Injustices faced by the Indigenous People in Canada during the Sixties

By Caslyn McLean

November 2022


            Throughout history many social injustices have been committed right here in Canada. Not far away but right here. These actions have lasting impacts on the members of the groups facing these injustices and there is still action to be taken to, not fix, but heal these wrongdoings.


  1. What social injustices existed in Canada around the same time as Martin Luther King Junior's speech “I Have a Dream”?


During the fifties and sixties there were numerous injustices faced by the Indigenous Peoples of Canada. They faced segregation similar to what the Black people faced in the United States. Canada’s Indian Act, a government policy put in place under Prime Minister Alexander Mackenzie which exists to this day, forced Native people onto reserves, created the Indian Status, stripped away their culture very purposefully and ruined the lives of countless children through the Residential school system. Until 1951, Indigenous people were banned from pool halls and bars and women would be stripped of the few benefits the Indian Status provided if they married a non-status man. During the sixties, Residential schools and the “Sixties Scoop” saw children taken away from their families and communities and placed in situations where they were meant to be assimilated into European culture. In Residential schools, they were subjected to teachers and clergy members who were meant to “beat the Indian out of them”. The children were not permitted to use their native language and were forced into European beliefs and ideas. This made them out-casts no matter where they were as the Europeans still did not accept them and they had no ties to their own people. This pushed the survivors of the schools to abuse alcohol, drugs and people, giving them a bad reputation amongst the rest of Canadians.


  1. How far has our society come to resolve these matters?


Our government has made some important changes to the Indian Act which has improved the treatment of Indigeonous people in Canada. The Act was amended in 1951 to lift the ban on potlatch ceremonies (gift giving tradition) and allowed them to enter establishments and pool halls so long as they were not served alcohol. In 1960, John Diefenbaker granted Indigenous people the right to vote federally. In 1985, the Indian Act was amended significantly to allow women to keep their Status Rights even if they married a non-status man. Today, Métis people have a status card giving them many rights that the government would not recognize as their own. Indian Reserves (a small territory of often poor quality land given to an Idigeonous community by the government) continue to exist in Canada. Though Indigenous people may not be required to stay on them any more, they are barred access to many of the benefits they are granted by the Indian Act if they leave. Today, reservations are a place where culture is being brought back and communities are healing together. Many reservations have band schools that teach students about their culture and offer services to help them regain their traditions and identities. Unfortunately, reservations are also home to a lot of crime. “Violent crime rates reported by Indigenous communities were almost nine times higher than those in non-Indigenous communities.” states Statistics Canada on their website. Another major change since the 1950s and 60s is the closing of all Residential Schools. The federal government issued an official apology in 2010 to the survivors and has created multiple programs in order to aid in healing the traumatic results of the Residential School System. The Common Experience Payment (CEP) for all eligible former students of Indian Residential Schools, an Independent Assessment Process (IAP) for claims of sexual or serious physical abuse, the Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program and an endowment to the Aboriginal Healing Foundation and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) were created with hopes of building towards healing and reconciliation within our country.


  1. What does society still need to do?

Canadian society still has a long way to go in order to undo a lot of damage caused by generations of discrimination, condesention and alienation towards Indigeonous peoples. Just like any physical injury, it will take much longer to heal than it took to occur and the dehumanization will be a permanent scar on Canadian history. Some steps to be taken towards reconciliation would be to: encourage the Indigenous community to bring back their culture, help them find ways to learn the lost traditions and customs of their ancestors, educate the rest of Canadians about our history as a country and remove any barriers that cause descrimination towards Indigeonous citizens in everyday life, the healthcare system and the judicial systems. The government should uphold all the promises made through the treaties. It should work with Indigeonous communities to develop mental health programs and resources to improve the livelihoods of Indigeonous people. There is a long road to healing and because of the nature of people we will never reach perfection but that does not mean we can’t strive to make our country a better, safer and more equitable place.




Isabella Bird

October 15 1831- October 7 1904

By Caslyn McLean
Sep. 16 2022


            Isabella Bird was born October 15th, 1831 in Boroughbridge, Yorkshire to an upper- middle class family. Her father was an Anglican clergyman and her mother was the daughter of a clergyman. She was a sickly child who suffered from back pain and insomnia most of her life. The solution prescribed was plenty of exercise and fresh air. She was instructed at home by her father who taught her to ride horses and row a boat. She was also encouraged to explore and observe the world around her. Her family relocated often as her father moved to different congregations and she became accustomed to not staying in one place for long. When she was 23, Isabella had an operation on her spine with the goal of relieving her back pain. It was only partially successful and the doctors prescribed travel. Her father gave her one hundred pounds to go wherever she desired. She took a boat to Prince Edward Island where she visited a cousin and then continued to travel around North America. She later wrote about her adventures in her book ‘The Englishwoman in America’ which she based mainly on the letters she wrote to her sister Henrietta. After her father’s death in 1848 she moved with her mother and sister to Edinburgh, Scotland. This was where she would live between her many adventures.


            After her first trip to Canada, Bird longed to travel more. She traveled three times to Canada and once to the Mediterranean but realized travel was her passion after her trip to Hawaii. In 1872, she planned to travel from the U.S. to New Zealand but decided to get off in Hawaii instead. She spent six months there, climbing volcanoes and studying the wildlife. She also learned how to ride “like a man” (astride) which helped to alleviate some of her back pain and explored remote regions of the islands. She wrote about this trip in her book ‘Six Months in the Sandwich Islands’ which she published in 1875.


            After leaving Hawaii, she returned to the mainland where she visited the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Adamant about going on adventures while still appearing feminine, she climbed Long’s Peak in a dress. She met a one-eyed cowboy known as Rocky Mountain Jim. He later proposed to Bird but she told her sister in a letter that “he is a man any woman could love but no sane woman could marry”. He was killed in a gunfight six months later. She had many more adventures on her trip including killing a rattlesnake, riding a horse through a snowstorm in which her eyes were frozen shut and spending several months stuck in a cabin due to heavy snowfall. She returned home and wrote a book about her time in the Rockies called ‘A Lady’s Life in The Rocky Mountains’, published in 1879.


            Next, Isabella decided to travel to Japan in January of 1878. Once she arrived, she hired a translator who traveled with her to the northern parts of Hokkaido. There she stayed with a native tribe of Anius, non-Japanese people who lived on the island prior to its occupation by the Japanese. Her book ‘Unbeaten Tracks in Japan’ was based on these experiences. After her stay in Japan she traveled to Hong Kong, Canton, Saigon and Singapore. Little is described about these travels and she returned to Edinburgh in 1879. On her return, her sister passed away from a typhoid fever infection. In 1981 Ms. Bird married Dr. John Bishop, the doctor who cared for Henrietta while she was sick. They had a happy marriage but he died only five years later.


Following the death of her husband, Isabella began studying medicine at Mary’s Hospital in London. She had inherited enough money to fund the majority of her further adventures. She traveled to India as a missionary and founded two hospitals: The Bishop Memorial Center in Srinagar and The Henrietta Bird Hospital for Women in Amritsar. While in India, she traveled to the northern regions which were not commonly traveled. While crossing a river her horse lost its footing and slipped, causing it to drown. Bird emerged from this event with two cracked ribs. She then met an army Major who was heading to his new posting in Persia. Isabella decided to go with him. This meant traveling through the desert mid-winter and through many storms. The pair arrived in Tehran “half dead”. They parted ways and Bird headed her own caravan through northern Iran, Kurdistan and Turkey.


On her return to England, Bird protested the treatment of Armenians in the Middle-East. She met with Prime Minister William Gladstone, as well as a Parliamentary committee to address this issue. She was well-known by this point because of her publications that were both entertaining and educational. She was made a fellow of the Scottish Geographical Society in 1891 and she was the first woman to be given this title.


In 1894, Bird set out for Japan once again. She then traveled into Korea but was forced to leave when the Sino-Japanese war broke out. She chose to visit China again and photographed soldiers leaving for the front. Isabella returned to Korea in order to see the devastation of the war. Leaving Korea, she traveled back to China, traveled up the Yangtze River and continued to the province of Sichuan in January of 1896. There, she was attacked by a mob of angry people who called her a “foreign devil” and trapped her in a house which they set on fire. She was saved by a group of soldiers traveling through the area. Before  returning home in 1897, she hiked through the mountains bordering Tibet.


On her return home, she wrote the book “The Yangtze River and Beyond”. It was published in 1900. She spent six months in Morocco in 1901 but was forced to return home when she became ill. She was planning another trip to China when she died in Edinburgh on the 7th of October 1904. She was 72 years old. Isabella Bird was a remarkable adventurer who defied the gender roles of her time but did so while still upholding Victorian values of dress.  



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