By Michael Asch
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Extra info for Aboriginal and Treaty Rights in Canada: Essays on Law, Equity, and Respect for Difference
Then, in the face of suggestions that many tribal communities had long since learned to distrust the word of outsiders, Aboriginal or nonAboriginal, one of the leaders of the discussion went to the bottom line, as it were, and said, 'Then we'll take minutes. ' I mention this not to discredit the royal commission, but to emphasize that even within that well-informed (and largely Aboriginal) group, the prejudice against oral traditions continued to shape thought and behaviour. We compound all these habits of mind with our habit of reading the treaties as though they were written contracts.
Given these two facts of British North American life, the existence of Indian tribes was an advantage, for as political units with whom the British could deal the tribes provided a convenient structure for the management of Aboriginal interests, and thereby of British interests. If Indian tribes had not been there, the British might have had to invent them (as the Canadian government did in a sense invent their institutional successors, the Indian Act bands). The quite different British response to the interests of the aborigines in Australia is due in no small measure to the fact that the aborigines there were not organized into tribes.
Some observers, especially in the United States, were outraged by what they saw as the anomalous character of the relationships which had developed under British policy. '13 Others, such as the very well informed American Lewis Cass, were more resigned to the practical realities of the situation, as he indicated in an article in the North American Review, also in the 1830s: The Indians themselves are an anomaly upon the face of the earth; and the relations, which have been established between them and the nations of Christendom, are equally anomalous.