of 2,000 signatures
To Meric Gertler, President and Cheryl Regehr, Vice-President & Provost, University of Toronto
January 19, 2022
Meric Gertler, President, firstname.lastname@example.org
Cheryl Regehr, Vice-President & Provost, email@example.com
University of Toronto
27 King’s College Circle, Room 206
RE: University of Toronto Honorary Degree to Duncan Campbell Scott
Dear President Gertler and Vice-President Regehr:
WE, the undersigned, Indigenous and settler advocates for dignity and justice for Indigenous peoples, write to you to request that the University of Toronto, at its 2022 Convocation ceremony, publicly rescind the honorary Doctor of Letters degree it awarded in 1922 to Duncan Campbell Scott.
When the University of Toronto awarded its very first honorary Doctor of Letters to Duncan Campbell Scott, he was established in his dual careers as a poet and a leading administrator at the Department of Indian Affairs (DIA). Much of Scott’s poetry was related to the “vanishing Indian” . He “portrayed Indigenous peoples as irrational and brutal, caricaturing them as drunken, debauched, stupid, and pagan” , while his policies at the DIA attempted to “get rid of the Indian problem.... Our objective is to continue until there is not an Indian that has not been absorbed into the body politic, and there is no Indian question, and no Indian Department.” Scott’s endeavours were designed to achieve Prime Minister John A. Macdonald’s vision "to do away with the tribal system and assimilate the Indian people in all respects with the other inhabitants of the Dominion as speedily as they are fit to change” .
We note the University of Toronto responded to the challenges issued by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada by establishing a steering committee which published its proposed Calls to Action in Wecheehetowin: Final Report of the Steering Committee for the University of Toronto Response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. These commit the university to acts of reconciliation through public truth telling and building trust and new relationships with Indigenous peoples. Similarly, the Royal Society of Canada established a reconciliation task force, resulting in the publication of Royally Wronged: The Royal Society of Canada and Indigenous Peoples . This recent scholarship takes a hard look at the ways the Royal Society of Canada erased the knowledge contributions of Indigenous peoples, and constructed “the intellectual foundation that shored up white-settler privilege” . It examines Duncan Campbell Scott’s role in “the history of violence against Indigenous people” , and has informed our request that the University of Toronto publicly rescind his honorary Doctor of Letters at its 2022 Convocation ceremony.
Duncan Campbell Scott’s patronage appointment in 1879 as a 17-year-old copy clerk at the DIA came about after his father, (an impoverished cleric who served at Ojibwa and Anishinaabe missions to “eradicate heathenism wherever it was found”), sent a handwriting sample and asked John A. MacDonald to find a position for Duncan. On the basis of this modest qualification, Duncan Campbell Scott went on to spend more than 50 years at Indian Affairs, rising quickly through the ranks . He was a Treaty 9 Commissioner in 1905 and 1906, appointed Superintendent of Education in 1909 and served in the top post of Deputy Superintendent General (DSG) from 1913 – 1932. As DSG, Scott played a central role in the expansion of the residential schools’ system and the expropriation of reserve Indigenous lands .
Duncan Campbell Scott benefitted throughout his life from white privilege, ably assisted by Canadian institutions; the Royal Society of Canada elected him a fellow in 1899 and he served as its president in 1922-23; in 1922 the University of Toronto conferred an honorary Doctor of Letters degree upon him.
When Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Peter Henderson Bryce submitted a 1907 report to the DIA on the health of children attending 18 Indian Residential Schools which documented the high death rates of Aboriginal children, malnutrition, and tuberculosis epidemics at the schools, Scott failed to act on proposed reforms for disease prevention and treatment and retaliated by pushing Dr. Bryce out of his position , citing questionable budgetary concerns. Bryce’s findings were reported in Toronto, Ottawa, and Victoria newspapers in November 1907 ; in 1909 Saturday Night (Toronto) published a four-part series on Indian education by Frederick O. Loft, a Mohawk who “advocated for an end to residential schools as “veritable death-traps,” so unsanitary were they; he called instead for day schools on reserves.”
Duncan Campbell Scott anticipated the resistance of Indigenous peoples to his acts of violence and made policy and legislative changes to thwart this resistance to the genocidal residential school system and DIA abuses of treaty rights and encroachment on Indigenous jurisdiction over lands and Indigenous sovereignty. In 1895, Scott secured a warrant to allow the forcible removal of children from their families and later succeeded in having the Indian Act amended to make attendance at the abusive residential school system mandatory for children aged 7 to 15. In 2016, Dr. Cindy Blackstock emphasized that the majority of the 4,500 children who were known at the time to have died in residential schools did so during Scott’s tenure at DIA .Of the more than 2,000 graves uncovered at Indian Residential Schools in 2021, many likely died during Scott’s tenure.
Another key strategy of the federal government to get rid of the Indian problem was through “enfranchisement”. Duncan Campbell Scott favoured the Indian Act provisions for mandatory enfranchisement. Women who married non-status persons lost their Indian Act status and were forced out of their communities, Indigenous people who signed up to serve in the military, took scrip or owned land, earned a university degree, practiced law, or entered Holy Orders, all lost their status, and prior to 1960 those who wanted to be eligible to vote as a Canadian citizen had to relinquish their Indian status in order to do so. After Frederick O. Loft formed the League of Indians of Canada, Scott led a departmental effort to derail this emerging national Indigenous political organization and to have Loft’s Indian status removed.
Contrary to provisions of the Indian Act in effect in 1914, Scott deprived the Shoal Lake 40 reserve members of their legal rights to protect their lands and waters from settler encroachments, in order to ensure an ongoing water supply for Winnipeg’s aqueduct. Historian Adele Perry’s case study of the dispossession of Shoal Lake 40 reserve lands by the DIA to provide the City of Winnipeg’s water supply at the direct expense of the First Nation examines Scott’s administrative role in the loss of Indigenous land and resources . Not until 2021 did Canada remedy Scott’s deprivation, when a water treatment plant began to provide clean drinking water to Shoal Lake .
In the 1920s, when members of the Six Nations Confederacy rejected the authority of the DIA and asserted sovereignty, Scott characterized their “unwarranted claims and foolish assumptions” as “absurd” and began to lobby for an Indian Act amendment to make it a criminal offence to raise funds to hire legal counsel to prosecute Indigenous claims. Parliament enacted this prohibition in 1927, requiring the prior written consent of the DIA to pursue a land claim . While this has been changed, the legacy continues with ministerial jurisdiction maintained over Indigenous lands and people.
Colonial law privileged the written records of English and French officials and settlers over “the oral histories, stories, songs, dances, and wampum belts of Indigenous peoples in the interpretation of treaties and treaty obligations [which] has allowed non-Indigenous perspectives and cultural practices to prevail in ways that have been devastating to Indigenous peoples and communities.” First Nations have long argued that oral and written promises made by colonial treaty negotiators were not reflected in treaties or land use or sharing agreement documents. The DIA then used payments for reserve lands that Indigenous nations were forced to surrender to cover the administrative costs of treaty obligations .
For example, in the case of a Siksika land “surrender,” the Siksika Nation understood that sharing their lands and resources with settlers would guarantee food rations into the future; Duncan Campbell Scott subsequently stated there was “no obligation whatever to provide this ration unless the funds are available”, notwithstanding an Indian Agent report that a DIA Inspector, missionaries on the reserve, Members of Parliament and visiting officials had all promised that rations would be provided .
In Canada, a settler colonial state where universities and other public institutions have been complicit in legitimating colonialism and ignoring its genocidal impacts, it would be a powerful symbol for the University of Toronto to acknowledge, from its privileged position as Canada’s preeminent scholarly institution representing knowledge creation and dissemination, that it erred in honouring an architect of Indigenous genocide and of white supremacy with an honorary degree; and it would be an act of reconciliation to rescind the honorary Doctor of Letters degree it awarded to Duncan Campbell Scott.
Publicly rescinding the degree would sustain public education and dialogue about the deceitful and harmful colonial practices of land theft and genocide, administered by the DIA during Scott’s tenure and entrenched in Canada’s political, economic and social landscape to the present day. It would engage the University of Toronto’s aims to speak truth and to build trust with current and prospective Indigenous students and faculty. It would be consistent with the position taken by the Canadian Political Science Association’s Reconciliation Committee, which acknowledged that political science has contributed much to racism and myth-making in the academy by legitimating colonialism and genocide, and by teaching political theory, politics and policy as though colonialism and genocide were incidental to the virtuous project of Canada.
By awarding this honorary degree to Duncan Campbell Scott, the university historically enhanced the reputation of a man now recognized as being responsible for irreparable harms to Indigenous peoples. This is how political culture is created and sustained, and thus Scott’s honorary degree has become part of the confirmation of Canadian racist mythologies that legitimate colonialism while ignoring the horrific cost to Indigenous peoples. One hundred years later, it is time to correct the record.
A statement of revocation at the University of Toronto 2022 Convocation ceremony to rescind Duncan Campbell Scott’s honorary degree is an important opportunity to correct the university’s past actions. It would be a significant step in the long process of establishing a new relationship with Indigenous peoples. As a public act, sharing the true history of Canada would provide an opportunity for the university to re-educate the Canadian public about Indigenous people’s ongoing resistance to ongoing colonial violence, and as a country, our long history of the genocide of Indigenous peoples to expropriate Indigenous lands.
We request a reply with your decision via email to firstname.lastname@example.org no later than February 15, 2022.
Amanda Buffalo Ed. D. student, University of Toronto and Yukon community advocate
Lois Moorcroft Advocate, Researcher
Joyce Green University of Regina (Professor Emerita)
Ann Maje Raider Executive Director, Liard Aboriginal Women’s Society
Dennis Shorty Kaska Dene Knowledge Keeper, Advocate, Educator
Mary Maje Kaska Dene Knowledge Keeper, Advocate, Educator
Dorothy Smith Kaska Dene Knowledge Keeper, Advocate, Educator
Leda Jules Kaska Dene Knowledge Keeper, Advocate, Educator
Mary Charlie Kaska Dene Knowledge Keeper, Advocate, Educator
Maryann Dick Kaska Dene Advocate
Jody Dick Kaska Dene Advocate
Carla Boss Kaska Dene Advocate
Julie Allan-Sernes Kaska Dene Advocate
Katelyne Porter Kaska Dene Advocate
Isaiah Gilson Tutchone Advocate and Storyteller
Shelly Dean, Ph. D. Centre for Response-Based Practice
Allan Wade, Ph. D. Centre for Response-Based Practice
Laurie Allan Co-Manager, LAWS Advocacy Project
Rachael Cardiff Co-Manager, LAWS Advocacy Project
Invited signatories attached
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