The Influence of Betterment Discourses on Canadian Aboriginal Peoples in the Late Nineteenth and early twentieth Centuries


Author's Abstract, Page 444:

"Based on government archival sources, fieldwork and the historical perspectives, experiences and oral histories of Aboriginal peoples, this paper argues that late nineteenth and early twentieth century Indian policy, and more specifically the File Hills farm colony, was deeply influenced by betterment discourses. The presumption of this discourse was that Aboriginal peoples, who clearly were not vanishing as promised, could be transformed into something approaching white settlers by reshaping, controlling, and managing their environments, both private and public, and by altering their genetics and morals. While the betterment discourse and the File Hills colony have each been the focus of research, no one to our knowledge has focused on the importance of betterment thought in the establishment and application of Indian policy and its significance for the File Hills colony." (444).

Excerpt from Introduction, Page 445-446:

"The construction of the File Hills farm colony on the Peepeekisis Reserve in south eastern Saskatchewan in 1898 illustrates the influence of betterment discourses on Indian Affairs policy. The colony’s founder, Indian agent William Morris Graham, attempted to substantiate DIA policy by monitoring closely the lives of Aboriginal peoples as they moved from residential schools to reserve agriculture. Graham’s experiment selected students for their intelligence from surrounding residential schools, favouring those of mixed white and Aboriginal blood, to settle in Euro-American-style houses, cultivate crops, attend church and live a ‘civilized’ life, well removed from reserve influences. Graham kept the colony under constant surveillance: Indian agents frequently visited homes, and residents had a list of rules forbidding many Aboriginal cultural expressions. Intervention was the key to colony betterment. The intimate lives of colonists were manipulated to control and shape gender, sexuality, health, family structure and colonists’ interaction with public and private spaces." (445-446).

Publication Information

Bednasek, C. Drew, and Anne M. C. Godlewska. "The Influence of Betterment Discourses on Canadian Aboriginal Peoples in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries." Canadian Geographer / Le Géographe Canadien 53, no. 4 (2009): 444-61.

Bednasek, C. Drew
Godlewska, Anne M. C.
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