How Indians Became Eskimos

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The Absurb Little Mouse: When Eskimos Became Indians Richard J. Diubaldo This article is about the fight for jurisdiction between the Government of Quebec and the Government of Canada. The Question was, "Who is responsible for the Eskimos?" On April 5, 1939 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Eskimos were Indians. Before this time, the federal government had no legal or moral obligation towards the Eskimo people of Quebec and did not wish to involve themselves in Eskimo affairs. It was this that brought confrontation between the Government of Quebec and the Government of Canada in the 1930s.

In the late decades of the 19th century, Eskimos tended to part from their traditional ways of life and started to rely more and more on the white people. Eskimos began to engage in fur trapping and the whale industry, which in time, made them more and more dependent on southerners for supplies and wages.

Problems started to rise when there was a decline in whale and fur industries, and the caribou in which the Eskimos depended on were disappearing, leaving the Eskimos without money, and the skills necessary to survive on their own. To a certain extent, this is what happened to the Indians. Outside factors, that the white person created, took away from the Indians way of life making them rely on the Government. The only difference between the two cases is that the Eskimos didn't have anyone to depend on. I feel that because both the Indians and Eskimos needed the support for most of the same reasons, and because the Federal Government was supporting the Indians that this should be one of the reasons why they should be responsible for the Eskimos.

In January 1925, Quebec and Ottawa declared they would provide relief for Quebec Eskimos and that Quebec would reimburse the federal government for the expenses incurred. After a period of three years, Quebec began to question its responsibility towards the Eskimos within their boundaries. There was a sudden cause for disagreement when Quebec refused to reimburse the federal government. This issue went to the Supreme Court in June 1937.

For the Federal government, the goal was to prove that Eskimos were not Indians. They did this by collecting information relating to the ethnological, anthropological and sociological aspects of the case. They also brought to the courts attention that in the understanding of man kind 1867, the term "Indian" did not include Eskimo.

Quebec had a very strong case against Ottawa with very convincing evidence. Some of the evidence included a census, along with a map to show the Indian population under its control throughout North America by the Hudson Bay Company. Both the map and the census (which were considered official documents) included Eskimos under the heading of Indians. They also had reports of missionary and official correspondence between New France and France which also proved that the French considered the Eskimos as Indians. The court also relied on contemporary books which indicated that Eskimos were considered Indians. Another piece of evidence was a letter written in 1879 by Hector L. Langevin to Sir John A. Macdonald in regards to the food shortage amongst the Quebec natives. They concluded that in the British North American Act the word "Indian" was meant to include Eskimos.

The court concluded that the Canadian Government had neglected the Eskimos and it was time that the government live up to their obligations.

I agree with the Federal Government that Eskimos are not Indians but I feel that they should be responsible for them. Even though the Government did not have a treaty with the Eskimo people, they are natives of the land like the Indians. I agree with the fact that Eskimos are not Indians but a culture of their own. They are only considered Indian by the Government and should be recognized as Eskimos with Indian rights, not as Indians.