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The Indian Agent

Mervin Dieter

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      FEBRUARY 1973      v03 n02 p03  

Mervin Dieter Possibly the best thing that could have happened to the Indian people is that if this person formerly known as the Indian Agent had never existed, at least in the way he played his role with the Indian people on the Reserve. It is very difficult for me not to appear prejudiced against these people and in all fairness I must assume that there must have been those who did work hard and were very concientious for the welfare of the Indian people. But I very unfortunately did not come in contact with any of them.

The word agent as we are all aware is one who acts in the interests of other people or parties and of course is paid for his services. Another thing that many of us may not have given much thought to is the old axiom of (who pays the fiddler who calls the tune.) So for whom was this man agent for? The term (Indian Agent) was nothing more than false and misleading! And he could be nothing more than an agent for the Crown. The Treaty Indian people did not have an agent in any real legal or otherwise practical sense.

To a great many of us who have existed and survived under the rule of the old so-called Indian Agent he was nothing more than a biased arbitrator hurting and contributing to the failure of many of our people. Many of these hurts and scars still live in the memory of many of the elderly people and are often opened by the callousness and apathy of many portions of our present day society. One may think I sound bitter and malicious or perhaps making excuses for my people if I am making excuses for my people I believe from the bottom of my heart that they are valid ones and the truth must be known. I strongly believe that many of these so-called Indian Agents practiced a subtle impassive resistance campaign against the mobility of the Indian people in which in too many cases were very successful which is having very detrimental results on many native people today. If I am not mistaken I have heard it said that all men are created equal. I am not really trying to take issue with this term. What used to confuse me or really `get me up tight' or `lose my cool' (real good terms these, introduced by the 'In Generation' - another good term) was what happened or is happening to this equality for many native people. I think I am beginning to see the light. It was the way many old biased arbitrators brainwashed the Indian people taking their will away to fight and stand on equal terms with the rest of society but most fortunately this did not work with them all. Relating some experiences that had happened between the old agent and Indian people may help me make my point. I never forget my first contact with this old agent for the Crown, particularly his visits to my father's farm. These agents always drove the smartest and most spirited light horses in the area and of course a black and well shined buggy or democrat. I have never seen the particular agent open a gate. He always sat ramrod straight and waited as impatiently as his team of horses for someone to open the gate and immediately the gate was down his horses sprang into high gear which is the only gear I think they had scattering dogs, chickens and Indian children. To be really fair with him I don't think he ever ran over an Indian child and of course most times if we knew it was the agent we ran and hid.

A typical conversation between an Indian and an agent would be something like this. M. greeting or passing the time of day. Agent - Well Ferd. How are the cattle (never how are your cattle), how are the horses and crops. (Fine, Mr. Agent.) Going to haul enough feed for the animals this winter? (Think so, Mr. Agent.) Agent gets up to his horses and into high gear again, never a word inquiring about the welfare of the wife and family of the Indian farmer. Of course one could never talk back or sauce an agent of the Crown as he was the supreme ruler of the reserve, and he knew it. To break this rule would mean anywhere from 30 to 90 days hard labour, as he also was a JB or Magristrate and his word was law. And it was not until some Indian smartened up and put an end to this practice at least with this one particular agent. In an encounter with this agent he informed the agent that under no circumstances would he go to jail for merely talking back to him but would be real happy to go to jail after he (the Indian) beat up the Agent. This was the beginning of the Indian people standing up for their rights. To know real frustrations and pangs of hunger for doing without meat on the table for long periods of time when one has herds of cattle and cannot butcher one for fear of going to jail was only one of the indignities imposed on the Treaty Indians. Another was going without many necessities of life with grain in the bins and the price fairly good for that time was another. One instance that remains vividly in my mind was when an Indian farmer wanted to sell his rye for 84 cents per bushel. But the agent would not allow him to. It was then necessary to have a permit to sell anything off the reserve - wood, hay, grain, cattle or what have you.

It was months later when the price of rye dropped to 14 cents per bushel that the knowledgeable agent in an agitated state of mind and a permit with orders to sell that damned rye before it became worthless. Instances like this would take volumes of writing to relate. Many of these incidents border an act that one could hardly contribute to civilized man.