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Indian Agents

Rulers of the Reserves


John L. Steckley

Canadians are beginning to learn about the negative effects of residential schools on Aboriginal people in Canada. More hidden in the written record, but bearing a similar powerfully destructive role, are Indian Agents, who were with very few exceptions White men who ‘ruled the reserves’ in Canada from the 1870s to the 1960s. This book is the first to present a discussion of Indian Agents in general. It provides an introductory look at the control Indian Agents exercised over Aboriginal communities throughout the period in question. The primary intent is to spark discussion in Indigenous studies courses.

This book is built upon a discussion of the lives and impact of five Indian Agents: Hayter Reed, William Morris Graham, John McIver, William Halliday, and Fred Hall. However, the practices and views of 39 other Indian Agents are interwoven throughout the text.

Although there was a readily detectable sameness in the way that Indian Agent power was imposed on Aboriginal communities based on the institutional racism of the Indian Agent System, one of the points to be made is that not all Indian Agents were the same. Some were more oppressive than others. Also frequently pointed out is the fact that Aboriginal peoples were not merely helpless victims to Indian Agent control, but resisted that control, sometimes successfully.

The book concludes with a chapter comparing the Indian Agent System in Canada, with similar systems in the United States, Australia, and New Zealand.

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About the author


JOHN L. STECKLEY received a B.A. in anthropology at York University, an M.A. in anthropology from Memorial University of Newfoundland, as well as an Ed.D. from the Ontario Institute of Studies in Education at the University of Toronto. He taught at Humber College from 1986 to 2015. His primary area of research is Aboriginal studies, especially languages and history. Steckley has published 18 books, including White Lies about the Inuit and Learning from the Past: Five Cases of Aboriginal Justice. Some of his awards include the Robert F. Heizer Prize and the Ontario Archaeology Society’s 2014 Award for Excellence in Publishing.

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