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Indian Land Was Lost for Non-Indian Soldier Settlement

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      JUNE 1988      p07  
Following the First World War, Indian Veterans returned to their home reserves to find the government that they had fought for was seizing their land and turning it over to non-Indian veterans. To make matters worse, Indians were not allowed land for soldier's settlement, but instead were confined to their own reserve land.

The Solder's Settlement Act of 1917 provided for the establishment of a Soldier Settlement Board which could purchase land for returning veterans. The Department of Indian Affairs received suggestions on certain Indian lands that could be surrendered for soldier's settlement. At first the Department of Indian Affairs was cool to the idea but pressure continued to mount on the surrender of Indian land.

On October 15,1918, the Minister of the Interior, Mr. Arthur Meighan suggested to the Deputy and Superintendent-General of Indian Affairs, Mr. Duncan Scott that he submit, to the soldiers' settlement board, description of the schools and lands at Elcorne and Regina, which were "unpopular" with the Indians, so that the board could examine the suitability for "training, etc. of returning soldiers".

Also, special powers were granted to the Saskatchewan Indian Commissioner, Mr. William M. Graham, who, by Order in Council, was given an extra commission in the prairie provinces "to make proper arrangements with the Indians for the leasing of reserve lands".

Graham was given $300,000 to purchase machinery, stock and seed to get the work underway. Throughout western Canada he approached various bands and pretty soon a considerable amount of Indian land was leased to white farmers at terms of up to five years.

Many bands refused to lease or cultivate their land and surrender it. An additional Order in Council had to be passed. In 1919, an Order in Council was passed that granted the authority the Superintendent-General of Indian Affairs to "appropriate and cause to be utilized any portion of Indian reserve which is not under cultivation or otherwise properly used."

This Order in Council gave the Department of Indian Affairs a sweeping mandate to seize and surrender any lands which they felt were not properly used. Over the next several years, a total of 71,351 acres were lost to Indian people. A total of ten surrenders took place and many bands lost up to half their total land base.

"... why should the Department spend so much money taking care of Indians when Indians could sell some of their land and take care of themselves?"

The Department of Indian Affairs was clearly acting in its own self interest and not in any way as the positive trustee of Indian people and Indian land. The feeling in the Department was, "why should the Department spend so much money taking care of Indians when Indians could sell some of their land and take care of themselves?" The Departmental Secretary, J. D. Mclean wondered this in a 1920 letter to C. P. Schmidt, the Agent at Duck Lake "has not this band", Mclean said of John Smith's Band, "more land than they require for their own use, which if surrendered and sold, would provide funds for their needs and relieve the Department of much expense?"

Arthur Meighan, the Minister of the Interior who also had the responsibility for Indian Affairs, urged Scott to do everything possible to get surrenders for sale to the soldier's settlement board. Commissioner Graham was assigned to free up old leases and stagnant sales for the use of returning veterans.

His first surrender was announced on March 8, 1918 and he was able to obtain a five year, five dollar a head surrender for leasing from Piapot of some 15,000 acres of land. He also told Scott that he would try to get a surrender for sale from Piapot. Later on, Scott wrote back telling Graham that the soldier's settlement board was not interested in leasing land, and that Graham now had the authority to take surrenders from the Indians of the available lands and transfer them to the soldier's settlement board.

Graham worked with Mr. Govan of the soldier's settlement board and together they appraised land and obtained surrenders. At this time, fertile land had a value of close to $50 per acre, however, the sale of Indian lands ranged from $20 per acre down to $9 per acre and at no time did Indian people receive anything approaching fair value for their land.

Land speculators eyed the unused reserve land greedily and discovered that the soldier's settle-

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Indian Land Was Lost for Non-Indian Soldier Settlement

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      JUNE 1988      p08  
(Continued from Page 7)

ment act was a handy excuse to pry this land loose.

In several cases, large bundles of cash were supplied to obtain the surrenders from people, who in some cases, were destitute and needing assistance. Graham received cash advances from the soldier's settlement board of up to $25,000 to be put on the table at the time of surrender. In concert with the obtaining of surrenders, the Department informed the white public that Indians had too much or at least more than enough land, and to avoid trouble and having to support Indians, the government would build up trust funds from cash from land surrenders other than give them direct government assistance.

Graham was so successful in getting Indian land, that the land surrendered for soldier's settlement was in excess of what was required. In the case of the Big River surrender, the land was all still in the hands of the soldier's settlement board as of 1939.

At one point, Commissioner Graham tried to get the Standing Buffalo Band to agree to transfer of Moose Woods and give up their entire reserve for soldier's settlement. The band of course, rebelled against this and refused to even consider it.

The soldier's settlement surrenders raised certain fundamental questions regarding breach of treaty by the servants of the Crown and indeed the whole legality of these surrenders must be brought into question. Departmental correspondence shows conclusively that the intent of the Deputy Superintendent-General Scott and his staff was to force the Indians to surrender so-called surplus land and with the profits from the sale of these lands purchase essential items for the Indians including those which the government was obliged to provide by Treaty. The soldier's settlement emergency was an excuse to alienate some valuable lands from Indian use.

Indian Affairs, through the soldier's settlement board, used public funds to purchase part of the birthright of the people the Crown had sworn to protect at the time of Treaty.

Indians of File Hills Colony, their parents and friends
Indians of File Hills Colony, their parents and friends went to Regina to say good-bye before the departure of the Battalion for England. W.M. Graham, Indian Commissioner Is In the centre. (Back row L-R:) David Bird, Joe McKay, Joe Peters, Ed Sanderson (Second row L-R:) L. Harry Stonechild, Leonard Creely, Jack Walker, Alex Brass, Ernest Goforth [*see note below]. (First row L-R:) Moostatik, Feather, W. M. Graham, Pimotat (Earth Walker), Kee wisk (father of Jack Walker). (Front row L-R:) Jos McNab, Shavetail, Day Walker, Jack Fisher (Young Man).

[*It is likely that the person listed as Ernest Goforth is done so incorrectly. This is Robert Roy Rittwage, son of Frank and Adeline Rittwage. Other names may also be incorrect. Thank you to a family member of Robert Roy Rittwage for providing this information. Date: February 28, 2006]


Band Acres
Price Paid
Per Acre
Full Price
Poormans #88 8,080.00 11.50 92,920.00
Piapot (I) #75 1,600.00 20.00 32,000.00
Piapot (II) #75 14,720.00 12.00 176,460.00
Big River #118A 980.00 17.00 16,600.00
Cowessess #73 &
Kahkewistahaw #72
2,223.56 14.32 31,852.04
Ochapowace #71 18,240.00 9.00 164,160.00
Muskeg Lake #102 8,960.00 15.25 140,000.00
Mistawasis #103 16,548.00 12.00 198,000.00