De-colonizing the Treaty #9 Photographs of Duncan Campbell Scott

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Abstract

In 1906, while travelling to what is now northern Ontario to sign Treaty 9, Duncan Campbell Scott, the lead federal treaty commissioner, took a series of photographs of the Indigenous people he saw and met at the various fur trading posts of the Hudson’s Bay Company. These photographs have subsequently been preserved in the Archives of Ontario and Library and Archives Canada. Relying on the theories of Roland Barthes and his ideas of the “studium” and “punctum,” this article demonstrates how an analysis of Scott’s pictures created a colonialist image of the “transitional Indian,” that is, one who was dying out in the face of assimilation into the wider British settler world. However, with current understandings of, and desires for, decolonization and reconciliation with First Nations, Inuit, and Metis peoples, the images can conversely serve as tools to challenge settler discourses of nation-building, and the presumed “death of the Indian.” They can also be a means whereby, through the repatriation of the images by Indigenous communities, Indigenous Peoples can regain their sovereignty over their identities, bodies, and lands.