TRINITY COLLEGE ARCHIVES
The “Indian Problem” in Canada
The Trinity College Encounter Club Conference on the Canadian Indian
The Trinity College Encounter Club (1962 – 1967) worked to facilitate interaction between Trinity College students and people of other cultures. In 1966, the Encounter Club organized the Trinity College Conference on the Canadian Indian with the goal of “informing and acquainting the white man of the Indian problems.” The theme of the conference was assimilation and integration, with a number of sub-themes including: education, employment, urbanization, social welfare, and civil rights.
The trifold program for a student-led conference on Indigenous issues in Canada that took place at Trinity College in 1966. The front of the programme features the image of a thunderbird, a supernatural creature that creates thunderstorms in some Canadian First Nations mythologies.1 (Source: Trinity College Conference on the Canadian Indian – Conference Program. (1966). Box 1, Folder 7. Trinity College Conference on the Canadian Indian – Kit for delegates. Trinity College Archives, Trinity College at the University of Toronto, Toronto, Ont. Accessed Oct-Nov 2016.)
The conference sought to address the question of the “Indian problem,” which was defined by non-Indigenous Canadians as the failure of Indigenous persons to integrate with the rest of Canadian society. This assessment of the social and economic struggles of Indigenous Peoples reflects the problematic rhetoric of the 1960s, which lacked an Indigenous perspective in the colonial narrative and expected Indigenous Peoples to conform to the culture of their colonizers. Now, we refer to Indigenous Peoples as First Nations or First Peoples, which is representative of their status as the first inhabitants of this land.
Following the conference, the Encounter Club declared the conference “a great success.” The conference presented lectures, panel discussions, and films, which were then discussed during seminars led by Indigenous guests. Attendees found that the format of the conference was “of great value in examining the problems in depth, and in making satisfactory proposals for improvements and change.”
Indigenous Voices at the Conference
I grew up near the Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation Reserve, but I first became aware of the history of Indigenous Peoples in Canada and the issues their communities face today when I started university. In the wake of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, I have learned that Canada’s historical and colonial narrative need the voices of Indigenous Peoples to be complete.
“David Matthewson, 3 years, of Hamilton, Ontario, has a chat with an Indian, Perry Williams, also 3 years, at Six Nations Indian Fair at Ohsweken.” (Source: Department of Citizenship and Immigration: Indian Affairs Branch. (1964). Canadian Indians Today. Ottawa, Canada: Queen’s Printer and Controller of Stationary. Page 8. Located in Box 1, Folder 7. Trinity College Conference on the Canadian Indian – Kit for delegates. Trinity College Archives, Trinity College at the University of Toronto, Toronto, Ont. Accessed Oct-Nov 2016.
The student-organizers of the conference were conscious of including Indigenous voices in this event and knew that the success of the conference depended on “strong Indian participation.” Fred Kelly, Grand Chief Emeritus of the Anishinaabe Nation in Treaty #3, and Elliot Moses, historian of the Six Nations Reserve, participated in a panel titled The Indian and Society. Another panel titled Assimilation and Integration included the participation of President of the Union of Ontario Indians Omer Peters, Indigenous actor and poet Duke Redbird, and elementary school principle Walter Currie, a non-status Indian who would later serve in leadership roles with the Indian-Eskimo Association, the Toronto Indian Friendship Centre, and Trent University’s Department of Native Studies. Concluding remarks were given by E.R. McEwen, Executive Director of the Indian-Eskimo Association. Seminar groups were “conducted by Indian leaders” and “Chief Howard Sky and his dancers from the Six Nations Reserve” provided entertainment. 
We cannot know what conclusions were reached in conference discussions, but we do know that Indigenous voices were included in the conversation. The conference is an interesting look into the discourse between Indigenous and non-Indigenous cultures in the 1960s, and demonstrates how much this discourse has changed in Canadian society since then.
Madison Stirling completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in History at King’s University College in 2016 and is currently pursuing a Masters of Museum Studies at the University of Toronto. She has loved museums her entire life and hopes to spend her professional career making museum spaces accessible to people of all ages, cultures, and abilities.
1 Lassam, 2016.
2 “Meeting Minutes,” 23 March 1965, p. 2.
3 Department of Citizenship and Immigration, 1964, “The Indian in Transition,” p. 5.
4 “Conference Evaluation Summary,” n.d.
5 “Conference Evaluation Summary,” n.d.
6 “Meeting Minutes,” 23 March 1965, p. 5.
7 Lassam, 2016, and Trinity College Conference on the Canadian Indian, 1966.
8 Lassam, 2016, and Trinity College Conference on the Canadian Indian, 1966.
9 Trinity College Conference on the Canadian Indian, 1966.
10 Trinity College Conference on the Canadian Indian, 1966.
The conference sought to address the question of the “Indian problem,” which was defined by non-Indigenous Canadians as the failure of Indigenous persons to integrate with the rest of Canadian society