The Committee conceived it highly expedient to obtain from the present Lessees an explicit Declaration whether they would or would not extend those facilities to the new Lessees? The proposition made to and the answer given by Mr. Monro are inserted in the Annexed Journals to which they beg leave to refer in this Report and the Committee cannot refrain from remarking to Your Excellency that the answer given on the part of the Lessees to the Proposition made to Mr. Morro at the same time that it extricates the Government from Embarrassment, is fair and proper on the part of the Lessees.
Finally the Committee humbly recommend that by Your Excellency's Directions such measures as in your Discretion shall be deemed meet be adopted to assure the Indians resorting to the King's Posts that notwithstanding there may possibly be a change of Lessees, Care will be taken that they shall regularly receive their necessary supplies. All which is most humbly submitted to Your Excellency's Wisdom.”
The duty, which lay on the Government with regard to a body of Indians, so peculiarly situated as those of Labrador, was never lost sight of, nor did the successive lessees of the King's Posts fail in carrying out the obligations, which their position as semi-trustees imposed on them. Passing over the period from the beginning of the nineteenth century and stopping at a comparatively modern instance, there may be noted a communication regarding the renewal of the lease of the Hudson's Bay Company in 1839.
This is a letter written on September 20, 1839, by Sir J. H. Pelly, Governor of the Company, to Lord John Russell.1 It contained extracts from an approved report of the Governor and Executive Council of Lower Canada. Among other statements in this report are the following:
“ The Indians of the King's Posts, in number about 400 souls, having for a long period of years been accustomed to the protection and fostering care of the different lessees, it would neither be wise nor just to allow them to be abandoned at once without some provision being made for them. They are generally of a mild and tractable disposition, and a Majority of them have been converted to Christianity. The Lessees supplying the Means for an Annual visit of a Missionary of the Roman Catholic Faith to the different Posts, where small Churches have been erected, chiefly by the late order of Jesuits. They have moreover no Agricultural pursuits, and it is not likely that the present generation would be induced to forsake their Indian habits, sojourning as they do, alternately in the forest and on the Coast of St. Lawrence, to which latter they resort in the Winter Season for the purpose of killing Seals, living chiefly on the Oil, which these animals produce. It may be proper to add that these Indians are not included in the Schedule annexed to an approved Report of Council on Indian Affairs dated 13th June, 1837, nor have they ever received assistance in provisions or outfits of any kind from the Government.”
“ Under these circumstances and before throwing the Country open to the Public, some previous arrangement should be made for the care
of the Indians, else they would of necessity turn idle and dissolute, and become a burthen to Society. The proposal of the Hudson's Bay Company seems to offer the most convenient and least expensive mode of protection and employment, and the Committee are therefore humbly of opinion that it may be expedient to grant them a new lease for an additional twenty one years to be limitied to an exclusive right of hunting and trading with the Indians, including also the Seal Fishery.”
A movement was set on foot in 1845, to secure certain tracts of land to be set aside for them as Indian Reserves. The movement began by a petition from the Montagnais Indians in 1845, for a grant of land for this purpose at the Baie des Outardes. This was supported by their missionary Father Durocher in 1848.1 In 1850, a strong plea to the same end was made on behalf of the Archbishop of Quebec. In the course of his letter the Bishop of Sidyme says : “I do not doubt that your Excellency considering that these poor Indians have been deprived gradually of part of their means of living by the industry and trade which since a few years are exploiting the territory inhabited by their fathers (a state of things which the Government has been obliged to approve and even encourage in the interests of the country as a whole) recognizes that it would be unjust to let them die of destitution, while the Government withdraws from the exploitation of timber and from the sale of a few parts of that territory, revenues more than sufficient to enable it to prevent that misfortune and the extinction of a race of men who have all the more right to its protection in that it is weaker and of a minor importance in the mind of the community.” 2
In consequence of these several representations there was appropriated and set apart for the benefit of the Montagnais Indians 90,000 acres of land divided into three reserves, namely, a tract of 5 miles on the river Peribonka north of lake St. John, comprising 16,000 acres ; a tract of 4,000 acres on the Metabetchovan. These two reserves were specially assigned to the Montagnais Indians of Lake St. John and Tadoussac.
There was also a grant of 70,000 acres on the north shore of the St. Lawrence between the River des Vases and the River des Outardes at Manicougan, about 11 miles in breadth by 10 miles in depth, which was expressed to be for the benefit of the “Montagnais, Tadoussacs, Papinachois, Nauthapie and other nomadic tribes in the interior of the King's Posts.”
In 1851 began the systematic appropriation of annual sums by the Government of Canada for the relief of the Indians, whose hunting grounds were in the Labrador territory.3 Until 1879, when the Department of Indian Affairs appointed a resident agent whose duty it was to devote himself to the welfare of these Indians, these sums were distributed to needy Indians under the authority of the Vicar General of the Diocese of Quebec, or such officers of the Government as were required to visit the Lower St. Lawrence in pursuance of their business. The sums granted in the first years were not large. They ranged from £125 currency or $500 in 1851 to $600 in 1857. In the accounts of the Department they were marked as for “ clothing and
provisions.” During this period, in addition to the sums mentioned as given for relief there were certain other expenditures for other purposes. In 1862 and 1863 there was an epidemic of smallpox among these Indians and rather more than $1,200 was expended for vaccination.
An effort towards inducing the Indians to accept a more sedentary form of life was made in 1863 and 1864. A reserve of 30 acres was purchased at Bersimis, and seed was provided for garden vegetables. In these two years $386.50 was laid out for this purpose, and an item for seed for Bersimis appeared for many years in the accounts of the Department.
The establishment in 1879 of a regularly appointed agent at Bersimis, with a jurisdiction extending from the Saguenay to the eastern limits of the Province, enabled the Department to discharge the duties the Government had undertaken with regard to these Indians, with a degree of knowledge, until that time unobtainable. Two years after his appointment, the agent had the assistance of a constable; and the amounts expended in the prosecution of violations of the acts respecting the sale of liquor to the Indians show the activity of both agent and constable in this regard.
After the appointment of the agent, the accounts begin to show the particular purposes to which the expenditure was devoted. Thus, in 1880, besides the amount of $1071.00 marked specifically as “ Relief,” that is food and clothing, there is the further sum of $189.50 for medicine. In 1884 physicians accounts begin to appear.
The desirability of making the physician's services always available to the Indians led, in 1907, to the combination of agent's duties with those of the physician, and in that year a qualified physician was appointed as agent, under the title of “ Agent and Medical Officer.” Two of these officers were fixed on the Gulf coast in 1912, one at Bersimis, the other at Seven Islands. In addition to these officers, there was an agent stationed at Bersimis, and a medical officer at Escoumains.
In 1907 there began a particularly valuable form of assistance to the Indians engaged in hunting and fishing. An item appears in the accounts of that year “ Hunting Outfit—Hudson's Bay Company—St. Augustine—14 persons, $486.38.” This means that there was distributed through the agency of the Hudson Bay Company to 14 hunters whose dwellings were at St. Augustine, $486.38 in the form of supplies to assist them in the maintenance of themselves and their families during the period when they were engaged in hunting in the interior. The sums thus distributed were not gifts, but loans to be repaid on the return of the hunters with their furs in the following summer.
The importance of this assistance lay in the fact that it placed the Indians in an attitude of independence towards the merchants or companies, who purchased their furs. The practice which was as old as the fur trade itself, was for the merchants or companies to supply the Indians, who hunted in their interest, with such commodities as they required for the livelihood of themselves and their families during the several months when they were in the interior when they would otherwise have been dependent on the precarious chances of killing wild animals for food.
The commodities were supplied on credit which was to be discharged by the results of the season's returns. The system though the only one possible had obviously unsatisfactory features for both the supplying merchant and the Indians. In bad seasons which were not infrequent the Indian had not trapped sufficient furs to enable him to discharge his debt to the merchant; and if, as sometimes happened, the Indians fraudulently took their furs to a rival merchant who gave cash for them, the merchant who supplied the Indians lost on the transaction. But it was no less unsatisfactory to the Indian. Work as assiduously as he would to relieve himself of his burden, the accounts when balanced had the bad habit of showing the Indians still indebted to the merchant. This is a matter of experience wherever the credit system is in operation. With the accounts in the hands of the creditor, the debtor being ignorant and improvident, often no doubt unjustly conceives that he is being wronged by the merchant. This situation, involving the habitual dependence and frequently the practical slavery of the Indian, could not fail to breed discontent.
When the Government took on itself the advancing of these supplies, the position of the Indian was at once changed. He had a creditor whom he could not suspect of fraud. He could approach the person desiring to purchase his furs, with an independence and bargaining freedom which he had not until that time experienced.
The number of Indians taking advantage of this form of temporary assistance increased rapidly. In 1912, there were 26 Indians to whom hunting outfits were lent to the amount of $1001.08. In 1915, the number was 191, and the amount distributed, $7900.86. These figures have not since been equalled, but they would naturally vary in accordance with the requirements of the hunting Indians.
The fishing Indians, who stand in the same relation to the purchasing merchants as the hunters did were granted loans of the same sort. In 1917, $5346.57 was distributed among the fishing Indians for supplies and outfits. In 1918 the amount so distributed rose to $6924.36.
In 1918, the paternal beneficence of the Government towards its wards advanced another step. The amount of $563.12 was expended on repairs to widows' houses. In each of the years following, amounts for this purpose are noted in the accounts. In 1920, the expenditure was $868.66.
The accounts respecting the amounts granted under the heading of Relief will repay a moment's attention. As has been noted, the sum allocated for this purpose was in 1851 quite small—$500. These sums were increased as years passed until in 1921 the figure reaches a total of $31,821.76. Even more interesting is the fact, of which the accounts furnish abundant proof, that the Indians in every part of the peninsula came within the scope of the Government's benefactions. For many years the amounts granted for relief were distributed at the posts on the Gulf. Those enjoying the benefit of these grants were no doubt largely of Montagnais stock, though there is satisfactory evidence that a certain number of Naskapis came to the posts on the Gulf every year.
In 1893, information reaching the Department of Indian Affairs compelled
it to widen its scope in the distribution of relief. On November 10 of that year, the Department wrote to Mr. P. McKenzie, Agent of the Hudson's Bay Company at Montreal,1 stating that it had learned from the preliminary report of Mr. A. P. Low, which was written from Fort Chimo on September 9, that there was much destitution among the aborigines of that district. As it was the earnest desire of the Department to take some immediate action to relieve this pressing necessity, Mr. MacKenzie was asked whether Fort Chimo could be reached before the setting in of winter or in time to offer these Indians some relief. Although the Department had no funds appropriated for Indians in that locality still it did not desire that any suffering which might be prevented should occur. If it were possible to instruct the factor at Fort Chimo, the Department desired that he should be instructed to issue whatever ammunition was necessary to supply the Indians on their hunts; and in cases where ammunition would not be any practical benefit, to issue such relief in the shape of provisions as would prevent actual starvation.
On June 15, 1894, the Department wrote to the Commissioner of the Hudson's Bay Company 2 stating that as it was always too late to forward assistance when the Department heard of destitution, the Superintendent General had decided to authorize the Company to give assistance to the Indians of that country when in extreme cases of need, and to have such expenditure as the Company might be put to in that way recouped on the presentation of an account supported by vouchers in detail.
The Department placed no limit on the amount to be expended in that way but thought it ought not to exceed $800.
The Hudson's Bay Company accepted this duty, and sent in an account for $120.17 for ammunition &c., supplied to the Indians, which was paid on December 1895.3 The Company having inquired as to whether the Department desired such aid to be continued, were informed that provisions, such as flour and meat might be supplied to a limited extent to deserving Indians who might be unable to provide for themselves, and also ammunition, if necessary, in small quantities.
In the following year (1896) the Department was moved by an article in the Toronto “ Globe ” relating the distressing circumstances of the Labrador Indians, to ask the Company for advice as to how best to ameliorate the conditions described, and reminded the Company that it had already authorized the giving of relief by their officers at their discretion.4
From this time, one or more items appear each year in the accounts for the relief of the Indians of the Interior. The accounts presented are occasionally incomplete in that they do not show the number of Indians who received supplies; and, in 1898, the amount which was sent to the Company in payment of these supplies is not mentioned. But taken together the accounts make an impressive showing as to extent to which the Department went in relieving distress among the Indians. Noting only the larger sums given at these northern posts, in 1904, $385.25 was distributed among 161 Indians at Fort Chimo on Koksoak River, near its entrance into Ungava bay; in 1912, 86 Indians received through the agency of the Hudson's Bay