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TROOP, JACOB VALENTINE – Volume XI (1881-1890)

d. 3 Oct. 1881 at Saint John, N.B.


Responsible Government

Sir John A. Macdonald

From the Red River Settlement to Manitoba (1812–70)

Sir Wilfrid Laurier

Sir George-Étienne Cartier


The Fenians

Women in the DCB/DBC

The Charlottetown and Quebec Conferences of 1864

Introductory Essays of the DCB/DBC

The Acadians

For Educators

The War of 1812 

Canada’s Wartime Prime Ministers

The First World War

Macdonald and Indigenous Peoples

Early Attempts at Assimilation

From the 1820s onward British officials had hoped to transfer jurisdiction over indigenous peoples to the colonies’ governments. Following the union of Upper and Lower Canada in 1841 natives became the governor general’s responsibility. In 1856 Richard Theodore PENNEFATHER became the civil secretary of Governor General Edmund Walker HEAD and superintendent-general of Indian affairs:

“Pennefather’s greatest contribution to Canada was his chairmanship of a three-man commission which conducted an inquiry from 1856 to 1858 into the Indian Department’s operations. The report of 1858 provided a complete picture of the department and of the Indian bands of the province through use of a massive number of statistics. It was noted with surprise that efforts to ‘civilize’ the Indians were still piece-meal despite almost 30 years of such a policy. Because the Indians did not respond to attempts at ‘civilization,’ and because of the lack of organization and funding in the department, conditions among the Indians were not good in the late 1850s [see George Ironside]. The commission urged compassionate and effective treatment for the Indians’ social ills. Feeling that administrative confusion was still responsible for many of their problems, it urged the establishment of a centralized Indian Department with its own permanent head. This step was finally taken by the Canadian government in 1862, two years after the relinquishing of imperial control.”


Aboriginal affairs came under John A. MACDONALD’s oversight when he was the attorney general of Canada West (Upper Canada; present-day Ontario) in the 1850s and 1860s, but he paid little attention to native concerns. During this period, the government signed treaties with a number of aboriginal bands, and in the process divided many communities over questions of rights and assimilation. Jean-Baptiste ASSIGINACK, an Ottawa Chief on Manitoulin Island, confronted the problem:

“[The] decision was taken by the government in 1861 to open the island to white settlers. However, strong opposition to the surrender of the island was expressed in Wikwemikong. At a council meeting held at Manitowaning in October 1861 Assiginack made a powerful but unsuccessful appeal in favour of the acceptance of a treaty proposed by the government. Negotiations lapsed for a year until William McDougall*, the commissioner of crown lands, came to the island prepared to grant better terms than those previously proposed to the Indian population in return for the island’s surrender. Assiginack again supported the government position; at one council meeting he had to be protected by some of his sons from those opposing it. A treaty was signed in 1862 but it reflected the divisions among the Indians of the island: only two chiefs from Wikwemikong were among the signatories.”


William McDOUGALL, who would serve as Macdonald’s minister of public works after confederation, was responsible for the development of the western and northern portions of Canada West as commissioner of crown lands in 1862:

“From this position McDougall laid further groundwork for Canada’s northwestward expansion, revealing in the process his presumption regarding its native peoples. His department, staffed with expansionists like himself, opened tracts of land in the northwestern part of the province, as well as a colonization road to Parry Sound. It sold off crown lands, with the expectation that farms would be developed. McDougall also presided over the repossession of Indian reserves on Manitoulin Island, on the pretext that, since these lands had not been put to agricultural use, they obstructed further settlement [see Jean-Baptiste Assiginack*; George Ironside*]. This reversal of the policy of maintaining reserves distant from settlement, intended to protect native culture from encroachment, broke faith and bred resentment. A mid Victorian intent on smoothing the way for ‘progress,’ McDougall employed a righteous paternalism in his dealings with natives.”


For more information on the relations between natives and Macdonald’s governments, please consult the following biographies.


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