The poster for Chrétien’s lecture.

At the time of his Dunning Trust lecture, Jean Chretien was the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. He was born in Quebec in 1934 and graduated from Laval University. In 1963, he was elected to the House of Commons as the Liberal MP for Saint-Maurice-Lafleche. In the Trudeau and Turner governments, he held a number of other cabinet positions including Minister of Justice, Minister of Finance, Deputy Prime Minister, and Secretary of State for External Affairs. In 1990, Chrétien was elected leader of the Liberal Party. He became the Prime Minister of Canada when the party when a majority government in 1993. He served as Prime Minister until 2003, when he resigned from the position. During his time as Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, Chretien was responsible for the 1969 White Paper, which proposed to abolish the Indian Act. It was, however, widely opposed by Indigenous groups and later abandoned, a controversy that formed the basis of these Dunning Trust lectures. Chretien was invested as a Companion of the Order of Canada in 2007 and received the Order of Merit in 2009. He has numerous honorary degrees, including from Wilfrid Laurier University, York University, and Queen’s University.

In his lecture, Chrétien presented the government’s response to the presentation of several Indigenous leaders the previous week in “Canada’s Indians: Their Place in the Just Society.” Chretien’s talk followed on the government’s controversial White Paper of 1969, which proposed to remove Indian Status and all its guarantees, including reserve land, over the course of five years. This prompted significant backlash, especially from Indigenous groups whose response advocated for the maintenance of Indigenous rights and proposed a long-term program aimed at self-governance. At Queen’s, Chrétien stated that the framework proposed by the White Paper was no longer under debate. He also, however, rejected the idea of re-negotiating treaties. Throughout his lecture, he gave a brief history of Indian policy in Canada since Confederation and argued that isolationism and imperialism, especially in the period between the World Wars, cemented paternalistic attitudes toward Indigenous peoples within the government. He described Canada as a tapestry with distinct patterns rather than a melting pot. He also argued for trust and forgiveness in the relationships between Indigenous peoples and the Canadian government.

Chrétien’s lecture was held on March 17, 1971. He remained on campus for two days including his lecture, and participated in two seminars: “Contemporary Canadian French Culture” and a session exploring the political policy relating to Indian Affairs.