Walking in Indian Moccasins: The Native Policies of Tommy Douglas and the CCF, by F. Laurie Barron, UBC Press, 1997.
This book is a fascinating account of a government that honestly tried to address Native issues. The CCF government of Tommy Douglas, which held power in Saskatchewan from 1944 to 1964, was not only the first self-styled socialist government in Canada. It was also one of the first governments of any stripe to attempt to address the situation of Aboriginal peoples. Vowing to put "humanity first" before corporate profit, and attempting to be far more culturally sensitive and consultative than its predecessors, the CCF instituted many new policies for the benefit of Native people, inventing new programs that were essentially massive experiments. Some of these, such as greatly improved access to health care, particularly in northern communities, were of lasting and significant benefit, as was the CCF's strong support for the creation of a province-wide organization to represent Saskatchewan Natives -- the precursor of today's Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations. However, the "heavy hand" of the CCF's paternalistic statism -- a feature of its socialist belief in the state as an instrument of social reform -- and racist attitudes on some issues meant that some programs were fundamentally flawed.
In northern Saskatchewan, for example, the CCF, despite its intentions, was a major colonizing force. By instituting marketing boards for furs and fish (to increase the income of indigenous fishers and trappers), the CCF took away local control of these activities. To receive the Old Age Pension and Mother's Allowance, which the CCF extended to Aboriginal people, Native people had to move into communities. However, only the men remained on traplines, while women and children lived in communities where there was nothing to do, resulting in social and family breakdown. Worse, parents were denied the Mother's Allowance unless their children attended school -- usually residential school. The CCF legacy in the north is a textbook case of how damaging paternalistic "good intentions" can be. And although the CCF was more enlightened in its policies toward status Indians in the south, the fundamental goal of the CCF with regard to the Metis was their assimilation into the mainstream population.
While the results of CCF policies were decidedly mixed, Barron argues that the CCF government is historically important. "It was the first government in Saskatchewan to attempt to integrate [rather than assimilate] Native people into provincial society and did so with an intensity and sincereity that makes the CCF's efforts remarkable by any standard. Driven by postwar ideology and a burning sense of social justice seldom seen in government, the Douglas regime was determined to confront the problems tormenting Native society, at least as it saw them. In doing so, the CCF elevated native issues to an entirely new level of public consciousness in Saskatchewan. That the government's policies would be judged wanting by the standards of today's discourse on Aboriginal self-government is testimony to the fact that leaders like Douglas, Shumiatcher, and Sturdy, although progressive thinkers in their own day, were nevertheless men of their times and bound by limitations imposed by existing social understanding. This should not obscure the reality, however, that in their own day these men attempted to do what others had ignored."
As an eastern non-Native who is ignorant of Saskatchewan history, I can't evaluate this book critically in terms of the history it documents. But I can say that I'd be very interested to read a similar analysis of the Bob Rae government in Ontario. We all know of governments that are basically hostile to Aboriginal people -- but there is a lot to learn from the successes and failures of those governments that have made more honest attempts at reform.