Anti-miscegenation legislation was frequently assigned to prohibit and control interracial sex and marriage, making it a prime example of states regulation of interracial intimacies. The term ‘miscegenation’ was not coined until 1863, but the West’s concern with the morality and consequences of interracial mixing is documented at least two centuries prior.
In the United States, the historical prohibition of interracial relationships exempliﬁes the state’s regulation of intimate life. Anti-miscegenation laws prohibiting interracial sex and marriage predate the Declaration of Independence by more than a century. At one time or other 41 of the 50 states have enacted such legislation, encompassing restrictions not simply against Blacks, but also Asians, Native Americans, ‘Orientals’, ‘Malays’, Native Hawaiians, and in some cases, simply all non-Whites. These laws were universally declared unconstitutional in the landmark civil rights case of Loving v Virginia (1967). Anti-miscegenation laws named as such were not enacted in Canada, though an informal and extra-legal regime ensured that the social taboo of racial intermixing was kept to a minimum. However, it is arguable that Canada’s various manifestations of the federal Indian Act were designed to regulate interracial (in this circumstance, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal) marital relations and the categorization of mixed-race offspring.
Of particular interest is the former Section 12.1.b, ﬁnally amended by Bill C-31 in 1985, which stipulated that Aboriginal women who married non-Aboriginal men and the progeny of these interracial relationships would be denied Indian legal status, while Aboriginal men who married non-Aboriginal women would retain the status that would also be given to their wives and children. Both anti-miscegenation laws and the Indian Act are, in short, striking examples of the state’s regulation of the intimate sphere.
The Indian Act, with all its variations, clearly restricted and provided penalties for interracial sex and marriages, providing criteria against which the category of ‘Indian’ is to be measured, just as was the case in US anti-miscegenation regulations. During the colonial era, intermarriage was encouraged and seen as vital both by European fur traders and Aboriginal groups. Once the frontier came under the control of the British colonial power, however, this trend became condemnable. Though the ﬁrst Indian Act was passed in 1876, the ﬁrst of the legal instruments designed to regulate the classiﬁcation of Aboriginal peoples can be dated to 1850 when the legislatures of Upper and Lower Canada passed parallel acts that provided the ﬁrst deﬁnition of who was an Indian. This early legislation, which formed the template for all future manifestations of the federal Indian Act, provided a characterization of ‘Indian and none other’ based on having Indian blood, descent from Indians, and women married to those who met the ﬁrst two criteria.
This deﬁnition of ‘Indian’, with an emphasis on ‘Indian blood’ that would last until 1951, strongly resembles anti-miscegenation regimes in the United States which were always enacted and enforced in tandem with classiﬁcatory rules principled on the fractionalization of racial identities – that is, the determination of legal racial identity based on the amount of non-white blood a person has as represented by a fraction (1 /4, 1/8, 1/16).
In contrast to the anti-miscegenation laws in the United States, the Indian Acts were designed to remove Indian status, called ‘enfranchisement’ by the legislation itself. However, much like the United States, this was not an attempt by the state to ensure the equal treatment of Aboriginal people in Canadian society. Rather, the federal government was compelled by legal precedent, constitutional convention and colonial legacy to administer ‘Indians and lands reserved for Indians’, as per the Constitution Act of 1867. The legal category of ‘status Indian’, after all, ‘is the only category to whom a historic nation-to-nation relationship between the Canadian and Indigenous people eis recognized’. The removal of Indian status, therefore, was a two-fold strategy: it removed the constitutional Indian status of individuals, and therefore diminished the collective claim of underlying Aboriginal title to the land, and simultaneously alleviated the burden of Indian administration on the Crown.
Several provisions of the Indian Act also reveal the gendered nature of the retention or loss of Indian status. Under what would become the infamous Section 12.1.b of the 1876 Indian Act, Indian women who married non-Indian men would lose status, as would their offspring. Indian men who married non-Indian women, however, would not only retain status for themselves and their progeny, but their wives would gain status as well. […] In considering this, it’s important to note that white women were constructed in Canada as the guardians of morality and the vessels through which white civilization would continue. For a white woman to marry an Aboriginal man, she would be required to commit the sin of crossing racial boundaries and stepping beyond the societal norms of acceptable behaviour for the moral, chaste, proper and civilized ideal of femininity. Racialization and the provision of status to white wives, therefore, could be interpreted as a punishment for white women, who, while subjugated on the basis of gender were at least white, and would now have their positions on the racial hierarchy slide down to its lowest rung – that of a (legal) woman of colour.
Debra Thompson called “Nation and Miscegenation: Comparing Anti-Miscegenation Regulations in North America”
I’ve highlighted excerpts of this article in a way, so that, hopefully, the passage might be understood without reading the full article. While it’s quite “academic,” I think that the article is well written enough so that someone unfamiliar with the jargon might be able grasp what Thompson is trying to say. Thompson highlights the underpinnings of Canada’s horrid Indian Act, while detailing the history of anti-miscegenation laws in North America. If you’d like to learn more about the history of multiraciality in North America and whiteness, racism in the legal system and how colonial white men were threatened by just about everything, I would recommend clicking on the link to read the full article.
See more about the one drop rule here @ fuckyeahethnicwomen
Brown Canada Showcase
Sharing Our Stories: Creating New Legacies
Wednesday June 27th, 2012
41 Britain Street, Toronto (east of Queen station)
Dinner served from 5:30-6:30 pm.
Program starts at 6:30 pm, sharp.
This is a Free Event, but space is limited; please RSVP before June 25th at eventbrite or by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org or 416 932 1359 x14.
CASSA’s Brown Canada team proudly invites you to our project’s Showcase, an Informative and entertaining event featuring:
· The premiere of the original play “Oh Canada, Oh Komagata Maru!”
· A screening of the Brown Canada DVD
· The “Our Stories, Our Histories” South Asian history exhibit
· An interactive discussion about Racialized & Indigenous histories
· A free resource booklet on South Asian histories in Canada
Visit www.browncanada.ca for more info & to share your story online!
The Brown Canada Theatre Project will be presenting “Oh Canada, Oh Komagata Maru!” a series of vignettes written and directed by Alia Somani. “Oh Canada, Oh Komagata Maru!” is about one of the least known yet most significant episodes in the history of Canada. What is called the Komagata Maru incident took place in 1914, when a group of 376 Punjabi migrants aboard a Japanese ship – the Komagata Maru – was turned away from Canada’s western seaboard and refused entry into the country. The Komagata Maru incident may have occurred almost 100 years ago, but it has not been forgotten. Instead it continues to haunt us, to reverberate in our nation’s consciousness. In fact, in 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper stood up in Bear Creek Park and declared that on behalf of Canada, he was sorry for the events of 1914. “Oh Canada, Oh Komagata Maru!” explores, among other things, this apology; it considers how much of our past is remembered and how much still remains buried; and most importantly, it asks us to relive the experiences of those who traveled to Canada in 1914 in search of a better life, and a better future.
Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/204810092975235/
Photo: Leonard Frank, Vancouver Public Library, 6231 (via Komagata Maru)
Passengers, mostly unnamed, on the Komagata Maru. Gurdit Singh can be seen in the white suit with his son and fellow passengers, 1914.
376: number of passengers on Komagata Maru when it arrives in Vancouver Harbour
12: number of Hindus aboard Komagata Maru
24: number of Muslims aboard Komagata Maru
340: number of Sikhs aboard Komagata Maru
90: number of people declared medically unfit to land
20-24: number of people who claimed to have Canadian domicile and were allowed to disembark
$150,000: Amount of damages claimed by Gurdit Singh for Canada not allowing him to land and sell coal stored aboard Komagata Maru
15: Number of core members of Sshore Ccommittee, local South Asians who were mobilizing to support the Komagata Maru passengers
500: ??Unknown: number of local South Asians present at meetings to support Komagata Maru passengers, held at the the Khalsa Diwan Society at Gurdwara
$5,000: amount collected at once at first meeting at Gurdwara by local South Asians to support Komagata Maru passengers
$17,000: amount collected at future meetings by local South Asians to support Komagata Maru passengers
150: number of immigration officials and police who attempted to board Komagata Maru on July 17, 1914
$4,000: value of provisions Canadian government placed on board the Komagata Maru for the return trip
2: number of months the Komagata Maru stayed in harbour off the coast of Vancouver
2: number of years shore committee struggled legally with government after Komagata Maru was forced to return to Asia
$3,000: further legal expenses of shore committee after Komagata Maru forced to return to Asia
6: number of months Komagata Maru passengers spent aboard
via Brown Canada Project: Komagata Maru
The Komagata Maru incident involved a number of key players – individuals whose actions played a significant role impacting the lived experience of Komagata Maru passengers. These key players can be viewed within four three main groups:
- Komagata Maru Passengers
- Canadian Officials
- Legal Personnel
- Shore Committee Members
Each individual’s complete story is not captured here; instead these profiles provide snapshots of each key player, and some context of their lives. For some of these individuals, their profiles have become legacies by the memorialisation efforts of scholars, activists, community members and artists.
For other individuals involved in the Komagata Maru incident, they remain unnamed or their stories are unknown. For example, little is known about many of the passengers. There is not enough information about the hundreds of South Asians already living in the Vancouver area who were passionate about supporting the Komagata Maru passengers. There is scarce documentation of the white allies who attended ing community meetings. For those who died upon their return to British occupied India, there must have been so many unanswered questions for their unnamed friends and families. For the 28 individuals who were unaccounted for after the Budge Budge (Baj Baj) incident, some like Gurdit Singh we know a lot about – but for others, where did their lives take them?
With the intention of this website to invite readers to reflect on the broader impact of the Komagata Maru incident, this section asks you to interrogate how we remember the individual people in communities, how we write (or do not write) their stories.
Komagata Maru Passengers
This is very short list of some passengers who played key roles in the departure of the Komagata Maru from Hong Kong, and its experience once in Canadian waters.
Gurdit Singh was a successful businessman who decided to charter the Komagata Maru from Hong Kong after meeting with and speaking with other Indians there. Singh (sold tickets up until two days before the Komagata Maru’s departure, and was briefly held by officials for selling illegal tickets for what was deemed an illegal trip). Singh was a nationalist, who believed in an Independent India. At the Baj Baj (Budge Budge) incident, he escaped capture. After remaining a fugitive in India for several years, he finally surrendered after prompting by Mahatma Gandhi (whom he respected deeply) and served a five-year jail term in Punjab. It was after Singh’s prompting did the federal government of newly-independent India erect a plaque at Kolkata (then known as Calcutta) memorializing the Komagata Maru.
Munshi Singh, one of the 376 passengers aboard the Komagata Maru, was selected as the representative for the test case. He was a Sikh farmer from Punjab, someone who was interested in migrating to Canada for the purposes of buying some property and farming.
Government agents very obviously played a heavy role in the Komagata Maru incident. Both Hopkinson and Reid held very strong anti-South Asian views and prior to 1914, both had been actively pushing for exclusionary immigration. For Reid, his daughter felt (in the 1980s) that the way he was remembered was unfair1; for Hopkinson, an often-staged play by Sharon Pollock fictionalized his mixed-race heritage and his surveillance work, which could be described as internalized racism2.
Malcolm Reid was the Chief Immigration Officer of Vancouver during the Komagata Maru incident. Posted to the position with no experience, his proposals of how to expel the Komagata Maru contradicted even those of the federal government. He was explicit in his anti-Asian sentiments, and was motivated to use whatever force necessary to remove the ship and its passengers. For example, on June 24, 1914, Reid wired Ottawa to ask for permission to have the Komagata Maru passengers forced onto the S.S. Empress of India, which was departing the next day. The answer was no – an appearance in court (through a test case) is how the federal government wanted to proceed.
Martin Burrell was the federal Minister of Agriculture at the time the Komagata Maru was stationed in Burrard Inlet. He became involved at the very end of the two month period, at the urging of Prime Minister Robert Borden. It was Burrell’s letter to Albert Howard McNeill dated July 21, 1914, that seemed to bring forward a compromise. In it, he refers to the Shore Committee and community members who had provided financial support. Burrell said that he would “urge that full and sympathetic consideration be given to those who deserve generous treatment. I must point out, however, that this is conditional on the passengers now on the Komagata Maru adopting a peaceable attitude, refraining from violence, and conforming to the law by giving to the captain control of his ship immediately, and agreeing to peaceably return to the port when they came.”13
William Charles Hopkinson
William Charles (W.C.) Hopkinson was an immigration inspector at the time of the Komagata Maru. Working for the federal government since 1909, mostly based in British Columbia and working in the US as well, his focus was on the surveillance of Indian political activists. He was fully occupied with the Komagata Maru while it was in Burrard Inlet for two months. After the Komagata Maru was sent back, his role became important in the context of war – he provided information to officials in Canada and British India about Indian agitators on the Pacific coast who were supposedly plotting to return to India to “take up arms against the British while they were at war in Europe”4 Hopkinson was mixed-race (Anglo-Indian), which he both used in his work (he could understand Hindi and Punjabi) and denied outright. In 1914, he was killed by Mewa Singh at the Vancouver Court House.
In a hostile environment of British Columbia in 1914, two legal professionals took on the case of the Komagata Maru passengers. J. Edward Bird handled the bulk of the case.
J. Edward Bird, solicitor
J. Edward Bird was hired by the passengers of the Komagata Maru to represent the passengers as they lodged a legal challenge to the Orders in Council that were prohibiting them from being able to disembark. The government decided to only have one test case, and Bird was assigned the task of preparing his case very quickly. Bird made the argument on behalf of Munshi Singh (the test case) using constitutional terms, arguing that the passengers of the Komagata Maru were entitled to disembark and settle in Canada as British subjects. Unfortunately, the five judges disagreed with him, and the case was lost. Bird was a socialist, and was opposed to the anti-Asian sentiment around him in British Columbia – proving this by creating a space for Indian socialists to gather.
Albert Howard MacNeill
Partner to J. Edward Bird, he took over the Komagata Maru case in the latter stages after Bird received a threatening letter and opted to travel out of town. He was an established lawyer in Vancouver, with connections to many powerful individuals. He sent a personal cable to Conservative Prime Minister Robert Borden (McNeill was a member of the Conservative Party himself) to encourage him to think about the Komagata Maru situation beyond what he was told by immigration officials (like Reid and Stevens).
Shore Committee Members
While the Komagata Maru was forced to stay in Burrard Inlet, South Asian community members in the Vancouver area mobilized to support the passengers. The 15-member group, coming together initially at the Khalsa Diwan Society, was called the Shore Committee. The Shore Committee raised awareness, raised funds, spoke out about the exclusion, and was heavily involved in retaining legal representation for the Komagata Maru passengers.
Hussain Rahim was one of the Shore Committee members, an active member of the Indian community in British Columbia, and the editor of the short-lived English newspaper The Hindustanee. Rahim spoke English, Hindi, Punjabi and Gujrati, and was vocal about his thoughts on the ways the governments of Canada and British Columbia treated Indians. Rahim was instrumental in mobilizing community members to support the passengers of the Komagata Maru.
Bhag Singh was one of the Shore Committee members, an active member of the Indian community in British Columbia, and Secretary of the Temple Management Committee at the Khalsa Diwan Society gurdwara. His own experience of challenging Canada’s immigration policy in 1911 meant that he was one of the very few Indians in Canada to have been able to be reunified with his wife and child.
Jim Crow refers to the practice of racial segregation that occurred in the United States during the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In resistance to the civil rights acts of the post Civil War Reconstruction era in the United States, southern states adopted, in a piecemeal manner, a pattern of segregation that began with trains and other forms of public transportation. These so called Jim Crow laws eventually spread to all areas of racial contact and during the first half of the twentieth century they became part of a widespread system of racial discrimination throughout the United States.
In Canada, there were no Jim Crow laws and legalized system of racial segregation. Nevertheless, there was deep seated racism in Canada and an extensive “voluntary” system of segregation and other forms of racial discrimination developed that had many of the hallmarks of Jim Crow laws in the United States. In Nova Scotia, for example, the case of Viola Desmond illustrates the nature of the culture of racism in Canada and it has been the subject of a recent National Film Board documentary entitled Journey to Justice that aired on CBC television. In 1946, Viola Desmond refused to sit in the balcony designated exclusively for Blacks in a New Glasgow theater but, instead, took her seat on the ground floor where only whites were allowed to sit. After being forcibly removed from the theater and arrested, Viola was eventually found guilty of not paying the one-cent difference in tax on the balcony ticket from the main floor theater ticket.
The experience of Viola Desmond is only one of the many incidents of racism that profoundly affected the lives of African Canadians throughout the twentieth century."
Uncivilized. Primitive. Inferior. Apparently, that is what the rest of us Canadians think of First Nations’ people.
I am not sure that is entirely the case but that at least is what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission reported last month after hearing the testimonies of many of those native people who went through the now discredited residential school system.
One thing for sure, most of us newer Canadians had probably never heard of the controversial residential school system until that boil was lanced a few years ago, and the federal government offered a formal apology and established the reconciliation commission to help chart a new future.
Most Canadians, I’d hazard a guess, had never realized that between the 1840s and 1996, more than 150,000 First Nation, Inuit, aboriginal and Metis children were taken from their families by law and shipped to the residential schools, the majority of them against their will.
We were never really aware of the long history of emotional, physical and, sometimes, sexual abuse that confronted so many of these children, causing a long ripple of destructive behaviour within the aboriginal community, which they, and the rest of us, don’t know how to fix.
But, how would we know how to fix a problem that we didn’t really know existed, at least to the extent that we do now?
Truth and Reconciliation Commission Chair, Justice Murray Sinclair holds a copy of the commission’s interim report during a news conference in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday February 24, 2012. (Canadian Press)
It is not like we were taught about it in school — which is something the reconciliation commission now wants to change.
Its first interim report last month asked provincial governments to examine their school curricula to make sure this sad chapter of Canadian history is well documented.
But is that enough? If we are going to retell our history from the human perspective, maybe we shouldn’t just stop there, or with what we learn in school.
When I came to Canada as a girl in 1987, I remember feeling as if we were moving to a modern Europe, where everyone was white, spoke European languages — English and French — and the biggest concern in my family was to become Canadian, in the white, Protestant work ethic sense.
As best as I can remember, no one suggested during the immigration process that we might want to learn Ojibwe, or where the Cree lived.
We had only a romanticized sense of North American Indians in those days anyway, probably from TV.
We weren’t expected to know anything about the ongoing struggle for aboriginal rights and land treaties, or about residential schools.
The daily lives of aboriginal Canadians were pretty much a non-issue in our introduction to this country. What’s more, it’s not like many of us gained a better understanding of these things once we entered the school system.
Reflecting back on it, Canadian history, as it was taught to those of my generation anyway, only began once the Europeans arrived and was seen through that prism.
Aboriginal Canadians, in particular, seemed to be frozen in time. We never learned much about the pre-contact period, nor about their modern-day tribulations, or contributions such as building big-city skyscrapers in the 1960s and ’70s, or fighting in the World Wars.”
How not to teach Canadian history
Putting Canada’s real aboriginal story, and others too, in school curriculums
The first known Black in Canada is Mathieu de Costa, in 1608, an interpreter to the Micmac Nation. The first known slave in Canada, Oliver Le Jeune, is recorded in 1628. He had been captured in Africa as a child, at six years of age, and was transported to Canada by English invader, David Kirke. He was sold to a Canadian resident when Kirke left in 1629. Baptized in 1633, he was given the last name of one of his owners, who was a priest. Le Jeune died in 1654.
From 1628 to 1759 (when the British conquered New France), 1132 slaves were transported to New France, all of African descent. In 1688, Governor Denonville’s request for royal permission to import slaves directly from Africa was denied. A direct slave trade from Africa to Canada was never established.
Slavery in Canada remained virtually nonexistent, due to a short growing season and the economic impracticality of housing and feeding idle slaves over the winter months. Most of the slaves were “body” or family servants for wealthy officials or for families living in urban areas. Unlike the large plantations in the South, where a large number of slaves were owned, Canadian households tended to have one slave only or, at the most, a very small number. Slaves usually served the same family during their lifetime. Very few slaves were in the Owen Sound area during the eighteenth century; most tended to be south, in the Niagara area. The majority of slaves in Canada originated from either the French West Indies or the colonies of British North America. Of the total brought to Canada, about 40% were female and 60% male.
With the fight for independence from the British in 1776 came an awareness of the slaves in the colonies; the antislavery movement began to take hold in the Northern colonies. Slaves who fought in the war against the British were granted their freedom, creating a fairly substantial class of free Blacks in both the North and the South. Yet again, freedom for Black American citizens was not equal to that of free whites; there were still limitations place on them.
In 1779, all Black men, women and children were invited to fight for the British against the Americans in the American Revolution; they were promised their freedom in return. Ten percent of the Loyalists that arrived in the Maritimes at this time were Black. White Loyalists fleeing to Canada brought with them about 2000 slaves. The majority (about 1200) of Blacks settled, with their owners, in the three Eastern provinces of Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. About 500 were in Ontario (Upper Canada) and 300 in Quebec (Lower Canada). Here, too, slave numbers per household were small and most were domestic servants, farm hands and skilled artisans.