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Portage La Loche: Band Without A Home

William Remphrey, Treaty Rights and Research

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      APRIL 15 1975      v05 n07 p04  
In 1970, three reserves blocks were set aside for the Portage La Loche Band - the largest, 14, 187.45 acres, is located on the southerly side of La Loche. The second largest piece, 7,055 acres is located some distance northwest of the town of La Loche (about 100 miles north of Buffalo Narrows on the East Side of Lac La Loche). It seems that few people live at these two reserves - they are both reasonably isolated. The third and smallest block, 2,152.55 acres is the most controversial. It lies on the northeasterly side of Peter Pond Lake, between La Loche and Buffalo Narrows and is known as the "La Loche Landing". It has homes, mostly lying vacant and a hall. The main problem, so say the La Loche Band, is that it is an unsuitable place to live. It doesn't have the benefits of a natural environment and they consider it artificial. A school bus currently makes the run from the Landing to Buffalo Narrows, a distance of some 40 miles, often times empty or not at all.

There are approximately 280 members in the La Loche Band - about 75 per cent of them live in the town of La Loche, which is comprised of whites, Metis and Treaty Indians - much like Buffalo Narrows. Occasionally the nomadic Band members live at the Landing, then for one reason or another move to La Loche.

One possibility for this homeless Band is to get a reserve near the town of La Loche, in exchange for perhaps for the Landing. Meanwhile, the residents at the Landing wish to have electric power, a portable classroom and teacher until a decision is made. They feel it would encourage them to stay at the Landing, at least for the time being.

Joe Whitehaw, District Supervisor for the Indian Affairs Department, Meadow Lake, is sympathetic towards the situation of the Portage La Loche Band. Meeting with the Band on April 9, in preparation for the election of a new Chief and Council later this month, he stated that the new Chief and Council would have to give him direction as to what to do about the Landing situation. He has contacted the province concerning a trade but has had no reply to date. Further, he explained that the town of La Loche had sent a "Taxation Notice" to Indian Affairs Department for $552.24. This money was owing because the Band was living in La Loche instead of on the reserve. He said it had to be taken out of the Indian Affairs budget for other programs particularly housing. Due to problems, of jurisdiction, the Band was being short-changed concerning benefits afforded Treaty Indians. For instance, there is no Government Health Worker servicing those Treaty Indians because they don't live on a reserve. The province on the other hand does not feel responsible because the Treaty Indians are under the jurisdiction of the Federal Government.

The confusion of not having a place to call home causes aimlessness in the Band. Without a central base where a Band Administrative office can be created to, house the Chief and Council and without homes to call their own, the people cannot settle into solving the many social and political problems that they have. The town they now live in is overcrowded and the people do not seem united as a community. Very little concern for sanitation is evidenced. For example, garbage is tossed down the lake onto the ice, finally to float on the water during breakup and create pollution problems.

If the Band decides to take a reserve near the town, several of the now vacant homes at the Landing could be moved there to give them that base they seem to need and want. It is quite probable that the Indian Affairs Department could share expenses for the Band's use of certain facilities in the town, such as rinks, halls and schools, until such time as the Band develops into a meaningful community and help create its own facilities. This sort of arrangement, of course, would have to be agreed to by the local town government as well as the Band.

One obstacle to overcome is that many of the Treaty people living at La Loche may not want to leave - perpetuating the disunity which seems to be causing many of the Band's problems. For the most part, however, this is their individual choice.

In conclusion, there seems to be three choices for this Band to live at the Landing or other portions of their reserve, to continue on with the way things are or exchange present reserve land for more suitable land - perhaps near La Loche. In the end, it will be up to the Band to decide. Hopefully, it will be a decision, which will be beneficial to the present Band members and future generations.