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The History Of The File Hills Farming Colony

Donna Pinay

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      JULY 1974      v04 n06 p16  
With Economic Development slowly taking place on Indian communities, it is interesting to note that at the turn of the century File Hills had developed a self-sufficient farming colony.

The Canadian government was determined to break Indian culture and nomadic life style. A successful farming colony was established on the Peepeekisis Reserve in the File Hills Agency.

Other such agricultural attempts took place in other treaty areas with varying degrees of success. For a nomadic people, once dependent upon the roaming buffalo herds, an agricultural existence was something new and entirely different.

Shortly after Treaty Four was signed many Indian bands did not choose reserves, but continued to hunt and live in their traditional life styles in pursuit of the buffalo and other game. The massive herds were fast dwindling except for areas around the Cypress Hills and northern United States. The bands followed these until they could no longer exist in this manner. The Canadian government and the North West Mounted Police did all they could to convince the Indian bands to choose reserve land and settle there. There were hassles between the American and Canadian governments and Canada wanted its Indians within its boundaries.

Eventually all bands were faced with no alternative but to choose a reserve site and live there. They began to start their lives as permanently-located people far different from the life they and generations before had led for centuries. This also marked the time when the Indian people were forced to depend on the government for their existence.

With Indian agents and/or farming instructors on each reserve, the Indians were encouraged to break the land, build homes, and farm. They were also encouraged to send their children to school and thus started the cultural breakdown of many people. Ancient religious ceremonies were outlawed and discouraged.

With reserve settlement in the Treaty Four area, schools were established on many reserves or centres. These included the day schools, residential and industrial schools.

The File Hills agency comprising of four bands, Little Black Bear, Starblanket, Okanese, and Peepeekisis was to be the location of what

Governor-General Earl Gray
visiting File Hills Colony in 1910
Governor-General Earl Gray visiting File Hills Colony in 1910
[Photo covers pages 16 and 17]

The History Of The File Hills Farming Colony

Donna Pinay

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      JULY 1974      v04 n06 p17  
was known as the File Hills Colony. An Indian agent, W. M. Graham, began to plan this colony and submitted a proposal to the Department of Indian Affairs and it was accepted.

This plan was designed to aid the graduates of residential and industrial schools. An assortment of students would live on the Colony and become successful farmers. It was also felt that the establishment of such a colony would stop what many Indian agents feared. Graduates of the school returned to their reserves, reverted to the traditional ways, and forgot their training. If they were all together Graham could and would keep these graduates together and away from others.

The Peepeekisis Indian Reserve was chosen for the Colony site. The land contained fertile soil, water and successful white farms surrounded the area. The Chief and his followers agreed to the establishment of such a colony of their reserve.

A special meeting was called by Indian Agent Graham as the Indian Act does not allow non-members of a band to be residents on that reserve unless voted in by a majority vote. The Chief and councillors voted in favour of allowing others to come into their reserve.

About 19,000 of the 26,000 acres of Peepeekisis land was allotted to the Colony. Each chosen colony member would receive eighty-acre land parcels for his use as well as building supplies, housing needs, livestock and implements.

Agent Graham consulted school personnel to choose the students. Fred Deiter became the first colony member in 1902. Others were Francis Dumont, John R. Thomas, John Bellegarde, Ben Stonechild, Joe Ironquill, Joe McKay, McGlory Bellegarde, F. Fiddler and Alex Brass.

The following year involved hard, back-breaking work for the colony farmers. Land was broken, homes built and crops planted. The Indian agent was pleased with the project as all members were hard workers intent on making good farms for themselves.

One year later 700 acres had been broken and some of the men began on their second of the eighty-acre allotments. In his reports, the Indian agent noted that everyone owned their set of implements and every school age child was in school.

Markets for wood, hay, grain and stock were now at the neighbouring towns of Lemberg, Abernethy, and Balcarres. Before this the only existing market was at the town of Indian Head.

Progress continued at the colony. In 1907, a steam thrasher was purchased and operated on the reserve. A church was constructed. In the Indian Agent's reports, individual farmers progress was noted with number of bushels harvested, acres broken and livestock numbers. All was going quite well with good homes, crops and livestock. Each colony member had from 160 to 240 acres.

In 1910, the Governor-General of Canada, Earl Gray, visited the Colony. He awarded a shield to Fred Deiter for the best average crop yield. Fred had shipped three carloads of grain that year.

The population of the Colony began to expand with marriage, children and new members joining the Colony. Some other members added during the following years were Edwin Nokosis, Archie Nokosis, Archie Lowe, Clifford Pinay, Noel Pinay, David Bird and Roy Keewatin.

The History Of The File Hills Farming Colony

Donna Pinay

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      JULY 1974      v04 n06 p18  
In 1919 the Colony had 33 farmers. World War I interrupted many of the activities of the colony. Many men enlisted leaving family and home for overseas duty. The hard work and stamina of the wives of the farmers must be noted for it was they who kept things going while their husbands were away.

David Bird, an original colony member, recalled his service in the war and his wife's contribution. His wife went to work while he was gone and saved what money she made. Upon his return they were able to purchase four horses, a plough and harness and begin farming again. He said other wives did the same for their husbands.

The women also kept busy during the war with Red Cross contributions in the form of clothing and cash. In an Indian agent report there is a list of such contributions made by the women of the reserve and the colony.

More members were added to the colony in 1917 and they received building materials, cattle, horses, implements and seeds. In 1919 it is noted that the colony was entirely self-supporting. Out of a total of 38 men, 24 had enlisted in the services.

Educational standards on the reserve continued to rise. There was a high enrolment of school children and some had completed their grade eight. In 1924 the Department of Indian Affairs added a herd oh purebred Holstein cattle to the colony.

The community spirit and initiative at the Colony was high. A brass band was formed with Veteran Alex Brass as Bandmaster. The church choir was an excellent one and was invited to sing at services in the district. Youth groups included Boy Scouts Troop, Canadian Girls in Training, and various sport teams such as hockey, baseball an softball.

All times were not good ones at the Colony and in about 1928 or 1929 the crops failed as it was a dry year. The Depression Years began and File Hills suffered as did the other people across Canada.

Canada's economy received a boost with the beginning of World War Two and once again many men of the reserve and colony enlisted. About 32 men enlisted. As to be expected in a war, some never returned to their homes.

Crop yields were reported to be good in the following years. The people were kept busy and produced excellent grain, vegetables, and stock. File Hills Colony seemed to be a success in many ways.

In 1955 the original members of the Peepeekisis Band protested through legal action the membership of all of the Colony members. The matter went to court and the judge ruled in favour of the Colony members staying on the reserve. If the protestors had won their case, the population of the band, would have been reduced greatly and all of the Colony members would have been homeless with years of work for nothing.

The breakdown of the Colony began around this time. Many farmers went broke. Others left for employment in the cities and towns. Machinery repair and breakdown plus other costs caused a need for financial assistance which no one could obtain. Bands would not lend the amounts required and there were no such agricultural programs or community development funds within the Department of Indian Affairs as they are today. Others stayed on the reserve but discontinued farming. A few, however, stuck with it and their children are working their land today.

Today the reserve of Peepeekisis has a population of about 800. The formation of the Colony brought together many different people of Cree, Sioux, and Saulteaux ancestry. The File Hills Colony was once one of the most successful farming projects in this province. Today farming is once again becoming the basis of economy for the people. Many are interested in starting farming and others are doing quite well. The necessary loans and grants are now available and perhaps such projects will succeed.

The Regina Industrial School
The Regina Industrial School

The File Hills Colony Band in
Winnipeg - 1910
The File Hills Colony Band in Winnipeg - 1910