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Chief Antoine Cote has charged the Department of Indian Affairs with a breach of trusteeship and demanded a detailed accounting of the reserve lands and all funds before November 30 of this year.
The Indian Act states that the Federal Government shall be a trustee for Indian lands and be responsible for their maintenance as Indian land.
In a prepared statement Chief Cote stated that "The Crown has failed to carry out its responsibilities and obligations to the bands and, in fact. contrary to the terms of the Treaties and in breach of trust. The Crown has encouraged the surrender and sale of 13,240 acres of land formerly of the Cote Reserve."
At the same time David Ahenakew, Chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indians gave his unconditional support to Chief Cote and the Cote band.
"The Federation of Saskatchewan Indians is committed to support the Chiefs and Councils and take political directions from them" he stated.
"This claim by the Cote Reserve represents the historic first step whereby the Indian people of Saskatchewan will attempt to obtain redress for past wrongs" he said.
"There are many other Reserves where land loss was reduced by Indian Affairs and land speculators." he added.
The Federation of Saskatchewan Indians is an organization composed of Treaty Registered Indians. The primary role of the Executive Council of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indians is the protection and maintenance of Indian Rights and Treaties. The Executive Council of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indians, cognizant of the fact that the relationship of the Indian people to the Government of Canada is that of Ward to Guardian, expects the Government of Canada to faithfully fulfil the obligations of a responsible trustee.
Therefore, when a documented case of breach of trusteeship through lack of sound judgement in handling a Band's resources comes to its attention, the Executive Council of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indians will give its endorsement and support to any Band so effected. The support of the Executive Council can give is the provision of further documentary evidence and advice through Indian Rights and Treaties Research Branch and - or assistance in placing the claim before the Indian Claims Commissioner, and the agencies responsible for providing redress of the grievance.
Cote Band Reserve, No. 64 has evidence of a default in stewardship in the Government's handling of the Band's land resources and is making a claim for just settlement for breach of trusteeship.
This claim by the Cote Band has the support and endorsement of the Executive Council of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indians as will any future documented claim of a similar nature by any other Band which has experienced a default of stewardship in the handling of its resources.
The land was turned over through a number of transactions from 1904 to 1913 and the size of the Reserve was reduced from 36,160 acres to 22,920 acres. The reason the Department of Indian Affairs has given for these surrenders was that the band needed money to broaden its agricultural base.
The present Chief and Council regard this as an "unconscionable procedure."
"For thirty years the Reserve had been under scrutiny and direction of the department. Little capital to finance development was being accumulated either on or off the reserve. In 1904 just before the first surrender the Agent wrote that the Department was expecting him to make the band self-sufficient by farming while they lacked working horses, oxen and machinery. Even if risk capital were needed, the source ought not have been the band's land resources." The Chief and Band Council stated in a prepared statement.
The main events in the history of the land area of the Cote Reserve indicating how this trustee relationship has been breached are:
(1) Adhesion of the Band to Treaty No. 4 (1874), which stipulated the size of the Reserve. The Reserve was surveyed in 1877 at its present location. The Department of Indian Affairs then attempted to make the Band self-sufficient through crop farming and stock raising.
(2) In 1893 the land between the Assiniboine River and Whitesand River was vested in the Superintendent-General of Indian Affairs, to be held as hay lands for the benefit of Indians in the Fort Pelly District.
(3) A surrender was made in 1904 to the Crown for sale to the Canadian Northern Railway of a 30-acre station ground and a 242-acre railway townsite (Kamsack shown as area 1 on the map). A cash settlement of $10.00 per acre was made to the Band on a per capita basis at the time surrender. It was also agreed that after $5,000 had been recovered by the Company's agents then the Band would share with it in the gross profits from sales of townsite lots. Title to the 30-acres passed immediately to the Company, while the Department reserved title to the townsite until the land should be actually sold.
(4) An exchange and surrender of land took place in 1905. A total of 20,480 acres was surrendered by the Band (areas 5, 6, 7 and 8). Six thousand acres (areas 2, 3 and 4) were surrendered to the Reserve in exchange for part of this total. The net loss to the Band was therefore some 14,480 acres. A value of $10.00 per acres was placed on the land to be sold; one-tenth of this was, by agreement, to be paid to Band members in two installments. Half of this tenth, $7,084 was, paid at the time of surrender. The other 5 per cent, according to the Department and the written surrender, was to be paid out "within thirty days after the date of the sale of lands". The Band, supported by a missionary who had been hired by the Government to speed negotiations, maintained that this second payment was due six months after the date of the surrender. Under one-seventh (2,042 acres) of the land put up for sale was sold. The first payments by purchasers of the land totalling $4,869, were retained by the Department to offset its own payment to the Band.
(5) The payment controversy was cut short in 1907 by (a) a reconstitution into the reserve of the northern portion of the land surrendered in 1905 (areas 6 and 7), and (b) a new surrender, removing the whole southern half of the reserve (areas 4, 9 and 10; area 8 had already been surrendered).
This transaction involved 10,740 acres; valued at $10.00 per acre. Changed in the Indian Act allowed one-fifth of the total, valuation to be advanced to the Indians at the time of surrender. A per capita distribution of $87.00 was made.
(6) By 1913, the Band had surrendered a total of 15,872 acres, leaving a reserve of 19,640 acres. During 1913 a new surrender of 10,422 acres was obtained. This was a two-mile strip along the southern boundary of the already reduced reserve areas 3, 7 and 11). Per Capita payments of $100.00 were made to the Band members. These lands were, however, not placed on the market. An additional surrender of 164 acres (area 12) was made in 1914, though without a majority vote of the eligible Band members.
(7) The 1913 surrender was cancelled in 1915 and the land reconstituted part of the reserve. Opinions vary as to the reasons for this. It was later suggested that it was because the Band had surrendered too much of their arabic land. The Government refunded itself from the Cote Band General Fund for the total advance of $32,160 made partly at the time of the surrender, and partly in January, 1915.
(8) An attempt by the Department to secure the surrender of the southern portion of area 7 was voted down by the Band.
(9) The petroleum, natural gas and mining rights in the reserve were surrendered for leasing in 1952.
(10) In 1963, an area of 2,670 acres ( 6) originally surrendered in 1905 was reconstituted part of the reserve.
The land surrenders and sales were justified by the Department as providing the Band with capital funds for economic development. This was surely an unconscionable procedure. For thirty years, the Band had been subject to the scrutiny and direction of the Department's bureaucracy in accordance with the terms of the Indian Act and the Department's own administrative procedures. All this was designed to make the Band self-supporting. The policy failed, with but small areas of the reserve, coming under cultivation and no large- scale movement into stock-raising. Little capital to finance development was being accumulated either on or off the reserve. Thus, in 1904, just before the townsite surrender, the Agent wrote that the Department was expecting him to make the Band self-sufficient by farming while they lacked working horses, oxen and machinery, and that what little they earned had to he used to keep themselves.
This ineffectiveness of Departmental policies was blamed on the Indians. As the Department informed the Minister in May, 1904, the Indians "do not require money so much as application". Despite this view, the Department inconsistently gave in to the pressures outlined below, and justified the transactions in terms of promoting economic development. Even if risk capital were needed, the source ought to not have been the Band's land resources.
The Department also actively collaborated in the 1913 surrender, even though it was realized that since 1904- 1907 transactions had not "put the Cote Band on its feet", it was unlikely that further conversion of land to cash would.
It was gross misuse of the Indians major capital asset, the Reserve, to make up for the failure of the Department's own policies by carving it up to satisfy white voters, and justify this as being a policy to better the Indians' condition.
It might be argued that in making large cash payments to Band members, the Department was giving them what they wanted. In reality the Indians were manipulated out of their lands in the interest of speculators and settlers, not to mention the Department's own internal budget. The entire procedure for taking the surrenders with their substantial cash hand-outs was a way of gaining control of Indian land without the political hazards of outright expropriation. This is
made clear in the Debates of the House of Commons for 1906. As in the multitude of surrenders solicited by the Department, a community demoralized by cultural deprivation and severe poverty could hardly be expected to resist blatant deduction through easily acquired, ready cash.
Inevitably, once a townsite had been permitted within Cote Reserve there was overwhelming pressure to open up the surrounding lands to increase the profits from speculation in the townsite itself. The Department was told that the townsite could only be located on the reserve, a contention belied by the Railway Company's saying it was quite prepared to abandon the idea altogether at one point of the negotiations. Misguided consideration prompted the Department to reverse its well-established policy of not locating white railway towns on reserves. That step immediately opened the gate for the loss of substantial lands by the Band.
In the 1913 surrender, the Department gave in to another move engineered by speculators, despite the experience of the previous decade and the protests of missionaries. But for the First World War and subsequent depression, which respectively deflected white interest elsewhere and upset the land market, the end result would have been even worse.
Through the transactions set out above, the Cote Indians were subjected to a successful campaign by settlers and speculators, who were supported by the Government Departments, in their attempt to gain control of Indian lands. Eventually the Cote Indian Reserve was reduced from its original area of 36,160 acres to its present 22,920 acres. Had in fact all the surrenders taken from the Band led to sales, the present area of the reserve would be under one-fifth of its original acreage. This confusing series of agitations, initiatives, surrenders, sales and reconstitution can hardly have produced an environment favourable to economic development, another responsibility assumed by the Crown at the time of negotiating the Treaties.
Therefore, the Cote Indian Reserve Band set forth this claim based on the grounds of breach of the trustee relationship which was established between the Crown and the Cote Band. The Government, aided by settlers and speculators, used unconscionable tactics to dispose of reserve lands and accordingly, failed in their responsibility, as trustee, to hold the said lands for the benefit of the Band alone and free from white encroachment. Nothing less than the transfer to the Band of an area equivalent in size and quality or, in the alternative, its financial equivalent can be countenanced. Either mode of settlement should comprise part of a comprehensive development plan for the betterment of the people of Cote.