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FSIN History by John Tootoosis

After 1885 during the uprising at Battleford, when the white people were going to take over this land, they wounded the People (Indians) first. They simply broke his legs, in every way. They practically eliminated us. They gave us diseases. We all know that. They tried to exterminate us. They were unable to do it. During the Rebellion, there was a battle on my reserve, May 2.1885. The people were very much oppressed. All their houses were taken away, all their guns, their traps, knives and everything they had, were taken away from them. They were given rations, bacon, salt pork, and canned beef.

That killed a lot of them. There is a saying that change of food kills people quicker than poison. But the people survived it. They went away. They didn't stay there. All the reserves who took part in the Rebellion were treated like that.

No Indian could visit any reserve without a permit. On it was written the dates of the visit. I have a copy of this permit; I thought perhaps some day other people would see it. The two helped each other -the churches and the government -to suppress the Indians. The religious festivals were not allowed without permission. Naturally they were not allowed to visit other reserves without a permit. When I traveled I had only a certain time to visit. That is the way it was.

Under the treaties, the Indian was promised that he would be looked after. And when the Indian negotiated the first treaty he was, as it were, accepting a new way of life, a new way of thinking, of doing things, and to a new economic way. He was told he would follow two life styles: a hunting economy and this new economy that was introduced. But they had already destroyed his hunting economy. It was as if the Indian was moved to a new planet. It was exactly that way. The protection that he was to have received, he received a lot more. The Indian was to be helped survive. They went to the extreme. For instance, if you went to a town, you were not allowed to wear Indian clothing; you could be imprisoned for it. It is not so today. It was different then. If he wore a feather or put on make up, the missionary got after him; he was considered dressed for his own religion.

Before the white man came, he depended on his own faith and his own religion. It was quite different on the reserve. When the Indian Act was amended the first time, over 70 sections of the Act were deleted. The Indian Act was not so large. In the future perhaps it will become still smaller and perhaps only the sections related to the land rights will remain.

During the First World War, many Indians went to fight. They volunteered; they were not conscripted. In spite of it they wanted to fight for this country. They were very poor, they were oppressed. No Indian allowed anyone to hit him suddenly on his head; he had to defend himself. That is why warriors of old (and those who fought in World War I are their descendants) remember when a man said to his son, "Son, don't be hit on your back. If you are, I will think that I have not raised a man, but if you are hit on the chest then I will be glad that I raised a warrior." As a man was raised he was taught not to run away. Many people went on "war parties." They thought of their land and the land set aside for them.

People from the eastern provinces also went to war. A man from the Six Nations went; L.O. Loft was his name. He tried to speak for the Indians in England and he was told to go home and organize his people. "You alone cannot be heard," he was told by the Privy Council. He started a movement. He organized a meeting in Ontario. The fourth meeting was at Elphinstone in Manitoba. I saw it; this was in 1920.

He wanted to organize the Indians across Canada. The next meeting was in 1921 at Thunderchild's Reserve. People held that at their own expense, they were so anxious to stand up for themselves and to be seen to speak with one voice. Those seeds that were placed in their heads by Mr. Loft were beginning to ripen. They saw that the only method was to sit together and talk in order to achieve anything. So they had a meeting in 1921; the next year, 1922, Loft went to Thompson Reserve in Hobbema many of our elders attended. That was the last try he made. We never heard of him again. Some wrote letters to him. In 1929 Chief Joe Taylor of Onion Lake never forgot what Loft had told them. They sponsored a conference at their own expense. In 1931 and 32 meetings were held in Saddle Lake Alberta.

In 1931, I attended that conference as a delegate. But back in 1927, I locked horns with the Department of Indian Affairs. I was on my own, working for myself. I did not get along with the officials at Battleford because I didn't want them to tell me what to do, while trying to become independent. Then it was that I studied the Treaty; I studied the Indian Act; I studied the administration of Indian Affairs. I went across the country. I knew what was going on in Alberta. I wrote and many things were told me. When I attended that meeting in 1931, I left my books, and by 1932 I became part of the leadership. I was a leader then until nine years ago when I gave up the leadership in Saskatchewan. And we (Joe Taylor and I) called it the League of Indians of Western Canada. Under this organization I was the leader. Joe Taylor gave me all his papers. He had a lot of confidence in me. The Elders depended on me. I worked for it. I have not given it up yet. I attend meetings where discussions take place. Experience as we call it, helps the members they think. In 1940 Alberta helped us; we were all in one.

All of a sudden they left the organization because of a chief by the name of Joe Calahoo, from Calahoo Reserve as it was called. When this chief spoke, he spoke half in English and half in Cree. The people did not like it, at a meeting at Battleford as they didn't speak English. They were lost when he spoke English; they didn't know what he talked about. So we took a vote on this question. I was a chairman then. They said he should speak Cree all the way through, or be interpreted if he spoke English. He didn't like it and it was too bad. That's when the Alberta Association came into being. That's when he took away his fellow Albertans. That year they had a good crop; Saskatchewan people didn't have good crops. The Saskatchewan Indians received assistance but Alberta Indians didn't because they had good crops. He blamed us, saying that they only spoke for themselves in Saskatchewan. And for other reasons, he persuaded them to depart. However, the people supported the League in the northwest, which had the largest Indian population in Saskatchewan. After the 2nd World War, the Protective Association was started here at Fort Qu'Appelle. The Association of Saskatchewan Indians was started by Joe Dreaver. There were three organizations. After a few years they found out they could not accomplish anything; because they were few in numbers. They wanted unity. When I called a meeting in 1946, they arrived. "We will help you," I said, "but we will rely on the chiefs." The chiefs agreed with it. On the 24th of February, 1946, we had a big meeting at Barry Hotel in Saskatoon and the three organizations amalgamated, under the name of the Union of Saskatchewan Indians. We continued to hold meetings and the delegates came at their own expense or were supported by their own people. Not one cent was given by the government. The people understood what they wanted and I used to go around explaining it to them. I did all that by myself. I didn't stay in one place. And when they understood it, they collected money and arrived.

Today a person is paid to attend a meeting. If he is not paid he does not attend for he is not fed information that would give him enthusiasm to attend in order to help himself and his people. I saw this happening; they were enthusiastic under my leadership. And this Union of Saskatchewan Indians - all of a sudden the provincial government wanted to water the Indians (give them liquor) and to have the provincial vote.

They invited the people to a meeting here at Fort Qu'Appelle in 1958. We didn't accept it right away, because these chiefs, I told them, should not vote on the liquor and vote without the people knowing about it. We tabled this question for another year. The people were to be asked and their desires were to be upheld at the conference. There, we tried to amalgamate. There were two or three bands not represented at the 1958 Conference. It was time to strengthen unity. I asked that we be given a new name. They agreed and we called it "The Federation of Saskatchewan Indians." This happened at Valley Centre here at Fort Qu'Appelle and that is what it has been called since. That became a provincial conference. That is what I was asked to talk about when arriving here. I didn't want to leave this conference without giving this contribution of my knowledge and experience before going home. That is what I am telling you. Many people do not know how this has happened in the past. But I have been involved in it even to this day. That is why I am telling you this.

There are many other things discussed here -the songs, the rituals - that I should comment on. But time is too short and there is much to tell. Thank you.

John Tootoosis

Cree Dene Saulteaux Dakota / Nakota / Lakota FSIN