Joseph Z. Larocque
by Leah Dorion
with permission from
While leaders like Jim Brady, Malcolm Norris, Pete Tomkins, Joseph Dion and Felix Callihou were lobbying the Alberta provincial government for the establishment of the Alberta Metis Colonies in the 1930's some concerned Metis based out of Regina such as Joe McKenzie, Joseph Z. Laroque and Joe Ross began the enormous task of organizing the Saskatchewan Metis.
Similar to the Alberta Metis during the 1930's, the Saskatchewan Metis also faced extreme poverty, experienced the loss of their lands due to the failure of the scrip system and had minimal access to education and training. In 1931 a group of Metis met in Regina to talk about these issues effecting the Metis people. The central issue discussed around the table was how scrip failed to provide Metis people with a land base. Finally, in 1937 the group formally incorporated into the Saskatchewan Metis Society (SMS) and elected Joseph Z. Larocque as president. Edmond Klyne, Robert Larocque, James Powless, Jerome Larocque, and Joe Ross were members of the newly elected executive. This group decided to formally take on the enormous challenge of organizing a provincial wide political organization in order to have their grievances addressed by government.
Joseph Z. Larocque was born in 1881 at Lebret, Saskatchewan. His father was a furtrader from St. Paul, Minnesota and settled his family at Lebret in 1876. He was a natural leader for the organization because he had a formal education and also spoke both Cree and English. Especially important to the Metis cause was that he possessed first hand knowledge about the failure of the Metis scrip system because as a child Larocque was issued land script for 240 acres. Even though he was a minor his scrip was quickly purchased by organized speculators for $300. Consequently, he never received the land like many other Metis families in the Qu'Appelle Valley area. As a result, obtaining land for Metis families became an issue of high priority for Larocque which was clearly stated in a Regina Leader-Post article on May 16, 1939 entitled, "'Aid for Metis Claims: Premier Hopes for Early Settlement of Land" which states that:
The proposed plan of settlement of the Alberta Metis problem was cited by Mr. Larocque as one that would well suit the Metis of Saskatchewan, and suggested a permanent committee be appointed by the convention to consult, when necessary, with the governmet on matters pertaining to the settlement of the Metis question. He advocated a residential boarding school for the Metis, government supported and directed, Education of the Metis, he said, was of the greatest importance, and possibly the first work that should be undertaken in the settlement work.
In 1938 and 1939 the newspapers in Prince Albert, Saskatoon, and Regina discussed the formulation of the Alberta colonies and the passing of the Metis Betterment Act and leaders like Larocque lobbied to have the Saskatchewan government establish a similar settlement plan. At the time he tried as much as possible to use his Liberal government connections to get political support for Metis Claims and the SMS. He tried to inform diverse audiences about the Metis cause and even presented to community organizations such as the Yorkton Kinsmen Club to speak about Metis history, claims and culture. Larocque was also a good writer and submitted some articles to the Regina Leaderpost about Christmas at Lebret and the Metis Buffalo Hunt in order to educate the uninformed public about the Metis.
Eventually, Larocque and the SMS members were quite successful at getting the attention of premier W.J. Patterson on the issue of Metis Claims. On June 15, 1939 a delegation of Metis including M. Vandale, Provincial President, Joe Larocque, Past President, Jim Larocque, Provincial Secretary, Ed Klyne, J.F. Ross, Mr. Foster, and Mrs. Boivin and Miss Hallhouse. Provincial Delegates met with the premier in Regina at his office. Unfortunately, the premier felt that the Metis did not have a valid land claim nor a legal basis for this claim. At that time another challenge for the Metis leadership was that the provincial government wanted affirmation that the SMS represented all of the Metis people of Saskatchewan because if the province was going to negotiate future programs and services with the Metis they wanted to deal with only one representative Metis political organization. At that point the SMS was a young organization which had a majority of its members based in the south. In order to make the SMS more representative a lot more internal organizing remained ahead of the group if the provincial government was going to take them seriously. In the summer of 1939, shortly after this convention with the premier, Larocque was named an honourary president in recognition of his organizational and lobbying efforts.
After 1939, the SMS faced a major set back as WWII (1939-1945) pulled away a large portion of the SMS membership. However, in 1943 the SMS went through a rebuilding phase and in June 25-26, at a SMS meeting held in Saskatoon, Larocque was still politically active and passed the following resolution about Metis fishing rights:
We understand that some forty odd years ago, the Laurier Government appointed a Commission to investigate the Fishery Industry in Saskatchewan. The Commission consisted of the late Judge McGuire and the late Senator Prince. Their final recommendations were that the Metis of Saskatchewan be allowed to fish much the same as the Indians for food purposes. But when the natural resources were turned over to the Province, this privilege was abolished. It is desirable that these privileges be restored. This resolution was moved for adoption by Mr. A. Pritchard, seconded by Mr. LaRocque and carried.
Even as late as 1954 Larocque was still corresponding with different Metis community leaders about the effects of government sponsored relocation programs to Green Lake and the experimental farms. Today we hear about the North West Metis Land Claim (1994) and the Grumbo case (1998) on Metis hunting rights and its to easy to forget that leaders like Joe Larocque tried to move on these issues over sixty years ago.
For more information see:
Metis Struggles of the Twentieth Century: Saskatchewan Metis Society 1935-1950. Part One: Early Beginnings. New Breed. August 1978. pp 16-19.