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Work of the McKenna McBride Royal Commission

When the Dominion and Provincial governments Commission members in session at Victoria approved the terms of the McKenna McBride Agreement in 1913, the members of the Royal Commission on Indian Affairs in British Columbia were appointed. The McKenna McBride Commission as it is commonly called, was composed of four Commissioners, (two representatives from the Provincial Government and two representatives from the Dominion Government), and one chairman appointed by the four Commissioners. The Commission had many tasks:

  • To study all the relevant materials pertaining to reserve size, resource management, etc.
  • Gather evidence and testimonies from First Nations, Indian Agents and other Government officials, Settlers, and Religious Representatives.
  • Travel throughout British Columbia in order to make recommendations on Indian reserve sizes.
  • Conduct meetings with all of the different Bands from the fifteen designated Indian Agencies.
Chairman Whetmore, Chief Chilliheetza, and Interpreter Isaac Hayes

The minutes from these and other meetings are referred to as "Evidence". Through interpreters, the Commissioners conducted meetings with chiefs, sub-chiefs, and band members. According to the Commission's guidelines, the Commissioners were required to explain the scope and purpose of the  Commission at each meeting. They were also required to listen to the Indians and take evidence under oath. The Commissioners reassured the Indians that no 'surrender', or reduction, of any reserve land would occur without their consent, as required by Dominion law. The meetings were generally arranged by the Indian Agents as the Commissioners accepted them to be the local authority on issues concerning the needs and requests of the Indians. The Agents' evidence and testimonies were influential in the Commission's decision making especially in circumstances where band members refused to meet with the Commission. When this occurred, testimony given by the Indian Agent was the only evidence used to inform the Commission's decisions about First Nations' needs. The Commission refused to meet any organized body of Native representatives, such as the Indian Rights Association, although the request was made by First Nations.

Philip Paul addresses Prime Minister Trudeau regarding the UBCIC paper entitled "Claims Based on Native Title" [1972]
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Transcripts of these meetings offer insight into the interests of the Commission and highlight the concerns raised by the Indians. They reveal how the Commission believed that Indians could not manage their own affairs. Indian evidence was seen as secondary to statements from other sources such as municipal councils, boards of trade, railway companies, and government departments. Through Interim Reports, the Commission had the authority to speed up the granting of land for specific reasons such as railway rights-of-way. Although compensation was to be made for Interim Report cut-offs, for the 98 Interim Reports issued, it is not known what compensation was given.

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