April 2, 2011

The Indian List - A Revelation

Recently I found mention of my great-grandfather's brother Gideon Peer in a local Guelph Ontario newspaper. The date was 6 August 1913. The notice read as follows:
'ENRICHED THE COFFERS: Gideon Peer, Robert Simpson and Chas. Emslie, all on the Indian list, were each fined $10 and costs at the police court this morning. Abe Summerville, also on the list, pleaded not guilty, and his case will be disposed of tomorrow morning"
That was it. No explanation as to what the fine was for and no details as to what this "Indian List" was. I'd never heard of such a list before.

As far as I knew, my Peer ancestors were not of native heritage. But could I be mistaken? Wouldn't an "Indian List" be a list of natives, those known to be of native blood?

I remembered that Gideon's father Levi Peer, in a letter written to his mother Elizabeth Marical Peer in the 1840s had referred to his Irish born wife Jane as a "squaw". In the next sentence he'd added that Jane was "Irish to the bone" so I'd dismissed the use of the term "squaw" as simply some kind of local colloquialism.

I also recalled that one branch of the family descended from Elizabeth Marical Peer insisted she was a native,  part of the Mohawk Marical family in Ontario. Although I had found no evidence of this in my research and in fact I linked her to the Palatine family of Merckel aka Merkely aka Marical.

Now I questioned my research. Perhaps I'd overlooked something. So I went back and pulled out all my notes on Gideon and his sibings and parents. No reference to native heritage in any of the census records. No reference to it in other sources. I decided to search for the men listed in the newspaper account - Charles Emslie, Robert Simpson and Abe Summerville. Perhaps something found in records for these men would provide a clue.

A few hours later I was still puzzled. Nothing I found indicated that these men were of native heritage. I'd already searched on Google for "The Indian List" without much success but I went back to Google and started over. Finally I found two references - one an article called Punched Drunk 
and a cached version of an article titled "Are You on the Indian List" published in 2008.

Apparently in 1876 a change in the Indian Act made it illegal for natives to purchase or possess alcohol. Names of natives were compiled on an Interdiction List which became known as The Indian List. Saloon keepers, hotel owners, and bars had copies of this list and they were not legally allowed to sell to anyone whose name was on the list.

That still did not explain my Gideon Peer appearing on such a list. But I learned that rather quickly non-natives were added to this list. Thus anyone, white, native or otherwise, who was a habitual drunk or had been in trouble with the law due to being drunk and disorderly, had their names added to this list. It then became illegal for them to purchase or own liquor or to have a drink in a tavern, hotel or bar.

Failure to comply with the regulations meant a fine either for the person on "The Indian List" or the person selling the liquor to them.

I must confess that finding out about this "Indian List" shocked me. Such a list could only lead to prejudice and social classifcations that were applied to all natives. Assumptions had to be made in the first place that no native was to be trusted with alcohol! This would have affected social expectations and views of the native population. Adding the names of non-native individuals who had been found drunk and disorderly would only further add weight to the notion that a native was automatically assumed to share that classification.

As a Metis (of native and French descent) I'm appalled that this existed in our country. I recognize that it was a product of the times but it doesn't make the law or the list any less a social injustice.

What did I learn about Gideon? He wasn't a native but apparently he liked his liquor and was prone to being charged with  drunk and disorderly conduct.  His family must have been mortified to see his name in the newspaper and the mention that he was "on the Indian List".  

3 comments:

Kerry Scott said...

Wow. Sometimes this work is no fun at all. I love research, but it's hard to wrap your brain around some of the stuff we find.

BDM said...

Nice work tracking this down, Lorine. A lot of food for thought there (esp the PunchedDrunk article), the federal history of paternalism toward Indians and otherwise human nature in general.
- Brenda

mgersten63 said...

We went to my husband's family reunion. They were talking about a relative whose 1st husband was put on such a list. He was so distraught over it (because he couldn't drink) that he committed suicide. His widow then married into my husband's family. They lived in a small town in the thumb of Michigan. Late 1800s - early 1900s.