Historic letter recalls time when Indigenous people were discouraged from 'excessive indulgence' in dancing
Idle No More founder finds Indian Affairs letter from 1921 among late mother's possessions
When Sylvia McAdam posted a 95-year-old letter to Twitter, written by the former deputy superintendent of the Department of Indian Affairs, it went viral.
That's because in the letter, Duncan Campbell Scott expressed alarm at the increasing rate of dancing on reserves and instructed department staff to use "tact" and "firmness" to "obtain control" and "dissuade the Indians from the excessive indulgence in the practice of dancing."
"I was really surprised — actually, quite shocked — that people were talking about it and commenting how they were ashamed, or sad," McAdam said.
McAdam, one of the founders behind the grassroots movement Idle No More, found the letter after her mother's death earlier this month. She tweeted it out on National Aboriginal Day.
McAdam said her mother was given the letter sometime during her travels working as an elder in correctional facilities.
My mom passed away so purging her papers & came across this <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/UNsettle150?src=hash">#UNsettle150</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/canada150th">@canada150th</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/RussDiabo">@RussDiabo</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/1mohawklawyer">@1mohawklawyer</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/LeahArcand">@LeahArcand</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/LeahGAZ">@LeahGAZ</a> <a href="https://t.co/zXzDLCgPvt">pic.twitter.com/zXzDLCgPvt</a>—@LawladyINM
The reaction to the post exposed a "disconnect," McAdam said. There were some non-Indigenous people who commented on the posts, telling McAdam to move on and get over the past.
I don't think there's much that's changed.- Sylvia McAdam
"People don't realize that my parents lived through this era," she said.
McAdam's band, the Big River First Nation in Saskatchewan, was labelled as disloyal for resisting the Canadian government's colonial policies, she said.
"The sad part about it is during that era, the Indian agent would decide, or the superintendent or the Department of Indian Affairs, would randomly decide which reservations were loyal and which ones were disloyal."
McAdam said she will 'get over it' when "racist legislation" such as the Indian Act and the British North American Acts are abolished.
"I don't think there's much that's changed," McAdam said.
With files from CBC Radio's Morning Edition