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

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

CHAPTER FIVE
Canada: 'a vote the same as
any other person'1

As the colonies attained self-government the Colonial Office stepped aside from its responsibilities to protect the rights of Indigenous peoples, dissipating the influence of the APS and other humanitarian organisations that were now compelled to campaign on a multitude of fronts in their attempts to influence settler governments. In the local legislatures the language was more extreme and the atmosphere less forgiving, with images of 'savagery' and 'swamping' being evoked more frequently as the proportion of the population that was Indigenous continued to decline. As they moved towards a more democratic franchise, settlers intent on containing – if not eliminating – any residual Indigenous rights sought to construct a political system that institutionalised the new nations as White.

In post-confederation Canada the franchise was seldom an issue for debate. The need to bring together disparate colonies, the financing and construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway and the establishing of systems of governance in the old Hudson's Bay territories were the issues which preoccupied the government in Ottawa in its early nationbuilding years. Its exercise of responsibility for Indigenous people was closely related to those issues as well, negotiating a series of treaties which, under the immediate premise of giving access for the railway, laid the basis for the immigration that would populate what were to become the prairie provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan (see Map 5.1). The Indigenous peoples, struggling with a severe decline in the buffalo which had been central to their survival, had little choice but to agree to surrender the bulk of their land in return for a secure reserve and the superintendence of the Indian Department which was meant to provide the educational and agricultural materials necessary for them to adopt a 'settled' life.

The Canadian colonies entered into confederation without a uniform national franchise, choosing instead to allow anyone who had

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