OTTAWA — Imagine having to get a permit from the government to leave the reserve for any reason. There was a time, not that long ago when you had to carry proof on your person telling the agent where you were going, why you were going there, and when you would be back. Some of Six Nations’ more senior elders may have first-hand knowledge of that time, or stories told them by their parents.
The early settler government was all about control and, too often, that superior attitude filtered down from the top to the local dirt farmer. It was like a built-in colonial need for power over people that you don’t understand.
But what is worse is that this enforced ordinance of prison-like control of the borders of “Indian Country” was not even legal. It was only assumed to be the law of the land, which was just fine as far as Indian Affairs was concerned. It was just another kind of oppression for the colonial tool-box.
This began shortly after the reservation system was enacted and Six Nations gathered their belongings and moved to the Tuscarora village where Reserve number 40 was established in the late 1830’s.
They were told that the situation of settler encroachment would be easier dealt with if there was strict segregation. But this imposed imaginary wall was more to keep the Indians in than it was to keep white encroachment out.
There are many documents held within the National Archives, now digitized and much more accessible that in the past, that can be found if one is willing to take the time to search.
The colonial government itself knew this was not law, however passed these forms along to Indian Agents just the same.
One such archived document reads, “This appears, nevertheless, that even as late as the 1920s permit forms were printed and supplied to Indian Agents which provided for the granting of leave by agents to an Indian to be absent from his reserve for a number of days and business specified and also to carry a gun. Those permits were quite irregular in all respects and how they came to be issued and what authority is not known.”
Then the truth came. “Actually, the Indian required no permission to leave his reserve nor could the department grant him any to carry a gun, the latter subject being under their jurisdiction. If you have any such forms in your possession kindly return them to the department where they will be destroyed.”
The above “reminder” was issued on July 11th, 1941, by the department of Lands and Resources, who at the time looked after Indian Affairs. That means that between the 1920’s and 1941, this illegal practice kept Native People on reserve and under a tight control.
This was also a time when it was illegal for “Indians” to raise money for a legal defence against such oversteps. That oppressive law was quietly rescinded in 1952, but was still practiced for years after, barring them from legal representation. In fact, a lawyer could face being disbarred should he take such an “Indian” case to court.