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Treaty Research Answer To Land Problem

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      MAY 1972      v03 n05 p05  
REGINA - Goodly portions of land granted by treaties have been surrendered for bad reasons.

Indians have lost reserve land in Saskatchewan under threat of police violence, to grasping white settlers and through conniving of railway builders.

Reserves were created in the beginning, by government, as sort of schools for Indians, where they could learn to live agriculturally like Whites. But the plan failed. In a short time much of the original land was lost.

But how much land went where, and why?

The Federation of Saskatchewan Indians has set up an Indian Rights and Treaties Research program to find out.

The committee acts when bands request information about land losses. They do it by resolution.

The research group, under its director, Walter Gordon, has begun study sessions on some reserves; - Cote, Keeseekoose and Key, to list some.

The people are becoming angry, and want their land back for their own economic development, but it is not all that easy.

"I know the surrenders seem to look legal, like we cannot do anything about them. But we are working hard to gather information to set this right," Mr. Gordon says.

At the new treaty research office, in Regina's Sherwood Co-op Building, the library is stacked with papers collected by researchers on all 135 Saskatchewan reserves. The committee is trying to find a pattern in the land surrenders.

"The Indians were always told the surrenders were in their best interests. But in the end they always lost out," Mr. Gordon says.

Reserves close to railroad tracks were hit hard by surrenders. The towns wanted taxes from land so they could expand. Indian lands were not taxed.

The Indian lands were also not as productive as the government liked - in order to move the Indian closer to the white man's existence. So government decided on surrenders to put the land to better use, it thought.

Two reserves were totally wiped out in 1901. Pheasant's Rump and Ocean Man (Striped Blanket) in the Kisbey-Carlyle area, once were northwest of White Bear, the reserve which eventually became home to the displaced Assiniboines.

The surrender was carried out by David Laird, Indian Commissioner. May 10, 13,000 acres of the two old reserves, now prime ranch land, went up for public auction. The two, with 1,260 people, used to span 57,304 acres.

Land loss was shocking. In the south, Cote gave up 16,640 acres; Ochapowace, 18,030; Kahkewistahaw, 27,273; Cowessess, 20,837; and Pasqua, 15,431. The figures go on.

The government did not seem to know what it was doing. The head man, his title then was superintendent-general, had to chew both ends of a stick - as agent for the Crown and for Indians.

Envious Whites pressured the government and Indians to give up good farm lands almost as soon as they were allotted. Settlers did not think the Indians should have such rich land which blocked railway expansion.

Benevolent Broadview people, in 1902, sent a petition to government saying Kahkewistahaw reserve was too big for the population and sale to the settlers would benefit the Indians.

Indian Affairs' staff in Saskatchewan were often greedy, coming to the Indians with pockets of money to help them in their surrender decisions. This was tempting. Indians had debts, farm equipment in particular.

Trouble was, the Indians in the early 1900's may not have realized the value of their land base, the reserve. While some chiefs argued against surrender, particularly Kahkewistahaw, later chiefs were meek.

Proceeds from Indian land sales were put in Ottawa accounts to the band's credit. Interest was paid regularly and the department handed out 10 per cent of the total buying price to the band members.

In 1906, Ottawa decided to part with more money for Indian land, and up to 50 per cent of the buying price was paid out. The government then was bending under pressure to open up reserve lands. "The interest of the whites will have to be provided for "but" in the last resort, legislation could be necessary," the House of Commons was told.

Actual surrenders stopped in the 1920s. Replacing them were large land leases to white farmers. The push was on to do the Indians out of mineral rights too.

The department's attempt to make the Indian operate like the white man had failed. But during the experiment, fantastic amounts of land acres had gone.

Bands which want to know what happened to the acreage can ask the Indian Rights and Treaties Research group. The field workers visit reserves and listen to questions from band members.

Reports are sent to the Regina office, then on to those working in the archives, who look up the answers. So the field staff tell the researchers what concerns the people.

"In some cases we may think we've won a battle over land rights for one reserve. But if we make a claim we are not sure of, we could lose the war for the rest of the reserves.

"That's why we are approaching all claims with caution... and looking for a surrender pattern all over," Mr. Gordon says.