A Defence of the Decency and Good Faith of the Anti-Segregationist, Treaty-Honouring Duncan Campbell Scott, Canadian Civil Servant, (by way of a book review of A Narrow Vision- Duncan Campbell Scott and the Administration of Indian Affairs in Canada).

Canada today is governed by an elite class that, because it knows little of Canada’s history, has little respect for it, and little understanding of or respect, empathy or gratitude for the countless decent people- people “of their times”- who, in the process of honourably living their lives and earning their daily bread in accordance with the vastly different standards, values and requirements of their times, cumulatively built Canada into the accomplished, modern, safe and civilized country it is today.

While necessarily generalizing, it is still correct to say that our current elite class is the progeny of the late 1960’s counterculture movement, with its then culturally ascendant phenomenon of identity politics, where practitioners of it seem to care more about the special interest subset of society they identify with than about their country as a whole. We now live in a childish, self-entitled age devoid of any real sense of history or historical continuity, where our hard-fought-for, inherited advantages are foolishly and dangerously taken for granted.

When former Liberal Minister of Justice Judy Wilson-Raybould was giving her now-famous 2019 swansong testimony prior to being shown the Liberal Party door she narcissistically spoke of “my truth” instead of “the truth”. In this way she perfectly illustrated the transformation of the once universally accepted dictum, “I think therefore I am”, to “I feel therefor I am.”  

The concept of objective, sometimes uncomfortable, truth has greatly shrunk in the minds of our elite class.

The counterculture movement – an idle, luxurious offshoot of our now-vanishing middle-class prosperity – is now generally recognized as the illiberal and intellectually bankrupt movement it always was. As the intellectually incendiary Camille Paglia wrote:[i]

My generation of the Sixties, with all our great ideals, destroyed liberalism, because of our excesses.

In the mind of this writer, anything arising out of or after “the Sixties”, including myth-based, victimhood-fetishizing, illiberal Canadian Indigenousidentity politics, is deservedly suspect.

Thus, it was with suspicious apprehension that I read A Narrow Vision, Brian Titley’s 1986 study of the now much-unjustly denigrated federal Department of Indian Affairs civil servant, Duncan Campbell Scott.

Playwright Arthur Miller, commenting on the decline of historical and cultural literacy referred to above, wrote in his autobiography[ii]that “Cancellation was the beginning of the sixties for me, the great disconcerting wipeout of all that had gone before.”

A Narrow Vision, reflecting in its bias and its conclusions some of this “wipeout”, is a bridge book, bridging the post-sixties transformation from the era of objective, disciplined, historical scholarship to the present era of historically lightweight, advocacy propaganda, the latter unworthy of the word “scholarship”.

Luckily for the reader, and to Mr. Titley’s credit, his book is solidly and credibly researched and is factual, (the downward slide in standards had not yet, in 1986, gotten fully underway), so at least the reasonably informed reader gets from A Narrow Vision what he/she needs to counter the book’s  unsupported, “I feel”, propagandist conclusion to the effect that Mr. Scott was a parsimonious, cold-hearted, aesthete-fish, stuck in the past, who dedicated his career to “the destruction of (Indigenous) children’s link to their ancestral culture”  by way of education, which according to Mr. Titley was “to be nothing less than an instrument of cultural annihilation”.

Bizarrely, and clearly indicative of the precipitously dropping academic standards that were, in 1986, soon to become manifest, Mr. Titley quotes in his Introduction, presumably approvingly, a take on Mr. Scott published, according to the book, in June of 1983 by National Lampoon, (of all “authorities” to quote!), part of which is as follows:

As a government official he ensured that his native charges always got a fair shake, usually by the scruff of the neck. By doing his Christian and civic duty to ensure the rapid decline of native culture in Canada, he conveniently provided himself with sunset-tinged images of the “tragic savage” to enrich his bland versifying, while at the same time enriching his private collection with filched Indian art, now worth a bundle.

In the whole of the book that follows there’s not one fact stated that supports this totally unfunny, sarcastic, mean-spirited, ignorant, disrespectful, false statement.

More importantly, the historical facts set out in A Narrow Vision, and the historical record generally, completely belie Mr. Titley’s unsupported, unargued, mainly emotional conclusion that Mr. Scott wanted to “ensure the rapid decline of” or intentionally “destroy” or “annihilate” Indigenous culture. This conclusion now reflects the present, general elite consensus on his and on our non-Indigenous forefathers’ view and treatment of Indigenous peoples generally, which conclusion, in the decades following 1986, became refined and sharpened into  the current, false, blood libel, recently the subject of a disgraceful, unanimous resolution of Parliament, to the effect that all Canadian governments since before Confederation and all the ancestors of present-day Canadians, including of course Mr. Scott, were racists who committed  “genocide” against the Indigenous peoples of Canada.

The facts set out in what follows, unless otherwise indicated, come from A Narrow Vision.

In 1880, at the age of 18 years, Duncan Campbell Scott, a small-town son of a Methodist preacher, began a 52-year career at the Department of Indian Affairs in Ottawa, initially as a bookkeeper. He was bright and hardworking, and by 1893 he had worked himself up to the position of chief clerk and accountant of the Department.

The respect he earned from his government contemporaries was demonstrated by his appointment in 1905 as one of the commissioners to negotiate Treaty No. 9 in the James Bay area of northern Ontario.

In 1909 he was appointed superintendent of education. In 1913 he was appointed deputy superintendent general, the top civil service position in the Department of Indian Affairs, a position he held until his retirement in 1932.

Mr. Scott was a renowned poet, a biographer, a playwright and an excellent pianist. He was heavily involved with theatre and the Ottawa Symphony. In 1894 he married Belle Warner Botsford of Boston, a professional violinist.

“They met in Ottawa when Scott performed as her accompanist at a recital. She was vivacious and tended to dominate the socially self-conscious poet…Their only child, Elizabeth Duncan, was born in July 1895. Scott was devoted to her as his personal letters show. In 1907 he went to Europe to join his wife and daughter who were already there. Leaving Elizabeth in Paris the Scotts journeyed to Spain at the end of May. But upon their arrival they were greeted with the shocking news of the girl’s sudden death. This major blow aggravated the nervousness and gloom which already characterized Scott. Some of those who knew him claimed that he never fully recovered from the effects of this tragedy.”

Duncan Campbell Scott was a good, extremely talented man- yet flawed and wounded and “acquainted with grief” like all of us- who acted in the genuine best interests of Indigenous Canadians.

Recent shallow and sanctimonious condemnations of him, that purport of make him the personification of 150 years of Canadian genocidal policies towards Indigenous peoples, such as in The Walrus’ 2022 article, The Tarnished Legacy of Duncan Campbell Scott (“the Walrus article”) and in an online Canadian Encyclopedia article, show all-too-typical historical ignorance, omissions and lack of context. These condemnations are unjustified and are in fact reprehensible.

The Walrus article describes Mr. Scott – “his name has become a source of shame…who left a legacy of pain and suffering”- as:

“…the overseer of a residential school system created to strip Indigenous children of their culture…(who) seldom lifted a finger to improve conditions for the Indigenous people whose lives he governed.”

The charge that Mr. Scott was an instrument of cultural “rapid decline”, “destruction” or “annihilation” against Indigenous peoples, or that he or residential schools wanted to “strip Indigenous children of their culture”- is based on the false assumption that authentic, pre-contact Indigenous culture- or in fact any kind of authentic, fulsome Indigenous culture, aside from its ceremonial trappings- was, during his tenure, in existence to be destroyed or annihilated.

It was not.

Traditional Indigenous culture had largely disappeared long before Mr. Scott came onto the scene. It was not there to be stripped, destroyed or annihilated.

The Walrus article criticizes Mr. Scott for including in one of his poems, The Onondaga Madonna, the lines: “This woman of a weird and waning race/ The tragic savage lurking in her face”. “Weird” and “savage” were meant poetically, and today read clunkily, but “waning” was an accurate word to describe at the time the decline of authentic, Indigenous culture, and “tragic” was the definitive word to describe what had happened to Indigenous peoples as the result of centuries of contact with Euro-Canadians.

This is the reality that denigrators of Mr. Scott refuse to acknowledge. This refusal on their part and their constant ignoring of historical context makes their criticisms of him senseless.

In fact, as Mr. Scott knew, and as every British/Canadian government had known since the end of the War of 1812, essentially stone-age, pre-literate, Indigenous culture, based on hunting, fishing, foraging and constant warfare, all of which was predicated upon ceaseless roaming, was, in the face of unstoppable Euro-Canadian settlement, in the midst of a long, essentially tragic process of decline, and in fact was entering into the  End Days phase of this tragic process.

This irreversible process of Indigenous cultural decline and transformation -eventually ending in the effective disappearance of pre-contact Indigenous culture- began the moment in the early 1600’s when the first Indigenous man was given a gun and an iron knife by a European and when the first Indigenous women was given a copper kettle and a woolen blanket.

From those world-changing moments there was no going back. The irreversible, life-easing, technological and material revolution experienced by Indigenous peoples as the result of their contact and trade with Europeans changed what it meant for them to be human beings. It even changed, as all such profound change does, “the kinds of psychological borders that divide the inner life from the world outside.” [iii]

Marshall McLuhan wrote:[iv] “We become what we behold…we shape our tools, and therefore our tools shape us.” European technology and material goods reshaped and forever transformed Indigenous culture and therefor Indigenous peoples themselves, making it and them, unlike before contact, capitalistic and dependent.

Historian Alfred Goldsworthy Bailey:[v]

The displacement of stone, bone, wood, bark and antler by ironware caused a profound revolution in the life of the Atlantic littoral…The regular round of economic pursuits which had been perfected by centuries of constant adaptation to the northern environment, became a monomania with iron as its fixation…

Iron knives and axes, the steel and flint, with its great powers of carrying fire everywhere, and coarse potteries and beads, must have begun already to modify their habits. The ancient arrow-maker must have ceased his art; the son must have used an axe foreign to his father, and the squaw to ornament her skins with French beads instead of small shells. Aboriginal artefacts tended to disappear and much of the craftsmanship must have become a lost art.

The revolution in domestic pursuits which resulted from the displacement of native materials had a counterpart in the social and political spheres…The possession of iron accelerated work and gave more time for getting furs, and as the supply decreased, they were continually led further and further afield. Therefore, the Indians acquired a knowledge of the country beyond their own territories which weakened their distinctive traits, hastened diffusion, and created a general instability of life. The search for furs led to economic and political pressure on the tribes of the interior and was an important cause of the revival of inter-tribal warfare. Wars between tribes, which with bows and arrows had not been strenuous, conducted with guns were disastrous…

The hunt became more deadly when firearms and iron weapons supplanted the stone spear and arrow, with the result that the food supply diminished, and the Indians were forced to rely more and more upon European foodstuffs.

The new means of sustenance, together with the revival of warfare, and the time consumed in the hunt for furs, led to a decline in husbandry among the eastern Algonkians.  The Jesuit priest Lescarbot, in one of his Relations, wrote: “Our Souriquois formerly made earthen pots and tilled the ground; but since the French bring them kettles, beans, biscuits and other food, they are become slothful and make no more account of those exercises.”

As we are reminded by the immediately above, the tools of pre-contact Natives were made of stone, bone, wood or shell. They almost instantly renounced them in favour of metal European tools.

What rational Native would not choose an iron axe or knife over one of stone, flint or bone?

What rational Native did not trade for tailored, woolen coats and trousers, able to be easily embroidered with traded-for glass beads, instead of engaging in the exhausting, tedious work of fashioning a wearable body-covering from an animal pelt?

What rational Native woman did not choose to use a copper kettle for cooking instead of a straw or reed basket or a clay container?

What rational Native did not choose to shoot an animal, or another human being, with a gun, from a safer distance, rather than trying to kill it, or him, with an arrow, spear or knife?

These are just a few examples of the countless irreversible and profoundly transformative decisions taken by Indigenous peoples, from the time of first contact with European migrants onwards, in the conscious pursuit of their own best interests as they reasonably determined them to be, to intelligently and rationally choose- to ” culturally appropriate”– European artifacts, decorations and ways over their own, the overall effect of which was to  cause them to stop living in their own, old cultural ways and thereafter to slowly but surely forget how to live in those old cultural ways.

This inexorable, very human and historically very commonplace phenomenon of cultural change and loss happening through contact with technologically and materially superior cultures continued with increasing pace, eventually coming to an end in the latter part of the 19th century with Confederation, the passage of the Indian Act, the making of the final treaties, the establishment of reserves and generally, the end of frontier life.

Anthropologist Diamond Jenness in his seminal work The Indians of Canada,[vi] for over four decades (1932-1973) the standard, authoritative work on the subject,  described the ills and permanent changes and losses  that contact with Europeans and their culture and technology subjected Canada’s Indigenous peoples to – capitalism, alcoholism, new diseases, the destruction of their hunting and fishing grounds, (as much by Indigenous hunters as by non-Indigenous), and perpetual, long-range, inter-tribal warfare conducted for capitalistic reasons, with European weaponry, over an ever-shrinking land and food base- a tragic series of events with tragic results still today in need of remedy.

Of the effect of Christianity Mr. Jenness wrote:

…the nature worship of the Indians was too vague, too eclectic, to withstand the assault of a highly organized proselytizing religion like Christianity, or to serve as a rallying ground for the bands and tribes that struggled without guidance to adjust their lives afresh. The epidemic of smallpox hastened its downfall, for in those days of trial and suffering that would have tested the strength of any religion the Indians called on their deities, their guardian spirits and their medicine men in vain…When the missionaries of a dominant race can invoke the aid of economic interests, they meet with little resistance from ill-organized religions. Although most of the tribes still cling to some of their old superstitions and beliefs, all of them very quickly transferred their allegiance to one or the other of the Christian churches….

Of alcohol he wrote:

Whiskey and brandy destroyed the self-respect of the Indians, weakened every family and tribal tie, and made them, willing or unwilling, the slaves of the trading posts where liquor was dispensed to them by the keg. Even the fur traders recognized its evils and gladly supported the government when it finally prohibited all sale to the Indians under penalty of a heavy fine. Disease and alcohol demoralized and destroyed the Indians just when they needed all their energy and courage to cope with the new conditions that suddenly came into existence around them.

With the destruction of the beaver resource and the buffalo herds came “war and confusion” between the Indigenous tribes affected and, in the late 1880’s:

The buffalo herds at last failed to appear and the Indians, dying of starvation, had to accept unreservedly the conditions laid down by the white man…No longer was each tribe a self-contained and self-supporting unit, but from the Arctic to the Prairies and from the Atlantic to the Pacific all alike found themselves enmeshed in the economic system forced upon them from without. One by one they ceded their territories to the invaders, and wherever European colonization was proceeding, submitted to confinement on narrow reserves. The needs of the colonists then became their needs also, and in place of their former self-sufficiency, they were reduced to purchasing most of the necessities of life at European trading stores.

Dr. Jenness’ book makes for grim, pathos-filled reading in places, as exemplified above. Clearly, he was no Eurocentric triumphalist. Rather, he was, (like Duncan Campbell Scott), an honest humanist, in clear-eyed fashion dealing in facts and fact-based conclusions – something that is totally absent in this area of Canadian life today.

More recently these tragic events of cultural devastation were described by Richard Gwyn in his book about another unjustly maligned (great) Canadian, Nation Maker-Sir John A. MacDonald, His Life, Our Times:[vii]

Ottawa’s response to the loss of the buffalo was to pressure Indians to take up farming on their reserves as the only way they could sustain themselves. The scale of the challenge the Indians faced was not understood then, nor is it easy to comprehend it even in hindsight. In essence, the Plains Indians underwent a cultural catastrophe that encompassed every aspect of their lives-not just the material and political, but the social, the economic, the spiritual, the cultural, the psychological; each of these was either shattered or reduced to the redundant, the retrograde or, in the eyes of many outsiders, the comic. It is not easy to identify any people anywhere who have had to cope with so complete and swift an extinction of their way of life other than those defeated in war, occupied and reduced to slavery. Perhaps the best intellectual analysis of this transformational trauma is that by the American philosopher Jonathan Lear in his book Radical Hope. There, he explores the dimensions of a comment make by Chief Plenty Coups of the Crow Nation that, after the buffalo disappeared, “Nothing happened.” Chief Plenty Coups was saying that once the buffalo were gone, his people became like the living dead. 

Canada’s special duty towards Indigenous peoples – the notion that, due to their tragic, new state of vulnerability and dependency, Canada’s Crowns must always act “honorably” towards them – properly and justly arose during those times and circumstances.

The reality and significance of this tragic process had been understood by British-Canadian colonial governments, not just after Confederation, but for decades before it.

The following quote from A Narrow Vision shows the extent to which Great Britain was a conqueror with a conscience.

The successful defence of British North America during the War of 1812 and the more settled times that followed brought the military usefulness of the Indians to an end. Officials of the Indian department no longer felt it necessary to appease them by protecting their lands. And transfer to the department from military to civilian control in 1830 signified that the relationship between the two peoples had changed fundamentally…It was decided that a policy of assimilation would solve the “Indian problem”. Under the guidance of government agents and evangelical missionaries, the Indians were to be settled in permanent villages and instructed in the English language, Christianity and agricultural methods. The hoped-for result would be self-supporting individuals who were indistinguishable from their fellow citizens. (Italics added.)

Promoting- initially through education and various paternalistic policies- Indigenous cultural renewal/transformation from Chief Plenty Coups’ figurative situation of “nothing happening” to economic independence and social and legal equality with non-Indigenous Canadians, was a rational, humane, liberal and honorable policy for Canada’s forefathers to have adopted. As a manifestation of our Western Enlightenment heritage, it was the only policy to adopt. Call it the good, realism-basedword“assimilation” if the reader will. (I will mainly use the less hysteria-loaded term, “integration”.)

The pre-Confederation policy of integration through education and protective paternalism, (the latter which Mr. Scott and others hoped would be able to be phased out), was carried over into Confederation. The Indian Act, passed in 1876, reflected this.

Brian Titley:

The Indian Act continued the tradition that had developed in Upper and Lower Canada by placing the Indians in a distinct legal category. They were regarded as minors- special wards of the federal government who were deprived of the privileges of full citizenship…It was designed to protect the Indians until they acquired the trappings of white civilization. At that point, they were supposed to abandon their reserves and their special status and disappear into the general population…

Education had long been viewed as an effective instrument for the transmission of new economic habits to the Indians, and, of course, it was also seen as the key to their cultural transformation. During the decades following Confederation, a network of Department-sponsored “Indian schools” (both day and residential) was established across the country to accelerate the accomplishment of these ends.

The integration through education policy- cultural “transformation”- renewal–  through education, not cultural “decline”, “destruction” or “annihilation” through education- (as stated, that had already happened before Mr. Scott came onto the scene)- was based on the  humane, caring, rational and liberal goal of enabling Indigenous Canadians to survive and thrive as proud, independent, self-supporting citizens living in state of legal equality with their fellow citizens in the new Canadian agricultural/industrial world they found themselves in.

This was a liberal policy of de-segregation.

This was the policy that Duncan Campbell Scott inherited from his predecessors in the Department. He reasonably believed phased de-segregation to be the policy that would most effectively promote the long-range, best interests of Indigenous peoples and he worked assiduously to carry that policy out.

This enlightened policy, which actually started with Samuel de Champlain, and which as stated, became official government policy starting in the 1830’s, remained the policy of all Canadian governments until the rejection by the Indigenous establishment of Pierre Trudeau Sr’s 1969 White Paper, which had recommended carrying out to its logical, liberal conclusion this continuous, age-old policy by, amongst other things, repealing the Indian Act and abolishing reserves. This rejection reportedly[viii] caused Trudeau to figuratively shrug his shoulders and resignedly say; “We’ll keep them in the ghetto as long as they want.”

(“They want” …forever. The Indigenous establishment continues to cling tenaciously to their Indian Act, reserves and UNDRIP golden chains- to fear and fight against their freedom from them. Given the present, appalling and dangerous living conditions on reserves- Canada’s poor man’s gated communities– for the sake of the vast majority of marginalized, powerless Indigenous people would that Trudeau Sr. could have stood up to and stared down this fat cat, dependency-addicted Indigenous establishment, (even fatter today), like he did with the Quebec separatist establishment.)

This tragic failure of Trudeau Sr.’s White Paper was followed by, in our current “wipeout” post-Sixties, illiberal identity politics era, the passage of section 35 of the Constitution Act, the disastrous mis-interpretation of it by the Supreme Court of Canada, and Justin Trudeau’s Crown sovereignty-weakening and country- fracturing UNDRIP; this last, utopian legislative folly based on, despite all the hard, tragic history only partially outlined above, the revisionist myth that the pre-Confederation and immediate post-Confederation legal and other relations between Indigenous peoples and the British/Canadian Crowns  were relations between equal, independent, healthy, self-sustaining and sovereign nations.

Of course, it was not. In fact, it was a relationship of, as stated, weakness, vulnerability and dependency on the part of tribe-based, Indigenous peoples, and strength, ever-increasing numbers and dominating power on the part of the advanced, nation-state British and Canadian Crowns.

This imbalance- and the tragic events leading up to it- was recorded by Alexander Morris in his 1880 book, The Treaties of Canada with the Indians[ix], a contemporaneous description of the deliberations leading up to the numerous treaties entered into between 1850 and 1877 that surrendered the Indigenous interest in the lands of Canada from northern Ontario to the Rocky Mountains.

It is noteworthy throughout the descriptions of the numerous treaty parleys how often the parent-child analogy was used to describe the power dynamic between Canada and the Indigenous people being treated with, an analogy so antithetical to the notion of dealings between equals, where Canada, or the Crown, was at some point personalized and called “the Queen Mother,” or some similar term, and the Indigenous people were called her “children” or her “red children,” and, more significantly, how the Indigenous people described themselves the same way.

This mother-child analogy, instinctively embraced and used by both sides, was probably as accurate as any analogy could be in reflecting the dependency and vulnerability of the Indians and the superior, dominant, power of Britain/Canada.

For example, in the Stone Fort Treaty talks, (Treaty No. 1), the Crown treaty negotiator, Wemyss Simpson, said:

Your Great Mother wishes the good of all races under her sway. She wishes her red children happy and contented…She would like them to adopt the habits of the whites…She thinks this would be the best thing for her red children to do…that it would make them safer from famine and distress…” During the Qu’Appelle treaty talks Alexander Morris said to the Indians: “You are the subjects of the Queen, you are her children…She has children all over the world, and she does right with them all. She cares as much for you as she cares for her white children. What she promises never changes….

Three Cree Chiefs from what is now Alberta sent messages to Canada’s Lieutenant Governor at the Red River settlement to attempt to hasten the making of treaties covering them.

Cree Chief Sweet Grass, describing the uncontrollable social breakdown amongst his people and the breakdown of law and order in his traditional lands generally as the result of culture collapse, American incursions, American whiskey, and civil war amongst the Indigenous bands themselves, (people will invariably turn on each other in extreme situations of dwindling basic resources), pleaded in cri-de-coeur words to Canada for the protection of a treaty. (It would be the Treaty of Forts Carleton and Pitt; Treaty No. 6):

Our country is getting ruined of fur-bearing animals, hitherto our sole support, and now we are poor and want help- we want you to pity us. Make provision for us against years of starvation. We want cattle, tools, agricultural implements, and assistance with everything when we come to settle-our country is no longer able to support us.

A fellow Chief, Ki-he-Win, the Eagle, sent a similar plea:

Great Father – Let us be friendly. We never shed any white man’s blood, and have always been friendly with the whites, and want workmen, carpenters and farmers to assist us when we settle. I want all my brother, Sweet Grass, asks. That is all.

And Kis-ki-on, or Short Tail, added:

My brother, that is coming close, I look upon you as I saw you; I want you to pity me, and I want help to cultivate the ground for myself and descendants. Come and see us.

These are the heart-wrenching, self-aware words of leaders whose peoples were indeed in their pre-contact cultural and political end days, and who were agonizingly and helplessly aware of it.

(How could the Crown special duty and honour principles not arise in these awful circumstances?)­

Alexander Morris describes the attempts of a recalcitrant band of Saulteaux, who he describes as “disposed to be troublesome” (we would say they were acting proudly and justifiably defiant), who attempted to block the Forts Carlton and Pitt treaty process:

Before the arrival of the Commissioner the Saulteaux conceived the idea of forming a combination of French Half-breeds, the Crees, and themselves, to prevent the crossing of the Saskatchewan by the Lieutenant-Governor, and his entrance into the Indian territories. They made the proposal first to the French Half-breeds, who declined to undertake it, and then to the Crees, who listened to it in silence. One of them at length arose, and pointing to the Saskatchewan River said, “Can you stop the flow of that river?” The answer was “No”, and the rejoinder was “No more can you stop the progress of the Queen’s Chief.”

Such was the near universal sense of the inevitability of the situation.

And, as stated, part of Canada’s clear plan involved converting the treaty band members into settled, productive inhabitants of the country- farmers and workers – so that they could support themselves and their families and, yes, integrate/assimilate into the new, young country.

This was a sensible, progressive, humanitarian policy, based on the reality that pre-contact Indigenous culture, for all the essentially blameless reasons set out above, had already experienced a tragic but inevitable transformation and demise. Assimilation was reasonably considered, by both sides, as the only realistic and responsible way forward for Indigenous peoples.

This assimilation policy was not just some sneaky and secret Canadian agenda. Rather, it was expressly and unapologetically acknowledged by both sides and, importantly, realistically accepted by the Indigenous treaty bargainers as a central, underlying goal of the treaties going forward.

This is why the Prairie treaties, in addition to the usual cash payments, annuities, suits of clothes and silver medals, the Cree and Saulteaux signatories to it were also promised annual allotments of powder shot, musket balls and twine, to help them hunt, and farming tools and land allotments to assist their transformation into settled, integrated farmers.

This is why, over two decades later, when the situation of the unstoppable advancement of civilization was even clearer, the 1899 Treaty 8 Indigenous treaty negotiators (for north-eastern B.C.) asked that medicines be furnished to them, that they be provided the services of a doctor and that the federal government provide them with schools, all indicia of them acknowledging and accepting change, modernization and cultural transformation out of their old way of life.

In relation to schools one of the Chiefs, Kinsoayo of the Lesser Slave Lake band, asked:

“Are you willing to give means to instruct children as long as the sun shines and water runs, so that our children will grow up ever increasing in knowledge?”

Duncan Campbell Scott is being ignorantly and unjustly pilloried for this!

He’s being singled out and pilloried for doing what Indigenous leaders wanted! For this he and all of our non-Indigenous forefathers are being shamefully and baselessly blood libelled as committing genocide! It’s outrageous.

Mr. Scott, when implementing the Department’s long-standing policy of integration through education and temporary paternalistic laws and policies was acting in conformity with the letter, and more importantly, with the pre-treaty deliberations and agreements that constituted a large part of the spirit and intent of these treaties.

Duncan Campbell Scott devoted his career to honoring the treaties by always attempting to carry out their pro-integration, anti-segregation intent.

The present Indigenous establishment, the UNDRIP-besotted Trudeau government, the writer of the Walrus article, and E. Brian Titley, author of A Narrow Vision, all illiberally wage war against the self-sufficiency intent, the equality under the law intent and the integration/assimilation intent and goal of the treaties. As stated, they fight tenaciously to keep their golden chains. And, in relation to the Indigenous establishment and the Trudeau government, not for the first time, by now adopting policies directly contrary to these past, shared intents, do they shamefully breach and dishonor the treaties.

The government that Mr. Scott worked for, following the policy of every British/Canadian government since the 1830’s, as Brian Titley wrote, treated Indigenous peoples as “minors-special wards who were deprived of full citizenship”. They were so “deprived” because it was reasonably believed that being illiterate and “unsettled”, they weren’t ready to assume the responsibilities of citizenship. The Indigenous leadership of the day, as shown, realistically agreed with the validity of this “parent-child” legal paradigm.

Mr. Scott seems to have acted the part of a somewhat distant, cool, old-fashioned, puritanical, patriarchal, “Father knows best” version of a parent towards the federal government’s Indigenous “children”. He spent most of his time in his Ottawa office and, like most old-fashioned, Victorian-style parents, felt no obligation to be “friends” with his government’s Indigenous wards.

But he wanted this situation of Indigenous wardship to end.

Like a responsible, old-fashioned parent, having in mind the goal of every responsible parent to raise children who will grow up to leave home and become independent, self-supporting adults and good citizens, he did what he felt was best for Indigenous people, regardless of whether or not that was what they wanted.

Perhaps he was too brusque, unilateral and dismissive in this regard, so style points can be deducted for that, but that was the common parental style before the post-Sixties age of laissez-faire, parental permissiveness, (How has that turned out?), so he should not be blamed for it.

 Mr. Scott’s fundamental parental instincts and practices towards Indigenous people were sound and were definitely in their long-term best interests.

He and all the governments he served wanted Indigenous people to leave their “parent’s basement”- stop being governed and defined by the dependency and inertia-guaranteeing Indian Act and reserves- and live independent, self-supporting, contributing lives in a common civic Canadian space.

How can any responsible, caring parent honestly and reasonably disagree with that?

Tragically for today’s Indigenous peoples, their leaders do disagree with that. They fought Mr. Scott, and they fight now any Crown effort to set them on a path to true, self-supporting independence and legal equality with other Canadians. They cling furiously to their wardship state like a child clinging to his security blanket. Under the guise of pursuing “independent, sovereign, self-government”, (totally financed by non-Indigenous taxpayers), they continue to, in substance, despite the fancy names they put to it, fight to retain their infantile, wardship status.

Towards that end goal of Indigenous self-supporting independence and legal equality with other Canadians, Mr. Scott advocated many policies that current Indigenous “right thinkers” ridiculously mischaracterize as “genocidal”.

In 1918 he secured an amendment to the Indian Act to permit qualified Indigenous persons to voluntarily apply to be “enfranchised”. “Enfranchisement”, while granting the applicant the right to vote, also entailed loss of Indian status.

In 1919 he secured an amendment to the Indian Act, with a view to encouraging Indigenous farming, permitting the settlement of returning World War One Indigenous veterans on specified reserve land without band consent.

He advocated, unsuccessfully, for the compulsory enfranchisement of Indigenous veterans.  In his view Indigenous veterans’ participation in the war effort proved that they were ready to assume the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.

Notwithstanding this setback, Mr. Scott “remained a persistent advocate of facilitating the process of enfranchisement and of extending it to as many Indians as possible. This was consistent with his long-term goal of ending the Indians’ special status and their dependency on the federal government.”

He thought that “most Indians in southern Ontario and Quebec no longer needed protection of the state or of the transitional reserve system and could be enfranchised immediately”.

In 1920 he secured an amendment to the Indian Act enabling the Department of Indian Affairs “to enfranchise individual Indians or a band of Indians without the necessity of obtaining their consent thereto in cases where it was found upon investigation that the continuance of wardship was no longer in the interests of the public or the Indians.”

This was too much. This amendment permitting compulsory enfranchisement was probably a breach of the treaties, although the hostile reaction to it on the part of Indigenous leaders was not framed in that way. Indigenous leaders feared that it would do more than end Indian status. They reasonably feared that would break up their tribes, destroy their communities and certainly presage the end of their power and prestige as Indigenous band leaders. It was too much too soon. They reasonably felt that they were being abruptly kicked out of their parents’ basement before they were ready – before they had “grown up”.

The “hated” amendment, passed by the Conservative Meighen government, was repealed by the Liberal Mackenzie King government in 1922.

Mr. Scott had been called as a witness in the hearings held prior to the passage of the 1920 compulsory enfranchisement amendment. It was in one of these hearings that he attended that he made his oft-quoted statement that has regularly been misquoted, mischaracterized and taken out of context by his detractors. He said:

“I want to get rid of the Indian problem. I do not think as a matter of fact that this country ought to be able to continuously protect a class of people who are able to stand alone. That is my whole point. Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic, and there is no Indian question, and no Indian department and that is the whole object of this bill”. (Italics added)

This is a laudable statement. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with it.

It was a statement of official Canadian government integration/assimilation policy that began in the 1830’s and only ended after 1969. It was Pierre Trudeau’s policy. It was the policy of every Canadian Prime Minister and every Canadian government since before Confederation.

It is irrational that Duncan Campbell Scott, a civil servant answerable to his political leaders, is the focus of such shallow and unjustified vitriol arising from this statement, when, assuming such vitriol is justified, (which it is not), the vitriol is not directed towards those political leaders instead.

Thoughtless detractors of Mr. Scott and the liberal, Western Enlightenment policy of anti-segregation and equality under the law that he represented, often say that by this statement Mr. Scott was saying that he wanted to get rid of “Indian people”, as in genocidal, physical extermination, which is ludicrous, and which was completely contrary to the literal meaning of the statement and to the entirety of Mr. Scott’s life work and beliefs.

They often say that by this statement or some other such statement that he was saying that he “wanted to kill the Indian in the child”. Even Mr. Titley says thathe never said any such thing and never thought that. (An American had once said that in the 1890’s.)

With respect to conditions in residential schools Mr. Scott ensured that the federal government responsibly responded to the 1907-1909 reports made by medical inspector Dr. Peter Bryce, (this difficult gentleman currently wrongly portrayed by Indigenous propagandists as a hero opposed by Mr. Scott’s callous, miserly villainy), to the effect that unhealthy conditions in residential schools were exacerbating the tuberculosis epidemic already plaguing Indigenous people, not just in their schools, but on their home reserves as well.

In response to these reports, for residential schools, he implemented better nutrition measures, more fresh air and exercise, larger classrooms, better ventilation, an improvement in cleanliness generally, and, to make this all happen, regular medical inspections and increased funding for them. all as recommended by Dr. Bryce.

During Mr. Scott’s incumbency, as Mr. Titley wrote: “…the Parliamentary vote for Indian Affairs increased steadily”.

It had been government policy since the 1890’s, long before Duncan Campbell Scott had any real influence in the Department of Indian Affairs, to discourage the potlatch and sun dance ceremonies. An 1895 amendment to the Indian Act prohibited the giving away of “money, goods or articles”, and “the wounding or mutilation of the dead or living body of any human being or animal”.

It was the self-impoverishing “give-away” aspect of the potlatch, (given the already generally impoverished state of Indigenous people), and the torture features of the dances that the federal government found especially objectionable and contrary to its efforts to convert Indigenous people to gainful town and farming pursuits.

These laws were rarely enforced and had little effect in dampening these legitimate expressions of Indigenous culture, such as it remained, except that by the turn of the century the torture aspects of the sun dance became largely and properly a thing of the past.

Duncan Campbell Scott can be fairly criticized for, for, despite his severe, good faith, Victorian -style, parental intentions, his unquestioning participation in his governments’ mainly unsuccessful attempt to modify or eliminate the deep-seated tendency of all humans- in this case Indigenous humans- to ritually celebrate their culture.

He can also be fairly criticized for his involvement in the Mackenzie King government’s 1927 amendment to the Indian Act which made illegal the solicitation or collection of funds from Indians in order to pursue legal claims on their behalf.

Wards, who are in fact beneficiaries of a trust-type relationship- in this case Indigenous wards- must always have access to lawyers and courts to call to account their trustees. This was the general law in 1927 and in fact has always been the law. So, even by the legal standards of the day, what the King government did, supported by Mr. Scott, was morally and legally unsupportable.

Brian Titley closes A Narrow Vision in the same intellectually weak and undisciplined way that characterized his National Lampoon-referencing Introduction.

By referencing the reserve as “no longer the mere “pied a terre” as Scott called it, but “an embryonic national homeland”, (all 625 of them?), Mr. Titley heralds academia’s budding support- and the support of Canada’s elites generally- for the chimerical, “each independent and sovereign, nation to nation, Crown-Indigenous relationship”, now encased in judicial and legislative amber by the Supreme Court of Canada and by Trudeau Jr.’s UNDRIP. (And oh, how the Indigenous peoples of Canada are the worse off for it!)

As to Duncan Campbell Scott, and the government anti-segregation policies he supported and worked on behalf of for  52 years to realize, Mr. Titley grants him only grudging, faint praise, and he is in fact petty towards him, faulting him for having work-life balance and, after a 52-year career, (which career, like too many professionals, he did not define himself by), not boring people with war stories from his heyday. He concludes his book:

Duncan Campbell Scott was certainly a capable and efficient administrator. To his credit, he was not prone to corrupt practices that had abruptly ended the careers of some of his predecessors. Nonetheless, he lacked the vision to transcend the account books and the narrow strictures of the Indian policy that he inherited. The explanation, if there is one, may be in the fact that his position in the government was to Scott a mere source of income rather than an abiding passion. It provided him with the means to indulge in his real interest, the arts. As his friend, E.K. Brown said of him: “His work in the civil service interested him; but the center of his life was not in his office, where he seldom came early and never stayed late. After he retired his conversation did not run on the Indian department.”

The last words on whether Mr. Scott had “passion” for his employer’s Indigenous wards, and whether, if he did, it was allowed to escape its late-Victorian chains into his work, should be given to his friends and colleagues, who are quoted in A Narrow Vision, but whose views are inexplicably absent from Mr. Titley final, cold assessment.

Literary critic Susan Beckman attributed to Mr. Scott:

 “…a strong concern, affection and respect for the Indian which arose from his work. And his humanitarianism was coupled with the keen eye of the experienced observer who has made some efforts to immerse himself in the culture he was describing.”

Literary critic Roy Daniells wrote:

“His concerns with Indians as wards of the Canadian government was sincere and deep; within the somewhat narrow limits set by government policy he labored unceasingly for them”.

Finally, the very same E.K. Brown quoted by Mr. Titley above, (the quote below suggesting that Mr. Titley misrepresented his views), wrote:

“Scott was an administrator of rare imaginative sympathy and almost perfect wisdom. And he treated native people favorably in his writings. They were depicted as complex yet intelligible persons, and not as noble savages”.

Duncan Campbell Scott was a good, extremely talented man- yet flawed and wounded and “acquainted with grief” like all of us- who, throughout his anti-segregationist career as a civil servant of Canada, acted in the genuine best interests of Indigenous Canadians.

Some day, when Canada’s mad experiment with UNDRIP and the Canadian taxpayer-funded Crown-Indigenous “nation to nation relationship” chimera has crashed on the rocks of some new, unexpected, catastrophic reality, Canadians, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, will come to realize that, and will turn once again to the ultimately liberal, integration/assimilation policies to which Duncan Campbell Scott properly and faithfully devoted his distinguished career.

Peter Best

January 5, 2024


[i] Quoted in historian Tony Judt’s Ill Fares the Land, The Penguin Press, 2010

[ii] Timebends-A Life, Harper& Row Publishers, 1987

[iii] Edward Mendelson, from his article, In the Depths of the Digital Age, New York Review of Books, June 28, 2016

describing the effects of the internet age on the brain, a situation affecting us all, which is not dissimilar to that affecting Indigenous peoples with their first contacts with European technology.

[iv] Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, New American Library, New York, 1964

[v] The Conflict of European and Eastern Algonkian Cultures 1504-1700, University of Toronto Press, Second Edition, 1969

[vi] Published by National Museum of Canada and Information Canada, Ottawa, 1963 (last printing 1973)

[vii] Volume Two: 1867-1891, Random House Canada, 2011

[viii] As recounted by Indigenous public relations writer Bob Joseph in his propagandist, “wipeout” book, 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act, Indigenous Press, 2018

[ix] Coles Publishing Company, Toronto, 1979, a reproduction of the book originally last published in 1880.

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