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Historical Review

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      JUNE 1975      OUR WAY (The Saskatchewan Indian Position) p06  
The goals of official Indian policy have been to remake Indian people in the image of European manners and values eventually eliminating their separate culture.

Treaty Rights

Our Treaties are both the symbol and the statement of our unique position as the original and ancient owners of this land. They represent our special relationship with the Crown and the rights, benefits and guarantees secured for us and future generations. This our forefathers obtained for us by cession of most of our lands.

For the Indian people they are not mere abstractions, existing only in legal theory or in nostalgia for a vanished past. They are concrete, durable, fixed in the accumulated experience of reserve life, and they define the position from which all discussions of Indian development must begin.

The Western Treaties were thus more than a contractual undertaking by the Crown to grant certain payments, rights and benefits to the Indian people, for all time, in return for cession of the tribal land and Indian commitment to keep peace and obey the laws of the land. Beyond these specific terms, the Treaties were an affirmation of Tribal and Band integrity and recognition of the right of Indian people to manage their affairs on their own lands in accordance with custom and tradition.

While disruption of the plains environment in the 1870's was of catastrophic proportions for the Indians and forced the necessity of sweeping adoptive change, nothing in the statements of Treaty Commissioners to Chiefs and Headmen suggested the rapid implementation of a program of directed cultural genocide and forced assimilation into the enveloping Canadian society.

Cultural Genocide

Yet such a policy and program had been in effect since early in the nineteenth century; the goals of official Indian policy, from 1830 onward, have been to remake the Indian people in the image of European manners and values, to move them into the mainstream of Canadian life on achievement of this initial goal, and finally to dismantle the reserve system altogether. Thus, right from the beginning of the Treaty period in Saskatchewan, there has been a fundamental conflict over direction for Indian development. The Indian people have never budged from their Treaty position as a separate people with rights of cultural and political self-determination on their own lands, lands which they kept for themselves. It has been the object of the Federal Government, throughout the entire period, to destroy those rights and to eliminate Indian Bands as separate cultural and political entities.

The Indian policy was described as "tribal communism" by Departmental officials. It was assaulted selectively and comprehensively; the principal targets of attack were traditional Band leadership, co-operative production and sharing, village settlement pattern, religious beliefs and sacred ceremonials. These and other manifestations of Indian culture were to be exorcised and replaced by Euro-Canadian institutions, values and behaviour. All this was to take place on the reserve which, in the context of Federal philosophy were not an Indian homeland for all time but temporary laboratories for a program of forced culture change.

Historical Review

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      JUNE 1975      OUR WAY (The Saskatchewan Indian Position) p07  

Powers of Minister

Photograph To achieve these objectives the Federal Government needed full authority over Indian life on the reserves; this authority it granted itself in successive Indian Acts and revisions. The Minister responsible for Indian Affairs and his deputies were given wide powers over selection and deposition of Band leaders, subdivision and allotment of Reserve lands to Band members, management of Band funds and control of Band Affairs. Religious ceremonials and dances were prohibited. Freedom of movement was suppressed by means of a "pass" system and prosecutions for vagrancy.


Education was seen as a powerful instrument in the assimilation program and has been used consistently to that end. The Industrial and Boarding School systems were used to remove Indian children from the influence of home and community and the Minister had statutory authority to commit Indian children to these schools.

While the powers of the Minister and his deputies were greatly reduced in the Indian Act of 1951, and most of the repressive and suppressive measures (including compulsory enfranchisement) dropped, the goals of Indian policy remained the same: to assimilate Indian people into Canadian society and eventually to dismantle the reserve system. The policy goals were not themselves in question; only the means used to achieve them were in need of revision, because it was clear to the policy-makers that the reserve system, intended to be temporary, was rapidly assuming an alarming permanence.

Earlier Indian Acts had also given Band Councils considerable authority. The authority was not properly used or encouraged by the Government. Sections which allowed Bands to hire their own teachers were removed and the authority placed with outside agencies. The 1951 Indian Act made provision for less federal and Indian control and more provincial control.

Effect Of Detribalization

A hundred years' experience of an official and deliberate Federal detribalization policy have left their mark on the Indian Bands in Saskatchewan. The Federal attack on Indian culture and society produced the inevitable reaction-defensiveness; this necessity for defence robbed Indian communities of energies which otherwise would have been available for adaptive change and development. The necessity for defence is still with us and continues to debilitate our reserves.

The detribalization policy was more seriously damaging in another way. There may be little value now, in harking back to "what might have been", yet we do it to make a point. Common sense and the living experience of our people tell us that if we had been allowed to adapt on our own terms; to direct the process of change and development from within our communities with that Government assistance and good will which Treaty Commissioner Morris assured our forefather would always be forth coming; our reserves would not be in their present state of under development and deprivation. But we were denied the opportunity to develop our own institutions to meet the needs of change Institutional control over the Band government, education, religion and other activities was taken from us and, as a consequence, several generations of Indian people have little experience of institution-building as a normal process in community growth and change. Some of us say that several more generations will be required to correct this structural incompleteness.

The Second World War made the Indians' presence much more apparent. Many Indian men had voluntarily signed up and seen active duty in the Armed Forces. The result of the increased consciousness to Indian problems was the Indian Act hearings in 1947 which were followed by the 1951 revised Indian Act.

Many Indian leaders and concerned citizens came forward and expressed their views at Indian Act hearings. One such well intentioned individual was Dr. Jenness, a professor at the University of British Columbia.

His plan was entitled "The Liquidation of Canada's Indian Problem within Twenty five Years" - It consisted of four items; first, separate schools were to be abolished and Indian children were to be placed in provincial

Historical Review

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      JUNE 1975      OUR WAY (The Saskatchewan Indian Position) p08  
Photograph schools. Second, the Indians were to be included in all social legislation such as unemployment insurance, social security and later on, medicare. Third, a commission was to be set up to abolish reserves and enfranchise Indians. The final one was to increase educational facilities to "migratory" Indians to qualify them for new types of employment such as pilots and mechanics.

Dr. Jenness was lauded by the committee and all felt that they had been presented with a workable plan. One question remained unanswered. What about Indian Treaty Rights?

This plan was largely implemented except for the abolishing of reserves and the enfranchisement of Indians. This is not to suggest that it was not attempted.

1947 Plan

The 1947 Plan outlined the philosophy Indian Affairs followed up to the present time. The 1969 White Paper and 1975 Local Government Guidelines both reflect this policy.

This plan was largely responsible for the push in the late 50's and early 60's to establish integrated schools in non-Indian communities. The plan also led to the start of fragmenting Indian services. The first department to be removed from the jurisdiction of the Minister of Indian Affairs was Indian Health Services.

Long range plans were developed to transfer services to other departments and eventually to the provinces. Plans for the establishment of joint schools, for example, were developed years ahead of their implementation in isolation from Indian people.

White Paper Policy

The fragmenting of programs from the parent department became more apparent after the introduction of the White Paper on Indian Policy which was released in 1969. The Just Society of the 60's emerged, for Indian people, in blueprint form as the White Paper of 1969. Billed as a new direction and a complete break with past policies, the fact that it was a restatement of old goals quickly became apparent. On grounds of equality and full participation, and describing Indian special status as discriminatory, it proposed abolition of our special constitutional position, repeal of the Indian Act, phasing out of the Indian Affairs Branch and ultimate assumption by Indian Bands of services, programs and responsibilities common to the national and provincial Canadian communities. While lip service was paid to an "Indian Cultural Heritage" the White Paper denied the separate Indian political and cultural reality and blandly assumed continuation of the joint school system. The White Paper was no more acceptable to the Indian people of Saskatchewan than were earlier versions of the same policy.

The Chiefs from the Indian Association of Alberta and the Executive Council of the National Indian Brotherhood met a year later with the Federal Cabinet. At that time, the Minister of Indian Affairs assured the delegation that the White Paper was dead. The Prime Minister followed with a commitment that his government "would take 5, 10, 15, or 20 years if necessary" to carry out the necessary dialogue and consultation with Indian people. The Prime Minister further assured the delegation by stating "We will not force anything on you", promising that no new policies would be undertaken without the involvement and consent of the Indian people.

In her latest royal tour of Canada, Queen Elizabeth II, made a further commitment from the Crown in respect to Treaties, "You may be confident of the continual co-operation of my government which represents your people as it represents all the people of Canada. You may be assured that my Government of Canada recognizes the importance of full compliance with the spirit and terms of your Treaties."

In spite of these assurances, the Department of Indian Affairs has gone ahead and developed guidelines and circulars which seriously alter and jeopardize our traditional form of government.

The past century has seen our Treaties under constant bombardment from other acts and legislation which conflict and attack our special status. We will not accept these new guidelines or any legislation developed in our absence which abrogate our Treaties.

Our Treaty rights are non-negotiable and not subject to compromise. We are now demanding that legislation be brought forward bringing an end to the assimilation policies and further legislation be brought forward reaffirming our Treaties and special status.