I first wrote this article some years ago. Indian is no longer a politically correct term for Canada’s indigenous population but due to the historical context I thought it best to leave it as I wrote it.
Starting in 1701, the British government made treaties with the Indians living in Canada. They were open-ended arrangements, promising schooling and health care, giving the Indians parcels of land for their exclusive use, but not limiting their right to hunt, fish, and trap wherever they wanted.
Left to their own devices, the Indians would have found a way to prosper in the new reality of a land dominated by other people. But the government considered them to be a problem. Rather than establishing schools where the people lived, they established residential schools far away. All the better to teach the children how to fit in the new society, so they said.
At the same time, Indian agents were placed on every reserve to manage things. Indians were not allowed to leave the reserves without permission of the Indian agent. The children finished their schooling, where they were taught to be ashamed of their Indian heritage, then sent back to the reserves and not allowed to leave. Here we see the genius of bureaucracy, taking a small problem that would have corrected itself and transforming it into a great big problem lasting many generations.
In the course of time, the Indians developed their own bureaucracy. On the national level it is called the Assembly of First Nations, in addition each province has its own Indian bureaucracy, here in Saskatchewan it is the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations.
Both bureaucracies have endeavoured for years to find a solution to the Indian problem, most of them involving the spending of large sums of money with little visible results. It is in the nature of bureaucracies to find ways to invent solutions to problems that just make the problem more complex. The Indian problem puts money in the pocket for the people in both bureaucracies. If there ever was a genuine solution, a lot of people would be out of a job.
Thirty years ago a French language news magazine ran pictures of Cree Indian communities around James Bay. The communities in Ontario consisted of dilapidated housing and the text explained that in these communities most people were unemployed, there was rampant alcoholism and crime, and school attendance was sporadic at best. On the Québec side, the houses were neat, clean and well maintained, there was very little unemployment, crime or alcohol problem and the children were faithfully attending school. The article asked why there was such a difference, but offered no answer.
The answer is quite simple, but beyond the capability of a bureaucracy. On the Québec side evangelical missionaries brought the gospel and it was received. The majority of the people in those communities are Christians. Once parents are converted, they stop drinking and begin to take responsibility for their homes and their children. They want to work and provide a living for their families. Those communities were transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ. The communities on the Ontario side were not.
Billy Diamond grew up in one of those Québec communities at a time of 100% alcoholism, 100% unemployment and 100% welfare (his words). He was the son of the chief and went away to university. He came back and was elected chief at the age of 21. Shamanism was the people’s religion, until an Indian preacher came and began holding services. A few people went at first, then one of the most powerful shamans got converted. News spread like wildfire and more and more people came and got converted. Billy Diamond and the band council cut off the welfare of those who got converted. This only seemed to make them happier.
About this time Hydro Québec began planning the huge James Bay hydroelectric project that would flood a large area of their hunting grounds. Billy Diamond became Grand Chief of all the Cree in Northern Québec and negotiated a very good settlement with Hydro Québec. Suddenly he was national news; he travelled across the country, sometimes speaking three times a day, appearing on talk shows and lapping up all the attention.
Billy Diamond was a big man physically and he became a big man in his own eyes. Too big for his backward little community. He went home to say good-bye and cut his ties. His wife had become a Christian; too bad, she could stay if she wished.
A friend came to tell him that he wasn’t running away from his family, he was running away from God. He began to think bitter thoughts: “How dare these preachers come into my community and take over my people? We were doing okay before without them.”
Then he remembered the 100% alcoholism, unemployment and welfare and how that had changed after the preachers came. He began to be a little curious and the next meeting he went to church for the first time in his life, sitting near the door to make his escape if things got too uncomfortable. He began to shake as soon as he sat down and as the preacher spoke, the tears began flowing down his face. That night he surrendered his life to Jesus Christ, asking forgiveness for his sins against God and for the way he had persecuted His people.
Billy Diamond says he walked into that meeting a drunk and walked out a sober man. He stayed in the community with his wife and became the manager of a local business.
There is the solution to the Indian problem. It is not something that can be done by bureaucracies. It is not something that starts at the top with a Grand Chief. It starts with the little people at the bottom, but as their lives are transformed by the blood of Jesus Christ, sometimes even a Grand Chief will abandon his pride and ambition to become a follower of God.