June 2003

Segregation and Suppression: The timeframe following confederation has been characterized as an era of segregation and suppression of aboriginal peoples, not only in BC, but also across the country. The governments created segregation through the reserve system and carried out suppression through the Indian Act legislation. These were the means of implementing and exerting control over virtually every aspect of Native life.

During the colonial era, the British government in the east had developed and adopted a policy of protecting the Native people and their lands from the ever-increasing European encroachments. Thereafter, further policies were developed in relation to Native people, and by 1876 these were all combined into one large piece of legislation called the “Indian Act”.

The development of the Indian Act legislation and the Department of Indian Affairs (DIA) provided the means for the Canadian government to manage all “Indian” affairs through one avenue.

The Indian Act created a structure of “reserves, bands and Indians” under control of the DIA. The legislation implementing “reserves” and “bands” served to divide aboriginal tribal Nations, fracturing communities and weakening tribal unity. In some cases, often along territorial boundaries, the Indian Agents even combined Native communities from different tribal groups and lumped them together into one “band” creating internal difficulties at the community level.

The timing of instituting the reserve system in BC helped in separating Native people from their territorial lands. Reserves in much of the BC interior, including the Lillooet area, were formally laid out and surveyed using the ten acre per family formula during 1881 by Trutch’s brother-in-law, Peter O’Reilly.

The initial idea in the development of reserve lands was meant to encourage Native people to settle in large villages, to take up farming, and to receive religious instruction and education. Essentially the reserve system was formed as a social laboratory in which the experiment carried out by the federal government was to bring about forced cultural change.

Forced cultural change basically means that the government’s intention was to change Native peoples’ beliefs, values, behaviors and way of life so that they would eventually lead their lives based upon European beliefs, values, behaviors and ways of life. I use of the word “ forced” because the government used the power of law through the Indian Act as the structure to enforce the changes.

Close partnerships between the Indian Agents and the missionaries became a major factor in the suppression of Native cultures. The newly consolidated Indian Act of 1876 contained provisions that attacked traditional Native beliefs and values, and which furthered Christian-European beliefs and values. The Christian missionaries played a role in how events unfolded because they were already established in several aboriginal communities before BC joined Canada. The Indian Agents used this relationship to influence policy objectives.

The Department of Indian Affairs, the Indian Act legislation, the Indian Agency and Indian reserve system, that is, the overall “Indian” system created by the federal government was and continues as a way to implement and exert control over indigenous peoples.

Cathy Narcisse First Published in Bridge River Lillooet News June 2003
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