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The Missionary

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Enthusiasm for Canadian Confederation and the prospect of a country that stretched from sea to sea shaped many of the political initiatives that affected the west. European culture and lifestyle had a firm foot on Canadian soil, and this had to be reconciled with the presence of Aboriginal people whose predominantly nomadic lifestyles were incompatible with the expansion of settlement and land cultivation.

The reduction of game animals—primarily buffalo—had increased tension and violence. By 1870 Aboriginal nations had been decimated and discouraged by famine, disease and inter-tribal warfare and were now asked to negotiate treaties and settle on reserves.

Most missionaries were convinced that the opportunities of new technologies and a western lifestyle offered the only opportunity for Aboriginal survival. John McDougall observed:

You call this your country, but even now in the dead of winter you dare not sleep in quiet. . Not until a stronger power friendly to you comes upon the scene will you really own a bit of land and live at peace with other men.

Both Catholic and Protestant missionaries helped negotiate treaties. They explained the language and terms and represented to the best of their knowledge the interest of the Aboriginal people in defining the terms of the treaties. They also promoted the principles of a European style church and government, as they envisioned would serve the country and its current dilemmas best. The entire process, in retrospect, appears paternalistic and inadequate. At the time, any treaty seemed better in the eyes of the missionaries than to continue the desperate slide towards annihilation of the Aboriginal people.


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