Idle No More: Starve Those Indians

This article has been reposted and/or republished by the following sites.

West Coast Native News

Ecocide Alert

IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus


Research conducted by Ian Mosby revealed that Indigenous children in the 1940s were used for medical research without the families’ knowledge.  In fact, in some studies, preventive medicine was withheld from First Nations children in a number of residential schools.  His research was published inHistoire sociale/Social history” in Volume 46, Number 91 in May 2013.

Recently the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs were advised that they would receive only 4% of the usual federal funding for 2015, with research and related community projects being cut completely by Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada.  What sorts of projects were cut?  Programs such as renewable energy solutions for northern communities, environmental research, and food security, among other programs and projects.

For months now, Ottawa has stated repeatedly in the media that they planned on cutting funding to 80 First Nations bands who didn’t disclose finances to the Harper government.  In fact, it was reported that one of the threats was to halt funding for non-essential as well as essential programs, or terminating funding agreements.  Not content with that threat alone, the Harper government also threatened to inform other government departments funding any of the 80 First Nations bands, further jeopardizing the health and well-being of Aboriginals in Canada.

The funding to be cut included 5 vital services for children:

As of December 22, 2014 all but 38 had filed the papers demanded by the Harper government to prevent their band members from suffering from threats made by Ottawa.

What many non-Indigenous peoples in Canada do not realize is that this treatment from Ottawa has a long-established history that reaches back more than a hundred years.

Beginning in 1876, the federal government made it clear that Indigenous peoples who refused to do Ottawa’s bidding would be forced to trade their way of life and their freedom for food.  Once food was chosen over freedom, and they were forced on reservations where they were only allowed to travel beyond the borders of the reservation with written permission of the federal government Indian Agent, and they were not allowed to hunt with written permission of the same federal government Indian Agent.  What was worse was that much of what used to be hunted was no longer available to be hunted as noted by Colonel James Macleod in a letter written to his wife, Mary, and dated June 3, 1880.

I’m not satisfied with the government’s arrangements for supplies.  The government appears to think that Indians can hunt for a living, but there is nothing to hunt … the buffalo are all gone!

This was, in fact, true.  The buffalo herds that had roamed the Canadian and American plains were nearly completely wiped out by 1880, and with no freedom to follow the buffalo that remained, Indigenous peoples saw their food supply decimated by the federal government’s policies.

In 1880, the Department of Indian Affairs was created.  It was alleged that the purpose of the department was to control the assets, culture, and spiritual believes of First Nations peoples.  However, the Indian Act that was part of this settler decision stated that the term “person” meant “an individual other than an Indian” which mean that Indian Agents (in other words, employees of the Department of Indian Affairs) could legally withhold rations from starving Aboriginals who had a right to those provisions.  To that end, rations were oftentimes withheld for such a long period of time by the Indian Agent that the food rotted.  Meanwhile, those who were meant to benefit from these rations contracted sicknesses and diseases, suffered from severe malnutrition, and died as a result of this.

In fact, in the 1880 report by Superintendent Walsh, he wrote:

In some cases persons became so reduced as to render them unable to assist themselves, and I was forced to make small issues of food to save their lives.  Following this want of food, and the eating of diseased horses, an epidemic appeared which marked its results by the many graves now to be seen in Wood Mountain.

The following year, the first Federally approved residential schools were established although there had been other residential schools set up before 1881.

In 1882, a letter from Indian Agent Fred White to Governor Dewdney dated October 19th stated the following:

Over two thousand Indians here almost naked and on verge of starvation: have been among them for two days: am satisfied many will perish unless early assistance rendered.  Please instruct Agent McDonald to come here at once to make payment.

And it was Sir John A. Macdonald who, as Minister of Indian Affairs, showed no remorse in stating that the First Nations peoples were kept on the “verge of starvation” for political reasons.  It was a policy that was debated in Parliament as documented in the “Official Report of the Debates of the House of Commons of the Dominion of Canada: Fourth Session – Fifth Parliament.”  This session was from February 25, 1886 to April 19, 1886.  In this record, Mr. Cameron (Huron) stated:

I say further, that the Indians, so I have shown, have been robbed, defrauded, and swindled, frozen to death and starved to death, and yet we expect them to be peaceful, submissive, faithful, and loyal subjects of the Queen.  And that in the face of the statement of the Agent General for Indian Affairs made in 1880 and re-affirmed in 1883 that the policy of this Administration was a policy of submission by a policy of starvation; and that in the face of the report of Agent Herchmer sent to the Department that a little starvation would do the Indians good; and that in the face of the declaration of Governor Dewdney that if they did not eat salt pork they might die and be damned to them.  WIth this cruel and brutal treatment of the Indians, with this cruel and brutal report of agent Herchmer, and with the admission of Lieut-Governor Dewdney, need anyone wonder that the Indians are dissatisfied and discontented.  I should like to see the experiment tried on the officials of the Government; from the commissioner down to agent Herchmer, and from agent Herchmer down to the lower officials, and a little starvation might teach them common sense.  A policy of fraud; a policy of violated treaties and broken promises has been tried in the neighboring republic for 100 years, and without success.  It has been tried in this country for a number of years also without success, and it will be tried without success to the end of the chapter.

The policy started as one that was identified in clear terms:

This policy of starvation was adopted by the Agent General of Indian Affairs six years ago.  It is a cruel and atrocious policy, it is a policy that ought not to prevail in any civilised country.  Six years ago the Agent General of Indian Affairs openly and deliberately adopted this policy in the following language:

“I must say, however, that it was a dangerous thing to commence the system of feeding the Indians.  So long as they know they can rely, or believe they can rely, on any source whatever for their food they make no effort to support themselves.  We have to guard against that, and the only way to guard against it is by being rigid, even stingy in the distribution of food, and require absolute proof of starvation before distributing it.”

It will be the 200th anniversary of Sir John A. Macdonald’s birth on Sunday, January 11.  The legacy he has given Canada includes the abuse of Indigenous peoples and the ease with which the government in Ottawa continues to abuse Indigenous peoples.  What’s more, this attitude began with a politician who was a member of the Conservative Party of Canada and this attitude continues under the leadership of the current Conservative Party of Canada thereby lending credence to the adage:  The more things change, the more things stay the same.

Elyse Bruce

3 Responses to “Idle No More: Starve Those Indians”

  1. Weekly Round Up | ELYSE BRUCE Says:

    […] SOCIAL JUSTICE FRIDAYS:  Starve Those Indians […]

  2. Starve Those Indians | Ecocide Alert Says:

    […] Elyse Bruce, reposted from WestCoastNativeNews, Jan 14, […]

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