History

Throwback Thursday - Canada’s Debt to the Indians

Throwback Thursday - Canada’s Debt to the Indians
  • Feb 11, 2015
  • 336 words
  • 2 minutes
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“Does it not argue also that their 115,000 descendants, those who remain on reserves and are still classed as Indians, will some day become admirable citizens, provided we give them a reasonable opportunity?”

Diamond Jenness poses this question at the end of his article in the May 1939 issue of the Canadian Geographical Journal, “Canada’s Debt To The Indians.” The article explains the aboriginal origins of many material goods and activities that Europeans and those of European-descent in the Americas use every day. These items include crops such as tobacco, corn and potatoes — of which Jenness says, “It is, indeed, a remarkable tribute to the intelligence of the aborigines that the numberless new species Europeans found in the New World…were already being cultivated by its inhabitants,” — as well as turkey on Christmas, medicinal plants including quinine and cocaine, kayaks, dog sleds and the game of lacrosse.

Diamond Jenness is revered as Canada’s most distinguished pioneer of anthropology, an arctic scholar and a fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. His published work on the Copper Inuit from his observations during the Canadian Arctic Expedition (1913-18), “assumed its place immediately not only as the definitive work on a little known but important segment of the Eskimo population but also as the most comprehensive description of a single Eskimo tribe ever written,” wrote Henry B. Collins and William E. Taylor Jr. in their biographical paper (Arctic Institute of North America) . Jenness separated himself from others at the time through his values of humanitarianism and social equality. He was a staunch supporter of policy reform for aboriginal rights in Canada, liberal views at the time, and in 1936, became a special consultant to the Indian Affairs Branch .

Though some of the language in this article is now politically, and factually, incorrect — “Indians” was coined by explorer Christopher Columbus upon mistaking the Americas for India — Jenness seeks to shed light on the value and importance of aboriginal people to Canada’s prosperity.

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