Equal Subjects, Unequal Rights: Indigenous Peoples in British Settler Colonies, 1830-1910

By Julie Evans; Patricia Grimshaw et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO
Canada: 'If they treat the Indians
humanely, all will be well'

In 1840 the Aborigines' Protection Society (APS) produced an advice manual for the Colonial Office, a set of model laws for the governance of the 'Native' peoples of the Empire. Published by John Murray of London under the title Outline of a System of Legislation for Securing Protection of all Countries Colonized by Great Britain; Extending to Them Political and Social Rights, Ameliorating Their Conditions, and Promoting Their Civilization, the model laws laid down general principles of legislation based on 'the indefeasible rights of every people… the natural rights of man…', which entailed a people's rights as an independent nation the sovereignty of which could be justly obtained only by fair treaty and consent, and of which every individual had a 'right to personal liberty, and protection of property and life'.1 On rights of property, the model laws decreed that the land must be obtained by treaties, which would be unacceptable unless there were adequate reserves for Aborigines. Indigenes should possess all the privileges of British subjects, and be taxed and treated by law as such. In systems of justice, everything should be done in negotiation with and by the consent of Aborigines who, where settled in large numbers, should adjudicate minor offences committed among themselves. All Aborigines living under the sovereignty of Great Britain should have the right of inheriting and holding real and personal property, and of disposing of it by will or transfer. In civil and criminal cases, the evidence of Aborigines should be admitted in British courts of justice and not invalidated because their customs prevented them from taking an oath.

The model laws had a particular relevance in British North America where Governor-General Lord Sydenham was being asked to advise on future relations between settlers and Indigenous people. He had few precedents to follow in undertaking this difficult task. To Indigenous peoples, governors represented the great Father/

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