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February 1, 2009
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v2.1 Reference

The Indian Commissioners

Agents of the State and Indian Policy in Canada's Prairie West, 1873 - 1932

Between 1873 and 1932, Indian policy on the prairies was the responsibility of federal government appointees known as Indian Commissioners. Charged with incorporating Native society into the apparatus of the emergent state, these officials directed a complex configuration of measures that included treaties, the Indian Act, schools, agriculture, and to some degree, missionary activity. In this study, Brian Titley constructs critical biographical portraits of the six Indian Commissioners, examining their successes and failures in confronting the challenges of a remarkable period in Canada's history.

About the Author

A native of Cork, Ireland, Brian Titley is a professor and University Scholar with the Faculty of Education at the University of Lethbridge. He is the author of five books and over forty articles on many topics pertaining to education, history, and politics in Canada, Europe, and Africa.


"Titley tells his story through a series of biographical portraits of the individuals who held the position of Indian Comissioners - the men in charge of operations in what are now the Prairie Provinces between 1873 and 1932, with the exception of one decade. By sketching their lives, what they did and how they implemented policy, he creates a portrait of the blueprint from which many of today's issues stem." Trevor Kenney, The Legend, Vol. 8, March 2009

"In telling of the West's Indian commissioners, the author provides an excellent and readable account of Indian Affairs administration over a half century. Although there are significant differences in the activities of each commissioner, common to all are blatant patronage, inadequate funding, and more concern for the budget than for the Native people.... This book is worth reading, not just for the biographies of the commissioners, but to get a taste of how the Indians were administered and maladministered during their first half century on reserves." Alberta History, Autumn 2009

"The Indian Commissioners fleshes out the personalities of the bureaucrats who were in charge during a cataclysmic period for Native peoples in Western Canada.... Titley's book offers engaging insight into the historical underpinnings of Aboriginal issues that resonate deeply today." Nelle Oosterom, Canada's History, May 2010 [Full review at]

"Released twenty-three years after A Narrow Vision: Duncan Campbell Scott and the Administration of Indian Affairs in Canada (1986), Titley's latest work is characterized by a similarly strong narrative, rich detail, thorough, research, and, of course, biography.... In tracing these biographies, Titley adds depth to our understanding of Indian Affairs and the Canadian state in general. Rather than an anonymous monolith, the department is depicted by Titley as a rather precarious, even chaotic, organization of men, each pursuing his own personal agenda." Liam Haggarty, H-Net Reviews, May 2010 [Full review at]

"Reading this historical treatise, lawyers will better understand the grievances of Aboriginal people...I well remember the days when the local Indian Agents never allowed native people to visit the city, save at the time of the Fall Fair when they were brought in to entertain the fairgoers." Ronald F. MacIsaac, The Saskatchewan Advocate, December 2009

"E. Brian Titley's The Indian Commissioners makes a fine contribution to Great Plains history and, in Canadian studies, the shaping of western Indian policy... Titley's thesis is solidly argued: though responsible for putting into practice Ottawa's policies, the five Indian commissioners in the history of the service retained some latitude in carrying them out... These included the treaty processes they oversaw and in some ways shaped, Native residential and industrial schooling, assimilation efforts, and changing reserve land policies... The Indian Commissioners will help students of Great Plains history better understand the personalities and political contexts shaping some of the most significant directions in Native policy in the Canadian West." George Colpitts, Great Plains Quarterly, Winter 2011

"This book will confirm the worst fears of non-Aboriginal Canadians and verify what Aboriginal Canadians always knew - the Indian Commissioners were, for the most part, a sorry lot and should be held accountable for the even sorrier state of Aboriginal peoples in Western Canada today." Frits Pannekoek, Canadian Book Review Annual Online, 2009

9780888644893 : the-indian-commissioners-titley
Paperback / softback
288 Pages
$39.95 USD

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