Quebec History Marianopolis College

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L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


Canadian Department of Indian Affairs



[This text was originally published in 1907 by the Bureau of American Ethnology as part of its Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico . It was later reproduced, in 1913, by the Geographic Board of Canada. The work done by the American Bureau was monumental, well informed and incorporated the most advanced scholarship available at the time. In many respects, the information is still useful today, although prudence should be exercised and the reader should consult some of the contemporary texts on the history and the anthropology of the North-West Indians suggested in the bibliographic introduction to this section. The articles were not completely devoid of the paternalism and the prejudices prevalent at the time. While some of the terminology used would not pass the test of our "politically correct" era, most terms have been left unchanged by the editor. If a change in the original text has been effected it will be found between brackets [.] The original work contained long bibliographies that have not been reproduced for this web edition. For the full citation, see the end of the text.]



[This article was not written by the American Bureau of American Ethnology. It was written specifically by Mr. Frank Pedley, Deputy Minister, Department of Indian Affairs (Canada ), for publication by the Geographic Board of Canada in 1913.]


The development of the Department of Indian Affairs of Canada can be traced from the earliest Colonial times.


Late in the 17th century the British Government recognised the necessity of appointing a staff of Officers who could deal directly with the Indians and become specialists in diplomatic relations with them. We find the first special Commissioner to have been Arnout Cornelius Veile who was appointed a Commissioner to the Five Nations in 1689. The Government of the Colony of New York in 1696 appointed four Commissioners to superintend Indian Affairs, but the number had reached 30 in 1739. Such abuses had crept into the Commission that it was found necessary to place the power in the hands of a single individual. William Johnson, a man even then distinguished for his ability to control the aborigines was appointed by Governor Clinton in 1726. His methods of dealing with Indians moulded the whole policy and practice of the Department for 100 years, and it may be said that his influence has not yet ceased. At the Treaty of Paris there existed a strong Indian administration upon which the vast conquered territory could be grafted. Sir William Johnson extended the northern district and appointed a Deputy to carry on his well considered policy. At this time there were probably 40,000 Indians under his control,. When Sir William Johnson died he was succeeded by Colonel Guy Johnson, his son-in-law, who was appointed temporarily by General Gage, and who was confirmed in the position on the 8 th September, 1774 . During the important period of the Revolution he was in charge of the Indian Department, and held the position until February, 1782, when he was suspended. It was certain that the Department required reorganization as irregularities had led to Sir Guy's suspension. He was succeeded by Sir John Johnson, son of Sir William, who, by Royal Commission, was appointed Superintendent General and Inspector General on the 14th   March, 1782 . He continued at the head of the Department although he was frequently an absentee from duty, until the 25th   June, 1828 , when the office was abolished. The head of the Department was then designated as Chief Superintendent and Major Darling was the first to occupy the new position. He received a salary of £600, and his headquarters were at Montreal . Subordinates throughout the country were responsible for the local administration but there was frequent friction between the civil and military authorities as to the responsibility for the conduct of Indian Affairs. The jurisdiction was clearly defined by a general order of the 13 th   August, 1816 , in which the superintendence of the Indian Department and Indian Affairs was transferred to the Military Command. This Military administration lasted until the year 1830, when the then Secretary of State for the Colonies, Sir George Murray, placed Indian Affairs in the hands of the Civil authorities dividing the country into two Departments, one for Upper and one for Lower Canada . At the head of the Department for Upper Canada was Sir John Colborne, his immediate subordinate being Colonel James Givins, Chief Superintendent. The Department for Lower Canada was administered by the Military Secretary of the Governor General at Quebec . When the change took place Lieutenant-Colonel Cooper occupied this position. Lieutenant-Colonel D. C. Napier was the Secretary for Indian Affairs for Lower Canada and drew the pay of a Chief Superintendent. This organization continued until after the union of the Provinces. Following a report of the Royal Commission appointed by General Sir Charles Bagot in 1842, Indian Affairs were placed under the orders of the Civil Secretary of the Governor General, the two Provincial Departments were joined and the business was thereafter conducted from the seat of Government. The report recommended a special clerk as assistant to the Civil Secretary. Mr. George Varden, was the first occupant of this office, Shortly after, on the 1 st July, 1845 , the office of Chief Superintendent was abolished, the then occupant being Mr. Samuel P. Jarvis who had succeeded Colonel Givins. The administration by the Civil Secretary continued until the 1st July, 1860 .


For over 200 years control of Indian Affairs had been maintained by the Imperial Government. The Indians were considered as adjuncts of the Military arm and until the third decade of the 19 th century very little had been done by Government for their education. Missionaries and private individuals were the pioneers in evangelization and education. The chief duty of the Military Indian Department was to distribute the presents which the Indians had enjoyed from the earliest times and which were rewards for allegiance and inducements to loyalty. These presents were a heavy burden on the Imperial exchequer and caused friction between the Home Government and the provincial authorities. Careful investigation showed that they could not be continued in the best interests of the Indians and they were gradually diminished and finally done away with. The cessation of this responsibility on the part of the Imperial Government was synchronous with the assumption by the Provincial authorities of the responsibilities for Indian management. The administration of Indian Affairs was assigned to the Department of Crown lands by Act 23 Vic. Cap. 151, and all Indian funds at that time otherwise invested were capitalized and taken over by the Provincial Government. The Commissioner of Crown Lands, under the title of Chief Superintendent of Indian Affairs, administered the Department. The Hon. P. N. Vankonghnet, Hon. Geo. Sherwood, Hon. William McDougall, Hon. Alexander Campbell, successively occupied this position. The latter's term of office ceased with the old Province of Canada on the 30 th June, 1867 . After Confederation, Indian Affairs were attached to the Department of the Secretary of State by Act 31 Vic. Cap. 42, and the title of Superintendent of Indian Affairs was revived. Hon. H. L. Langevin, Hon. Joseph Howe, Hon. T. N. Gibbs, who were Secretaries of State, were also Superintendents General of Indian Affairs. When the Department of Interior was created by 36 Vic. Cap. 24, Indian Affairs were attached to that Department and were conducted by the Minister of the Interior except between the 17th October, 1878, and the 4 th August, 1885, when the Rt. Hon. Sir John A. McDonald [sic], President of the Privy Council, was Superintendent General. By Act 43 Vic., Cap. 28, which was assented to on the 7th May, 1880, Indian Affairs were constituted and organized as a separate Department. The Minister of the Interior or the head of any other Department appointed for that purpose by the Governor General in Council shall be the Superintendent General of Indian Affairs. The office of Deputy Superintendent was created by Order-in-Council, 17th March, 1882, and Mr. William Spragge occupied that position until his death 16th April, 1874, when he was succeeded by Mr. Lawrence Vankonghnet who administered until his superannuation, 10th October, 1893. His successors in office have been Mr. Hayter Reed, Mr. James A. Smart, and Mr. Frank Pedley.



Source: James WHITE, ed., Handbook of Indians of Canada , Published as an Appendix to the Tenth Report of the Geographic Board of Canada, Ottawa, 1913, 632p., pp. 221-223.

© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College