Duncan Campbell Scott


Scott was an acclaimed poet but is mainly remembered for his role as Deputy Superintendent of the Department of Indian Affairs.15 He started his career in the Department of Indian Affairs in 1879 as a copy clerk at the age of 17. By 1889 he had risen to first class clerk. He was continually promoted in the Department until he was appointed as Deputy Superintendent, the highest-ranking cabinet member on Indigenous affairs, in 1913.16 Scott died of pneumonia in 1947. He worked in the Department of Indian Affairs until 1937.

Today, Scott is infamous for his support of the Canadian Government’s policies intended to hasten the assimilation of aboriginal people into the “dominant” settler society. He is often quoted for stating “Our object is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic, and there is no Indian question, no Indian Department, that is the whole object of this bill.”17

His poetry, which was largely informed by his travels to Treaty No. 9 Territory, depicts native people as a disappearing race. This notion was widely held among settlers at the time. In his article about Treaty No. 9 that appeared in Scribner’s magazine in 1906, for example, Scott writes:

The Indian nature now seems like a fire that is waning, that is smouldering and dying away in ashes; then it was full of force and heat. It was ready to break out at any moment in savage dances, in wild and desperate orgies in which ancient superstitions were involved with European ideas but dimly understood and intensified by cunning imaginations inflamed with rum.18

For Scott, Indian Policy was intended to civilize Indians to become just like whites through education. Civilizing meant the elimination of traditional aboriginal law, religion, and land use with those of the white man. Scott writes:

As the years have gone by, the purpose of Indian education has become clearer, and the best means to be employed to reach the desired end are becoming apparent. Speaking in the widest terms, it is now recognized that the provision of education for the Indian means an attempt to develop the great natural intelligence of the race and to fit the Indian for civilized life in his own environment. It includes not only a school education, but also instruction in the means of gaining a livelihood from the soil or as a member of an industrial or mercantile community, and the substitution of Christian ideals of conduct and morals for aboriginal conceptions of both.19

For Scott and most officials in the Canadian Government, aboriginal people were seen as being in need of “improvement,” just as the wild lands of the north needed to be improved upon. In his diary, he refers to the wild and untamed nature and the land. At Marten Falls, for example, the land is “wild and uncivilized.” In the Commissioner’s report on Treaty No. 9 he refers to the land included in the Treaty as “waste and unproductive land.” Obviously this view of the land stood in direct opposition to the aboriginal worldview.

In 1905 and 1906, Scott was the Senior Treaty Commission appointed to negotiate Treaty No. 9 with the Cree and Ojibway north of the Albany River in Ontario. When the First Nations asked repeatedly if they could hunt, trap and fish, as their forefathers had done, he reassured them that they had nothing to fear. Given Scott’s belief that Indians would one day have to abandon hunting, it is hard to reconcile how he could have made such promises with any sincerity.

In his Scribner’s article, Scott outlined the federal government’s need for a treaty, stating, “The aboriginal owners of this vast tract, aware of the activity of prospectors for time and minerals, had asked the Dominion Government to treat for their ancient domain, and the plans for such a huge public work as the new railway made a cession of the territory imperative.”20


15 Duncan Campbell Scott, The Canadian Encyclopedia

16 Ibid

17 Ibid

18 D. C. Scott, The Last of the Indian Treaties, Scribner’s Magazine, Vol. XI, – 62, 1906.

19 Scott, D. C. Indian Affairs 1867-1912 in Canada and its Provinces, Vol. 7

20 D. C. Scott, The Last of the Indian Treaties, Scribner’s Magazine, Vol. XI, – 62, 1906.