Dr. Oron­hy­atekha: Se­cu­rity, Jus­tice, Equal­ity

Canada's History - - BOOKS - by Keith Jamieson and Michelle A. Hamil­ton Dun­durn Press, 368 pages, $26.99 Re­viewed by Joe Martin, di­rec­tor of Cana­dian busi­ness his­tory at the Rot­man School of Man­age­ment, Univer­sity of Toronto.

This bi­og­ra­phy is about one of the most in­ter­est­ing men in Cana­dian his­tory about whom lit­tle is known, and it thus fills an im­por­tant gap. Dr. Oron­hy­atekha (Burn­ing Sky) was bap­tized Peter Martin in 1841 in the Mo­hawk Ter­ri­tory of the Six Na­tions of the Grand River, near Brant­ford, On­tario. He lived an event­ful life, trav­el­ling widely, and died in Sa­van­nah, Ge­or­gia, in 1907. Oron­hy­atekha’s fu­neral was held in Toronto and was at­tended by thou­sands. His body was taken by train for in­tern­ment in Tyen­d­i­naga Mo­hawk Ter­ri­tory, north and west of Kingston, On­tario.

Prob­a­bly the best-known story about Oron­hy­atekha is an ad­dress he made to the Prince of Wales when only nine­teen years old. The prince, then aged eigh­teen and the el­dest son of Queen Vic­to­ria, was pay­ing a royal visit to Canada. Cho­sen to speak by the Six Na­tions of the Grand River, Oron­hy­atekha so im­pressed the fu­ture king that he was was given the op­por­tu­nity to at­tend Ox­ford Univer­sity. On his re­turn to Canada he en­rolled in the School of Medicine at the Univer­sity of Toronto. In 2002, when it cel­e­brated its 175th an­niver­sary, Oron­hy­atekha was rec­og­nized as one of the “great minds” of the univer­sity. The tes­ti­mo­nial reads, in part: “In 1866, Oron­hy­atekha … be­came the first Abo­rig­i­nal Cana­dian to earn a de­gree from an in­sti­tu­tion of higher learn­ing, com­plet­ing a med­i­cal de­gree at U of T.”

Oron­hy­atekha was an amaz­ing man who blended the best of the Hau­denosaunee’s Great Law and of the Vic­to­rian era into a creed of se­cu­rity, jus­tice, and equal­ity that he fur­thered through the fra­ter­nal move­ment. In pol­i­tics he was a Con­ser­va­tive and a friend of Sir John A. Macdon­ald. He even planned to name a child after Macdon­ald, but the child was a girl. One won­ders if the Kingston pub owner who re­cently took Macdon­ald’s name off his pub con­sulted with the Mo­hawks of the Bay of Quinte band coun­cil to see if they ap­proved of this shabby treat­ment of a good friend of Oron­hy­atekha.

While he prac­tised his pro­fes­sion in dif­fer­ent cen­tres in south­ern On­tario — in­clud­ing Strat­ford, Lon­don, and Toronto — as well as in and around the Tyen­d­i­naga Mo­hawk Ter­ri­tory — at Frank­ford, Na­pa­nee, and De­seronto — Oron­hy­atekha is most widely known for be­ing the Supreme Chief Ranger of the In­de­pen­dent Or­der of Foresters. In 1878, not yet forty years old, he took over a mori­bund or­ga­ni­za­tion and built it into an im­por­tant fi­nan­cial and fra­ter­nal or­ga­ni­za­tion that was based in Toronto after he moved the head of­fice from Lon­don, On­tario. In build­ing the or­ga­ni­za­tion, he ex­panded in­ter­na­tion­ally to Europe, Aus­tralia, In­dia, and Egypt, and in the mid-1890s he had a new head­quar­ters built. The Tem­ple was Toronto’s first sky­scraper and, for a time, the tallest build­ing in the Bri­tish Em­pire.

As a busi­ness his­to­rian I was par­tic­u­larly in­ter­ested in the chap­ter on the 1906 McTav­ish Royal Com­mis­sion on Life In­surance, which gave me new in­sights re­gard­ing an im­por­tant event in Cana­dian fi­nan­cial his­tory.

The Tem­ple build­ing is long gone from down­town Toronto, but thirteen kilo­me­tres to the north and east, near the Don Val­ley Park­way and across from the On­tario Science Cen­tre, the In­de­pen­dent Or­der of Foresters build­ing stands as a re­minder of Dr. Oron­hy­atekha. Vis­i­tors en­ter­ing the build­ing will en­counter his statue. But his main mon­u­ment is an in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tion based in Canada, with mil­lions of clients and mem­bers and bil­lions of dol­lars in as­sets, that helps fam­i­lies to achieve their fi­nan­cial goals and that makes a last­ing dif­fer­ence in their lives and com­mu­ni­ties.

This new bi­og­ra­phy gives in­sights into the re­mark­able and of­ten con­tro­ver­sial life of an In­dige­nous per­son who was a friend of Sir John A. Macdon­ald and who achieved suc­cess in medicine, sports, pol­i­tics, fra­ter­nal­ism, and busi­ness. Oron­hy­atekha was a true quin­tu­ple threat who, in spite of racial bar­ri­ers, was re­mark­ably suc­cess­ful in a wide range of en­deav­ours. Un­less you are an ac­coun­tant or a cor­po­rate lawyer, a his­tory of Cana­dian tax pol­icy will not be at the top of your read­ing list. But here are two books that show how a topic’s im­por­tance should rank ahead of its pop­u­lar­ity — and it helps that both books are very en­ter­tain­ing.

At the core of gov­ern­ing are de­ci­sions on how, where, and when to spend pub­lic money. How and when to col­lect money, and from whom, are equally im­por­tant. Put an­other way, we all pay taxes, and we have an in­ter­est in how that money is spent.

Shirley Til­lot­son, from the Univer­sity of King’s Col­lege in Hal­i­fax, ar­gues in Give and Take that tax­a­tion feuds are at the heart of Cana­dian po­lit­i­cal his­tory. She writes in a light, ac­ces­si­ble man­ner, draw­ing ex­ten­sively on of­fi­cial doc­u­ments, which are sup­ple­mented by let­ters from in­di­vid­ual Cana­di­ans to fed­eral min­is­ters of fi­nance and

na­tional rev­enue and to other govern­ment of­fi­cials. Th­ese let­ters, she says, are “a gold mine for so­cial his­tory.” She be­gins in 1917, when the fed­eral in­come tax was in­tro­duced as a tem­po­rary mea­sure to fi­nance the Great War, and con­cludes in 1971, when Canada’s per­sonal and cor­po­rate tax laws were sub­stan­tially mod­ern­ized.

While in­come tax is “the head­line story,” Til­lot­son points to many other fis­cal mea­sures, such as cus­toms du­ties and prop­erty rates, that make up the “ter­rain of tax cul­ture.” Her larger goal is to show how “tax­a­tion has been more than a mat­ter of eco­nomics, ob­scure ac­count­ing gam­bits, and high pol­i­tics.”

Til­lot­son is skil­ful in us­ing his­tor­i­cal anal­y­sis to ex­plain the past through a mod­ern lens. At times it feels that she is rac­ing to set down many thoughts, but her cen­tral theme is clear: Tax­a­tion and cit­i­zen­ship are firmly linked in demo­cratic life. As Canada ma­tured, fis­cal poli­cies required open con­ver­sa­tions, not back­room deals, to achieve “tax fair­ness and a just so­cial or­der.” Hence the con­cept of the “cit­i­zen-tax­payer” in the ti­tle of the book.

Among other find­ings, Til­lot­son ar­gues that the im­age of Cana­di­ans as ever-obe­di­ent tax­pay­ers is a myth. She draws some par­al­lels with Amer­i­canstyle tax re­sis­tors, while stress­ing that our tax­a­tion con­flicts were rooted in re­gional dif­fer­ences and clash­ing vi­sions of the role of women, fam­i­lies, and “lux­ury” in so­ci­ety.

While Til­lot­son deals with a fairly mod­ern pe­riod (if you agree that mod­ern Canada emerged dur­ing the First World War), she warmly rec­om­mends her book’s “fra­ter­nal twin” — E.A. Hea­man’s Tax,

Or­der, and Good Govern­ment — which is fo­cused on tax­a­tion is­sues in the early Con­fed­er­a­tion years, be­tween 1867 and 1917. “My great­est in­tel­lec­tual debt is owed to Els­beth Hea­man,” Til­lot­son writes. So let’s turn now to that study.

Hea­man is based at McGill Univer­sity and be­gins her book with wry com­ments on how tax his­tory must seem “the most bor­ing work imag­in­able.” She re­ally doesn’t mean it and pro­ceeds to as­sert both that tax his­tory re­veals the “be­gin­nings of mod­ern so­cial ‘ rights’” and that “the mod­ern state emerged from de­bates about fair tax­a­tion.”

Hea­man’s work is dense, with ref­er­ences to con­tem­po­rary phi­los­o­phy and clas­sic Bri­tish eco­nomics. She ar­gues that the so­cial cul­ture of tax­a­tion is a ver­sion of “the po­lit­i­cal fights over re­sources” and is as im­por­tant to Canada’s his­tory as “com­pet­ing re­gions, na­tion­alisms, and racial­iza­tions.”

She in­ter­prets Con­fed­er­a­tion as a sly fis­cal pact, as­sign­ing so­cial pow­ers to prov­inces that did not have suf­fi­cient rev­enues to en­gage in wel­fare spend­ing to mit­i­gate poverty or to in­flu­ence labour mar­kets. Mean­while, the cen­tral Do­min­ion govern­ment re­tained rev­enues from trade and ex­cise du­ties,

us­ing tar­iffs to pro­tect favoured in­dus­tries while sub­si­diz­ing favoured “clients,” no­tably the rail­roads.

Tax- pol­icy changes were es­sen­tial to mov­ing Canada from govern­ment based on prop­erty val­ues to a democ­racy based on cit­i­zen­ship val­ues. The 1917 de­ci­sion to cre­ate an in­come tax (long after this type of tax was ap­plied in Bri­tain and the United States) is seen by Hea­man as a vic­tory for so­cial fair­ness. It was achieved through hard po­lit­i­cal bat­tles be­tween re­gional and na­tional forces, pro­gres­sives and plu­to­crats, labour and man­agers, among oth­ers. The ter­mi­nol­ogy of those times now feels dated, but the is­sues re­main with us as we con­tinue to wran­gle over minimum wages, the se­cu­rity of com­pany pen­sions, busi­ness taxes, and free trade.

Both books use ex­ten­sive archival and pub­lished sources, and both ex­am­ine im­por­tant episodes and play­ers to ex­plain de­ci­sions, elec­tions, and cam­paigns. Their shared point of view is clearly stated by Hea­man: “The des­per­ate pleas of the poor for relief from harsh tax­a­tion do mat­ter. They give this book its moral cen­tre.” But th­ese au­thors are not polemi­cists, and their work is thor­ough and nu­anced.

The con­tri­bu­tion here to po­lit­i­cal and so­cial his­tory is valu­able, but I don’t fully buy the core ar­gu­ment. Yes, tax­a­tion pol­icy is not suf­fi­ciently ap­pre­ci­ated in our his­tory; but other fac­tors stand out more sharply in Canada’s suc­cesses and fail­ures — no­tably, re­gional jeal­ousies, eth­nic fears, lan­guage, re­li­gion, cul­ture, and wars. Til­lot­son and Hea­man stress fis­cal de­vi­ous­ness and tax fair­ness in our na­tional nar­ra­tive. They also show that, on fun­da­men­tal tax- pol­icy de­ci­sions, Canada’s record has not been bril­liant. Th­ese are provoca­tive find­ings that ex­pand our un­der­stand­ing

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