Academic journal article The Accounting Historians Journal

"Discovering" Indigenous Peoples: Accounting and the Machinery of Empire

Academic journal article The Accounting Historians Journal

"Discovering" Indigenous Peoples: Accounting and the Machinery of Empire

Article excerpt

Abstract: This study examines the historical usage of accounting as a technology of government within the domain of government-indigenous peoples relations in Canada. Our thesis is that accounting was salient within the chain of circumstances that influenced the discovery/identification of indigenous peoples as a governable population. By the 1830s, accounting techniques had come to occupy a central place in the military machinery of empire. When the cost-cutting and reformist sentiments prevalent in Britain during the early 1800s encouraged the reconsideration of the military costs of empire, accounting techniques were one of the methods used in the attempt to interrogate military expenditures. Partially as a result of these interrogations, indigenous peoples came to be identified as a site for cost cutting by British bureaucrats. However, it was at the level of the colonial administration in the Upper and Lower Canadas that the competing demands of "government" encouraged indigenous peoples to be viewed as a potential site for government. And it was once this "discovery" was made that accounting and other techniques were utilized in the attempt to turn indigenous peoples into a governable population. This study contributes to our understanding of accounting by documenting the ways in which techniques such as accounting were central to the military machinery of empire and British imperialism. The study also contributes to our understanding of the historical antecedents that shape current-day usages of accounting as a technology of government within the domain of government-First Nations relations.

The sun never sets on the British Empire [source unknown].


The "discoveries" of America by Columbus in 1492, the province of Newfoundland by Cabot in 1497, and the province of Quebec by Cartier in 1534 [Wright, 1993, p. 122] marked the beginning of 250 years of struggle between the imperial powers of France and Britain for control of the territory we now call Canada and its inhabitants. Both France and Britain courted the indigenous peoples as important military allies in the periodic skirmishes that occurred. When the British Empire ultimately prevailed over France in 1760, it subsequently issued a Royal Proclamation in 1763 recognizing the rights of aboriginal peoples to unceded lands and stating that the negotiations between Britain and aboriginal peoples would be on a nation-tonation basis [Royal Proclamation, 1763]. In the subsequent war of independence with the United States, aboriginal peoples were encouraged to side with Britain in return for parcels of land in Upper Canada [Report on the Affairs of Indians in Canada, 1847, S3, p. 5.1].1

In the 250 years since this Royal Proclamation, relations between the remnants of the British Empire and First Nations peoples have certainly changed. Nation-to-nation relations have been replaced by paternal relations in which the government of Canada has attempted, through coercive tutelage [Dyck, 1997], to "govern" [Foucault, 1991] the affairs of First Nations peoples. The recent Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples [1996], for example, documented the ways in which the Canadian government has attempted to assimilate and otherwise manage the affairs of indigenous peoples [see particularly Volume 1, Chapters 8-10]. Through the bureaucratic mechanisms of the Department of Indian Affairs and the supporting "Indian Act," the state has attempted to exercise action at a distance over First Nations peoples. Within these attempts at governance, accounting techniques such as funding and taxation relations have been used to encourage/discourage certain behaviors [see also Reform Party, 1997].

In certain ways these shifts in relations parallel more general shifts in the "art of government." Miller and Rose [1990, p. 2] commented that the modern state has come to rely on technologies of government to align economic, political, and social objectives. …

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.