A Narrow Vision: Duncan Campbell Scott and the Administration of Indian Affairs in Canada

A Narrow Vision: Duncan Campbell Scott and the Administration of Indian Affairs in Canada

A Narrow Vision: Duncan Campbell Scott and the Administration of Indian Affairs in Canada

A Narrow Vision: Duncan Campbell Scott and the Administration of Indian Affairs in Canada


A well-known member of the circle of Confederation poets, Duncan Campbell Scott is generally considered a kind-hearted and sympathetic portrayer of the nobility of the Canadian Indian. But his real belief about the conditions and future of Canada's Native people is revealed in his official writings during his long tenure as Deputy Superintendent General of Indian Affairs. In A Narrow Vision, Brian Titley chronicles Scott's career in the Department of Indian Affairs and evaluates developments in Native health, education, and welfare between 1880 and 1932. He shows how Scott's response to challenges such as the making of treaties in northern Ontario, land claims in British Columbia, and the status of the Six Nations caused persistent difficulties and made Scott's term of office a turbulent one. Scott could never accept that Natives had legitimate grievances and held adamantly to the view that his department knew best. Not designed as a biography of Scott, nor intended to cast a shadow on his motives, this book assesses Euro-Canadian thinking on aboriginal rights at the turn of the century. Because Scott was chief adviser to his changing political masters as well as framer of official government documents, he held a pre-eminent position as arbiter of Native needs and claims. The only study of Native policy in the early twentieth century and the only work to focus on D. C. Scott's career in government, this book makes an important contribution to our understanding of the development of Canadian Native policy in this century.


Duncan Campbell Scott is best known as a literary figure. He is frequently mentioned in the company of Wilfred Campbell, Bliss Carman, Archibald Lampman, and Charles G.D. Roberts--a group of poets and essayists who were distinctly Canadian in their choice of subject matter, if not in style. Scott the civil servant is comparatively unknown. That he was head of the federal Indian Department for almost two decades is occasionally alluded to in passing. His role in that capacity, however, has escaped the attention of serious scholarship.

A biographer undertaking this neglected task might pose a number of intriguing and legitimate questions. How did a celebrated poet function in the highest echelons of the civil service? How did he reconcile the demands of his artistic spirit with the mundane routine of the office? Could he serve his muse and Caesar with equanimity?

The study that I have chosen to engage in, however, is not a biography. I do not attempt here to perform the biographer's delicate balancing act between psychology and literature or to fathom the inner soul of D.C. Scott. Someone well versed in Canadian literature will undoubtedly sooner or later shoulder that burden, and I hope the material explored here will prove useful.

I have chosen to examine Scott the civil servant, an approach which requires little justification. Scott would have been a significant historical figure had he never penned a stanza of poetry. This book is essentially a study of the personnel and policies of the Department of Indian Affairs in a particularly turbulent and eventful era. As the leading official of the department and the principal arbiter of policy during that time, Scott provides a convenient focus.

The administration of Indian Affairs was (and still remains) a complex and many-faceted enterprise. A multitude of responsibilities ranging from the management of schools to the disposal of timber from reserve lands came under its auspices. Therefore, any analysis of the department's activities must be selective. My criteria have been significance and interest--criteria which are admittedly susceptible to the whims of subjectivity. Conscious of my own . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.