Reflections as to the Possible Effect upon Indians of Enfranchisement

We cannot estimate the transforming power that his enfranchisement might exert over the Indian character.

The Indian youth, who is now either a listless wanderer over the confines of his Reserve; or who finds his highest occupation in putting in, now and then, desultory work for some neighboring farmer at harvest-time; who looks even upon elementary education as useless, and as something to be gone through, perforce, as a concession to his parents’ wish, or at those parents’ bid, would, if enfranchisement were assured to him, esteem it in its true light, as the first step to a higher training, which should qualify him for enjoying offices or taking up callings, from which he is now debarred, and in which, mayhap, he might achieve a degree of honor and success which should operate, in an incalculable way, as a stimulus to others of his race, to strive after and attain the like station and dignity.

There can, I think, be no gainsaying of the view that the Indian, if he were enfranchised, would avail much more generally than he does now, of the excellent educational facilities which surround him. The very consciousness, which would then be at work within him, of his eligibility for filling any office of honor in the country, which enfranchisement would confer, would minister to a worthy ambition, and would spur him on to develop his powers of mind, and, viewing education as the one grand mean for subserving this end, he would so use it and honor it, as that he should not discredit his office, if, haply, he should be chosen to fill one.

Concluding Remarks

The present Indian legislation, in my judgment, operates in every way to blight, to grind, and to oppress; blasts each roseate hope of an ameliorated, a less abject, estate: quenches each swelling aspiration after a higher and more tolerable destiny; withers each ennobling aim, cancels each creditable effort that would assure its eventuation; opposes each soul-stirring resolve to no longer rest under the galling, gangrenous imputation of a partial manhood.

Though not authorized to speak for the Indian, I believe I express his views, when I say that he cherishes an ardent wish for enfranchisement, a right which should be conceded to him by the Legislature, though it should be urged only by the silent, though not, therefore, the less weighty and potent, appeal, of the unswerving devotion of his forefathers to England’s crown.

He desires, nay, fervently longs, to break free from his condition of tutelage; to bring to the general Government the aid of his counsels, feeble though such may seem, if we measure him by his present status; aid, which, erstwhile, was not despised, but was, rather, a mighty bulwark of the British crown; and pants for the occasion to assert, it may be on the honor-scroll of the nation’s fame, his descent from a vaunted ancestry.

Addenda To Section On Enfranchisement

It will be said, perhaps, that to harbor the idea of the Indian’s elevation, following, in any way, upon his closer assimilation with the white; his divestiture of the badge of political serfdom, and deliverance from even the suggestion of thraldom–all of which his enfranchisement contemplates; or that these would assure, in greater degree, his national weal, would be to indulge a wild chimera, which could but superinduce the purest visionary picture of his condition under the operation of the gift. Some might be found, as well, to discredit the notion that there would supervene, on the consigning to the limbo of inutile political systems of the disabling regime that now governs, an epoch, which would witness the shaking off, by the heavy, phlegmatic red man of the present, of his dull lethargy, with the casting behind him of former inaction and unproductiveness; and his being moved to assert a healthy, genuine, wholesome activity, to be directed to lofty or soulful purpose, or expressed in high and honorable endeavour. And it might be set down as a reasoning from the standpoint of an illusory optimism, to look for, through any change in the Indian’s political condition, the incoming of an age, which should be distinguished by a hopeful and helpful accession to his character of honesty, uprightness, and self-respect, or by their conservation; or which should be the natal time for the benign rule over him of contentment, charity, and sobriety, or for the dominance of a seemly morality. That, likewise, might be deemed idle expectancy, which would foresee, as a result of the changed order of things, now being prospectively considered, a season in the Indian’s experience, when should be illustrated the greater sacredness of the marriage relation, and the happy prevalence of full domestic inter-communion, harmony, and order; or should be honored a more gracious definition of the woman’s province, with the license to her to embrace a kindlier lot than one decreeing for her mere slavish labour; or project a mission, to see its fruit in the softening and refining, and in the reviving of the slumbrous chivalry, of the man, or to leave, mayhap, some beauteous impress on the race.

It may be maintained, indeed, that the withdrawal from the Indian of the Government’s protecting arm, and the recognition of his position, as no longer that of a needy, grovelling annuitant, but as one of equal footing with the white before the law, would–far from bringing blessings in their train–promote, with other evils, a pernicious development, with calamitous reaction upon him, of the aggrandizing instinct of the white, who would lure and entrap him into every kind of disastrous negotiation–its outcome, in truth, a very maelstrom of artful intrigue and shameless rapacity, looking to the absorption of the Indian’s land, and of the few worldly possessions he now has. Nay, many would foresee for the Indian, through the consummation of his enfranchisement, naught but gloom and sorest plight. These would invest their picture with the sombrest hues; and, making this assume, under their pessimist delineation, blackest Tartarean aspect, would crown it with the exhibition of the Indian, as one sunken, at the instance of the white, in extremest depths of human sorrow; as plunged, engulphed, and detained in a horrible slough of degradation and misery. Such would, in short, have an era opened up, which should mark, at once, the exaltation of the white to a revolting height of infamy, proclaiming the high carnival of unblushing trickery and chicane; and should signalize the whelming of the Indian in the noxious flood of the high-handed, unrighteous, and unprincipled practice of the white, who would project for him, and through whose unholy machinations he would be consigned to, a state of existence which should be the hideous climax of physical and moral debasement.

Now I contend that the claim to ascendancy of the Indian over the white, in respect of sagacity and cunning and craft, which this condition of things presupposes, is not satisfactorily made out. And I can readily conceive of the application of that astuteness, that distinguishes the Indian in his present trading relations with the white, to the wider field for its display, which would arise from the extended intercourse and more frequent contact with the white, that would ensue upon the Indian’s enfranchisement; and of this astuteness operating as his efficient shield against evil hap or worsting by the white in any coping of the kind with him.

I do not deny, however, that there might be realization, in part, of such painful spectacle, as has just been imagined, were enfranchisement, pure and simple, conferred upon the Indian; and I would distinctly demur to being taken as an advocate of enfranchisement for him without certain safeguards. Yet I honor a somewhat wide use of the term, and discredit the system of individual election for the right (if I may so call it)–which, I believe, obtains–with its vexatious exactions as to mental and moral fitness, and the very objectionable feature, to my mind, of laying upon the band, as a collective organization, the obligation of assigning to the individual member seeking enfranchisement so much land, thus imposing upon it, in effect, the onus of conferring the land qualification. Let its consummation be approached gradually, and with caution; and let a modified form of it, designed to meet the Indian’s peculiar situation, be recognized and enforced. Let the enfranchisement be made a tentative thing; and let there be a provision for the divestiture of the Indian of the right, in case disaster to him should supervene upon its application.

I have spoken elsewhere of the fact of the Indian’s enfranchisement prompting him, in view of the prospect of occupying various stations of dignity in the country, which, through the extension to him of the franchise, would be thrown open to him, to set a greater value upon education, as qualifying him for enjoying and filling with credit these stations. Perhaps, it would be the stricter view, and more apropos, to regard the Indian’s more thorough education as that which would lead him to more readily perceive and better appreciate the full import and. significance of enfranchisement; which would bring home to his mind a clear apprehension of the duties and obligations it exacts, and enable him, as well, to exercise the rights thereto pertaining with a wiser foresight and greater intelligence.

Let a higher order of mental attainment than he now displays be insured, by all means, and if possible, to the Indian; and, to this end, let the authorities concerned invite, through the inducement of something better than a mere bread-and-butter salary, the accession to the Reserve of teachers, no one of whom it shall be possible for an Indian youth of tender years to outstrip in knowledge; or shall be reduced to parrying, as best as he can, the questionings of a pupil on points bearing upon merely elementary education.

I would mention a prospective result of the Indian’s enfranchisement, which would suggest, forcibly, the desirability of, and the need for his anticipatory instruction in the English language. He, unlike the German or Frenchman, has never been able to maintain, indeed, has never had, a literature; and I can scarcely conceive of his tongue even surviving the more general mingling with the white, which would be the certain concomitant of enfranchisement, which, indeed, with its other subverting tendencies, would seem to me to ordain its utter effacement.

Mackenzie, J. B. A Treatise of the Six Nation Indians. Guardian Printing Office. 1882.

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