By Dorthea Calverley
In examining the position of the Indian in contemporary Canada and in examining the sequence of events that brought him here, at least two viewpoints are possible. Neither is valid to the exclusion of the other; rather both are true, and full understanding of the Indians’ present and past cannot exclude either view.
Some people think of the Indians as just one of the many ethnic groups which together constitute the cultural background of Canadians. According to this view, Indians like other ethnic minorities, contribute to Canada’s culture their element of the whole. Within this variety there is a Canadian Nation and culture to which all elements are assimilating as the “cultural mosaic” and “the multicultural society” have been coined for this concept. A still more restricted view, as far as Indians are concerned, is the common assumption that there are but two cultures in Canada – French and English – and everyone, Indians included, must adjust to one or the other of these two alternatives.
Whatever variations there may be on this theme, the Indian comes out pretty much in the same position. The second or “bicultural” view is the one held by most whites in regard to Indians, including the Indian Affairs Department. This attitude is fostered by some older public school textbooks, the popular history of the sort used in Centennial advertising and public statements by persons referring to “the problem of Canada’s Indians.” The single unwavering intention in dealing with Indians since the early nineteenth century at least has been that they should acculturate – sooner or later, but ultimately altogether to the “Canadian” norm.
Another way of thinking about Indians’ history in Canada is to see them as a people with a distinct past of their own; to see that the coming of the whites does not change the Indian’s continuity with his own past. His story must be told in terms of his own experience with the white man, placing him at the centre of the narrative, regardless of the fact that he has ceased to occupy the centre of Canadian affairs. The shift in control of the land in numerical and cultural balance is then seen as part of the experience of the Indian. The territory is not the theme of the story, and the narrative does not centre on the people who constitute either the majority or the most dynamic and dominant group in that territory. The Indian is the centre, no matter how many people displace him, or how deeply he is driven into the remote areas of the land, or to what extent he is forced to conform to the invaders in order to survive. The story still centres on him and his surviving identity.
The articles which follow are designed with the Indian as the centre, with reference to the larger cultural groups in our area, and with particular emphasis on the Athapaskan-speakers (Beavers, Sikanni, etc.) of the Peace River area because less seems to have been published about them than about the Cree.
The Algonkian speakers, the Cree, are now the most numerous. They too, will have consideration, but perhaps less because much more has been written about them and is available for study. Many additional documents, drawings and photographs are included in the original collection from which these articles have been selected. Acknowledgments will be given within the articles and it is important to note that no permission to publish is given or implied for persons using these references. The copyrights remain with the original authors wherever short passages are quoted.
Editor’s note: most of the articles included in this section were written in the 1970’s and readers seeing references to “current thinking” within the articles must take that time context into account.