M.C. Cameron's indictment of Canada's Department of Indian Affairs, 1885-1891: the pitfalls of contemporary evidence

This discussion is a reconnaissance into a controversy between 1885 and 1891 over criticisms by a Liberal MP, Malcolm Colin Cameron, of the Canadian government's treatment of Aboriginal people. It argues that the exchanges merit study today, but warns that Cameron's use of evidence makes him an unreliable source.

In a landmark study of 2013, James Daschuk censured Sir John A. Macdonald, the Dominion's first prime minister, for his handling of the Department then called Indian Affairs, a portfolio which he held in person from 1879 to 1887.[1] Daschuk criticised Macdonald for the inadequacy of his response to the crisis that engulfed First Nations communities, condemning him for failure to provide sufficient food, of conniving with fraudsters, and of coercing Aboriginal communities by withholding emergency rations. The government's failure to recognise endemic health problems in First Nations communities – notably the explosion of tuberculosis – he regarded as evidence of Macdonald's "outright malevolence" towards Aboriginal people.[2] The result of these charges was that the politician long honoured as the key founder of modern Canada came to be widely censured, for example in the 2017 statement of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, condemning "his central role as an architect of genocide against Indigenous peoples".[3] Some historians objected to this retrospective judgement of a major figure: Donald B. Smith argued that Macdonald's "blind spot towards Aboriginal people was one shared by almost all non-Aboriginal Canadians of his generation and can only be understood in the context of his time."[4] But most accepted that the case against Macdonald went far beyond a rejection of his attitudes, and endorsed the case for excising him from Canada's past. For instance, in 2018, the Canadian Historical Association renamed its Sir John A. Macdonald Prize. Awarded annually for the most important book published on the history of Canada, it had been bestowed four years earlier on Daschuk.

This discussion suggests that criticisms of the Macdonald government's treatment of Aboriginal people made by the Liberal MP Malcolm Colin Cameron in 1885-6 merit closer attention, but warns that they should not be uncritically accepted. He was one of the few contemporary politicians whose outrage at the mistreatment of First Nations strike a chord with the values that Canadians of the twenty-first century will generally apply to the handling of indigenous issues. Indeed, several of Cameron's specific charges are cited by Daschuk, while he coined the devastating phrase "a policy of submission shaped by a policy of starvation" which encapsulates the case against Canada's first prime minister.[5]

The discussion begins with an outline of the evolution of M.C. Cameron's charges against the Macdonald government, the response from the Department of Indian Affairs and Cameron's subsequent attempts to defend himself. There follows a discussion of the two main categories of evidence used by Cameron, criticisms of Indian Affairs and in particular its chief agent Edgar Dewdney emanating from the prairies, and the extensive reports from the Department itself. The final major section focuses on the career and personality of M.C. Cameron himself, using specific examples from the controversy to demonstrate his wayward use of evidence. In arguing that his allegations of cruelty and corruption should be treated with caution, it is not intended to suggest that the government bested Cameron on every disputed point, but enough may be established to demonstrate the need for caution in accepting his claims as persuasive historical evidence.

Cameron's charges and the case against them Although MP for the Ontario riding of Huron West, Malcolm Cameron also had business interests in the North-West Territories. By the 1884 session, he was active in raising regional issues in the House of Commons. At this stage, it should be noted that he projected himself primarily as the voice of disgruntled settlers, even twice proposing legislation to give the Territories parliamentary representation – unofficial initiatives which Macdonald easily squashed.[6] His most substantial contribution that year, an hour-long speech on 27 March, made no mention of Aboriginal or Metis grievances, but concentrated on white complaints about access to public lands. His closing reminder, that "England lost one empire by the disregard of just such claims as these" led Tupper to censure him for stirring discontent.[7]

The imputation that he might himself have unwittingly worsened an explosive situation on the prairies perhaps helped to explain the ferocity of the wide-ranging attack on Macdonald's handling of Western issues that he launched in July 1885, in the immediate aftermath of the Riel rebellion.[8] Cameron alleged that Aboriginal people were starved or left to freeze to death by the negligence of Indian Affairs, "that the Indian was neglected, robbed, and cheated, that he was swindled by the employe[e]s of this Government ... and that this misco[n]duct was connived at by the Government." Citing examples of failures of the delivery of supplies, and quoting the prime minister's own admissions about the withholding of food as a weapon of coercion, he accused Macdonald of "a policy of reducing the Indians to submission by absolute starvation." Parliament had voted an annual budget of a million dollars to meet the needs of indigenous people. "That was more than enough to keep them in comfort if these supplies had reached their destination; but they have not". There was "the clearest possible proof that the middlemen and agents in the North-West have defrauded and cheated the Indians without a word of complaint from the Government of this Dominion." Cameron's denunciation was peppered with instances and allegations of mistreatment of "these poor helpless wards of the nation". "The breach of faith, the violated promises, the broken pledges of this Government to the Indians, the fraud, the misconduct, the robbing, and the cheating, are all marked by the graves of the Indians in the mountains of the West."[9] Cameron's indictment bears reading today if only because it demonstrates that there were contemporaries prepared to argue the case of Native people, and who believed that mainstream Canadian opinion could be aroused by injustices towards them. Yet Cameron's apparently persuasive indignation merits critical examination. Although disturbing, his attack on Macdonald's handling of Aboriginal issues formed a relatively small part of an angry and wide-ranging attempt to blame the government for the recent Riel rebellion. It was sandwiched between more extensive claims of its failure to respond to both Metis and settler grievances. To mount such an attack it was presumably necessary to say something about the third element in the West, Aboriginal people, passing over the marginally inconvenient fact that most had remained neutral during the uprising.

Cameron's July 1885 attack placed heavy emphasis upon the accusation that Macdonald had deliberately starved Native people. He returned to the attack in April 1886, quoting much of the same material but varying his emphasis, concentrating this time on allegations of fraud and incompetence by officials, for which of course he held their inert political master, Sir John A. Macdonald, ultimately responsible.[10] It is noteworthy that he could appeal to the same evidence in support of two distinct, if related, charges. The timing of the April 1886 attack caused resentment among Conservatives, since Macdonald was ill and, consequently, absent from the chamber.[11] His lieutenant, Hector-Louis Langevin, pointed out that the prime minister was expected to return to the House of Commons shortly, and that Cameron could easily have delayed speaking for a short period in order to put his charges direct to the responsible minister.

Langevin could only offer a generalised defence, deploring Cameron's unsubstantiated charges of fraud and the sexual exploitation by officials of Aboriginal women. More effective was the speech by Conservative backbencher, C.F. Ferguson. A medical specialist who had visited the North-West, he praised the quality of food supplied to First Nations, and roundly rejected any link between health problems and diet.[12] In mid-May, Cameron took the further step of issuing his speech in pamphlet form, embodying a few minor corrections from the Hansard version.[13] This publication proved to be a tactical mistake which left him open to a strong counter-attack.[14]

Despite the fact that Cameron's April 1886 charges had indeed been discussed that evening, it became Liberal orthodoxy that parliament had sat for a further seven weeks with ministers cravenly refusing to respond. In fact, on the day of the prorogation, Macdonald had rebuked Cameron for attacking him in his absence. However, the prime minister informed parliament, he had taken steps to have the allegations investigated. "I gave instructions that every charge should be brought up, every statement should be examined into and verified and refuted." Given the vast distances involved, it had taken time to collect the evidence, and neither Macdonald's stamina nor the patience of the House of Commons would sustain a speech of refutation that would necessarily be much longer than the original indictment. Since Cameron's speech had been "widely distributed" in pamphlet form, "I shall take care that the answer will be distributed equally widely."[15] Macdonald's cold threat indicates that he felt sure of his ground. He would have known – as Cameron apparently did not – that several of the critics quoted in the April speech had already denied or disavowed the statements upon which he had relied.

By giving the impression that he had scoured the North-West to rebut Cameron's accusations, Macdonald was probably covering the fact that a great deal of ground work had already been undertaken in Ottawa. Indian Affairs bureaucrats had been quick to spot that Cameron had "re-hashed" charges made the previous year, to which they had already prepared a rebuttal for internal use.[16] This gave them a head start in preparing a detailed refutation. By early May, "briefs" were available both from Departmental officials in Ottawa and from Dewdney in Regina. "Mr Cameron's charges are fully disposed of and his mis-statements completely met," reported the deputy minister, Lawrence Vankoughnet.[17] The file was then passed to Joseph Pope, Macdonald's discreet and hard-working secretary, whose draft was checked by the librarian of parliament, Martin J. Griffin, a loyal Conservative and former editor of the Toronto Mail. Griffin generously played down his editorial role, assuring Pope that "the bulk of the work is yours".[18] The courteously lethal opening of the pamphlet (referred to by an abbreviated title, Facts respecting) probably reflects Pope's punctilious respect for protocol: it elaborately acknowledged Cameron's right as a member of parliament to challenge abuses, before deftly accusing him of inaccuracies all too likely to trigger an Aboriginal uprising. The pamphlet strategy had been agreed by this stage, with Griffin pointing out that the text would need emendation if Macdonald chose to issue it over his own name. The project was perhaps delayed by Macdonald's seven-week tour of western Canada in July and August, experiencing the new transcontinental railway. The excursion gave him the opportunity to consult directly with Dewdney. A staged meeting with Crowfoot (Isapo-muxika) and other Niitsitapi (Blackfoot) leaders was probably also an implicit riposte to Cameron.[19] However, by early October, the proofs of Facts respecting were submitted to Pope for checking, all of which makes it very likely that the project was supervised, at one remove, by Macdonald himself.[20] Presumably as a precaution against leaks, it was not produced by the Queen's Printer, the government's official publisher in Ottawa, but covertly on the presses of the Hamilton Spectator. The 74-page publication appeared early in November.[21] It seems to have escaped the notice of most historians.[22]

It was no coincidence that this publication immediately preceded a general election: Canada was due to go to the polls sometime in 1887, although Macdonald's mid-January decision for a winter election was unexpected. Cameron was defending a wafer-thin majority in Huron West. Since the area that had been under Aboriginal control within living memory,[23] voters might not share their MP's vocal concern for the welfare of First Nations communities.[24] Significantly, Macdonald's party manager in the riding sought funding to hire a shorthand writer: obviously the Conservatives expected Cameron's overblown oratorical style to generate political hostages.[25] Their target certainly planned to campaign on his scatter-gun of allegations of "the ill-treatment of the Indians and the immorality of the lives of many of the Government employees." At a party rally in October, he attacked the Indian Department for its "fearful state of waste, mismanagement and corruption". Public expenditure was "ridiculously out of proportion to the number of Indians, and yet ... the Indians had in many cases died of sheer starvation. ... there was far more voted [by parliament] than ever reached the Indians in any form."[26] With its sheer density of material, Facts respecting was bound to put him on the back foot. Although the Globe denounced it as a "Tory pamphlet" and a "rascally misappropriation of public money",[27] it was hard to deny that the well-researched dissection of Cameron's arguments did identify some weaknesses in his case. Cameron later estimated that he had preferred "about sixty charges against the Government."[28] Facts respecting attacked both his methodology and his integrity, particularly deploring his besmirching of officials as financially corrupt and sexually immoral. It then proceeded to list, and purported to rebut in some detail, 34 "misstatements", 26 "inaccuracies" and 7 "charges", the last of these being specifically directed against Edgar Dewdney, Macdonald's lieutenant on the prairies.[29] The pamphlet was distributed around the riding in batches.[30]

Both parties subsequently claimed they had tried to organise public debates on the issue, but had been blocked by the cowardice of their opponents. Frustrated by his inability to confront his accusers on the platform, Cameron discussed and dismissed 33 of the charges against him in an election speech delivered at Dungannon in Huron County on 21 January 1887. He admitted only one error: his quotation from Agent McIntyre of the Fish River reserve, he conceded, should have been attributed to Agent McKay of the Fisher River reserve.[31] Nonetheless, after a hard-fought campaign, characterised by the usual political courtesies – the friend of annexationists, rebels and traitors, Cameron was a liar, a forger, a scandal-monger and a skunk – he was defeated, although the narrow margin of 26 votes suggests that his constituents were mostly indifferent to his alleged misrepresentations.[32]

Four years out of parliament did nothing to cool Cameron's anger. Recapturing West Huron in 1891, he was determined, as he saw it, to set the record straight.[33] On 30 June 1891, two months into the new session, he delivered an angry speech challenging the first ten points in Facts respecting, with the promise that he would continue to "fire ... the answers to these vile charges in batches of ten or fifteen at a time".[34] Although Cameron was loyally supported by a small cohort of fellow Liberals, it is hard to avoid feeling that he displayed a certain lack of self-awareness in raising the matter at that time. He had been criticised for attacking Macdonald's handling of Indian Affairs in 1886 while the prime minister was confined to his sickbed. He chose to defend himself in June 1891 three weeks after Macdonald's death, when the micro-world of Ottawa was engaged in bipartisan mourning. With most participants mesmerised by the ensuing disarray in the Conservative leadership, it was hardly the ideal moment to revive a controversy from even the recent past. Sir John Thompson, the government's leading figure in the House of Commons, complained that Cameron had given no notice of his intention to speak, although he was sufficiently forewarned to cite some of the examples from Facts respecting. One other notable feature of the brief discussion was a short but dignified contribution from Edgar Dewdney, now back in Ottawa and a cabinet minister.[35] The Toronto Globe predictably declared victory on its champion's behalf, but it may be that there was little enthusiasm for reopening a set of textual issues from the distant era of five years earlier. Certainly Cameron did not carry out his threat to inflict further "batches" of charges from Facts respecting upon Canada's legislators. In any case, he was unseated for electoral irregularities in December 1891. By the time he managed to return to the House of Commons in 1896, Canada was on the verge of a change of government. During this brief tailpiece to his career, he acquired (from opponents) the nickname "Ananias", an allusion to a notorious Biblical liar.[36] Contemporaries, it may be noted, were less unanimous in their endorsement of Cameron's strictures than recent historians have proved to be.

To summarise this section, Cameron's charges were contained in two speeches, the first in July 1885 accusing Macdonald of adopting a starvation policy, the second in April 1886 citing much of the same evidence to allege widespread incompetence and fraud on the part of the Department of Indian Affairs. A slightly revised version of this second speech was published in pamphlet form in May 1886. This, in turn, provoked the government rebuttal, Facts respecting, in November 1886. Cameron attempted an extensive surrebuttal in a campaign speech in January 1887, and placed on record a further partial response after his return to the House of Commons in June 1891. In total, there are four expositions by Cameron, plus one extended statement of defence by the government. The five sources thus constitute a trove of evidence that was closely debated at the time, and can be consulted online by concerned citizens and historians alike. The material throws light both upon Aboriginal issues and historical methodology. The remainder of this discussion further explores the context and examines some specific examples.

Categories of evidence in Cameron's attacks   Cameron appealed to two very different forms of evidence. The first category consisted of statements from the North-West, mostly from white residents – journalists, missionaries, politicians and settlers. The second comprised items culled from the extensive reports submitted to parliament by the Department of Indian Affairs. These two types of evidence call for very different techniques of historical analysis. Testimony from the North-West could fall into one of at least three headings: first-hand observation disinterestedly narrated, similar experiences emotively presented in support of some wider grievance, or the mere repetition of hearsay – a particular problem in the unstable and frenetic conditions of a newly settled region. Indian Affairs documentation raises questions of a different order. Bureaucracies naturally use reporting techniques to present their activities in a positive light, although they may exaggerate the problems they face in the hope of securing additional funding – not a very likely strategy for an agency that was widely perceived to be overspending. Government departments may also be tempted to overwhelm legislators with reams of detailed information, either in the hope of burying shortcomings within oblique admissions of failure, or of obscuring the omission of any allusion to entire areas of activity (or inactivity). Cameron was undiscriminating in his endorsement of evidence from the region, however strident, highly coloured or unlikely it might appear. By contrast, he was hypercritical in his sifting of departmental reports, although sometimes absence of supporting explanations from the bureaucracy led him into misunderstanding.

a: from the North-West We may start by noting that the Canadian prairies in the eighteen-eighties were a fluid and often frenetic society, very different from the more stable world of eastern Canada, the home base of most pioneer settlers. Although hard to quantify, the incomers probably included disproportionate numbers of the ambitious men – it was a robustly male culture – who hoped to bury previous failure in instant success.[37] Unfortunately, in the boom-and-bust prairie economy of the early 'eighties, wealth and happiness were rarely forthcoming. It was all too natural for rumours to abound of conspiracy theories, allegations of dark and corrupt forces that blocked honest endeavour. The correspondent of the Winnipeg Times gleefully recorded threats either to horsewhip Dewdney, or to tar and feather him.[38] These were not the responses of a normal society. The Fort Macleod Gazette provided a rare example of sober common sense when it deplored "too much assumption in this fraud business". "People are only too willing to believe that officials abuse the trust placed in them by the Government. Pure supposition gradually leads to a certainty that such is the case, and the certainty is stated in public or to the public. When asked to lay their finger on the particular fraud they refer to, they find it impossible to do so, and fall back to the old supposition ground again."[39]

There seems to be an example of this in the statement attributed to James Grier, a settler in the Oldman River district, made in an interview conducted by George Ham, touring correspondent of the Toronto Mail, during the winter of 1885-6 – a source quoted by Cameron.[40] "That corruption exists is commonly reported and commonly believed. ... I can't give particulars. I know it exists." Should we assume that, with a small population and sketchy administrative structures, the existence of abuses was widely known? Or should we conclude that isolated settlers were susceptible to believing in wildly unfounded rumours? In this case, perhaps, the historical profession is relieved from making a choice by Grier's disavowal of his reported censure. "I never intended to convey the idea that I knew of corruption in the Indian Department," he wrote to Dewdney's deputy Hayter Reed on 27 February 1886. "I have not the slightest suspicion of anything of the kind, and all the officials are perfectly honest so far as I know."[41] What had happened? Grier's retreat came almost two months before Cameron's 1886 attack, which – as outlined above – had sent Indian Affairs into overdrive in amassing disproof. Presumably Reed had challenged him to substantiate his allegations – a reasonable response by an administration committed to uphold honest behaviour. A product of Upper Canada College, trained as both a soldier and a lawyer, Reed brought the "the discipline and inflexibility of military training" to his unsympathetic handling of indigenous people.[42] It is likely that Grier felt constrained by the threat of official disapproval. He had told George Ham that he could not back up the rumours, and it made sense to scuttle for cover. The one point that stands out is that hearsay was not always supported by hard evidence.[43]

Much of the festering resentment was directed at Edgar Dewdney, who served both as commissioner of Indian Affairs and lieutenant-governor of the Territories, whose many duties included licensing the sale of alcohol. Sir John A. Macdonald reassured him with the thought that "every man who is refused a Permit becomes your enemy and alleges favouritism."[44] In fairness, it should be said that Dewdney was an easy man to dislike. A middle-class Englishman who felt out of place living on the prairies, his masterful qualities were almost certainly vital to the sustaining of any form of government in so vast and unorganised a region. Although he vehemently denied the report in a Winnipeg newspaper that he had once said that the Indians must eat the bacon supplied to them "or die, and be damned to them",[45] there is little doubt that he had an unyielding manner backed by an explosive temper.[46] In an era in which there was no firm dividing line between public office and private speculation, Dewdney's attempts to add to his income, for instance through the acquisition of town lots, left him open to charges of abusing his official position.

Dewdney certainly had enemies, one of whom, T.W. Jackson, vehemently criticised his handling of Aboriginal people. The problem for historians to decide is whether Jackson became an enemy because he was outraged by Dewdney's behaviour, or decided to censure the lieutenant-governor's policies in retaliation for some other grievance? This example is important, since one-twelfth of Cameron's 1886 oration consisted of extracts from a speech by Jackson, which directly charged Dewdney with responsibility for the 1885 rebellion, and specifically alleged that his officials had allowed a family of Aboriginal children to starve to death on a reserve near Indian Head.[47]

In 1883, three years after arriving in the North-West, Thomas Wesley Jackson became one of the six elected members of the Territories' Advisory Council.[48] "A few years ago he was a tailor in Ontario and had to skip out from that Province," wrote one uncharitable detractor.[49] He was now a barrister, partner in a Fort Qu'Appelle law firm. It also seems that part of his schooling had been through French in the province of Quebec. This probably explains how he won electoral support from the Qu'Appelle valley Metis community: Dewdney sneeringly called him "the member for the half-breeds". Although Dewdney had tried to block Jackson's election in 1883, this may have been primarily because the lieutenant-governor wanted his opponent, W.R. Bell,[50] on the advisory council.[51] However, Jackson – who identified himself as a Conservative and a follower of Sir John A. Macdonald for twenty-five years[52] – did not immediately go into opposition. In 1884, he helped block a demand by more radical spirits within the Council for immediate responsible government, an obviously premature development, although he was soon arguing for greater autonomy.[53] The major clash between the two men erupted during the first week of December 1885, barely a fortnight after the hanging of Louis Riel, when passions were high and resentments deep.[54] Jackson made a faint attempt to maintain basic courtesies, describing Dewdney as "most assiduous in the discharge of his duties" during the recent crisis, and even thanking him for responding to representations "in the most friendly manner". Moreover, he wanted to stress that "several of the Indian Agents were most competent officials" – an endorsement that disappeared during the subsequent unpleasantness.

Unfortunately, the blanket nature of Jackson's two major charges quickly swept aside the pleasantries. The larger of these alleged that the Indian Department "was largely to blame for the late unfortunate rebellion." Jackson claimed that Dewdney and Hayter Reed had known that Metis and Aboriginal people were on the verge of violence, and had needlessly risked the lives of settlers by failing to take preventative action. There was factual core to this charge: Dewdney had indeed placed considerable emphasis upon intelligence-gathering to ensure that he knew about alliance-building manoeuvres among First Nations.[55] His problem had been how best to respond without provoking resistance in an unstable situation. (Commenting, Dewdney "denied the wisdom of acting upon rumor", a recipe for that would have kept both Metis and First Nations "in a state of terror".)

Thus Jackson's first charge formed part of the wider controversy over responsibility, a debate that was almost impossible to conduct in a dispassionate manner. It was his second charge that particularly aroused Dewdney's ire. "False! False!" he interjected as Jackson charged that five children had died at Indian Head (the reported number later rose to seven) because they had been issued with "rotten pork and mud flour". In reply, Dewdney quoted a medical report which inverted the explanation: it was not that starvation had made the children ill but rather that sickness had prevented them from eating the food supplied, although the daily ration on the reserve – four ounces of bacon, twelve ounces of flour and an ounce of beef – was hardly lavish. "Reports of starvation often reached the Department and were always attended to," he insisted, adding that "no Indians died of starvation on account of the negligence of the Indian Department."[56]

Dewdney was obviously hurt by such attacks, and "bitterly complained of the hostile and unfair manner in which he had been criticised by designing parties". He would have been well advised to confine his complaint to terms of general remonstrance. However, he decided to repay his assailant in kind. Jackson, he riposted, had attempted "to jump a portion of the Indian reserve at Ft. Qu'Appelle in 1882", and had tried to create a fait accompli by selling his claim as town lots to unsuspecting purchasers, "when he knew that it belonged to the Indians. The department had prevented this, hence Mr. Jackson's opposition." Jackson had claimed $15,000 in compensation, "with the threat that if it was not paid there would be a high old time in the council."[57] Jackson denied issuing any such threat, and repudiated Dewdney's account of his motivation with a sour innuendo. "If he had not been as successful in his land-grabbing as his honor he need feel no animosity towards him on that account." He also ignored Dewdney's challenge to demand a formal investigation of his allegations. The lieutenant-governor's assertion that "if Mr. Jackson asked for a Dominion commission he would get it without a day's delay" suggested that he was confident that he could control the outcome as effectively as he had undoubtedly blocked Jackson's claim for compensation.[58]

Rather, Jackson decided to retaliate on his own home ground. On a January night in 1886, his supporters in Fort Qu'Appelle braved a blizzard and paid a dollar a head to attend a supper honouring their representative, at which he spoke for over two hours, attacking Dewdney "without gloves".[59] The highlights soon appeared in a four-page leaflet, the text liberally spattered with the italics and exclamation marks of a very angry man. Dewdney's alleged failure to prevent the rebellion was now estimated to have cost the Canadian taxpayer $9 million dollars. The harrowing tale of the tragedy at Indian Head had become a symbol that the Indian Department was "rotten to the core, and should be weeded out."[60] An agency clerk at the Touchwood Hills, A.J. McLean, ingratiatingly sent a copy of the speech to the headquarters of the territorial administration in Regina, which he attributed to Jackson's "personal spite" against Dewdney over the frustrated land claim. "So Jackson's attack is purely on personal grounds, and his sentiments and statements against the Department are to say the least nothing but lies. Jackson is nothing more nor less than a speculator and Land Grabber."[61] The Qu'Appelle Progress was also unimpressed by Jackson's stage-managed stridency. Dewdney had recently called into the Progress office while visiting the town, and the paper no doubt reflected the official line. Jackson had "simply collapsed" when confronted in the Council. "He had either not the moral courage to demand an investigation, or he knew he could not prove his wild utterances."[62] Denunciatory and intolerant himself, Cameron failed to appreciate that he was basing a large element of his own attack upon unreliable foundations.

There is an intriguing tailpiece to the Jackson attack, although unfortunately the details are wrapped in the uncharitable and unreliable rumours of the North-West. Early in May 1886, Dewdney alerted Sir John A. Macdonald that Jackson was on his way to Ottawa. "He is head over heels in debt and does not know which way to turn for a dollar." It appeared that Jackson's law firm had collapsed, although whether his partner had "run off to the states" must remain unconfirmed.[63] Dewdney believed that one of the objects of Jackson's visit to the East was to persuade the Dominion government to purchase a house that he owned in Qu'Appelle for use as an industrial school for Aboriginal girls. "An intimation reached me that he was very anxious to make this sale & that if he succeeded he would be a good boy for the future." Jackson had submitted details of the property, for which he sought "the modest price of $18,000". Dewdney would later value it at $4,000, and evidently enjoyed declaring the premises to be inappropriate for a school anyway.[64] Allegations of corruption had not formed a major part of Jackson's indictment of Dewdney's treatment of Aboriginal people in the territorial council, although he had been provoked by the lieutenant-governor's scorn to claim that "unquestionably gross frauds were perpetrated by the Indian Department on the Indians in the delivery of provisions, etc."[65] If Dewdney's subsequent information was accurate, there was a remarkable degree of irony in so savage a critic of alleged maladministration hoping that the department he had so vigorously assailed would rescue his finances through a blatant sweetheart deal.

Travelling east in the aftermath of Cameron's April diatribe, Jackson ought to have discovered that he had forfeited his claim to be a loyal Macdonald Conservative. In fact, the prime minister granted him an interview and apparently exuded the undefined and unenforceable promises of goodwill that were his speciality.[66] Jackson had also travelled east to raise funds for a railway branch line. On his return to Fort Qu'Appelle in July, he announced that work on the project would commence "immediately" – a considerable exaggeration. Soon afterwards he resigned from the North-West Territories advisory council, his farewell statement explaining that he needed to concentrate upon his business interests.[67] With that, Thomas Wesley Jackson disappeared from Canadian public life.

Cameron also quoted extensively from an interview given by the Reverend John McDougall, an experienced Methodist missionary working with a Stoney (Assiniboine) community at Morleyville, about fifty kilometres west of Calgary.[68] McDougall was reported to have made sweeping accusations of "laziness and incompetency" among officials, many of whom led "shameful and immoral lives". He portrayed First Nations as the victims of fraudulent contracts and broken promises, and denounced the government for ignoring warnings and failing to heed complaints. "I am prepared to substantiate every word," he told George Ham of the Toronto Mail. Indian Affairs challenged him to do just that. From Ottawa, Vankoughnet wrote to McDougall asking him to supply the names of delinquent officials, and also set in motion local investigations of the charges. "It is certainly a very remarkable thing, if Mr McDougall was cognizant of these facts for so many years, that he did not inform the Department of the issue but allowed that state of matters to continue until, as he alleges, it resulted in the Indians rebelling". McDougall's failure to speak out earlier, Vankoughnet icily observed, almost made him an accessory to causing the rebellion.[69] Dewdney's formidable deputy, Hayter Reed was despatched to interview McDougall. As in the case of Grier, confrontation with Reed produced a full-scale retreat. On 17 February, Dewdney telegraphed to Macdonald his deputy's report: "McDougall unable to substantiate any of his charges".[70] Vankoughnet believed that McDougall's antipathy towards the Department had its roots in dispute over the payment of dues for felling timber. But a family grievance explained the outspoken tone of his attack, and perhaps too the sudden about-face that ensued. "His brother, from all accounts, is a great scoundrel. He was in our employ as Farming Instructor at Morleyville for a short time, but there were certain suspicious circumstances connected with his dealings with supplies, &c, which caused his removal. I have no doubt that this also has had its effect upon the Reverend gentleman's mind."[71] If Vankoughnet's information was well-founded – an assumption always to be made with caution – then the demand that he substantiate his charges would have placed John McDougall in an awkward position. Specific allegations might inadvertently incriminate his own brother, or at the very least subject his sibling's integrity to embarrassing cross-examination. By early April – a week before Cameron launched his attack – the Ottawa bureaucracy had assembled a file rebutting McDougall's charges.[72] Facts respecting pulled no punches. "The Rev. Mr McDougall has been asked by the department to substantiate the expressions attributed to him, and he has wholly failed to do so. ... the Deputy Minister wrote to Mr. McDougall, challenged his statements and asked for specific information, which has not been furnished."[73]

About ten percent of M.C. Cameron's April 1886 speech consisted of appeals to, and quotations from, the condemnations of Grier, Jackson and McDougall. Two of these critics, Grier and McDougall, backed away when challenged, Grier specifically disavowing the comments attributed to him, McDougall apparently taking refuge in silence. It is fair to acknowledge that their retreat does not necessarily prove that their professed concerns were illusory, and both men may have felt constrained. Nonetheless, the fact that Cameron went into parliamentary battle depending upon two witnesses who had already declined to substantiate their denunciations could only weaken his case. Of the third assailant, T.W. Jackson, we can only note – for what it is worth – that some at least of his contemporaries believed he was motivated by a personal grievance against Dewdney, and that Dewdney himself hinted that Jackson was willing to trade his charges for favours. In any case, despite the emphasis that Cameron placed upon his testimony, Jackson's allegations of mistreatment of Aboriginal people initially focused upon one tragic case. Only when goaded by Dewdney's angry sneers did he expand his indictment to a general denunciation of the alleged rottenness of the Indian administration. So far as evidence from the North-West was concerned, Cameron built an elaborate structure upon an insecure foundation.

b: evidence from Indian Affairs The extensive reports to parliament submitted by the Department of Indian Affairs included two very different forms of documentation. The first comprised lengthy, mainly narrative, accounts of activities during the previous year: an overview, in the name of the Superintendent General of Indian Affairs,[74] plus detailed reports on the progress (or otherwise) of the Native communities under their supervision, rounded off with a carefully compiled account by departmental inspectors, such as T.P. Wadsworth, of their annual tours of reserves and facilities. The second reporting category disgorged tables of statistics, including sometimes mysterious items of expenditure. Arguably, the first section burdened readers with too much information, the second handicapped them with too little.

The detail recorded in the narrative reports sometimes seems eccentric. One agent, L.W. Herchmer, thought fit to mention in 1882 his solution to the plague of mice that threatened the efforts of one community to adapt to farming: "I have forwarded a cat."[75] The challenge for historians when confronted with such minutely explicit documentation is to decide whether reports that paint a detailed picture are in fact telling the whole story. Almost certainly, this was not – and probably could never be – the case.[76] Thus in his 1882 report, discussed below, Wadsworth baldly noted that there was no further need for an agricultural advisor at Morleyville: it was four years later, in a private letter, that Vankoughnet mentioned lack of confidence in the outgoing official, John McDougall's brother. But if some degree of omission was probably inevitable, how are we to assess occasional reports of harsh treatment of Native people, or of deficiencies in supplies and of shortcomings among personnel? Do these scattered references indicate an efficient organisation that pounced upon the slightest deviation from good practice, or should they be interpreted as the tip of an iceberg of wider problems and injustices?[77] Cameron unhesitatingly took the latter approach. One example, distasteful to read, reflected poorly on the official concerned, Herchmer the cat provider. In 1883, he placed two recalcitrant bands on short rations, commenting that "a little starvation will do them good."[78] A more secretive organisation dedicated to its own self-preservation would have edited that remark out of its parliamentary return. Herchmer was a former British army officer and, undoubtedly, a tough personality: in 1886 he would be put in charge of the Mounted Police with a mandate to tighten discipline. There would later be ample examples of his outspoken abrasiveness. However, his 1883 report generally reflected positive, if gruff, relations with the Aboriginal people in his district, and even his draconian action was taken on the assumption that "both these bands can get work if they want to".[79] Cameron was right to censure this unpleasant episode, but it is characteristic of his approach that he inflated it into a general principle: "This is the treatment that the agents of this Government mete out to the Indians".[80]

Cameron's use of Indian Affairs material may also be illustrated by his quotation from Wadsworth's report of his 1882 tour. No doubt, there is a certain unreality about this document: thousands of Aboriginal people were on the edge of starvation, while the department's chief inspector was visiting offices, storehouses, experimental farms and tribal reserves, checking vouchers, inspecting stores and weighing supplies, and generally finding all well. Perhaps his 12,000-word report represents an elaborate fantasy, a sham picture of a phantom organisation that piled sacks and filed paperwork but lacked any substantial existence. It seems unlikely, not least because Wadsworth would have had to repeat the hoax on an annual basis. Macdonald called him "an active and zealous officer";[81] even Cameron never criticised him. On his 1882 tour, Wadsworth spotted only three irregularities. One of these was at Indian Head, where "an inventory showed 13 more sacks of flour on hand than was expected by the books at the Indian Office." The anomaly, explained by the fact that supplies had been issued "by measure instead of by weight", hardly amounted to deliberate fraud. The other two problems related to the quality of supplies. These instances Cameron mistranscribed, conflated and distorted.[82]

"Mr Wadsworth, the Superintendent of Indian Affairs, in his report for 1882, speaking of the Rivière qui Barre Indians, says: 'The flour and bacon received as supplies was [sic] bad, and the flour received by the Indians at Battleford was lumpy.'"[83] The implication that sub-standard provisions had been issued from Battleford to an Aboriginal community 400 kilometres further west was puzzling. In fact, Cameron's purported quotation was an invention. "No such statement was made by Mr Wadsworth," Facts respecting wearily pointed out in its Misstatement Number 20. Wadsworth had reported that at Rivière qui Barre, "[t]here was a good deal of flour and bacon on hand from the preceding winter, neither of which had kept very well, and there will be some waste in issuing." He added that the quality of flour supplied by contractors for the current year was "excellent". Facts respecting drove home the obvious point: "That which had not kept well was, of course, not issued to the Indians."[84] Similarly, at Battleford, Wadsworth had noted: "Some old flour on hand had become lumpy, but that received this year was good."[85] The most charitable explanation of Cameron's misleading conflation of Wadsworth's original statements is that his note-taking techniques were inefficient, in itself an unfortunate failing in a career lawyer.[86] At the very least, he had been grossly unfair to a respected civil servant, who had no obvious means of reply. No doubt there were sometimes problems with the quantities and qualities of food supplied to Native people. Macdonald himself accepted this with the hard-hearted resignation of a man who did not have to suffer the consequences. "Even in Ontario", he remarked – Ontario being taken as the acme of Canadian civilization – contractors were sometimes forced to replace "inferior articles". The difference was that, in the North-West, "when [supplies] were sent to a distant post, they cannot be condemned; they have to be used."[87] However, no such situation had been described in Wadsworth's 1882 report.[88]

Indian Affairs expenditure aroused Cameron's suspicions, and he was quick to perceive incompetence and fraud in the generally unexplained transactions. Late one Saturday night in July 1885, he challenged a series of payments for food allegedly intended for Aboriginal people. "What I am afraid of, is that this will not all reach the Indians." It seems to have been the only occasion of a direct, if brief, interchange with Sir John A. Macdonald himself. Accused by Cameron three days earlier of deliberately starving Native people, the prime minister was not especially forthcoming in response to Cameron's charges, the more so as the clock was approaching midnight and he wanted to get home. Indeed, the allegations were generalised, even contradictory. "It seems to me there must be something wrong somewhere, though I am not prepared to say where it is, or who is to blame for it." "I am not blaming the First Minister, but I say the system is not a good one." "I am perfectly convinced ... that the greatest possible frauds are perpetrated by the middlemen." Cameron homed in on two transactions at Blackfoot Crossing, on the same day in January 1884, both payments to the I.G. Baker company of Fort Benton, the major suppliers in the region. One Indian Affairs agent had paid $3,170 for 22,250 pounds of beef, while a colleague had purchased 26,560 pounds for $3,785. "Why should there be, on the same day, to the same Indians, two different accounts for fresh beef?" Even more suspiciously, the same thing had also happened on a February day a year earlier. Why there were "two different vouchers on the same day of the same month to the very same band of Indians[?]" Macdonald gave a laconic response: "No, they are divided into two bands." Cameron was not persuaded. "I do not know what the explanation is, but I think it is a matter that requires some explanation."[89] Since the transactions referred to different amounts of beef, it seems unlikely that Indian Affairs personnel had simply fallen for a double billing scam. Macdonald's explanation was at least plausible, the more so as Blackfoot Crossing was a major gathering point for groups forming the Niitsitapi-led confederacy. It would indeed have been an inept bureaucracy that had failed to spot its blunder, and duly covered it up. Unfortunately, it is Cameron's scatter-gun accusation that has become historical orthodoxy. "Vouchers for beef submitted to the House of Commons show that Baker billed the dominion for thousands of pounds of meat twice, on the same day, for the population at Blackfoot Crossing in 1883 and 1884."[90]

The absence of explanatory detail allowed Cameron to imagine the worst of even relatively small transactions. In paying $85 to deliver a threshing machine to Poundmaker's reserve, the Department had paid out "about half the value of the machine" for a task that "should not have cost more than $12 or $15." According to Facts respecting, there had been a dispute over the use of the machine, with a three-day stand-off in which Poundmaker refused to use it to process his grain. The contractor had employed five men and five teams to transport the machine, which had been damaged in transit. "A new machine delivered at that reserve would cost nearer $800 than $80."[91] Other criticisms were petty, both in the amounts lampooned and the spirit in which they were challenged. Cameron scoffed at the expenditure from public funds of $5 on a football. "If they want to play football, let them buy their own football," he said, in obvious reference to the staff of Indian Affairs. In fact, both this and the $84.15 spent on a magic lantern, a primitive form of projector, which Cameron also queried, were equipment outlays for the new industrial schools, the football at Battleford, the magic lantern at Prince Albert. Perhaps the low point in the entire controversy came when he derided an item of ninety cents spent on a silk handkerchief. "Why should the Indian account be charged for a silk handkerchief? If the Indians are starving to death, they do not require handkerchiefs." The explanation was simple. In Treaties 1 to 7, the Dominion government had undertaken to provide Aboriginal chiefs with ceremonial uniforms, a relatively inexpensive way both of recognising their authority and maintaining their goodwill. The silk handkerchief – in reality, it was a neck scarf – formed part of one of these outfits, and ninety cents was hardly reckless extravagance. As Facts respecting sourly speculated, had Indian Affairs failed to discharge its promise, "no doubt we should have heard much of 'breaking faith with the Indians',". A more moderate critic would have recognised the possibility of a rational explanation for the handkerchief, and concentrated instead on assembling a strategic case against major elements in the government's handling of Native communities.[92]

Malcolm Colin Cameron: The man and his methods This outline of claim and counter-claim will surely establish that the Cameron controversy was not a case of a high-minded elected representative systematically exposing the incompetence and corruption of a rotten government department. It is time to take a closer look at the making and shaping of Malcolm Colin Cameron. He was the son – possibly adopted – of Malcolm Cameron, an outspoken and himself sometimes wayward Reformer (as Liberals were usually called before Confederation): father and son briefly overlapped in the House of Commons in 1874-5.[93] The elder Cameron was a prominent member of the Free Church, the advanced Presbyterian wing that had broken away from the official Church of Scotland in 1844.[94] All churches condemned sin, but Free Church adherents took a particular pleasure in also denouncing sinners. It was a culture that undermined the political career of George Brown, the dominant figure of the Upper Canada Reform movement, since his enthusiasm for driving backsliders out of the party was in fundamental conflict with the coalition-building imperatives dictated by Canada's ethnic and geographical diversity. The elder Cameron once returned the lack of compliment in a controversy over tactics by branding Brown as a "political prostitute".

Malcolm Colin Cameron studied at Knox College, the Free Church theological college in Toronto, with the intention of becoming a minister. Although he switched to a career as a lawyer and businessman, he did not turn his back upon the rhetoric of his radical Presbyterian upbringing. When, in the House of Commons in 1891, he unleashed his pent-up resentment against, as he saw it, the defamation of his virtuous censures, he concluded his oration with an appeal to his traducers: "repent of your sins and transgressions, and if you make an open confession, I may find it in my heart to forgive you."[95] As a lawyer, he could mount a formidable court-room case: "few juries withstood his pleading" – although, when unleashed in parliament, his barnstorming self-righteousness was less effective. "On the stump in a political campaign he reduced invective to science, and his denunciation of his opponent's policy was always merciless and scathing in the extreme."[96] Cameron seems to have been immune to self-doubt, and also incapable of appreciating that his motives might have appeared less than high-minded to others. As a Liberal MP, he belonged to a party that was ideologically committed to free trade. M.C. Cameron endorsed the ritual denunciation of the wicked selfishness of tariff protection, but – with Huron County being Canada's principal salt-manufacturing district – he demanded an exception in defence of Canadian salt. Cheaper foreign salt by definition represented unfair competition, while retaliatory import duties could not possibly be regarded as "protection in the ordinary sense of the word".[97]

In the early eighteen-eighties, Cameron developed business interests in the North-West, which involved a series of summer visits to the region. In March 1882, he made $75,000 from a Winnipeg land sale, brushing aside reports that he could have held out for an even bigger windfall by modestly insisting that he was "perfectly satisfied" with the price.[98] By 1883, he had travelled as far west as Moose Jaw, almost certainly on the newly opened railway.[99] It is likely that, as in Winnipeg, he aimed to profit from buying and selling town lots: farm properties were less likely to generate a quick return. Thus, although he had indeed travelled across the region, it is not clear whether he was personally familiar with conditions away from the railway and beyond the towns. His 1886 claim that the region was "the cheapest country in the world to travel in" was dismissed by Facts respecting as evidence that he was "not conversant with the North-west", and certainly suggests that he had not experienced the prairie winter.[100] He seems to have become interested in Indian Affairs as a by-product of his wider grievances against the Macdonald government. The Conservative MP C.F. Ferguson replied to Cameron's 1886 speech with a first-hand account of the condition of Native people in southern Alberta which he had witnessed in a three-month visit in the summer of 1883.[101] By contrast, there is no hint in Cameron's speeches that he had ever visited a First Nations community, or spoken with Aboriginal people or with Europeans who worked with them. His sole attempt to invoke a location-specific scene, "the graves of Wood Mountain", discussed below, was almost certainly not based upon personal observation. Nor is there any indication that he had ever met, and still less interviewed, Grier, Jackson and McDougall, whose accusations formed so large a part of his April 1886 speech, and he can hardly have known that two of them had already retracted their allegations.

Although he was free with accusations of "violated treaties",[102] Cameron does not seem to have known much about their terms, as he revealed in one remarkable declaration. "We promised, and were under obligations to supply the Indians ... with fresh beef." The slightest knowledge of the Unnumbered Treaties should have been enough to avoid this howler. In Treaty 6 alone, the Dominion had undertaken to provide unspecified food aid in time of dearth, a concession by its negotiators which, Facts respecting pointed out, the Mackenzie government had regretted. "The Government is not bound by treaty to feed the Indians", but did so as "a measure of humanity and of justice". It was "absolutely untrue" that any agreement had mentioned fresh meat. "Mr. Cameron knew perfectly well that his statement was false."[103] Historians can hardly go so far as to assert that Cameron was obviously lying, but they are entitled to conclude that he was astonishingly ill-informed. Remarkably, in his Dungannon speech, he quoted his own words and then baldly denied uttering them: "I did not say that we were under treaty obligations to supply the Indians with fresh beef."[104] More broadly, there was something to be said for Cameron's 1886 claim that "Canada induced the Indians of the North-West to surrender their possessory rights to what is practically an empire for the merest pittance." However, as Facts respecting inconveniently pointed out, the four treaties with Native people west of Manitoba had been concluded by the Mackenzie Liberal government, which logically meant that Cameron's quarrel should be with his own party, not with the Macdonald Conservatives. "It may be said that he did not in express terms affirm that the present Government obtained the possessory rights of the Indians for a mere pittance. No; he did not. He merely made his statement in such a manner that people would infer such to be the fact."[105]

The primary purpose of this discussion is to encourage concerned Canadians to read the accessible exchange between M.C. Cameron and his detractors. However, it is appropriate to signal warnings about his techniques for making a case. A standard device was to erect a large superstructure of allegations upon a single episode. The context in which these were presented was sometimes selective, and Cameron drew freely upon events as far back as 1880 when the catastrophe of the disappearance of the buffalo had created a sudden crisis that the Canadian government was not then equipped to handle. The emotive "graves of Wood Mountain" became one such example.

In both his 1885 and 1886 speeches, Cameron appealed to the harrowing 1880 report by Superintendent J.M. Walsh of the North-West Mounted Police.[106] "Superintendent Walsh, in his report for 1880, says: 'Hunger and suffering prevailed. In some places persons became so reduced as to be unable to help themselves. The want of food followed by disease caused an epidemic, which marked its results by the many graves now to be seen in Wood Mountain.'" Cameron had telescoped Walsh's words, omitting for instance the specific point that sickness had been caused by eating the diseased carcasses of dead horses, although this abbreviation could be defended as simply indicating hunger at one remove. Less straightforward was his shortening of a key sentence. Walsh had written "In some cases [not "places"] persons became so reduced as to render them unable to assist themselves, and I was forced to make small issues of food to save their lives [emphasis added]."[107] Curiously, defending himself in 1891, Cameron read out Walsh's account in full, claiming that he had quoted it thus in his 1886 speech.[108] However, the larger problem about Cameron's presentation was his failure to set the episode in context. He omitted to mention that the indigenous people were not Treaty Indians, but Sioux refugees who had decamped from the United States after killing 274 American soldiers at Little Bighorn four years earlier. Their presence on Canadian soil was a diplomatic embarrassment, as well as an unwelcome intrusion at a time when buffalo stocks had collapsed. To have specified that the famine victims were Sioux would have blunted the impact of the story and sharply reduced the potential level of sympathy in his listeners.

Nonetheless, twenty-first century opinion will feel that, as refugees, the Sioux should have been given basic assistance. Here it may be noted that the modern debate over Ottawa's response to Aboriginal communities rarely seems to take account of the Canadian climate. The winter of 1879-80 was unusually severe. For some weeks in January, the snow was so deep that the police at Wood Mountain could hardly maintain basic contact with the nearby Sioux. In March, an interpreter, Joseph Larivière (presumably a Metis, who would have known the terrain) became lost in a "severe snowstorm" within a mile of the police post: his body was located three months later, and it was assumed he had frozen to death. Nonetheless, more Sioux refugees continued to arrive at the camp, their trek under such conditions a measure of their own desperation. The overwinter meat supply ran out on 1 April. With the nearest buffalo 100 kilometres away, and their horses dying from malnutrition, the Sioux endured a six-week period of extreme suffering. At that time, the Canadian government had virtually no infrastructure on the prairies, not least because nobody had foreseen the sudden and catastrophic nature of the crisis. Nor was there any means of distributing food – even if it had been available.[109] Although they had difficulties maintaining their own supplies, the Mounted Police did what they could. "The little that was left daily from their table was carefully preserved and meted out, as far as it would go, to the women and children," Walsh recorded. "During this five or six weeks of distress, I do not think that one ounce of food was wasted at Wood Mountain Post." Fresh buffalo meat began to reach the Sioux around 10 May. It would be the last year in which the herds were sufficiently numerous to support the traditional way of life. It should be noted that Walsh had his own motives for emphasising both the depth of the crisis, and the claim of generosity by the police. He filed his end-of-year report for 1880 from Brockville in Ontario, an unlikely posting for an NWMP officer. He had in fact been very publicly sidelined on the suspicion that he was too friendly with Sitting Bull and hence less than committed to the Ottawa policy of persuading him to lead his people back across the border. Walsh used his report to deny these charges. He also indignantly repudiated a rumour that he had tried to persuade Sitting Bull to tour North America displaying himself as a novelty item. It was almost certainly Walsh's realisation that his career was on the line that explained his emotive allusion to the graves at Wood Mountain.[110]

Those pathetic words gave Cameron the fuel for dramatic denunciation. Stripped of its context, it lamented hunger, and spoke of death. The graves of Wood Mountain would feature in each of his four speeches. The most indignant and elaborate exposition came in 1886. "Was there ever such a picture as this painted by the most skilful artist? Was there ever such an indictment preferred against any Government? ... Nothing but the weakness, the incompetency of this Administration, would have permitted this condition of affairs to have existed one hour after it was made known to the Government, but ... not the first step was taken to rectify the wrong done to the Indians. The breach of faith, the violated promises, the broken pledges, the fraud and misconduct of officials, the robbing and cheating all round, are all marked by the graves of the Indians on the side of Wood Mountain. Still the Government never moved, never stirred, never investigated." In 1885 this was the fault of Macdonald himself. A year later it was Dewdney who "luxuriated in his palace in Regina", leaving Aboriginal people "to starve and freeze to death". The tragedy at Wood Mountain remains a terrible story, but it was hardly improved by Cameron's partisan distortion and denunciation. No Aboriginal person had been hastened to the grave by fraud, misconduct, robbing or cheating.[111] No pledges had been broken nor promises violated, for the Sioux were not covered by any treaty. Between 1882 and 1885, Ottawa spent over $2 million on emergency supplies for destitute indigenous people, hardly the response of a government that never stirred.[112]  

The same tendency to pejorative generalisation from specific instances was evident in Cameron's handling of the murders of two farm instructors during the 1885 rebellion. Historians in recent times have tended to emphasise the unpopularity of James Payne and John Delaney among the Aboriginal people with whom they dealt.[113] Not surprisingly, Facts respecting adopted the pious position that the two officials had been barbarously murdered while doing their duty and, having "passed from the bar of human judgment", their memories should be respected. However, even if their deaths had represented the settling of scores, the larger question was whether Payne and Delaney were typical of the men employed by Indian Affairs to guide indigenous people into the ways of settled agriculture. Perhaps predictably, Cameron condemned the quality of Indian Affairs personnel, and in this instance produced a heavyweight quotation to support his case. "The Hon. Lawrence Clarke, at one time a member of the North-West Council[,] thus speaks of the class of men sent by this Government to administer Indian affairs: 'Brutal ruffians were appointed as farm instructors over the Indians, who maltreated the poor people in the most brutal manner, answering them with kicks and blows, accompanied with showers of profanity'." Specifically, Lawrence Clarke was reported to have said that "of the farm instructors killed by the Indians two were known to be brutal wretches such as I have mentioned".[114] For all his brimstone oratory, Cameron had an odd habit of dropping his voice when he read from documents,[115] and this – coupled with the notoriously poor acoustics of the House of Commons – may explain why another MP interjected: "Whose report is that?" Cameron once again named "the Hon. Lawrence Clarke, formerly a member of the North-West Council". He then continued to quote, culminating in the claim that, if Aboriginal people had not been restrained by missionaries, "the farming instructors and other paid politicians appointed over them, would have been killed long ago."[116]

In summary, the passage quoted by Cameron not only alleged that Payne and Delaney were "brutal wretches" but went on to imply that other farm instructors were equally guilty of bullying their Native charges, and had been lucky to escape similar vengeance. If this was the view of Lawrence Clarke, it was weighty testimony indeed.[117] With thirty years' experience of the prairies, Lawrence Clarke was the Hudson's Bay Company's chief factor in the Saskatchewan country. Based at Prince Albert, he was well-placed to be a close observer of the Aboriginal and Metis population, and had warned in 1880 of the danger that sickness would engulf hungry communities.[118] An abrasive personality, he was in fact not particularly sympathetic to the region's original inhabitants, and his judgement was not always sensitive. His exaggerated threat that five hundred armed police were on their way to arrest Louis Riel is regarded as the trigger that pushed the Metis into armed rebellion in March 1885.[119] Lawrence Clarke knew the prairies, and he was not disposed to be sensitive in dealing with people. If he felt that Payne and Delaney were "brutal wretches" and that the farm instructors chosen by Indian Affairs generally mistreated and provoked indigenous people, then his opinion merited respect.

The only problem was that Lawrence Clarke repudiated the sentiments attributed to him, and in a characteristically forthright manner. "Cameron's vapourings are unmitigated lies," he assured Dewdney. He was willing to accompany his "unqualified denial" with an affidavit attesting to his admiration for the work of the murdered instructors.[120] No doubt it was a deplorable example of ethnic bias, but Canadians had been shocked by the killing of Europeans during the 1885 rebellion, especially the gruesome slaughter at Frog Lake in which Delaney had perished. If Cameron chose to confront this widespread sense of outrage by blaming Indian Affairs for their fate, he should at the very least have checked his basic facts. He twice named Lawrence Clarke as his source in the House of Commons, and repeated the attribution in his pamphlet. Grier and McDougall may well have decided that it was prudent to back away from the criticisms attributed to them, but Lawrence Clarke was too senior and too combative to be intimidated.

At this point, Facts respecting was happy simply to declare victory: the "pretended testimony" of "the honorable member for West Huron" was "a piece of false evidence". However, historians may be reluctant to leave it at that. However single-minded he showed himself in his determination to denigrate the Macdonald government, it is unlikely that Cameron would have engaged in outright forgery. The passage he had quoted presumably represented the opinion of somebody in the North-West, and it would be useful to assess the reliability of the source. In fact, the passage can be traced to the Toronto Globe on 23 September 1885, quoting an interview "recently" published in a Winnipeg newspaper. The sentiments quoted came from a lawyer and politician, Henry J. Clarke.[121] A lawyer and a Conservative – which explains why his criticisms of the government were lovingly recycled by the Globe – Henry J. Clarke had moved to Manitoba in 1870, rapidly becoming the province's first attorney-general. For want of qualified alternatives, the lieutenant-governor, Adams G. Archibald, felt obliged to use him as his spokesperson in the Assembly, although he had "seldom seen a man so devoid of anything like discretion – or common sense."[122] In September 1885, Clarke was counsel to 25 prisoners rounded up for alleged complicity in the recent rebellion. He conducted a doggedly combative defence, refusing to concede even minor points of fact, and delivering in one case "probably one of the most bombastic speeches ever heard in a Canadian courtroom". One reporter mildly called his wide-ranging three-hour address "a strong indictment against the Dominion government".[123] From Lawrence Clarke, a trader well-placed to observe Aboriginal communities and not over-sensitive towards them, a generalised charge of brutality by farm instructors would have carried some weight. From Henry J. Clarke, "reckless, intemperate, and opportunistic",[124] an unscrupulous lawyer out to defend a raft of hapless clients, the allegation may be taken with a large pinch of Huron County salt.

As already suggested, some of Cameron's more kamikaze attacks may be charitably attributed to the ineptitude of his research methods. It is likely that he transcribed extracts from official documents, returning later to his notes, but forgetting contexts and infusing the material with his fervent belief in official waste and corruption. An amusing example comes from his handling of the detailed annual report for 1882 by Cecil Denny, a former NWMP officer who became the Indian Affairs agent in southern Alberta.[125] There were problems in securing supplies actually ordered from the firm of I.G. Baker & Co. at Fort Benton in Missouri. Cameron's speech quoted Denny's account. "I had, on two occasions, to purchase cattle from others than the contractors, as they failed to keep me supplied, and beef would have run out on the Blackfeet and other reserves had I not done so. I had to pay half prices, and notified the contractors before I did so." There were two errors in transcription here: Denny had in fact (more logically) reported that he had been forced to pay "high prices".[126] Cameron launched in to his habitual generalised denunciation. "There you see how a portion of the fund which Parliament voted was expended. The contractors either did not supply articles at all, or supplied it of an inferior quality; yet, no investigation was made, no enquiry was made, and nothing was done." The first charge was correct: I.G. Baker and Co. failed to deliver. There was not a scintilla of suggestion that sub-standard supplies were involved. As for the sweeping declarations that the defaulters escaped unscathed, Cameron's charges were rebutted by the next sentence in Denny's report. "Of course, the contractors were the losers by the amount over the contract price." In other words, the contract required the I.G. Baker company to reimburse the Canadian taxpayer for the additional cost incurred by their failure to provide the goods they had agreed to supply. Facts respecting made the most of Cameron's blunder. "He omits a sentence from the agent's report, which proves that something was done, that the Indians did not suffer, the Government did not suffer, and that the Department officials did their whole duty in protecting the people under their charge. ... Mr Cameron dishonestly omitted the last sentence, and then indulged in comment which that sentence contradicts. Is this the manner in which public affairs should be debated in Parliament?"[127] It is hard not to conclude that Cameron's combination of ineptitude and outrage had left him open to that rebuke.

The same combination of muddle and distrust can be seen in Cameron's complaints about the numbers of oxen supplied to Aboriginal people to assist them to farm their reserves. Over a three year period, Treaty Six communities had received 71 yoke of oxen, while no fewer than 130 had been supplied under Treaty 4. The latter figure seemed excessive since "this band of Indians" had barely 500 acres under cultivation.[128] "It is nothing less than a wilful waste of money. These 130 yoke of oxen cost the people of Canada $26,470." Cameron's apparent belief that any treaty covered a single band suggests a curious misunderstanding. In reality, animals for ploughing had been "given to bands whose reserves are widely separated, which accounts for the large number required in comparison with the small area of land under cultivation on all the reserves combined."[129] To this, two other points may be added. First, it was not always clear whether Cameron was accusing the government of spending too little or too much. At three earlier points in his speech, he had cited demands for oxen by Native communities as evidence of broken promises. Second, he displayed a lack of awareness of the climatic constraints upon Western farming. Even if it had been feasible to shift ponderous beasts from reserve to reserve – an impractical task – the short growing season on the prairies would have rendered it foolhardy to delay ploughing.

However, Cameron was not satisfied with alleging that money had wasted. It was an article of faith that government expenditure on such a scale must also be evidence of corruption. He quoted suspect items from three agents' reports. In one place, only two of the seven cattle originally supplied were still alive. In another, the two oxen were virtually useless, one having gone blind and the other being "very old". There was a similar situation at a third location, where the band urgently sought replacements. "The truth of the matter is that the oxen, for which we paid this enormous sum, were so useless that they had to be disposed of within the year. The whole thing is an outrage Parliament should not tolerate." Facts respecting responded with a combination of reprimand and patronising sweetness. Cameron had jumped from reports relating to communities covered by Treaties 4 and 6, some of which were still making the transition to farming, to information relating to beasts supplied under Treaties 1 and 5, negotiated in 1871 and 1875. "Some cattle in Treaties 1 and 5 are old and crippled, it is true, but this is not to be wondered at when it is borne in mind that some of them have been in use in the service of the Indians from 10 to 15 years." Cameron had insinuated that "the Department have been paying large sums of money for worthless cattle" by citing "worthless, garbled extracts from agents in other parts of the country concerning other cattle hundreds of miles away which, though young when purchased, are after 15 years' service no doubt somewhat the worse for wear."[130] Cameron did not mention the blind and sick oxen in his Dungannon speech.

The Chemawawin ploughs provided another minor but long-running example, both of Cameron's skill at exaggerated invective and of his determination to filter information through his preconceived assumptions.[131] Liberals routinely insisted that Indian Affairs was massively overstaffed. When individual problems were detected, it followed that they were caused by the uncaring incompetence of an inert and bloated bureaucracy.[132] Visiting the Cree reserve at Chemawawin in September 1882, Agent Angus Mackay noticed that "no attempt had been made to care for the implements which had been supplied to them. The harrows and ploughs were lying partly buried in mud and weeds in different places. Some of them have never been used or put together yet, and are spoiling for want of care."[133] Cameron seized upon the report, and indignantly transformed it from the particular to the general. "We have an army of officials in the North-West; we have Indian agents, sub-Indian agents, all kinds and classes of men there to look after the interests of the Indians; and yet we find that so little attention was paid to these supplies that they were dumped off in the mud and filth and left to rot."[134] It will be apparent that Cameron had improved upon the original: cast iron implements do not rot, and wooden handles can be replaced. Nonetheless, there was clearly a problem here that deserved discussion. The equipment had evidently been supplied in kit form, with no instructions or support for its assembly: the obvious charge against Indian Affairs was that its farm instruction programme had failed at Chemawawin – not that it employed too many officials, but that it had, in this case, mobilised too few. This was precisely the line of criticism that Cameron was prevented from offering because of his fixed belief that Indian Affairs personnel were "carpet-baggers and camp followers ... men incompetent to fulfil the duties they are called upon to discharge ... men of bad habits and worse morals".

Perhaps Cameron did not intend to mislead, but his speech failed to make clear that Chemawawin is not a Plains location. Commenting in 1891, apparently from memory, Dewdney called it one of "a large number of small reserves" scattered across what is now central Manitoba. When Mackay left there during his September 1882 inspection, he travelled for three days and nights to reach his next destination. Soon after, the agency was divided into two, to improve supervision. In thickly forested lake country, the Cree were able to maintain their traditional woodland economy, fishing, and hunting for game, enough to support the 95 members of the band. "The people are not Indians of the plains; they have never been dependent upon the buffalo, and their former means of subsistence have not failed."[135] This was Shield country: Mackay called Chemawawin "a poor reserve for planting purposes"; the following year surveyors reported some of the ground to be "pretty stony".[136] Dewdney could only "presume" that the band had requested the implements that Mackay had found abandoned. Such an application was probably made, and certainly would only have been granted, under Treaty terms. The fact that they were issued prematurely sat awkwardly alongside Cameron's list of complaints from First Nations communities that they had been arbitrarily refused vital equipment and supplies. This inconsistency prompted a bitter comment in Facts respecting. "It will be noticed that the Government is blamed if its officials think proper not to supply implements where there is no proper demand or use for them. And it is equally blamed if it does supply them and the Indians do not properly use them and care for them."[137]

Cameron's determination to see corruption behind every decision made him a less-than-helpful contributor to what Facts respecting called "the question of Beef vs Bacon". Here, the government was open to criticism, since Native people often complained about receiving bacon, food unknown in their traditional diet. Cameron's attribution of the "disease and death" quotation to Agent Herchmer was an incompetent interpolation, but Dewdney certainly knew by 1882 that Native people accustomed to fresh meat found bacon indigestible, and that it contributed to sickness.[138] Why, then, did Indian Affairs supply a foodstuff that was widely known to be unsuitable? The Liberal opposition had no doubt of the reason. They quoted comparative prices – for instance, in Saskatchewan in 1882, beef was 15 cents per pound, bacon 25 cents – and proclaimed that Dewdney was wilfully risking the health of Aboriginal people while also deliberately wasting public money in what could only be a scam designed to profit his cronies.

The official response was twofold. First, bacon was a preserved food, which was always available. "The Department cannot keep herds of cattle, or fresh beef in refrigerators, but bacon ... on a report of scarcity of food in any band, is always ready." There was a touch of sarcasm in this statement: refrigeration was a very new technology, and the suggestion of frontier freezing works was intended to convey derision. Second, bald comparison of market prices did not allow for wastage. Bacon was actually "more economical" since a considerable proportion of beef consisted of bones. The claim was probably broadly true, although it disregarded the potential for the use of bones in making soup. It also undermined its own statistics, which showed that only fifteen percent of the meat supplied was bacon: in reality, fresh beef represented only two-thirds of the rations issued to Native people.[139] However, Cameron chose to believe the worst, and on flimsy evidence. He repeatedly referred to bacon as "salt pork" to make it sound even less appetising. He also read into the Hansard record an angry editorial in the Winnipeg Times, which had alleged in June 1883 that a purchase had been made "because his friend the contractor, who happened to be in a land syndicate with him, had 90,000 pounds of that bacon to dispose of". In his rapid-fire denunciations, Cameron implied that that he endorsed the statement, yet he gave no supporting details. He was not shy about making accusations, he had Winnipeg business connections and he was protected by parliamentary privilege. If he knew of a corrupt deal, it was surely his responsibility – not to mention his delight – to name those involved.[140] Facts respecting ignored the charge, and it did not feature in subsequent exchanges, but it sounds unlikely and, at most, exaggerated. In 1883, the total amount of bacon handled by Indian Affairs was 325,389 pounds: a single purchase of 90,000 pounds would have stood out in the accounts. Winnipeg was a boom town that surely consumed every morsel available: in April 1882 Dewdney reported a shortage of all foodstuffs except flour.[141] A contractor would have been either very unlucky or monumentally incompetent to be unable to shift such a consignment on the open market. In any case, contracts were routinely advertised in the press. In 1885, a rare defender of Dewdney rebutted claims that he had purchased supplies for Aboriginal people from the Hudson's Bay Company "without calling for tenders... any one who reads the papers will see by his advertisements that this charge is not true." Even if some purchases had been made privately, "there may have been some urgent necessity for doing so".[142] Daschuk quotes Cameron's accusation that Dewdney had purchased bacon to oblige a business associate, but does not point out that he failed to name the alleged scam's beneficiary.[143]

Conclusions M.C. Cameron evidently read his way voraciously through the extensive documentation submitted to parliament by the Department of Indian Affairs. It is also obvious that he processed the information through a preconceived filter, his fixed belief that Canada's indigenous people were victims of corruption and incompetence. It was his duty to seek out the clues and fragments that supported his belief, and it followed that he would dismiss any alternative explanations or suggestions of mitigating circumstances. Canadians of the twenty-first century will similarly find it impossible to approach material from that era without some sense of personal involvement, of profound regret amounting to collective guilt, about what happened to First Nations during the era of western settlement. To cite just one modern scholar, J.R. Miller's account of those tragic years is all the more effective for its authoritative tone of quiet restraint.[144] Cameron's strident denunciations of the plight of Aboriginal communities is likely to strike deeper chords than the bureaucratic spirit of Facts respecting, sometimes coldly accepting of poverty and deprivation among Native people, occasionally hinting at impatient disapproval of their lack of appreciation and failures in co-operation. Yet it remains important to assess responsibility. Did the disasters that battered First Nations happen in spite of the activities of Indian Affairs, or were they the direct consequence of what Daschuk has called "the outright malevolence of the Macdonald regime"?[145] Cameron's handling of the evidence he so assiduously amassed renders his contribution unhelpful to the resolution of this basic question.

"If it was Mr. Cameron's privilege and duty to discuss this question," Facts respecting acidly remarked, "it was his duty to discuss it solely as it affected the Indians themselves and the public." Equally, we should insist that if elected representatives choose to use a national parliament to allege a mighty scandal, they have a responsibility to ensure accuracy in quotation, fairness in the attribution of motive and – perhaps above all – the protection of ordinary citizens from the attribution of opinions which they either denied uttering or had felt prudent to retract. "Mr Cameron is a man of ability and a lawyer. He is skilled in preparing evidence and has experience of presenting his case." Facts respecting left readers in no doubt that he fell short of the high standards of his calling. "Mr Cameron has a very convenient habit of quoting a sentence from a report, interjecting a comment of his own, and then going on apparently with the same quotation, but really with a quotation from some wholly different document whose date and authorship he does not disclose. ... Mr Cameron says things which are not the truth, and he garbles his extracts so as to give them a meaning wholly different from that they were intended to bear."[146] Having hailed Cameron's "great speech", the Toronto Globe was not minded to concede any ground to Facts respecting. "Mr. Cameron cannot justly be accused of garbling, for the sentences omitted in his extracts are of no importance whatever as against the great fact that Indians often starved while the larger part of the money voted for their relief was being squandered on Mr. Dewdney's court, on his contracting friends, and on rotten pork and stinking flour."[147] Historians judge causal hypotheses by examining sources and assessing the reliability of evidence in order to form a disinterested opinion on the plausibility of an explanation. The Globe inverted this methodology: whatever its shortcomings, evidence could be validated by its endorsement of charges which everybody knew to be true.

Cameron's four major speeches are listed in the appendix below, along with the government's reply in Facts respecting. The issues raised remain important in modern Canada, and to Canadians generally, and I hope the exchanges will be widely read and duly pondered. But I close this survey with the brief exchanges on a Saturday evening in July 1885, with Macdonald and his ministers eyeing the clock as it inched towards midnight, and Cameron firing random shots, as if hoping to hit some lucky target. He imputed inefficiency, he hinted at corruption, he demanded investigations, but he never quite committed himself to any specific accusation. Eventually, he wrapped all his insinuations into a single sentence, a statement which Daschuk incorporates in his discussion of bureaucratic criminality. "If the Indians are getting inferior supplies, a poorer quality of flour or bacon than the contract requires, that is a fraud on the Indians as well as on the Government; and the middle men who furnish the supplies must have been guilty of the very grossest misconduct during the last three or four years."[148] "If" is a very small word. It may carry a very large meaning, or it may signify nothing at all. I close with a similar formulation. If it is ever to be proved that Indian Affairs under Macdonald was characterised by corruption, fraud, incompetence and outright malevolence, the point will be established by historical method, not the science of invective.

Appendix The principal sources for the controversy between Cameron and the Department of Indian Affairs are:

[1] Cameron's 1885 indictment on the government for failing to prevent the rebellion in the North West. Debates of the House of Commons, 8 July 1885, 3154-74. The section on Aboriginal people is at 3166-71: http://parl.canadiana.ca/view/oop.debates_HOC0503_04/610?r=0&s=2.

[2] Cameron's 1886 attack on the Department of Indian Affairs. Debates of the House of Commons, 15 April 1886, 718-30: http://parl.canadiana.ca/view/oop.debates_HOC0504_01/727?r=0&s=2.

[3] Cameron's 1886 speech slightly corrected and published as a pamphlet. Speech of Mr. Cameron, M.P., on Indian administration in the North-West: Ottawa, April 15th, 1886, Ottawa: MacLean, Roger, 1886: http://peel.library.ualberta.ca/bibliography/1583/1.html. The pamphlet was published by early May 1886.

[4] The response by the Department of Indian Affairs. The facts respecting Indian administration in the North-West, Ottawa: Department of Indian Affairs, [1886]: http://peel.library.ualberta.ca/bibliography/1586.html, and also available through https://archive.org/details/factsrespectingi00cana. This reply had appeared by November 1886.

[5] Cameron's counter-attack at an election rally at Dungannon, Huron County, 21 January 1887. Globe (Toronto), 25 January 1887.

[6] Cameron's 1891 parliamentary speech after his re-election to Ottawa. Debates of the House of Commons, 30 June 1891, 1484-98:

http://parl.canadiana.ca/view/oop.debates_HOC0701_01/753?r=0&s=3 .

ENDNOTES   All websites were accessed between November 2019 and January 2020. Referencing is relatively light in relation to the main sources, listed in the appendix above, since quotations can be easily located by keyword searching. References to the parl.canadiana.ca website are omitted for brief allusions to parliamentary debates. 

[1] J. Daschuk, Clearing the Plains: Disease, the Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Life, Regina: University of Regina Press, 2013.

[2] Daschuk, Clearing the Plains: Disease, the Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Life, 108.

[3] National Post, 24 August 2017: https://nationalpost.com/news/canada/ontario-elementary-teachers-union-calls-for-renaming-john-a-macdonald-schools.

[4] Donald B. Smith, "Macdonald's Relationship with Aboriginal Peoples", in P. Dutil and R. Hall, eds, Macdonald at 200: New Reflections and Legacies, Toronto: Dundurn, 2014, 82.

[5] It was quoted in an indictment of Macdonald by the National Post on 28 August 2018: https://nationalpost.com/news/canada/here-is-what-sir-john-a-macdonald-did-to-indigenous-people. See also Daschuk, Clearing the Plains: Disease, the Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Life, 140.

[6] L.H. Thomas, The Struggle for Responsible Government in the North-West Territories 1870-99, 2nd ed., Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1978, 121, 131.

[7] Debates of the House of Commons, 27 March 1884, 1183[recte 1138]-1174:   http://parl.canadiana.ca/view/oop.debates_HOC0502_02/343?r=0&s=2.

[8] For Cameron's charges against Indian Affairs, Debates of the House of Commons, 8 July 1885, 3166-71:

http://parl.canadiana.ca/view/oop.debates_HOC0503_04/610?r=0&s=2. The full speech is at 3154-74.

[9] In a tailpiece three days later, he briefly queried specific items of Indian Affairs expenditure. Cameron caught the Speaker's eye late at night, when the Commons – and the prime minister in particular – evidently wished to get home. Macdonald's bald response seems to have been the only instance of a direct exchange between the two. Cameron's specific use of the imagery of Aboriginal graves at Wood Mountain is discussed below.

[10] Debates of the House of Commons, 15 April 1886, 718-30: http://parl.canadiana.ca/view/oop.debates_HOC0504_01/727?r=0&s=2.

[11] Macdonald, who held the Indian Affairs portfolio himself, was bedridden with bronchitis and sciatica from 9 March to 22 April. Langevin pointed out that Macdonald was expected to return to the House of Commons shortly, and that Cameron could easily have delayed speaking for a short period in order to put his charges to the responsible minister. D. Creighton, John A. Macdonald: the Old Chieftain, Toronto: The Macmillan Company of Canada, 1955, 448-50.

[12] Debates of the House of Commons, 15 April 1886,730-45 (Ferguson at 739-41):


[13] Globe (Toronto), 12 May 1886. I have not traced any other press reference to the printed pamphlet: [M.C. Cameron], Speech of Mr. Cameron, M.P., on Indian administration in the North-West: Ottawa, April 15th, 1886, Ottawa: MacLean, Roger, 1886: http://peel.library.ualberta.ca/bibliography/1583/1.html.

[14] In Hansard, Cameron was reported as quoting from a report from L.W. Herchmer, a Department of Indian Affairs agent in Manitoba: "A great deal of sickness has visited them lately for want of fresh meat." The quotation referred to the Sioux at Bird Tail Creek. Cameron continued with a reference to the supply of salt pork to Aboriginal communities in 1884-5, "although it is known that beef is life to the Indian, while salt pork is disease and death to him." This statement, which was entirely out of character for Herchmer's unemotional style, was made to appear as a quotation from him when it was in fact a comment by Cameron himself. In fact, Herchmer's statement had been truncated. After "fresh meat", it continued: "as they seldom hunt now; in fact, there is little to hunt in their country. I have asked the Department for sheep, which will be well taken care of, and will supply the place of deer." He also reported that the Sioux community had "over 100 cattle" and were raising crops. Thus Herchmer had made three points: 1. the Sioux had suffered from a lack of fresh meat; 2. the shortage had resulted from the disappearance of game (apparently deer) which meant they could no longer hunt; 3. Herchmer had taken steps to help them. In both the Hansard and the pamphlet versions of the speech, only the first point was noted, conveying the impression that Indian Affairs had failed to feed its charges. Unfortunately Daschuk quoted the Hansard version, attributing to Herchmer the judgement that "beef is life to the Indian, while salt pork is disease and death to him." Daschuk, Clearing the Plains: Disease, the Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Life, 239, note 90. Cameron removed the interpolation in the pamphlet version of the speech, but did not expand the quotation. The Globe (Toronto) also misquoted Herchmer from the Hansard version of Cameron's speech on 11 September 1886, four months after the publication of the corrected version in pamphlet form. For the original Hansard record: (http://parl.canadiana.ca/view/oocihm.9_08052_17_3/783?r=0&s=1.)

[15] Macdonald was responding to criticism of Indian Affairs by Liberal MP William Paterson. Debates of the House of Commons, 2 June 1886: http://parl.canadiana.ca/view/oop.debates_HOC0504_02/958?r=0&s=2.

[16] Library and Archives Canada [cited as LAC], Fonds Macdonald, vol. 291, J. McLean (Indian Affairs) to Pope, 17 April 1886.

[17] LAC, Fonds Macdonald, vol. 325, L. Vankoughnet to Macdonald, 6 May 1886.

[18] LAC, Fonds Macdonald, vol. 325, M.J. Griffin to Pope, 29 June 1886.

[19] Creighton, John A. Macdonald: the Old Chieftain, 458-62. Macdonald was accompanied by Pope. The journey allowed him to consult Dewdney in person.

[20] LAC, Fonds Macdonald, vol. 325, A.T. Frend [?] (Hamilton Spectator) to Pope, 1, 7, 11 October 1886.

[21] Department of Indian Affairs, The facts respecting Indian administration in the North-West, Ottawa: Department of Indian Affairs, [1886]: http://peel.library.ualberta.ca/bibliography/1586.html. Also available through https://archive.org/details/factsrespectingi00cana. M.C. Cameron's father had held the office of Queen's Printer from 1863 to 1869, when he had returned to politics. Macdonald probably feared that contacts in the government printing office might forewarn him of the contents of the pamphlet.

[22] For a brief dismissal, Sarah Carter, Lost Harvests: Prairie Indian Reserve Farmers and Government Policy, Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queens' University Press, 1990, 133-4.

[23] Most of the future Huron County was acquired in the 1827 Huron Tract treaty. In 1836, Ojibwa were informed that the government could not prevent settlers from occupying the adjoining Saugeen peninsula. Liz Duern, "Treaties & Huron County" (2017):


[24] Cameron's 1882 majority had been 28 in a poll of over 3,400 voters. Globe, 21 June 1882.

[25] LAC, Fonds Macdonald, vol. 431, J.C. Patterson to Macdonald, 20 November 1886.

[26] Globe, 21 October 1886, reporting a Liberal rally at Wingham. An editorial praising Cameron's 1886 speech in the Huron Expositor, 23 April 1886, suggests that his supporters believed he could benefit from raising the issues.

[27] Globe, 23 November 1886. The Globe had endorsed Cameron's charges as recently as 9 November. The pamphlet took longer to reach the West, but was extensively and favourably discussed in Qu'Appelle Progress, 2 December, and Edmonton Bulletin, 18 December 1886. Cameron alleged that it was "scattered by the thousands all over Canada, at the public expense." Debates of the House of Commons, 30 June 1891, 1485:


[28] Debates of the House of Commons, 30 June 1891, 1484:


[29] E. Brian Titley, "Dewdney, Edgar," in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14:


[30] LAC, Fonds Macdonald, vol. 432, D. McKay to J. Carling, 27 December 1886. Annotation indicates that 100 copies were sent in response to reports that Cameron had made "some damaging statements relating to the Indian Administration in the North-West". $100 was also found to translate the pamphlet into French, possibly for circulation among Metis. I do not know if any copy survives. LAC, Fonds Macdonald, vol. 325, T.G. Coursolles to Pope, 31 December 1886.

[31] Globe, 25 January 1887.

[32] Other pressures were applied. William Van Horne made it known that Goderich would be "pretty certain not to get a branch of the C.P.R. if they sent M.C. Cameron back." LAC, Fonds Macdonald, vol. 288, Van Horne to Macdonald, 26 February 1886 [recte 1887]. The Qu'Appelle Progress regarded the defeat of "the Indian romancer" as a "fitting answer to his falsifications regarding the Indian department." Qu'Appelle Progress, 24 February 1887.

[33] Debates of the House of Commons, 30 June 1891, 1484-98:


[34] Debates of the House of Commons, 30 June 1891, 1487.

[35] Thompson's speech is at Debates of the House of Commons, 30 June 1891, 1498-1503, Dewdney's remarks at 1505-7. The Globe, 1 July 1891, reported that Dewdney "talked for a little time without saying anything germane to the subject".

[36] British Colonist (Victoria, BC), 15 January 1896. Cameron was appointed lieutenant-governor of the North-West Territories in June 1898, but died within three months. Peter A. Russell, "Cameron, Malcolm Colin", in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12 : http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/cameron_malcolm_colin_12E.html. For "Ananias", see also Calgary Weekly Herald, 16 June 1898. Cameron's earlier career is discussed below.

[37] This generalisation about prairie mindsets is based, no doubt loosely, on the classic writings of scholars such as S.D. Clark and C.B. Macpherson, and more recently David Laycock. The institutions, formal and informal, which help to coagulate individuals into neighbourhoods and communities are outlined in A.F.J. Artibise, Winnipeg: a social history of urban growth 1874-1914, Montreal: McGill-Queens' University Press, 1975, 137-8. Most existed, if at all, in only sketchy form in the early 1880s. A parallel may be seen in the work of the historian Miles Fairbairn, who doubted whether mid-nineteenth century New Zealand functioned as a society for many of its "atomised" colonists. But in New Zealand, and also in Australia with its idealisation of bush life and romanticisation of the "swagman", mobility and vagrancy offered some safety valves. On the prairies, climate limited such options, and discontent may have been internalised into paranoia.

[38] Winnipeg Times, 12 June 1883.

[39] Fort McLeod Gazette, March 1886, quoted The facts respecting Indian administration in the North-West, 17.

[40] Cameron quoted the interview in his 1886 speech, unusually identifying both source and date, the Toronto Mail, 2 February 1886, an issue that I have not traced. George Ham of the Toronto Mail was touring the region as a special correspondent. (Qu'Appelle Progress, 22 January 1886) Although the Mail was still officially a pro-Tory newspaper, it is not surprising that Ham sought out colourful discontent. James Grier's son, David J. Grier, from Wiarton Ontario, had served with the North-West Mounted Police between 1877 and 1880, claiming to have been present at the signing of Treaty 7. He then became a homesteader near Fort Macleod, successfully raising one of the area's first wheat crops in 1882. The Farm and Ranch Review, 14 June 1954. I am obliged to Donald B. Smith for this identification. Since homesteaders qualified for a full patent of ownership after 3 years of ownership, the younger Grier's title to his land should have been secure. However, pioneers could also subsequently exercise right of pre-emption over neighbouring land, which a vengeful bureaucracy might obstruct. It probably seemed prudent not to offend the Territorial authorities.  

[41] The facts respecting Indian administration in the North-West, 14.

[42] E. Brian Titley, "Reed, Hayter", in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 16:


[43] Hector Langevin quoted an undated report in the Toronto Mail (which cannot now be traced), relating to Hayter Reed's investigations of charges made in George Ham's articles. "Some who were examined 'supposed' the charges must be true, 'because everybody said they were', but no one could establish a single case." Debates of the House of Commons, 15 April 1886, 731: http://parl.canadiana.ca/view/oop.debates_HOC0504_01/740?r=0&s=2.

[44] LAC, Fonds Macdonald, vol. 526, Macdonald to Dewdney, private, 17 August 1885.

[45] Cameron quoted an undated report from the Winnipeg Times in 1886 speech: it had appeared on 5 June 1883. Facts respecting, 64, reported Dewdney's emphatic denial: the report was "absolutely false ... no evidence of its being true, or near the truth, or anything approaching to the truth, has ever been offered. It is simply a piece of jocular brutality invented by some local jester to injure Mr. Dewdney. Mr. Cameron knew when he repeated this stale charge that it had been indignantly denied repeatedly." Daschuk, Clearing the Plains: Disease, the Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Life, 143, accepts the statement as true on the basis of Cameron's speech.

[46] For once, Cameron was not exaggerating when he branded Dewdney" domineering, arrogant, tyrannical, unfair". A correspondent of the Winnipeg Times gleefully recorded threats both to horsewhip Dewdney, and to tar-and-feather him. Winnipeg Times, 12 June 1883. These were not the responses of a normal society. The Winnipeg Times itself was mildly ambivalent. "He is a man in some respects personally estimable, but of no force of character; cursed, too, by the ambition to offset the poverty from which he sprang by getting rich in haste." He was also a speculator and a liar. Winnipeg Times, 5 July 1883. Dewdney was defended by 'Veritas' of Prince Albert, who alleged a Grit press campaign against him: Winnipeg Times, 24 July 1885.

[47] Facts respecting insisted that one child had died, and that the report was typical Jackson, "a slight amount of truth with a vast amount of error." The facts respecting Indian administration in the North-West, 68.

[48] His arrival in 1880 made Jackson, by 1885, "one of the oldest settlers in Assiniboia". There are brief biographical notes in Qu'Appelle Progress, 25 December 1885, and J.P. Robertson, A political manual of the province of Manitoba and the North-West Territories, Winnipeg: Call Printing Co, 1887, 109: http://peel.library.ualberta.ca/bibliography/1689/135.html?qid=peelbib%7Cjackson%7C%28peelnum%3A001689%29%7Cscore.

[49] LAC, Fonds Macdonald, vol. 213, extract from letter from A.J. McNeil, 30 January 1886.

[50] Using political influence, Bell had established a 215-square-kilometer "model farm" at Indian Head. Dewdney was a director of the company. Intended to advertise the potential of the Canadian West to potential migrants, the project failed within a few years. Bell later lived in Ireland, where he is credited with having invented peat briquettes. W. A. Waiser, "Bell, William Robert", in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14:


[51] Thomas, The Struggle for Responsible Government in the North-West Territories 1870-99, 118n.

[52] This meant that he had given his allegiance to Macdonald when he was 12. The Globe (9 February 1887) hailed him as a "leading Conservative".

[53] Thomas, The Struggle for Responsible Government in the North-West Territories 1870-99, 125, 134.

[54] What Thomas called the "violent altercation" between Jackson and Dewdney is reconstructed from Qu'Appelle Vidette, 10 December, Qu'Appelle Progress, 11 December and Edmonton Bulletin, 26 December 1885.

[55] J. L. Tobias, "Canada's Subjugation of the Plains Cree, 1879-1885," Canadian Historical Review, lxiv, 1983, 519-48, esp. 538-42.

[56] Facts respecting elaborated the defence. The local chief Piapot, who was not popular with the authorities, had "collected" elderly widows and children "to increase his annuity ... they died not because there were no supplies, but because when they came in they were so diseased they could not eat any kind of food." There were 271 sacks of flour, 6,999 pounds of bacon and 160 pounds of beef in store on the reserve. The facts respecting Indian administration in the North-West, 66. Even if Dewdney's claim that no Native person died of starvation proved correct, it would still not say much in mitigation of the sufferings of many Aboriginal communities. In famines, most people die not of stavation, but of diseases contracted because of weakness caused by hunger. Following the 1845-49 Great Famine in Ireland, a medical statistician, William Wilde (father of Oscar), attempted to tabulate the causes of mortality. His 1851 estimate was that about one-twentieth of the 417,085 deaths attributed to the Famine (i.e. 21,803 people) were caused by outright starvation. Wilde's total was much too small and historians now treat his findings with reservations, but the proportions may well be accurate. In the worst Famine districts, e.g. Mayo, deaths by starvation accounted for closer to 15 percent of the total. C. Ó Gráda, Black '47 and Beyond.... Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999, 87-9. On the Canadian prairies, hypothermia would aslo have hastened death. 

[57] LAC Collections Search indicates that Jackson's claim was rejected in June 1885.

[58] Dewdney's deputy, Hayter Reed, also threw at Jackson a rumour that he was angling for the post of Indian Commissioner, an implausible charge that produced laughter and was easily repudiated. Jackson's repeated declarations of allegiance to Sir John A. Macdonald presumably provided the only evidence upon which such an unlikely story might be erected.

[59] Qu'Appelle Progress, 8, 22 January 1886. There was an entertaining rivalry between Fort Qu'Appelle, where Jackson lived, and Qu'Appelle on the Canadian Pacific Railway. The two towns were 28 kilometres apart, and their local newspapers sparred constantly – the Qu'Appelle Progress referred to "The Fort" (a former Hudson's Bay Company post which dated back all the way to 1864) as a suburb, while the Qu'Appelle Vidette dismissed its supplanter as "Qu'Appelle Station". It was in keeping that the Qu'Appelle Progress was lukewarm towards Jackson.

[60] The Qu'Appelle Vidette, 14 January 1886, promised to print Jackson's speech in its next issue, but copies of the 21 January edition do not seem to have survived. The leaflet was headed The Views of a Leading Conservative in the North-West on the Late Rebellion (no publication details: http://peel.library.ualberta.ca/bibliography/1468/1.html.)

[61] LAC, Fonds Macdonald, vol. 213, extract from a letter from A.J. McLean, 30 January 1886. McLean, who has not been further identified, was probably currying favour in official circles. Regina was barely 70 kilometres from Fort Qu'Appelle, and news of the speech would already have reached Dewdney.

[62] Qu'Appelle Progress, 19 February 1886.

[63] LAC, Fonds Macdonald, vol. 213, Dewdney to Macdonald, 9 May 1886. The law firm had certainly closed: on 22 July 1886, the Qu'Appelle Vidette reported that H.A.J. MacDougall had "succeeded to the law business of Mr Jackson". See also MacDougall's advertisement, 2 September 1886.

[64] LAC, Fonds Macdonald, vol. 113, Dewdney to Macdonald, telegrams, 2, 4 July 1886.

[65] Qu'Appelle Progress, 11 December 1885.

[66] Jackson tried to collect on the promises, apparently through Donald A. Smith: LAC, Fonds Macdonald, vol. 431, Jackson to Smith, 20 November; Jackson to Macdonald, private, 13 December 1886. He was announced as a speaker, with Davin, at a Conservative rally in December 1886. Qu'Appelle Progress, 23 December 1886.

[67] Qu'Appelle Progress, 9 July; Qu'Appelle Vidette, 16 September 1886.

[68] Cameron dated the publication of the interview to Toronto Mail, 13 January 1886, an issue that I have not traced; J.E. Nix, "McDougall, John Chantler", in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14:


[69] LAC, Fonds Macdonald, vol. 291, Vankoughnet to Macdonald, 2 February 1886.

[70] LAC, Fonds Macdonald, vol. 223, Dewdney to Macdonald, 17 February 1886.

[71] LAC, Fonds Macdonald, vol. 291, Vankoughnet to Macdonald, 25 February 1886. The brother was apparently Daniel McDougall, who was acting farming instructor at Fort Macleod in 1881. Sessional Papers, 4th Parliament, 4th Session : vol. 5, 6-xxviii: http://parl.canadiana.ca/view/oocihm.9_08052_15_5/53?r=0&s=1. His removal was briefly reported in Sessional Papers, 5th Parliament, 1st Session: vol. 4:


[72] LAC, Fonds Macdonald, vol. 291, Vankoughnet to Pope, 7 April 1886.

[73] The facts respecting Indian administration in the North-West, 43. McDougall's retreat was probably tactical. In 1914, now backed by the status of an old-timer, he repeated his criticisms. While acknowledging "some fine exceptions in the service of the Indian Department", McDougall claimed that many Native people found themselves subject to "the petty restrictions of a government official who was too often a 'misfit' or an 'unfit' having neither character nor ability, nor yet common humanitarian ideals to influence him in his conduct .... this 'teacher' was a coarse, blasphemous, sensual, intemperate person and took delight in his selfish despotisms." The 100,000 manufacturing, building, and wholesale book edition of the "Morning Albertan", Calgary: [Albertan], 1914, 146. I owe this reference to Donald B. Smith.

[74] The Superintendent General was, in effect, the departmental minister. Sir John A. Macdonald held the post himself from 1878. The office was abolished in 1936.

[75] Sessional Papers, 5th Parliament, 1st Session: vol. 4, 5-158: http://parl.canadiana.ca/view/oocihm.9_08052_16_4/225?r=0&s=1.

[76] Daschuk's suggestion that reports for the harsh winter of 1883-4 "might have been deliberate falsifications" seems extreme. Daschuk, Clearing the Plains: Disease, the Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Life, 136.

[77] E.g. a clerk called Gairdner was dismissed from the Indian Office at Battleford in 1884 for the "negligent manner in which he had performed his duties". He had been moved sideways the previous year from his Indian agency at Carlton. The reporting structure implies that this was an unusual case. Sessional Papers, 5th Parliament, 3rd Session: vol. 3, 3-78, 3-154: http://parl.canadiana.ca/view/oocihm.9_08052_18_3/212?r=0&s=1.

[78] Herchmer's report is at Sessional Papers: volume 3, second session of the fifth Parliament, session 1884, 4-64; http://parl.canadiana.ca/view/oocihm.9_08052_17_3/782?r=0&s=1.

[79] Sessional papers of the Dominion of Canada: volume 3, second session of the fifth Parliament, session 1884,4-64; http://parl.canadiana.ca/view/oocihm.9_08052_17_3/782?r=0&s=1. One of the chiefs with whom Herchmer had clashed was Otakaonan (The Gambler), who had been an outspoken participant in negotiations for Treaty 4. S. W. Horrall, "Herchmer, Lawrence William", in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14:

http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/herchmer_lawrence_william_14E.html; Morris, The Treaties of Canada with the Indians of Manitoba and the North-West, 99-104.

[80] Debates of the House of Commons, 8 July 1885, 3169.

[81] Debates of the House of Commons, 11 July 1885, 3319: http://parl.canadiana.ca/view/oop.debates_HOC0503_04/763?r=0&s=2.

[82] Sessional Papers, 5th Parliament, 1st Session: vol. 4, 5-177 to 5-193, especially 5-182 (Rivière Qui Barre), 5-185 (Battleford), 5-190 (Indian Head) :


[83] Speech of Mr. Cameron, M.P., on Indian administration in the North-West: Ottawa, April 15th, 1886, 6; The facts respecting Indian administration in the North-West, 53.

[84] The facts respecting Indian administration in the North-West, 32.

[85] Sessional Papers, 5th Parliament, 1st Session, 5-185.

[86] Cameron stated that in 1882 Indian Affairs regional inspector Ebenezer McColl had reported of the Salteaux at Swan Lake in Manitoba "that wagons were promised to them, and that he is apprehensive of serious consequences unless their claims are recognised." "No such passage occurs in Mr McColl's report" was the curt comment of Facts respecting. In fact, McColl had reported the concerns of band chief Yellow Quill of discontent among local Aboriginal people. "He is apprehensive of serious consequences unless their claims to their former possessions are immediately recognised by the Government, and the compensation of land promised in lieu of wagons is granted them." It was presumably poor transcription that led Cameron to attribute Yellow Quill's warning to McColl. In so doing, he left himself open to the accusation that he had misrepresented a public servant, but (more crucially) had missed the damaging point that an indigenous community felt badly treated by government failings. Sessional Papers, 5th Parliament, 1st Session: vol. 4, 5-153: http://parl.canadiana.ca/view/oocihm.9_08052_16_4/220?r=0&s=3.      

[87] While insisting that "unwholesome food" had not been supplied, Macdonald added the unpleasant reflection that "beggars should not be choosers". Debates of the House of Commons, 11 July 1885, 3319: http://parl.canadiana.ca/view/oop.debates_HOC0503_04/763?r=0&s=2.

[88] In his 1884 report, Wadsworth reported two irregularities in the weight of flour. One case was blamed on the failure of Edmonton contractors to check supplies. In the other, 100 pound bags were found to contain 98 pounds of "inferior quality". The local agent explained that he had run short and turned to a Battleford firm "and this was the only kind they had". Five other checks found flour correct in quantity, with quality from "satisfactory" to "excellent". Sessional Papers, 5th Parliament, 3rd Session: vol. 3, 3-137 to 3-156:

http://parl.canadiana.ca/view/oocihm.9_08052_18_3/281?r=0&s=1. Cameron's gloss on this was: "Mr. Wadsworth has several times pointed out that the supplies are of inferior quality, and that the sacks of flour only weighed 90 or 92 pounds, instead of 100 pounds, and that it is lumpy and bad." Debates of the House of Commons, 11 July 1885, 3319.

[89] I have not traced the transaction in the Sessional Papers. Cameron appeared to refer to vouchers consulted directly in the Department of Indian Affairs. Debates of the House of Commons, 11 July 1885, 3319-20: http://parl.canadiana.ca/view/oop.debates_HOC0503_04/764?r=0&s=2.

[90] Daschuk, Clearing the Plains: Disease, the Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Life, 140, and cf. note on 239. The use of the present tense ("show") is unfortunate in implying that the transactions have been checked in recent times.

[91] Speech of Mr. Cameron, M.P., on Indian administration in the North-West: Ottawa, April 15th, 1886, 9; The facts respecting Indian administration in the North-West, 53.      

[92] Cameron was enthusiastically seconded by the Toronto Globe, which waxed indignant at "[s]ilk handkerchiefs, footballs, an amazingly expensive magic lantern for official use". Globe, 19 April 1886. Another petty exchange concerned $125 spent by the local Superintendent, Ebenezer McColl, on a desk for the Indian Affairs office in Winnipeg, which Cameron scornfully dismissed as excessive. "The original cost of the article was $300 [i.e. Indian Affairs had secured a bargain]. It is a most commodious desk; answers the purpose of cupboards and shelving which the Superintendent had been authorized to purchase, but which, in consequence of having this large desk, he was able to dispense with. Mr. McColl states that this was one of the best and most economical investments that could have been made." Judging from Henry V, Act 3, Scene 7, Shakespeare would have called it a most absolute and excellent desk. The facts respecting Indian administration in the North-West, 59-60.  

[93] Peter A. Russell, "Cameron, Malcolm Colin", in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/cameron_malcolm_colin_12E.html., which may be supplemented by the obituary sketch of a long-time but eventually estranged friend: D. McGillicuddy, "M.C. Cameron as I Knew Him: a Character Sketch", The Canadian Magazine, xii (1898), 57-60. "He believed in calling a spade a spade," was one perhaps predictable comment on his death. Moose Jaw Herald Times, 30 September 1898.

Malcolm Colin Cameron should not be confused with the Conservative Matthew Crooks Cameron, one of the few Upper Canada politicians to oppose Confederation, who was also known by his initials.

[94] The elder Cameron's involvement with the Free Church is not emphasised in Margaret Coleman, "Cameron, Malcolm", in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 10:

http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/cameron_malcolm_10E.html, but see R.W. Vaudry, The Free Church in Victorian Canada, 1844-1861, Waterloo, Ont.: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1989, 64-5.

[95] Sir John Thompson contemptuously dismissed Cameron's entitlement to forgive. Debates of the House of Commons, 30 June 1891, 1498: http://parl.canadiana.ca/view/oop.debates_HOC0701_01/760?r=0&s=3.

[96] McGillicuddy, "M.C. Cameron as I Knew Him: a Character Sketch", 57. Cameron's parliamentary speeches contrasted in tone with those of his Liberal colleague, William Paterson of Brant, who was equally critical of the Macdonald government's handling of Indian Affairs, but much less declamatory.

[97] Russell, "Cameron, Malcolm Colin", in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12. Cameron's inconvenient ambivalence towards protection probably helps explain his appointment in 1898 as lieutenant-governor of the North-West Territories.

[98] Globe (Toronto), 13 March 1882. $75,000 in 1882 is the equivalent of $1.9 million in 2020.

[99] So he indicated in Debates of the House of Commons, 27 March 1884, 1145.

[100] The facts respecting Indian administration in the North-West, 51.

[101] Ferguson claimed the meat supplied was "a great deal better meat than I am getting in Ottawa, today."Debates of the House of Commons, 15 April 1886,739-41:


[102] The specific phrase "violated treaties" occurs four times in the 1886 speech.

[103] The facts respecting Indian administration in the North-West, 27-8. The terms of Treaty 6 are quoted in R.J. Talbot, Negotiating the Numbered Treaties: an Intellectual and Political Biography of Alexander Morris, Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2019, 100. They were not specific.

[104] Globe, 25 January 1887.

[105] The facts respecting Indian administration in the North-West, 8-9. In fact, Cameron had made the direct connection the previous year: "the solemn promises made by this Government to the Indians, and on the faith of which they were induced to abandon a nomadic life and to settle on the reserves, have been violated." The point is minor: the post-1878 Macdonald government was of course bound by agreements made by the Mackenzie administration of 1873-78. But it is an example of Cameron reckless overstatement. Debates of the House of Commons, 8 July 1885, 3174. For a discussion of the "pittance", see Ged Martin, "How much did Canada 'pay' First Nations for the prairies?": https://www.gedmartin.net/martinalia-mainmenu-3/313-how-much-did-canada-pay-first-nations-for-the-prairies.

[106] Sessional Papers, 4th Parliament, 3rd Session: vol. 3, 3-25 to 3-29: http://parl.canadiana.ca/view/oocihm.9_08052_14_3/143?r=0&s=1; R. C. Macleod, "Walsh, James Morrow", in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/walsh_james_morrow_13E.html.

[107] A modern study of the episode offered this summary: "Many Indians died from eating dead and diseased horses, but most survived with the aid of food supplied by the Mounted Police until hunting parties arrived with fresh meat." G. Pennanen, "Sitting Bull Indian without a country", Canadian Historical Review, li (1970), 123-40, esp. 135.

[108] Debates of the House of Commons, 30 June 1891, 1492.

[109] The main US supply base, Fort Benton, on Missouri River, is over 100 kilometres south of the border. The Missouri was closed by ice from 22 November 1880. Annual Report of the Chief Signal Officer to the Secretary of War for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1881, Washington: Government Printing Office, 1881, 976.

[110] Walsh was forced to resign because of allegedly improper relationships with Native women. He was briefly reinstated by the Liberals to take charge of policing the Yukon in 1897-8.

[111] Cameron repeated the charge in 1891: "the callous misconduct and neglect of the Department of Indian Affairs could be traced by the graves of the Indians on the side of Wood Mountain." Debates of the House of Commons, 30 June 1891, 1492.

[112] Carl Beal, "Money, markets and economic development in Saskatchewan Indian reserve communities, 1870 to 1930s", PhD thesis, University of Manitoba, 1994, 140. Denial of support to Sitting Bull and his refugee Sioux was bipartisan policy. "Sitting Bull, who is starving, receives no sustenance of any kind from the Canadian Government," Macdonald told parliament in 1881. "They are told they will receive no food from the authorities, and must surrender to the American Government." Prominent Liberal Sir Richard Cartwright, no admirer of the prime minister, replied: "I am extremely glad to hear that, because Sitting Bull's Indians have always been a danger to our people." [112] Debates of the House of Commons, 11 March 1881, 1354-5: http://parl.canadiana.ca/view/oop.debates_HOC0403_02/542?r=0&s=2. For the wider diplomatic problem of the Sioux presence, Pennanen, "Sitting Bull Indian without a country".

[113] E.g. B. Beal and R. Macleod, Prairie Fire: the 1885 North-West Rebellion, Edmonton: Hurtig Publishers, 1984, 68, 181-2, 191-8, and cf. Tobias, "Canada's Subjugation of the Plains Cree, 1879-1885", 544. Others blame the obstinacy of the Indian agent Thomas Quinn for the death of Delaney: John Chaput, "Frog Lake Massacre", Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan: http://esask.uregina.ca/entry/frog_lake_massacre.html; S. M. Van Kirk, "Kapapamahchakwew [Wandering Spirit]", in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/kapapamahchakwew_11E.html.

[114] Daschuk writes: "According to Lawrence Clarke, farm instructors were 'universally known to be brutal wretches'." In fact, Cameron's misquotation referred specifically to Payne and Delaney. Daschuk, Clearing the Plains: Disease, the Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Life, 151.3

[115] Debates of the House of Commons, 8 July 1885, 3185.

[116] Speech of Mr. Cameron, M.P., on Indian administration in the North-West: Ottawa, April 15th, 1886, 3.

[117] S. Gordon, "Clarke, Lawrence", in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/clarke_lawrence_11E.html.

[118] Daschuk, Clearing the Plains: Disease, the Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Life, 114.

[119] Beal and Macleod, Prairie Fire: the 1885 North-West Rebellion, 139. Clarke denied the story.

[120] The facts respecting Indian administration in the North-West, 12-13.

[121] Globe, 23 September 1885; L.C. Clark, "Clarke, Henry Joseph", in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/clarke_henry_joseph_11E.html. The original interview, in the Winnipeg News, has not been traced.

[122] In its early years, Manitoba had yet to evolve a form of cabinet government, and Clarke was not formally recognised as premier. One of his legislative achievements was the incorporation of Winnipeg.

[123] Beal and Macleod, Prairie Fire: the 1885 North-West Rebellion, 317-21, esp. 318. Henry J. Clarke secured acquittals or light sentences for his clients.

[124] Clark, "Clarke, Henry Joseph", in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11.

[125] Sessional Papers, 5th Parliament, 1st Session: vol. 4, 5-168 to 5-177: http://parl.canadiana.ca/view/oocihm.9_08052_16_4/236?r=0&s=1; A. B. McCullough, "Denny, Sir Cecil Edward", in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 15: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/denny_cecil_edward_15E.html. By contemporary standards, Denny was generous to Aboriginal people: Daschuk, Clearing the Plains: Disease, the Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Life, 109, 111, 117..

[126] Sessional Papers, 5th Parliament, 1st Session: vol. 4, 5-170. It is curious that Cameron did not correct this obvious error in Hansard reporting, probably an error in reading shorthand. Denny had also written that "beef would have been run out" (emphasis added), presumably an outdated formulation.

[127] The facts respecting Indian administration in the North-West, 25.

[128] 500 acres would be about 200 hectares. There were two oxen to a yoke.

[129] The facts respecting Indian administration in the North-West, 56-7.

[130] I suspect here a nod to Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance, hugely popular in the 1880s. Accused of having become plain and old, Ruth indignantly replies "I've gradually got so."

[131] The reserve, then called Che-Ma-Wha-Win, is now the Chemawawin Cree Nation (http://chemawawin.ca/ ). The report in question was submitted by Indian agent A. Mackay on 30 September 1882: Sessional Papers, 5th Parliament, 1st Session: vol. 4: http://parl.canadiana.ca/view/oocihm.9_08052_16_4/116?r=0&s=1.

[132] On taking charge of Indian Affairs in 1896, the Liberal Clifford Sifton acted on the assumption that there were "nearly as many officials as Indians". D.J. Hall, Clifford Sifton: i, The Young Napoleon, 1861-1900, Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1981, 128.

[133] Mackay's use of "never" and "yet" suggests that the implements had been supplied some time previously, which undermines Dewdney's subsequent assumption that only eleven days had elapsed since their issue. Even in Manitoba, weeds do not grow that quickly, Debates of the House of Commons, 30 June 1891, 1506-7.

[134] Speech of Mr. Cameron, M.P., on Indian administration in the North-West: Ottawa, April 15th, 1886, 4-5.

[135] Debates of the House of Commons, 30 June 1891 (Dewdney).

[136] Sessional Papers, 5th Parliament, 2nd Session: vol. 3, 4-165 to 4-167: http://parl.canadiana.ca/view/oocihm.9_08052_17_3/886?r=0&s=1.

[137] The facts respecting Indian administration in the North-West, 21-2.

[138] LAC, Fonds Macdonald, vol. 211, Dewdney to Macdonald, private, 9 August 1882.

[139] The facts respecting Indian administration in the North-West, 27-30. The development of ranching in Alberta may have eased this question. In 1884, Wadsworth found that Crowfoot's people "had taken a prejudice against bacon". Since "its issue was but a very slight saving to the Department," he substituted locally produced beef, adding that "it will give great satisfaction to the ranchers if the Department continues its issue solely." The priorities are revealing. Sessional Papers, 5th Parliament, 3rd Session: vol. 3, 3-143: http://parl.canadiana.ca/view/oocihm.9_08052_18_3/277?r=0&s=1.

[140] Speech of Mr. Cameron, M.P., on Indian administration in the North-West: Ottawa, April 15th, 1886, quoting Winnipeg Times, 5 June 1883.

[141] LAC, Fonds Macdonald, vol. 211, Dewdney to Macdonald, 26 April 1882.

[142] Winnipeg Times, 24 July 1885. The correspondent, 'Veritas' from Prince Albert, claimed never to have met Dewdney.

[143] Daschuk, Clearing the Plains: Disease, the Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Life, 143. Daschuk notes (240) that "Detailed accounts of the Indian Department are not available for 1883-84." It is likely that they would have been available in 1886 had Cameron demanded an investigation by the Auditor General. In any case, the Winnipeg Times allegation referred to an earlier year.

[144] J.R. Miller, Skyscrapers Hide the Heavens: a History of Indian-White Relations in Canada, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1989, 161-76.

[145] Daschuk, Clearing the Plains: Disease, the Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Life, 108.

[146] The facts respecting Indian administration in the North-West, 9, 25.

[147] Globe, 19 April, 9 November 1886.

[148] Debates of the House of Commons, 11 July 1885, 3319: http://parl.canadiana.ca/view/oop.debates_HOC0503_04/763?r=0&s=2. Daschuk notes that Macdonald "admitted that there were 'occasional frauds' by contractors". In fact, Macdonald said "there were occasional frauds; that is, the Indians, when in large bodies, managed to get more supplies than they were entitled to. ... the Government attempt to get the article they advertise for, and they are pretty successful, on the whole." Daschuk, Clearing the Plains: Disease, the Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Life, 140.

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