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Life On The Reserve Hasn't Been Easy

W. Ahenakew

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      JUNE 1971      v02 n05 p02  
Senator William Joseph SENATOR WILLIAM JOSEPH [Left]

William Joseph, a 76-year old Senator in the Federation of Saskatchewan Indians, sighed as he sat back on his kitchen chair which doubles as a living room sofa, when I asked him what life was like on the reserve when he was a youngster. After a brief silence he answered, "Life was very hard for everybody compared to what it is today. Take for example children born on my reserve in the winter time mostly all died, because the nearest hospital was 34 miles away and the only way we had of getting there was by horse team or most of the time by foot.

During the depression of the 1931's life was especially hard for everybody, not only for the Indians, but also for the white families in the area. Work was next to impossible to come by and if it wasn't for my trap line I don't think I would have gone through those years being a lot better off than most families who didn't have a trap line to see them through, as there was very little assistance from the government. I guess a person could still live off his trap line if he had to and this is why we Indian people do not want our one and maybe only remaining livelihood destroyed by some big industry.

Welfare assistance to Indian families in those days was $10.00 per family per month. Many families had to supplement their welfare payments by trapping and getting what little work there was available, which was mainly as a farm laborer, or cutting wood to sell to nearby towns.

I then asked Senator Joseph what he remembered more than anything else during those hard years. He sat there and laughed before he answered me and then he said, "At that time what I am going to tell you wasn't very funny but when I think about it now, I find it is very comical. As I have said, we used to get $10.00 a month per family as welfare assistance. I remember going to the store just a few miles from here one Saturday and when I got there I gave myself the luxurious treat of having a pop. Just then a person, whom I will not name, drove by the store and saw me drinking what he thought was liquor and reported me to Indian Affairs Branch. My assistance was cut down to $5.00 a month for some time.

William Joseph was born at the Chitek Lake Reserve on August 20, 1895, and at an early age moved to the Whitefish Reserve were he was made a permanent member of the band in 1926.

He started school at the age of 10 in 1905 at Whitefish Reserve and was taught for two years by Alex Ahenakew, the grandfather of Chief David Ahenakew, Chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indians. He then was transferred in 1907 to the Duck Lake Indian Students Residential School and left in 1914 after completing his grade six.

Senator Joseph said, "I have no one to blame but myself for going' through a life that was made harder' by lack of education. I wish our Indian youths could have gone through what we old people went through then maybe they would realize. Senator William Joseph has been very active in Indian organizations and is one of the original members of the Queen Victoria Treaty Protectorate Association of Saskatchewan, which in later years amalgamated with other Indian organizations in Saskatchewan and became known as the Federation of Saskatchewan Indians, in which he is a Senate Member today.