries about how quickly the Micmac could be moved out of the Antigonish area, best demonstrates the real moving force behind centralization. "It was felt that we would also improve the amenities of White communities which are not improved by the immediate presence of isolated groups of Indians."

The three main elements used by government to move the Micmac onto the two designated reserves were: First, the promise of vastly improved living conditions, i.e., food, new homes, education, health care, jobs, economic independence and so on. Second, condemning their homes outside the designated communities and then using it as an excuse to seize their children and placing them in the residential school. The parents were then informed that the key to getting them back was moving. Third, the cutting off of all financial assistance until compliance was secured. Towards the death of the experiment, in 1950, physical force was also given some serious consideration.

Initially, the centralization experiment did generate a substantial amount of what is known today as "unsustainable development." Two compounds were built to house the staff and offices of the Indian Agencies on both reserves, new homes were built for the people (uninsulated and constructed with green lumber), new schools were provided and both communities were equipped with sawmills.

By 1948, both reserves were virtually stripped of lumber and pulp and, in due course, the mills were out of business. Two years later, the centralizing experiment was all but over. During this forced relocation of the Micmac, it was outstanding how the three levels of government fully co-operated with one another in making it a reality. Don't kid yourselves: this was not for the benefit of the Micmac. If space permitted, I could relay to you scads of racist correspondence conducted between the three.

Perhaps these quotes from a letter written in 1948 by Frank Stanfield, MP for Colchester-Hants, to the Director of Indian Affairs Branch best demonstrates the negative white attitudes suffered by the Micmac. Mr. Stanfield, responding to complaints from the Micmac about the lack of employment on the reserve journeyed to the village of Shubenacadie and interviewed some white residents about the problem and, without speaking to any Micmacs, made these comments:

"...the men are lazy and will do nothing. Of course, there are exceptions. A few of them have done well for themselves.

...it is safe to say that the Indians out there are certainly not suffering from any hardships and are better off than they ever were in their lives -- it is the same old story that people are never satisfied. However...something will have to be done to provide work for the Indians at Shubenacadie, sooner or later."

Next, citizenship and voting rights.

Daniel N. Paul


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