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In his presentation he said "So far our research has been concentrated on situation of veterans involved in the First World War. These veterans after having volunteered serve their country were entitled to the same benefits under the law as all veterans who have gone overseas in defence of Canada.
He said the initial policy of the government appears to have been to take steps to insure that Indian veterans were treated on equal basis with all others. "As a matter of fact in August of 1918, before the war had even concluded, the Deputy Minister of Indian Affairs laid it down as a statement of policy that, quote 'We must secure for our Indian veterans, all the privileges provided for others', unquote".
The Indian commissioner in Regina, however, who had responsibility for Indian Affairs in the prairie provinces had other ideas. Commissioner W.M. Graham had made himself notorious prior to the war, by approaching Indian Bands and pressuring them into granting large surrenders of Indian reserve lands which were snapped up by speculators. The statement by Deputy Minister Scott which came to Mr. Grahams' notice in August of 1918 was not agreed to by him. His first observation on the whole subject was that all Indians who had gone overseas from the three western provinces had ample lands should they decide to settle down and farm. He therefore thought there was no necessity to provide lands for Indians. He also declared that Indians are wards of the government, and was a justification for continuing the tight and control policy that Indian Affairs maintained over all aspects of Indian lives on Reserves. He gave it as his opinion that no assistance should be given to an Indian (and he was speaking here of Indian veterans) with a strong backing of the Indian Agent whose recommendations should be thoroughly investigated by the Department before the case was brought up to the Soldier Settlement Board. In other words, whereas a white veteran would have to satisfy the Board that he would make good use of the land, grants or loans, granted under the terms of the Board, an Indian veteran would be subject, first of all to gaining approval of the local agent, and if he made the grade in that instance, then the case would then be submitted to the Soldier Settlement Board and would have to be approved by them as well. This made the job of securing benefits doubly difficult for Indian veterans over those of the whites. Graham gave it as his opinion that if livestock were bought with the proceeds of the advance from the Board, and if found the Indian was not making proper use of it, the stock should be taken away from him and sold and the money refunded to the Board. And if the sum realized from the sale was not sufficient to cover the cost to the Board for the amount advanced, the Department would have to arrange some method to make good the deficiency.
There is no question of the payment for the loan made but a question of word of the agent as to whether these provisions had been fulfilled.
"In discussing the whole matter it should be borne in mind that during this period, Indians on reserves were under many restrictions (which is hard to believe) existed at this time. No Indian was allowed to leave the reserve without a pass from the Indian Agent, nor was he allowed to sell any of his livestock or agricultural produce without a permit," said Mr. Tyler.
The provisions of these discussions grew up between the Deputy Minister and the Indian Commissioner for the Northwest Territories, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, and were brought to the Minister of Indian Affairs at that time in November of 1918, just before the end of the war. The Minister was also of the opinion that no land should be given to Indian veterans, as it was his opinion that "the reserves of the western provinces particularly contained far larger areas of farming land than will be ever required by the Indians belonging to them. I do not think one third of the arable land will ever be used by the Indians." Based on the Ministers opinion, he decided that absolutely no land ought to be given to Indian veterans off the reserve.
As a matter of fact the policy that was implemented was not to rent to veterans land of the reserve, but to take large areas of reserve away from Indians and make them available to white veterans. This was accomplished in Saskatchewan by means of six surrenders of reserves involving, Ochapowace, Piapot, Muskeg Lake, Mistawasis and Big River. The lands were turned over to the Soldier Settlement Board to be sold to white veterans. However, there were not sufficient white veterans interested in taking up these lands at cost. The Minister was also very skeptical about giving the Indian veterans other benefits available under the Soldier Settlement Act. He said they had probably acquired extravagant habits and supervision had or will have to be kept over their expenditures upon their return. He said certainly some reward should be given to the loyal Indians who had answered the call of duty and volunteered for active service. He thought the best and surest way to assist them was to establish them on reserves, advancing the necessary working plan along with close working supervision until they had advanced sufficiently to warrant all restrictions to be removed. The problem with the whole approach was that it amounted to no benefits at all, since all the benefits he laid out were available to every Indian and no special advantage granted to the veteran.
In 1919, the Indian Act was amended to provide for veterans to receive some form of benefits in loans and land. However this land was on the reserve, so this was hardly any grant at all. The terms of granting land on reserves was of such that the very grave potential existed for this land to be lost to the
In 1922, the Indian Act was amended again to remove this objectional principle. The one principle that wasn't removed was that the location ticket for the returned veterans was to be granted to them without the approval of the band council, and this gave in fact the Indian agent and Indian Affairs bureaucracy the full power to order to grant land on reserves without consent of Chief and Council, something that wasn't allowed under other circumstances. This had the effect of lessening the Indian Bands control of their own resources, and problems arising from this are still with us.
Ken Tyler stated that they are doing further research on the whole subject, and that many areas have to be followed up, not only for Veterans of WWI but also for WWII and Korean veterans.
A full report will be given to the FSI and the Veterans Association later this fall. The report will document the full extent of the treatment and discrimination that the Department of Indian Affairs were about to impose on veterans who had without conscription, volunteered their services in defense of their country.
The general assembly of the Saskatchewan Indian Veterans Organization will be held at Lebret, Saskatchewan, November 9, 10 & 11. More information will be available when the program is finalized.