John A. Macdonald saved more Indigenous lives than any other prime minister – by Greg Piasetzki (National Post – July 2, 2023)

Given that he died in 1891, the facts of Sir John A. Macdonald’s life are unchangeable. The story of his life, however, has changed dramatically. For most of Canada’s history, Macdonald was considered a nation-builder worthy of celebration and veneration. Today he is a war criminal, at least to hear some tell it.

But a proper and balanced consideration of Macdonald’s life reveals that, through his own actions and policies, Canada’s first prime minister was directly and deliberately responsible for saving the lives of untold numbers of Indigenous people. Given the temper of our times, this is not likely to be a popular notion. But that does not make it any less true.

Avoiding war and abiding by treaties

Canada’s treatment of its indigenous people — and Macdonald’s role in it — is best understood in comparison with that of the native population in the United States. The results very much favour Macdonald’s Canada.

By and large, American settlers entered indigenous lands ahead of any formal government presence and without negotiation with the original inhabitants. What treaties were signed between native tribes and the government were often abrogated as soon as it was in the best interest of white settlers to do so. This process — what might be considered a “settlement first, negotiation second” approach — inevitably led to conflict and war.

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