Tag Archives: Canada

Talking Back to the Indian Act

Talking Back to the Indian Act: Critical Readings in Settler Colonial Histories is a comprehensive “how-to” guide for engaging with primary source documents. But more than that, the book explores the Indian Act itself, and gives readers a much better understanding of this vital piece of legislation. We asked authors Mary-Ellen Kelm and Keith D. Smith to discuss their book, and why learning this information and history is important.

You can read an exclusive excerpt from the book here.

“We find the Indian Act of 1876 are [sic] not calculated to promote our welfare if we accept it because it empowers the Superintendent General of Indian affairs to manage, govern, and control our lands, moneys, and properties without first obtaining the consent of the chiefs…”

Talking Back to the Indian Act: Critical Readings in Settler Colonial Histories is being published at a key moment in our history. Not only do we live in an age of twenty-four-hour news outlets broadcasting sharply divergent and politically motivated narratives, and where the nature of evidence is questioned in overtly public ways – we are also poised to begin a process of reconciling with Indigenous people in this country. Talking Back addresses both these critical issues.

The book provides a set of lessons in reading documents through a historical and critical lens that takes into account Indigenous and intersectional perspectives. In so doing, it demonstrates the historians’ craft as it can be reconceived so that alongside context, contingency, causation, change over time, and complexity (the five “Cs” of historical thinking), we also consider relationship, responsibility, respect, and reciprocity (the four “Rs” of Indigenous methodologies). It shows the value of thinking deeply about the role in historical experience played by gender, sexuality, ability, and other ways of being. As such, it introduces readers to an expansive approach to critically engaging with the written word that addresses key questions about the nature of evidence, how it is made, and how it can be used. Readers of Talking Back to the Indian Act will never again feel that they lack the tools to truly interrogate historical or other documents.

At the same time, Talking Back to the Indian Act introduces the reader to one of the most important pieces of legislation in Canadian history and – sadly – one that many Canadians know very little about. For nearly a century and a half, the Indian Act has dominated the relationship between Canada and Indigenous peoples living within its borders. As it sought to erase individual and collective identities, the Indian Act operated to extinguish Indigenous political structures, regulate familial relationships and gender roles, degrade kinship networks, circumscribe economic undertakings, reduce the land base available to Indigenous communities, and prohibit practices central to the maintenance of Indigenous cultures. Even those Indigenous people who Canada did not choose to classify as “Indian” have been impacted by the Act as they struggled to assert their own distinct identities and legal rights.

The provisions of the Indian Act, the surveillance required for its maintenance, and Indigenous responses to its intentions and effects have created a massive archive. It is from this prodigious body of material that Talking Back to the Indian Act draws the documents it uses to teach critical historical reading methods. Included here are: the original 1876 Act and the many amendments made to it, queries and clarifications from Canadian officials, law enforcement documents, legal opinions, court records, and reports from various commissions and inquiries. Importantly, here too are Indigenous people’s letters of protest, oral testimony, meeting transcripts of Indigenous organizations and inquiries, radio addresses, and creative works all talking back to the Indian Act from Indigenous perspectives. Readers who may have heard very little about the Indian Act will come away from this text with a better understanding of how the Act worked to constrain Indigenous lives and how Indigenous people persistently worked to overcome those constraints.

Talking Back to the Indian Act provides a set of lessons that shine light on several critical aspects of the Act and Indigenous responses to them in historical context. It encourages students to move beyond simply reading historical documents and to engage with them in more refined and effective ways. To that end, readers of this text are given an introduction to the interpretative tools traditionally available to historians and how these might be utilized in concert with Indigenous methodologies and intersectional analyses. Students will come away from this book with a much better understanding of this pivotal piece of legislation as well as the dynamics involved in its creation, its maintenance, and the resistance it engendered.

Talking Back to the Indian Act is not a definitive study of the Indian Act but includes a range of important topics that resonate across time and into the present. Each of these topics has stimulated an intriguing array of voices and document types available to researchers. This range of material has allowed the documents provided in this collection to be selected with variety of source type and perspective in mind. Readers will have the opportunity to not only interrogate individual letters, transcripts of oral accounts and testimony, official reports, reminiscences, legislation, creative writing, and other materials but also to consider the relative value of different kinds of sources to different sorts of projects that a researcher might undertake. In addition to the focus on issues that are significant in their own right, there are also a number of overarching themes represented here. For example, Canada’s goals of acquiring land and resources and assimilating Indigenous people are evident throughout this text, as is Indigenous resistance in its many forms.

Exploring the contours and development of the Indian Act through the documents provided in this text will help students in all disciplines – as well as popular audiences – navigate the headlines of today. It is our hope that Talking Back to the Indian Act makes a contribution to historical understanding while at the same time enhancing the skills necessary to analyse our present situation and the most appropriate paths to the future.

Mary-Ellen Kelm is Canada Research Chair and Professor in the Department of History at Simon Fraser University, and Keith D. Smith teaches in the Departments of Indigenous Studies and History at Vancouver Island University.

Canada’s Constitutional Legacy: ‘Notwithstanding’ its framers?

Written by guest blogger, Ben Gilding.

CHR Latest Cover Image

It is timely, even more so than I could have possibly intended, that my article emphasising the role of the British Colonial Office in defining the features of Canadian Confederation should be published in the Canadian Historical Review at a time when the constitution—albeit a newer section of it—is once more making headlines. I am, of course, referring to Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s decision to invoke the ‘notwithstanding’ clause in order to push through his reform of Toronto’s municipal elections. The Ontario Superior Court ruled that Ford’s bill violated freedom of expression under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which was entrenched in the constitution during its repatriation in 1982. To combat the Court’s ruling, Ford invoked the ‘notwithstanding’ clause, which allows governments (provincial or federal) to temporarily override rights and freedoms outlined in sections 2 and 7-15 of the Charter. These include freedoms of religion, association, and expression, among others. Since then, it has been revealed that the new Premier-designate of Québec, François Legault is threatening to make use of the same clause to ban the wearing of religious symbols by provincial civil servants, leading the Premier of B.C. to remark on the appearance of a ‘domino effect’ on the use of the controversial clause.[1]

Constitutional debates pitching courts against politicians are, of course, nothing new in Canadian history. This is not to say that the current case involving Ontario’s use of the ‘notwithstanding’ clause is in any way justified by historical constitutional jurisprudence. Rather, it is simply to point out that the courts have decisively intervened at various stages in Canadian history through the interpretation of key clauses of the constitution.[2] This, of course, gave rise to the disputes between originalist and ‘living tree’ interpretations of the Canadian constitution which have oftentimes been falsely perceived as dichotomous. Originalists, in short, attempt to uncover the original meaning of the constitution through the intentions of its framers. The advocates of the ‘living tree’ doctrine, on the other hand, argue that the constitution ought to be seen as an organic structure that is adaptable over time. That these are not mutually exclusive attributes of a written constitution with a formula for amendment is not only self-evident but also admitted by Lord Sankey, the founder of the ‘living tree’ metaphor. In 1931, he declared that, ‘[i]nasmuch as the [British North America] Act embodies a compromise under which the original Provinces agreed to federate…the process of interpretation as the years go on ought not to be allowed to dim or whittle down the provisions of the original contract upon which the federation was founded.’[3]

Ontario’s recent controversial use of the ‘notwithstanding’ clause has prompted a response from several of the framers of that provision (former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, former Saskatchewan premier Roy Romanow, and former Chief Justice of Ontario, Roy McMurtry). These three, famously involved in the so-called ‘kitchen accord’, argued that the ‘notwithstanding’ clause “was designed to be invoked in exceptional situations, and only as a last resort after careful consideration.”[4] The assumption behind the release of this joint statement, and much of the commentary in the press and on social media surrounding this controversy suggests that the intentions of the framers matter in constitutional jurisprudence. Not that they ought to rule supreme and fossilize archaic notions into the structure of what would thereby become an increasingly obsolete document; but that they ought to be considered and accounted for in a rational debate concerning the principles that define the national character and the institutions of state.

Upon this assumption—that the intentions of the framers matter in constitutional jurisprudence—my article examines the ideas and motivations of what I term ‘the silent framers’ of Canada’s original constitution. These were the political and permanent staff of the British Colonial Office who, alongside the already-familiar “Fathers of Confederation,” drew up the provisions of the British North America Act that continue to shape politics today. Notwithstanding the Confederation debates, the recent furore surrounding Ontario’s use of the Charter’s overriding clause suggests that Canada’s constitutional legacy is still far from settled, 151 years after its inception.

[1] Richard Zussman, “B.C. premier surprised by ‘domino effect’ of use of notwithstanding clause.” Global News, 5 October 2018, https://globalnews.ca/news/4518008/bc-premier-horgan-notwithstanding-clause/

[2] See John T. Saywell, The Lawmakers: Judicial Power and the Shaping of Canadian Federalism (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002).

[3] Privy Council Appeal No. 38 of 1931, p. 7. <http://www.bailii.org/uk/cases/UKPC/1931/1931_93.pdf>

[4] “Chretien, Romanow and McMurtry attack Ford’s use of the notwithstanding clause.” Maclean’s, 14 September 2018, https://www.macleans.ca/politics/ottawa/chretien-romanow-and-mcmurtry-attack-fords-use-of-the-notwithstanding-clause/

Ben Gilding is a PhD candidate at Christ’s College, Cambridge. His research currently focuses on domestic responses to imperial crises in the British Empire in the “age of revolutions” (circa 1765–95). His article “The Silent Framers of British North American Union: The Colonial Office and Canadian Confederation, 1851–67 ” is free to read in the latest issue of the Canadian Historical Review. Read it here!

Turkey, Tradition, and the National Fabric: An Excerpt on the Origins of Canadian Thanksgiving

The air is cooling, scarves are knotting, and across the country Canadians will gather ‘round autumnal tables for their annual Thanksgiving dinner. And though some Canucks may be deciding on a side dish and how to skirt political debate, there’s another question on many minds:

What exactly are we doing here? 

While the American Thanksgiving is steeped in nationalism, ritual, and history, the origins of the Canadian version are a little less clear, with few of us actually knowing where the holiday comes from. If this makes you feel mildly guilty, focus that energy on your cranberry sauce instead. We’ve got you covered with the context you’ll need to impress your guests this Thanksgiving weekend.

For answers, we turned to Celebrating Canada: Holidays, National Days, and the Crafting of Identities, from editors Matthew Hayday and Raymond B. Blake. From the pages of Peter Stevens’s essay on where it all began – think church, Brits, and our neighbours to the south – learn how Thanksgiving was always meant to be a day to celebrate being Canadian.


Excerpt from “‘Righteousness Exalteth the Nation’: Religion, Nationalism, and Thanksgiving Day in Ontario, 1859–1914”, by Peter A. Stevens 

In the United states of America, few annual events stir the national imagination as thoroughly as Thanksgiving Day. The holiday’s rituals and symbols harken back to the nation’s founding fathers, evoking images of pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock and sharing a harvest feast with the surrounding Native peoples in 1621. The myth of this first Thanksgiving, which is a staple in the education of every American schoolchild, informs U.S. citizens that their country is a land of opportunity and new beginnings, a place of piety, abundance, and inclusivity. Other Thanksgiving customs uphold family, consumerism, and competition as core American values. The holiday is a favourite occasion for get-togethers with friends and relatives, with festivities revolving around turkey dinners, Santa Claus parades, and football games, all unfolding against the backdrop of autumn leaves and newly gathered crops. Scholars have parsed American Thanksgiving in considerable detail, and there is a lively debate over which Thanksgiving traditions are rooted in historical fact and which are based in fiction. What is beyond dispute, however, is the overtly nationalistic character of the day.

In the Canadian context, by contrast, Thanksgiving Day is surrounded by ambiguity. Media reports regularly express doubts about the meaning and purpose of the holiday, while Canadians themselves often seem unsure about how their Thanksgiving differs from the American one, and why the two holidays do not share the same date. Thus far, scholars have offered few answers to these questions, as academic treatments of Canadian Thanksgiving are scarce, speculative, and limited in their analysis. Significantly, these works downplay the holiday’s importance as a patriotic celebration, making only passing reference to a “subtle influence of Canadian nationalism” that is evident on Thanksgiving Day. This chapter cannot relate the entire the history of Canadian Thanksgiving, but it does take up the beginning of the story by examining the origins of the holiday in late-nineteenth-century Ontario. In doing so, it reveals that Canadian Thanksgiving initially had a nationalistic focus that it since has largely lost. In the minds of the men who first developed the holiday, Thanksgiving was intended to be a day for celebrating Canada.

The existing literature on national public holidays in North America raises several points that help to illuminate the specific history of Thanksgiving Day in Canada. First, while public holidays often appear to be age-old celebrations that emerged organically out of the national fabric, they are actually examples of invented traditions. According to Eric Hobsbawm, an invented tradition is “a set of practices, normally governed by overtly or tacitly accepted rules and of a ritual or symbolic nature, which seek to inculcate certain values and norms of behaviour by repetition, which automatically implies continuity with the past.” Holidays, as annual events that are steeped in ritual, constitute a powerful form of invented tradition, for while they seem to be neutral and apolitical, they are actually compelling advertisements for the world views of those who shape and promote them.

Second, public holidays often serve as important tools of nation building. Holiday customs and iconography give members of a population a sense of a shared past and subtly inform them about who they are as a people. By reinforcing messages about common values and experiences, holidays thus encourage individual citizens to imagine themselves as being members of the same political community, or nation. This is not to suggest that the meanings of holidays are static, however. Because holidays are such potent expressions of national beliefs, ambitions, and identity, they become temporal battlegrounds in the cultural contests between different interest groups. Holidays are contested terrain, and their meanings can change over time as they are controlled and influenced by groups that have competing visions for the nation.

Where Canadian Thanksgiving is concerned, the figures who were most responsible for establishing the celebration on an annual basis were Protestant clergymen in Ontario. Their interest in the holiday was primarily a response to two great challenges that faced them, as Canadian church leaders, beginning in the second half of the nineteenth century. Particularly after Confederation, ministers felt a moral and historical obligation to chart Canada’s course. At the very moment that preachers most sensed a call to lead their country, however, global intellectual developments issued challenges to Christianity so fundamental that they threatened to dissolve many Christians’ faith. The American Thanksgiving holiday revealed to church leaders a means by which they could restore Canadians’ confidence in Christianity and secure their own positions at the helm of the young country.

Ontario clergymen did not simply duplicate the American Thanksgiving festival, which by the 1860s had evolved into a national public holiday. Rather, they recast Thanksgiving as a predominantly religious event and naturalized the holiday by steeping it in Canadian nationalism. Ontarians responded positively to this mix of Protestantism and patriotism, and ministers successfully instituted Thanksgiving as an annual holiday in Ontario. Once Thanksgiving became a yearly event, however, other cultural interest groups increasingly challenged Protestants’ holiday hegemony. As a result of these challenges, the Thanksgiving that Ontarians marked on the eve of the Great War was little like the holiday that clergymen had established several decades earlier. Yet, one aspect of the holiday remained unchanged: its nationalist content. Although Thanksgiving acquired many new meanings and customs, it remained throughout the Victorian period a day for Ontarians to celebrate their status as Canadians.

The early history of Thanksgiving Day in Ontario contributes to discussions of religion in late-nineteenth-century Canada by highlighting the prominent but waning influence of Protestant church leaders within the public sphere. It also complicates our understanding of Canadian patriotism during this critical period in the country’s history. In particular, the origins of Canadian Thanksgiving demonstrate the complex and sometimes contradictory ways that citizens of the new dominion sought to define themselves in relation to both Great Britain and the United states. In this respect, Thanksgiving Day had much in common with Dominion Day, Empire Day, and other public celebrations of the era, which likewise sought to define Canadian identity in reference to both Britain and the United States.

Read Stevens’s full article in Celebrating Canada: Holidays, National Days, and the Crafting of Identities.

 

June and July Round-up

Highlights from the months of June and July.

Awards:

  • Johannes Remy’s Brothers or Enemies was awarded the Ivan Franko International Prize of 2018.
  • French Écocritique by Stephanie Posthumus is on the shortlist for the Alanna Bondar Memorial Book Prize.

Conferences:

  • Daniel Quinlan represented UTP at the Law and Society Association’s annual conference in Toronto.
  • Anne Brackenbury and Jodi Lewchuk presented our sociology list at the World Congress of Sociology in Toronto.

Media Highlights:

 

New Releases:

Digging Down: The Deep Roots of Canada’s Policy-Making Process

Written by guest blogger, Taylor Hollander.

It is no revelation that the union density rates in both Canada and the United States have experienced significant decreases since the 1960s. But why has the decline in the U.S. been so much sharper? The two countries share similar employers, unions, and decentralized industrial relations systems. For many years, they even had comparable union membership levels. Yet, in 2017, the percentage of unionized workers in Canada’s private sector was more than twice as high as the United States. No state in the U.S. had a greater union density rate than Alberta, the least unionized province in Canada. In light of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, Janus v. AFSCME, which removed mandatory dues payments in public sector unions, it is not difficult to understand why some pundits argue that the historical moment for unionism in the United States has now passed.

To better understand this cross-national divergence in union density rates, Power, Politics, and Principles looks to the making of labour law in Canada for answers. In particular, against the backdrop of the U.S. experience, it focuses on PC 1003 of 1944, which for the first time required Canadian employers to recognize and negotiate with the representatives of their employees’ choosing. Several earlier studies have highlighted differences in the legal frameworks for industrial relations in Canada and the United States like, for example, the use of permanent replacements or “scabs.” What Power, Politics, and Principles does differently is dive into the history of the policy-making process to uncover how the topic of compulsory collective bargaining became a part of the national discourse in Canada and then became a legal reality. The main argument of the book is that, unlike in the United States, a more moderate approach to labour policy formulation in Canada made the legal protections for workers less vulnerable to conservative backlash in the long run.

There are several reasons why I believe that Power, Politics, and Principles will appeal to a wide audience:

  1. By comparing why and how collective bargaining regimes or the legal frameworks for industrial relations were created in Canada and the United States, it goes beyond vague discussions of cultural values to gain a more tangible and precise understanding of what distinguishes the two countries. As I mention in the book, the goal is not to consecrate the Canadian experience because industrial relations in the two countries are more alike than different. But a close study of what actually happened in the policy-making process does reveal important national variances.
  2. Power, Politics, and Principles underscores the messiness of the policy-making process. Throughout the book, the different perspectives and agendas of workers, labour leaders, business executives, civil servants, and politicians are examined to try and convince readers that the making of a collective bargaining regime in Canada involved many competing personalities. Rather than straightforward or certain, it was open-ended and contingent. For example, one of the arguments I make is that an ad hoc wartime agency of three people from outside the government – a conservative, a liberal, and a socialist – played a key role in convincing politicians that it was time for a compulsory collective bargaining policy.
  3. My book adds to the historiography on Mackenzie King. As Christopher Dummitt recently outlined in Unbuttoned, scholarly works on Canada’s longest serving prime minister have for a long time offered remarkably critical, if not bewildered, interpretations of his legacy. Most historians, political scientists, and journalists seem to agree that King took a Machiavellian approach to policy-making, never committing to anything unless it served his own purposes. In contrast, I encourage readers to consider the impact of his political principles. There is no doubt that King was a consummate politician who acted opportunistically, expediently, and obliquely. At least in the area of labour policy, however, it seems clear that his political principles also influenced his actions and inactions.
  4. Organized chronologically from 1935 to 1948, Power, Politics, and Principles conveys the complexities of the policy-making process in a compelling narrative, evoking a sense of time, place, and character without sacrificing analysis or argument. By emphasizing story line, avoiding jargon, and, in places, offering what one reviewer called “historical imaginings,” readers are transported back to two of the most turbulent decades in Canada’s history when real people battled both physically and verbally over the legal rights of workers.

 

Taylor Hollander is a Middle School History Teacher at Orchard House School in Richmond Virginia and the author of Power, Politics, and Principles.