The following is an excerpt from Chief Del Riley’s book the Last President. Click here to order the paperback or a digital download.
My life has been very intriguing. I’ve escaped death many times, I’ve overcome adversity, and I’ve learned to survive. This is my survivor’s story about achieving the entrenchment of Aboriginal rights in the Canadian Constitution under Section 25 and 35.
I remember my first memories. I was in a room with my older sister Patricia and my mom Sadie. I didn’t know where I was, or what I was doing there, I just knew my mom and sister were next to me. I was little more than two years old, but I remember mom and being beside her. A few years later, mom was gone. She died from tuberculosis in a sanatorium in London, Ontario, Canada.
At just under three years old, any child in the world that has a connection with their parents knows love. My mom loved me, my sister loved me. At that age I knew what love was. It was an unbreakable bond which any family, parent or child should be able to feel. The feeling of being hugged, the feeling of not being alone, of being with someone who loves you for who you are as an individual.
The one true love in the world is a parent’s love for their child. I knew what love was, love was being with my mom Sadie and my sister Patricia.
My sister Patricia and I were diagnosed with tuberculosis and were sent back home to Chippewa of the Thames around 1948 or 1949. My house on the reserve was next to what everybody called the “Out Bush,” since it was on the outer bush-line of the reserve. Our house was a big structure with an upstairs and a downstairs. The kids had the upstairs, and my dad and his new woman slept downstairs. My dad’s new woman Cora had some kids prior to being with my dad and we were one big happy family. I knew what love was again, being with my dad, my brothers, and my sisters. My dad Stanford was a gentle guy. My reserve had a school known as Mt. Elgin Day School. We were all eligible to go to day school and to stay together as a family.
However, the Indian Agents who had the task of overseeing Chief and Council meetings and enforcing the Indian Act had different ideas on how families should be raised on Chippewa of the Thames reserve #42.
I remember the Federal Indian agent stopping by my dad’s house. He was seeking to enforce a 1923 Indian Act law that said that all First Nations kids were “required to have mandatory attendance at Indian residential schools.”
I remember being loaded up by the Indian agent, and giving my dad a hug. My mom had just died. I later found out that my dad survived twelve years at Shingwauk Indian residential school. I’m sure my dad felt the same way as I did when I was forced to leave home. It was almost like another parent in my life died. He was taken away from me, and I was forced to live in an Indian residential school prison for children.
The new world I was forced into had no love and no compassion. This was a deliberate policy meant to break up the family structure and to remove the love a child receives from their parents. The Canadian residential school system was designed to beat the Indian out of the child.
In 1950 Canada was truly John A. MacDonald’s “Aryan Canada.” I was designated an “Indian.” We were sub-human, we had no rights, we had to be “enfranchised” under the Indian Act to become human, and to give up our culture and traditions to be recognized as “persons” by Canadian law. Canadian legislation gave Aryan Canadians racial superiority by controlling every aspect of socio-economics within First Nations treaty territories.
The enfranchisement laws in Canada for First Nations people to become Canadian have a lot in common with Germany’s Reich laws under Hitler. If a First Nations person wanted to become a lawyer or join the civil service, they’d have to go through a vetting process to become a Canadian.
Under Hitler’s Nazi Germany in 1935, Nuremberg Laws were introduced into legislation to exclude Jews (and often, by extension, other “non-Aryans”) from organizations, professions, and other aspects of public life. These laws defined Jews not by religious belief, but by ancestral lineage and formalized their segregation from the so-called Aryan population. In Canada, Indians were defined by lineage under the Indian Act. The Nazi race laws and identification by lineage were a carbon copy of Canada’s first Indian Act. In 1927, Canada introduced new Indian Act laws to ban the use of lawyers when challenging the Canadian legal system. This law kept lawyers from performing civil services for Indian clients, or making legal challenges to the Canadian system.
The Nuremberg Laws mirrored Canada’s Indian Act in many ways. For example, “The Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honour” forbade marriages and extramarital intercourse between Jews and Germans. Canada’s Indian Act already had a law similar to this one that was in place for decades. If a mixed relationship between an “Indian” and non-Indian happened and they had mixed blood kids, the kids could not pass on “Indian” status to their next of kin. The government was eliminating “Indian” people and their legal obligations to the treaties. When John A. MacDonald put these laws into place, he planned to breed “Indian” people out of their “Indian” status and to thereby end Canada’s obligations through Treaties signed between England and First Nations people.
To understand what life was like in those days, one has to understand the bigger picture. Racism was acceptable to Canadians and Canadian society. Racism was legalized through legislation. Racism was out in the open, in your face, and controlled just about every aspect of our lives. Some people say “Money is the root of all evil.” That’s right, except what they don’t tell you is that greed fuels racism, and racism destroys lives. Canada has a lot to atone for when it comes to the racist actions of Canadian governments past and present.
Racism was used to steal Indigenous land and resources under the Indian Act. Racism was used to steal our children to imprison them at Indian residential schools across the country. Racism was the fuel for what the Whiteman calls the ‘rule of law’. Racism kept our leaders from being educated, racism kept our leaders from taking top positions in civil service simply because they weren’t Canadians. Canada’s whole system of “democracy” is rooted in racism, and the basis of that racism is the oppression of Indigenous people.
The politicians across Canada were all white, as were the judges who were politically appointed into the judicial system. In 1950, my dad couldn’t hire a lawyer to fight the abduction of his children because it was illegal under the Indian Act for Indians to obtain legal counsel. Fighting for your child in the Canadian judicial system was illegal since not sending your child to an Indian residential school carried a six month jail term. The power Aryan Canada claimed for itself represented an absolute dictatorship over First Nations people. It operated without legal oversight or due process and it was entrenched into Canadian law.
First Nations people had no way to defend themselves in any manner. The law was either go to jail and have your kids stolen, or let the state abduct your kids and send them hundreds of miles away from your home, community, language, and culture. Aryan Canada had the mindset that only whites could raise and love their children and walk their kids to school. It was Aryan Canada that controlled who could raise children. In 1950, they decided where and when to build schools, and they defined the function and purpose of the Indian Residential Schools.
In 1950, I was considered a “Ward of the State.” Because of Canada’s Apartheid laws, First Nations people were not considered human persons in Canadian law. As the Indian Act says, “the term ‘person’ means an individual other than an Indian, unless the context clearly requires another construction.” This legal definition had enormous significance, as those who were not “persons” had no rights in Canadian/British society.
First Nations people couldn’t vote in Federal or Provincial elections during those times. We were shut out from all aspects of law making, voting, and the economy. In 1951, it was illegal to sell fresh produce to the cities, because it was illegal under the Indian Act to sell fresh produce or livestock off reserve. Aryan Canada even managed a way to monopolize markets based on First Nations lands and resources while banning First Nations from entering the economy.
In 1950, two years after Canada signed the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, I am sure that the declaration got rolled up in a ball and tossed into the garbage at the Prime Minister’s office, or maybe it was used as the paper under the kindling to start a fire, or quite possibly it collected dust under a copy of Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Either way, my brothers and sisters and I – six of us altogether – were loaded up and sent off to the Mohawk Indian Residential School in Brantford, Ontario, Canada.