J.R. Miller’s article entitled “Victoria’s “Red Children”: The “Great White Queen Mother” and Native-Newcomer Relations in Canada” was published in July 2008 in the Native Studies Review, Vol. 17 Issue 1, p1 -23. The article examines how even though First Nations people suffered tremendously during Queen Victoria’s reign, they maintained their strong allegiance to the Crown mostly due to their kinship mentality. Miller notes that slowly but noticeably, by the end of Victoria’s reign the Great White Queen’s Red Children were beginning to adjust their rhetoric to use the Crown and imperial government at Westminster as counterweights against national and provincial governments within Canada that were oppressing them.
Miller identifies how First Nations had been important military allies for the European powers. They were treated with respect and the government made no effort to interfere with their governance or way of life. After the War of 1812, things changed. Miller states that “now that First Nations were no longer military useful, British planners had hoped to pen them up on reserves, switch their hunting-gathering-trading economy to settled agriculture convert them to Christianity, school their children, and to effect this assimilation so far as possible with their own money.” Miller goes on to argue that the government attacked first Nations’ identity, governance, land-holding, economic activity and cultural practices. J.R Miller’s main arguments include how the Canadian government tried to assimilate the First Nations in to every day culture at the hands of the Crown.
There were attempts to get Aboriginal peoples to abandon their identity, first through assimilation campaigns, which included residential schools, and legislative actions with the introduction of the enfranchisement measure through the Gradual Civilization Act. This was followed by an attack on their governance in which Parliament encouraged First Nations people to disregard their traditional system of government in favour of limited elective practises. Another target was First Nations economic and land-holding behaviour. The Government disapproved of the practise of owning land communally and imposed “peasant farming” upon the Aboriginals. Finally, a crusade was launched to eliminate some of their most sacred cultural and spiritual practices, including outlawing the potlatch, a sacred ritual of property redistribution. At the time of Victoria’s death, the Canadian government had attacked Aboriginal identity, education and child-rearing, governance, material life and spiritual practices. Miller notes that in spite of all these attempts, the surprising fact is that First Nations did not react with anger or bitterness towards the Crown. They rarely resorted to violence or hostility towards the state or Crown, although they often resisted attempts at interference with rituals or their governance. In general, the First Nations’ attitudes towards the monarchy were always positive.
They possibly would complain about the queen’s government but never about the queen herself. In spite of everything that was being done to them, there were a number of emotional statements of attachment to Victoria. For example, while trying to state their objection to the Gradual Civilization Act, chiefs in central British North America included a reference to the rumoured fall of the jurisdiction over Indian affairs: “If their Great Mother the Queen objects paying the Expenses of Maintaining the [Indian] Department they will consent to do so provided they are not transferred from the Great Mother’s care to the Provincial authorities.” (pg. 14). Miller indicates that even in situations where First Nations were being pressured to give up lands in the 1860s, it was certainly not unusual to hear earnest statements of loyalty from them. They were fiercely loyal to the queen and because of this, the image of the Crown played an important role in treaty negotiations. Miller explains the reason for the hold that the Crown had over the First Nations quite simply as kinship.
In Aboriginal societies, kin ties were important to having any type of relationship. In addition to the kinship that came from marriage or birth, First Nations also believed in fictive kinship, meaning that they hung on to people that they wanted to have a commercial or diplomatic relationship with, whether one previously existed or not. Miller confirms that First Nations wanted to believe in the kinship relationship and thinking in spite of the fact that their relationship with the Crown and government was deteriorating quickly. They were no longer looked at as important, but more of a nuisance.
This critical review has evaluated J.R Miller’s “Victoria’s “Red Children”: The “Great White Queen Mother” and Native-Newcomer Relations in Canada”.
The article is well-written and well-argued. It was clearly written to inform the reader of the situation with factual material and in an easy to understand order. It states what the role of the First Nations people was and how they were treated. What is interesting to note is that these issues are still present today. Unfortunately, Aboriginal people are still battling over treaty rights, land claims, and even residential school issues. The main arguments that Miller presents are very relevant and he does a good job illustrating how First Nations were viewing and reacting to their situation.
The article examines how slowly but noticeably, by the end of Victoria’s reign the Great White Queen’s Red Children were beginning to adjust their rhetoric to use the Crown and imperial government at Westminster as counterweights against national and provincial governments within Canada that were oppressing them.. The details are clearly argued how even though First Nations people suffered tremendously during Queen Victoria’s reign, they maintained their strong allegiance to the Crown, mostly due to their kinship beliefs.