Undermined at every turn: the lie of the failed native farm on the Prairies.

What do you know about farming among the Prairie nations?

Here’s what I knew.  I knew that after the annihilation of our main economic base, the buffalo, native peoples in the Prairies were encouraged to become farmers.  I knew that ‘experts’ were sent by Indian Affairs to teach on-reserve populations how to farm.  I knew that were specific provisions in the Treaties to provide the people with farming implements and seeds:

the following articles shall be supplied … four hoes per family …two spades… one plough for every three families…one harrow …two scythes and one whetstone, and two hay forks and two reaping hooks [etc]…

…. for each Band, enough of wheat, barley, potatoes and oats to plant the land …also for each Band four oxen, one bull and six cows; also, one boar and two sows, and one hand-mill…

A Treaty 7 farm.

I knew that many people considered us ‘wholly unsuited to farming’, believing us lazy, shiftless and much too nomadic to prosper in such ‘civilised pursuits’.  This sentiment in particular was hammered into my head and soul via a thousand comments from teachers, brief textbook descriptions and newspaper articles that mentioned us at all.  Although I believed that indigenous peoples are perfectly capable of farming (just look at the many nations who were doing this long before settlers came along to ‘teach them how it’s done), I nonetheless half-accepted the idea that here on the Prairies, perhaps we just weren’t capable of shifting from a buffalo/trapping/fishing lifestyle to a farming lifestyle with any great ease.

Perversely, the above knowledge existed along-side my familiarity with the farming prowess of any number of Métis and First Nations families in Treaty 6 area and beyond.  In fact, many Métis families pride themselves on coming from hard working, self-sufficient and talented farming stock, so the stories are not hard to find.  In addition, there is good evidence that First Nations in the Prairies were not wholly unfamiliar with farming pre-Contact.

However, I never once read about this or any of these farming families in the textbooks, nor did I hear any ‘expert’ admit their existence.  Thus I suppose I felt that our own understandings carried less weight?  The ‘official’ story supplanted my own family’s history.  Maybe these families were merely exceptions to the rule.

Cui bono (to whose benefit)?

An important fact that gets lost or distorted when indigenous peoples are discussed by settler texts and educators is the issue of ‘for whose benefit’?

Duncan Campbell Scott, poet and Indian Agent. “Scott truly believed that the only “authentic” Indian was a pre-contact Indian. In other words, Scott perceived the Indian of the past as a “noble savage,” and the Indian of the present as merely in the way of progress.”

For many years, it has been asserted that virtually every government program designed and enacted by Indian Affairs was ‘for the benefit of the Indians’.  This has been the official position for everything from the creation of the Gradual Civilisation Act, to the creation of the reserve system, to the institution of Residential Schools.  Clearly, as facts emerge and become more widely known, this official position has been altered.  Officially, Canada no longer asserts that Residential Schooling was a positive endeavour, nor that the High Arctic relocations were carried out in the best interests of those who endured them.  Nonetheless, the belief that Canada did its best for indigenous peoples, good intentions always at the forefront, remains, deeply entrenched in the socio-political consciousness.

It is one thing to not believe this to be true, and it is another to understand exactly to what extent ‘for the benefit of the Indians’ is a lie.  We are still taught that the numbered Treaties were signed for our benefit, to address the desperate situation so many indigenous peoples found themselves in when the buffalo were exterminated over a few decades.  And if you read correspondence from First Nations leaders at that time, our need is absolutely evident:

“…Our country is getting ruined of fur-bearing animals, hitherto our sole support, and now we are poor and want help – we want you to pity us. We want cattle, tools, agricultural implements, and assistance in everything when we come to settle- our country is no longer able to support us.

Make provision for us against years of starvation. We had a great starvation the past winter, and the smallpox took away many of our people, the old, young, and children. …”

     – Chief Sweetgrass 

Nonetheless, the numbered Treaties undeniably benefited the Canadian government far more than they have ever benefited us.  These Treaties opened up unimaginably vast tracts of land for settlement in return for a pittance.

I do not belabour this point without reason.  “For whose benefit” cannot be a question that is pushed aside or believed to be of secondary importance.  Keeping this in mind, I want to turn to the push to create farmers out of the people of the Plains nations.

Lost harvests

As with so many issues facing aboriginal peoples versus non-aboriginal peoples in this country, the level of control the government has and had over the lives of each must be contrasted to see a clear picture.

For an excellent resource on the topic.

The Prairie reserves were created in the 1870s, and at this time settlers who chose to farm had very little in the way of legislative regulation to contend with.  In contrast, the Indian Act micromanaged reserve life to a level incomprehensible to those who have not experienced it.  This micromanagement of course included all facets of reserve agriculture.  To whose benefit, this extreme control?  History stands witness to the fact that it did not benefit First Nations.

What happened?

Many reserves were located in areas not suited to farming, and many grain seeds and farming implements promised to First Nations never materialised.  In addition, natural phenomena such as floods and frost turned a bad situation even worse.  Agriculture on the reserves took a back seat to focusing on increasing numbers of settlers flooding into the Prairies.

However, even with these impediments, farming was at first very successful in a number of First Nations communities (p.5-6):

During the early 1880s … many First Nations farmers were successful in competing in the farming economy along with the non-aboriginal farmers.  Utilizing newly developed dry land farming techniques and acting as a collective, many First Nations won local prizes and awards for their crops

Stolen Harvests

I’m getting the feeling you weren’t sincere about wanting us to become good farmers?

Despite the lack of any real effort to support reserves in implementing an agricultural lifestyle, many First Nations managed, through communal effort, to make it work.  You might expect that the federal government would be pleased by this, but instead, it went out of its way to sabotage these efforts by implementing a number of harmful policies (from the previously linked document, pages 5-8):

  1. severality – reserve farmland was divided into 40 acre plots and no one farmer could own more than 160 acres.  The intention was to promote ‘individualism’, directly undermining successful collective efforts.  Also, any ‘left over’ land could be surrendered and made available for sale to non-natives.
  2. peasant farming – this is when ‘experts’ were sent in to teach native farmers what to do. The purpose was to reduce output to subsistence levels, essentially just enough to support a single family.  Thus expensive large-scale machinery would be unnecessary, and aboriginal farmers would become ‘more self-sufficient’ by using peasant-methods of production instead of the more advanced techniques they’d been using.
  3. the pass and permit system: these systems restricted the ability of  First Nations peoples to leave the reserve, as well as severely curtailing their ability to sell their products or purchase farming implements.  In essence, these systems ensured that aboriginal farmers could not compete with non-aboriginal farmers.

The Greater Production Campaign

The early twentieth century saw attention focused further abroad as WWI broke out.  At the same time, great efforts were made to first lease and then alienate reserve lands for cultivation by non-natives. The Greater Production Campaign was announced in 1918 at the end of the war.  During this time, vast amounts of Indian lands were already being taken up and provided to settler veterans resulting in significant erosion of aboriginal lands.  (This, as aboriginal veterans were denied benefits afforded to their non-native counterparts, and often left without ‘location tickets’ which would have entitled them to settle back on their home reserves.)

The Greater Production Campaign (p. 57) resulted in many amendments to the Indian Act, making it easier to alienate (take) lands that were not being cultivated.

Cree farmer, File Hills Colony 1920

Can we just take a moment to think about that?  The most unsuccessful First Nations were given land unsuited to farming, or were not given the farm stock, seed and implements promised in their Treaty.  When some First Nations did well despite this, an entire system was put into place to ensure their farming ability, including methods, would only be the most ineffective and small-scale possible.  After that, any lands not properly cultivated according to Indian Affair’s standards were essentially ‘up for grabs’ because the lazy Indians just couldn’t handle farming.

Oh yes.  That is bitterness in my tone.

Non-native farmers didn’t care much for the Greater Production Campaign as it applied to them, and it was pretty much scrapped in 1919.  It had held a mostly advisory role anyway.  On the reserves, however, Indian Affairs had absolute power via its office of the Commission for Greater Production up until 1924.

Sweeping and absolute power

The Commissioner for Greater Production was given the power in 1918 to use as much Prairie reserve land as he liked, and to spend Band monies, including all the profits from decades of agricultural efforts if he wished.  The plan was threefold (p.74 of last link above):

  1. lease as much reserve land as possible to non-native farmers
  2. create government-run Greater Production farms on reserve
  3. stimulate agricultural activity among reserve residents.

No monies were expended to help individual farmers.  Most of the financial focus was on the Greater Production farms.  For example, a farm tractor was purchased for the Alexander reserve (near Onoway, AB) but it was not allowed to be used by native farmers and instead was given to a Mr. Laight who ran a ‘homestyle’ Greater Production farm there.

All purchases desired by individual First Nations farmers came out of their own pockets or Band funds and had to be approved by the Commissioner…approval that was often withheld.

Cote First Nation, Sask 1982.

Since no real effort was put into accomplishing the third goal of stimulating agricultural activity among reserve residents, it is unsurprising that it failed miserably.  Some managed to find part time work as labourers on their own reserves in the Greater Production farms.  The Greater Production farms enjoyed some profits, though not princely in sum (p.139), all of which went back into Indian Affairs coffers.

In addition, the lands on reserve which were taken up for Greater Production farms were not leased to paying tenants, and that loss of potential revenue is immense. Appendix B of the last linked document estimates what that rate of return would have been on a number of reserves between 1918-1924. The land had been released for production without fee during the war time period “as a patriotic gesture”, but its use continued long after the war ended.

Set up to fail

It is clear that the extreme interference in First Nations agriculture in the Prairies led to conditions which made it all but impossible for native farmers to succeed and thrive. As with so many other aspects of indigenous life in Canada, success in agriculture was met with policies which undid all those hard-won gains.  When racist opinion columns allude to indigenous ‘laziness’ as a reason for current levels of poverty, these facts are never mentioned.  It is doubtful that the authors of such vile screeds are even aware of the history.

It is time we are all made aware of the history.  It is time to put these lies to bed.  I don’t want another generation of native children growing up in the Prairies being told that their ancestors were too lazy and stupid to survive the horrific collapse of their traditional economic base.  The fact is, our peoples adapted swiftly to a set of completely new conditions, and we were damn good at it.

Our resilience and ability to adapt is constantly underestimated and glossed over.  We are seen as incapable of adopting new technologies, despite the fact that we have demonstrated again and again just how easily we do precisely that.

This centuries-long era of infantalisation can only end when it is recognised that we were adults all along.

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Categories: Alienation, Culture, Decolonisation, First Nations, INAC, Injustice, Métis, Plains Cree, Representation of natives

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48 Responses to Undermined at every turn: the lie of the failed native farm on the Prairies.

  1. Another important contribution to the turning of the tide. Keep it up.

  2. Daniel Nikpayuk says:

    It was a hard read, it made me bitter too! to learn these particular details of history, but your words at the end are so beautiful, thank you.

  3. Cynthia Preston says:

    When I first started reading I thought , well I have read about this in various places over the years, I remember thinking, ‘white trash’ undermining good intent again’. I read on and started getting angry as I do every time I read about this time in history, a sense of frustration, bitterness coming out of the injustices I have experienced in my own, life deepening the empathy I feel for peoples who have been placed in situations designed to fail.
    Forgiveness, assertiveness, education ( what losses, judgements, and self deceptions led them to be this way?) This was my way of working towards a freedom of self which enables me to let go of the past and the right to demand justice and restitution, thus cutting the bonds of imprisonment of mind and body tying me to the past and to those who would hold me in contiuing bondage)
    We research the past to find the wounds, causes, who what where and when, and must resist the temptation to rehearse again and again the hurt pain, betrayal which locks us to the past, continueing the cycle into the future. I really believe its time to lobby, nag, bring up again and again in a different kind of rehearsal the recommendations of the report-which name escapes me, and I really have to get off the computor as I have to go to St. Albert……

    The process of course takes time and method. Recogition, affimation, forgiveness, release, with recompense and reconciliation being optional dependent on type, method , need and long term repercussions of such recompense.

  4. Deb says:

    Yes, this is very interesting and I appreciate your intense study. I am wondering though if you might have any recommendations or potential solutions to the current state of economic/political affairs in this regard….I guess I am just tired of hearing what happend, what went wrong, who’s to blame, etc. etc. with little solutions. We spend more time talking about what didnt happen versus what we can do today about it. Perhaps this can be the next step or topic of your research?

    • It may be that you are tired of hearing what happened, but I know for myself personally, learning what actually happened is what makes all the difference in changing the narrative from ‘stupid, lazy, inferior’ to ‘strong, capable, equal’. That narrative, internally and on a national level, absolutely has to shift before we can heal the many wounds our communities have suffered.

      What can we do about it today? Sweep out the dirty closets full of racist lies and myths, and replace them with a wider understanding of the situation. After that? Less interference and more self-government of the real sort. Our communities have the solutions, we just need the space to implement them.

      • Thank you for your writing, and I love this: “Sweep out the dirty closets full of racist lies and myths, and replace them with a wider understanding of the situation.”

        It reminds me of something a young (and brilliant) Aboriginal man said to me at the recent Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) regional event in Victoria: “We can’t speak the truth until we listen to the truth.”

        How can we – Aboriginal and not – possibly design ‘solutions’ together until we situate ourselves? Even still, will the door to the past (or the closet) ever be closed? As Michael Ondaatje writes: “The raw truth of an incident is never done.” Or as Cherokee storyteller Diane Glancy says: “There are stories that take seven days to tell. There are stories that take you all your life.”

        As a first step in my reconciliation journey, I commit to listening. I will never stop listening.

        Thank you, âpihtawikosisân, for sharing your voice!

    • Perry Bulwer says:

      Deb, George Santayana said: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

      But it is not enough to just remember the past, it is essential that the past is remembered accurately. I had a similar experience to âpihtawikosisân at law school, reading at law school some of those same or similar texts related to indigenous farming she references. It would have been very useful to me to have the more complete information she provides in this article, which is extremely important for accurately understanding the past in order to accurately search for solutions.

    • Theo Richard says:

      Deb, I grew up as a white kid in Atikokan, Ontario, where many of my early native playmates family’s, thrived by trapping and living off the fur trade as well as lumber. For years now as an adult, one of my biggest questions, was why didn’t the indigenous communities [reservations] adopt the ways of the Hutterites… farming, livestock, etc ?

      Now I know the answer. “We’ [pardon my language] with selfish purpose, continuously fucked around our native brethern, for century’s. Genocide is not to strong a term for our actions, and in-action.

      I too, very much question the current spending of our hard earned tax dollars, on reservations, especially the salaries paid to band chiefs and councils.

      But, it makes it ever more difficult for the white man to accept ‘some’ level of ownership in the present day situation, when we bury or gloss over the actions [solely for selfish economic gain] of our fore-fathers.

      ‘We’ couldn’t have done a better job at attempting to destine natives, for failure, if we tried. …..Oh, wait, we did.

      • The money being spent on Reserves is just a Fraction of the Funds that the Government of Canada is “Holding in Trust” for the Canadian First Nations People. There’s over 2.5 TRILLION DOLLARS in the Trust Funds. The Funds are from the 5% of all Resources taken from OUR LANDS since the implementation of the Indian Act in 1877.
        If we were ever paid off it would be comparable to Mario Lemiuex Playing for/Owning The Pitsburg Penguins. We could end up owning all the Crown Land and controling Resource Extraction.

        • This money doesn’t exist. This is based on what the Canadian government was SUPPOSED to do…why anyone believes they actually did this instead of spending the money on their own projects when there is AMPLE evidence of them misappropriating Indian funds for all sorts of unrelated things even today, I can’t really understand. The Canadian government is not sitting on $2.5 trillion dollars that it for some unexplained reason refuses to touch.

          In terms of what the Canadian government OWES from all the resource extraction and land use…well that’s another matter and would definitely exceed $2.5 trillion.

    • Maggie Mcleod says:

      Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation process sought to teach Canadians about our history, and how the legacy of colonization is not an indigenous problem, it is a Canadian problem. The need for education remains. All Canadians deserve to know the truth of how our country came to be, and why things are the way they are today. It’s from an informed context that we can move together to build a stronger more just nation. All Canadians been called to roll up their sleeves and develop a strategy to implement the calls to action.

  5. Carl McCorrister says:

    There were many Colonial rules that applied to treaty Indians throughout our history…One of my relatives told me that the Indian Agent controlled farming.. They (dad and brothers) actually would ‘rustle’ their own cows; their dad would awaken them at 1 am in the morning and they would go out, round up a few head of cattle, and someone (usually a friendly farmer) would load them up and take them to market. This nght shipping avoided the Indian Agent and they could get paid without the red tape. Inferior lands for farming?, just take a look at some of our reserves locations today, and see where we can successfully farm….

    • The story you’ve shared is an excellent example of the kinds of things I’ve heard over the years…but somehow these stories didn’t overturn the written textbooks or lessons from my teachers…not until I became an adult. Strange that. And sad. What this story also shows us is how resourceful our people are when faced with ridiculous situations!

  6. Melanie Sommerville says:

    I have often wanted to write to thank you for your blog and the insights and analyses you offer into issues that are of pressing social and political importance for all Canadians. Since today you have picked an issue that is particularly close to my heart, I will delay no longer: thank you, heartily, for drawing attention to this crucially important piece of Canadian history.

    While Sarah Carter’s brilliant work has drawn much needed attention to historic federal government policies that ‘deliberately discouraged’ First Nations farming, it is equally important to recognize the ongoing repercussions of these discriminatory policies today. This includes First Nations’ loss of both farmland and farming skills, as well as of the opportunity for economic development in a region where development has historically (over the past century anyway) been very closely linked with agricultural potential. Recent land and agricultural benefits settlements won by prairie First Nations may help to rectify the ‘fact’ of these dispossessions, but not the deeper social legacies of them.

    At the same time, it is also extremely important to acknowledge the unique barriers that prairie First Nations continue to face in today’s farming economy. Amongst these is the refusal by banks and other lenders to recognize the unique property regimes that occur on First Nations reserves, making it very difficult for First Nations farmers to access the credit required to run a successful, modern commercial agricultural enterprise. Similarly, First Nations’ have – at least until very recently – had great difficulty accessing government subsidies such as crop insurance – subsidies that are central to keeping farms and farmers ‘in the black’ and alive. These unique barriers are in addition to the challenges faced by any small to medium-sized farmer in the region: consolidation and concentration of farm ownership, volatile markets and prices, and the vagaries of prairie weather. That some First Nations have continued to maintain band and individual farms in the face of these challenges is testament to the tremendous strength, resilience and knowledge of these people. For others that have chosen to instead lease their land to non-native farmers, the reduced valuation of reserve land (which results from the racism of both Canadian courts and individuals) has often similarly limited the income that they have been able to obtain.

    Over the past few years, rising agricultural commodity prices – together with a broader resource boom – have offered new economic opportunities for prairie farmers. They have also attracted the attention of investors and resource developers to farming and to First Nations-held land. These developments have important implications for the future of First Nations farming on the prairies. In this vein, your readers may be interested to learn about One Earth Farms (www.oneearthfarms.com), a corporate farming venture established in 2009 and structured as a partnership between Sprott Resource Corporation and at least 11 prairie First Nations. This project (which is the subject of my doctoral dissertation research) is complex enough to require a post of its own. However, it is given some preliminary coverage in an article I wrote together with Dr. André Magnan, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Regina, which can be read here: http://briarpatchmagazine.com/articles/view/land-rush.

    Thank you again for this interesting and important post.

    Melanie Sommerville
    PhD Student
    Department of Geography
    University of British Columbia

  7. Brian Egan says:

    Thank you for this great post!

    With respect to the issue of focusing on the ‘negatives’ of the past (what went wrong, who did what, etc.) my own feeling is that most non-Aboriginal Canadians have a very poor understanding of this country’s colonial history, and of the full extent of racist, discriminatory, and destructive laws, policies, and actions of colonial-Canadian governments and authorities. While we have made some advances in this understanding, there is still a long way to go.

    I teach university courses in geography and environmental studies and always bring a focus on the colonial and Canadian land policies which displaced Aboriginal peoples in this country and undermine their economies, and even at this level most of my students (almost all non-Aboriginal) have had very little exposure to this information. Some of them may have some basic notion that Aboriginal peoples were treated unfairly, but little comprehension of the extent of this colonial history or the details.

    This historical context, I believe, is really critical to understanding what is going on today, with modern land claim and treaty negotiations, ongoing conflicts over land and natural resources, and Aboriginal moves towards self-governance. All this is to say, thanks for shining more light on this dark history, it is really important.

    • I have been trying to dispel myths with this blog. Myths like none of us pay taxes, or that we’re all lazy, etc. I can just say “We don’t all pay taxes and no we’re not all lazy”, but that isn’t going to convince people who believe otherwise. I have to provide specific details about the injustices aboriginal peoples have faced. This is the only way we can effectively refute the ‘you brought it all on yourselves’ crowd.

  8. Frank Bedek says:

    Excellent post.

  9. lawlady says:

    tansi ..I’ve been researching this area as well.. I discuss it at some length in a manuscript I just finished and sent to my publisher. I’m glad you bring forward the history of Indian farmers and farming such as it is. May I suggest a different direction? Everything about land has to do with the nehiyaw (Cree) laws; at the time of treaty making, it was these laws that lead the way. As well, you might want to look at how the reserves were surveyed and you will find solutions for the future of Indian farming from that perspective. The numbered treaties are not finished especially when it comes to land. If you read the treaty text and compliment it with other documents, there is an extremely interesting term and promise that states: one square mile for every family of five (more or less). Thats a direct quote. During the treaty “negotiations”, the conversations stated “I have proposed on behalf of the Queen what I believe to be for your good, and not for yours only but for that of your children’s children, and when you go away think of my words”. Every family of 5 (five) who meets the criterion according to the terms and promises is to be surveyed one square mile; all the descendants of those original treaty people who first took land. BUT thats not all. There is a bigger land issue happening that my research is revealing. However, thats for another chapter perhaps. Miyosin kitahtoskewin mina kinanaskomtin.

    • It’s so important that our people are doing this research, bringing these things to light. I don’t feel that with this blog, I am doing anything other than summarising what others are working long hours on. My ‘research’ is really only of the skimming sort. There are simply so many areas that need deeper examination. I am honoured to know a number of people who are engaged in that deeper work, and every time I learn of another iyiniw, nehiyaw or from another nation, doing this kind of work, it gives me a lot of hope for the future. So thank you for what you are doing.

      • lawlady says:

        I’ve moved back to my mothers reserve to be closer to the land but there is so much to be done. I hope that in my life time things can change for the better for my people

  10. Niles says:

    This topic is the crux of when I stopped believing ‘white’ stories about indigenous peoples. I grew up settler stock on a farm in southwest Saskatchewan. ‘Lazy indians’ was a constant bone of contention between myself and my father, with me wondering who the people who were who left tipi rings on ‘our’ land and him resorting to rote ugly talk about ‘their’ innate ability to be resourceful.

    I can’t remember what I ended up reading in my teens, but I finally discovered *why* the prairie people weren’t around and weren’t farmers, which is what you have here, although what I read was far more slanted to the wonderful reasons why Aboriginal people should have to ‘evolve’ through agrarian technology generations and shouldn’t be bothered with trying to make money. I was appalled and mistakenly thought everyone knew this but me to that point, which made it worse. I’ve long since discovered the dominant ‘white’ society is clueless and likes it that way.

    It’s good to see the truth coming out where people can’t ignore it and farm collectives growing again.

  11. mare says:

    thanks for the blog. If we don’t understand this history we can’t deal with food security strategies today and gardens in FN communities, cities and villages. Many FN in the west and Ont. worked as wetback labor and have issues with industrial farming,,,,then there are the culturally modified foods that come out of seed packets that are not necessarily suited for the areas in which FN live…there is much to be done to match FN and foods which are suited to local conditions….weren’t there thousands of different types of potatoes…corn….grains….we need to diversify…..and have a new good strategy not based on western agricultural philosophy but on traditional Indigenous gardening strategies…..bring back the local…seeds, people, strategies, tools, foods, ….

  12. Pingback: A Socialist in Canada » How Canadian government conspired to prevent Indian farming

  13. staranise says:

    This was the information that really shook me out of my family’s racist mindset when I was young.. I grew up in Sturgeon County, AB and only had this mentioned once–my teacher was from one of the prominent local settler families, but when discussing settlement of the prairies, he said, “Settlers came and forced the Natives onto reserves and said, ‘Now you have to farm’. So the Natives did, and what do you know, they were really good at it. So the settlers felt threatened, and refused them access to the wheat pools so they couldn’t sell their grain and never made any money. So that was it for agriculture.”

    He said it with this bitter tone, kind of like he was sneaking us this secret that wasn’t in our textbooks, and never mentioned it again. I’ve never found anything in official histories that mentioned exclusion from the grain pools, and I’ve left the province and don’t know who to ask, but I can also imagine how it would slip under the historical radar.

  14. Carla Braidek says:

    I realize this is an old post, but it is very important. Thank you for speaking out about this very important history we share. It is necessary for the truth to come out so we can move forward to a better place for all of us. Be proud. I walk with you.

  15. Richard Moore says:

    I am of Irish decent and the colonial holocaust perpetrated on the many Aboriginal Nations of Turtle Island are a carbon copy of what took place in Ireland and still lingers in that society today ! It is distressing to say the least that the colonial form of barbarity is promoted and coddled by those who would prosper from the havoc that is sown ,ie Multi IRRATIONAL Corporations who are free to exact their greed and placate their share holders bottom lines ! This is a World wide problem that has and is devastating our environment , resources , social progress and security at a pace, that by all indications , is impacting the very survival of many species including our own ! ! have been involved with many protests of abhorrent industrial projects , which were almost 100% successful that can be attributed to the combined efforts of Aboriginal and non Aboriginal peoples who respect each other and are willing to sacrifice for the good of all ! For those who live in the squalor and decay of the colonial juggernaut things must seem bleak , but I believe in the tenacity and resilience of the Aboriginal people of Turtle island and their willingness to extend every effort to accommodate and share no matter how bad the situation may be , which is also a trait of the Irish Nation who have never invaded anyones territory ! I believe the tide is turning and Truth & Reconciliation is the key lets get on with it ! All MY Relations .

  16. Temple S Sinclair says:

    Canada has for so long prided itself on how it has so little racism, so little discrimination. Towards the European settlers from all over that continent; to the black escaped slaves that used the underground railway to freedom in Canada. But we always leave out the treatment of the First Nations. Of all the nations in this country the most forgotten and poorly treated were/are those who were already here. Like the conquered don’t deserve all that is offered to others that came after. Your article, your story weighs heavily on my heart and I am ashamed of that. I am ashamed that I feel badly because of what your people have gone through, continue to go through. My heavy heart will not help change the story. Even trying to return the dignity stolen can never erase the tragedy of being forced to become no one. Not allowed to be native, not accepted as a real Canadian or citizen. Stripped of culture, family and language; of history and pride. In you it has not died. In you there is hope. Thank you for that.

  17. Jj says:

    Edit: thank you for displaying the desperate need for educational reform in Canada.

  18. Allen David says:

    Wow! Thank you for sharing this to me as a second generation born here Canadian. Due to colonialism we were never (of course) made aware of these situations that the First Nations people went through. Hell made aware of; you seldom saw a First Nations person let alone heard they say much due to the pass system! Which I just at almost 60 yrs of age found out how it was supposed to operate and how corrupt it really was! All these things are so shocking, but in the light is new information I’ve been made aware of not a real surprise!

    • Brahma says:

      Its great to understand the past and its influences/impact on cultures. But nature is the greatest teacher..perhaps the only teacher; i dont understand why planting seeds became such a difficult process over time considering this is the cycle/ teaching from nature..regardless of what sustainable/cultural impacts the settlers introduced to indigenous culture..seeds are abundant.

      As a few comments mentioned there needs to less focus on why things are the way they are and more on how to redefine and resolve the moment..healing is important but not to the point of burdening next generation with reasons but not answers or resolutions. I work with youth and hear there stories..they often feel stuck..uninspired.

      “Planting seeds” for the next generations is important..so they dont have to tell the same stories to their children, but instead share all the great traditional skills and knowledge of food growing that are known and documented from indigenous culture..rather than why food isnt isnt being grown.

  19. Pingback: The first Canadian farmers – Grown In My Backyard (GIMBY)

  20. Debbie Hill says:

    Excellent article depicting yet another tactic to undermine indigenous people at every level. My family as well as multitudes of others were and are successful in farming despite all. It may be difficult for some to learn of this, but learning is key to individual and collective transformation. Let us not become bitter and ask indigenous people for a solution to all government actions . We know and have always known solutions but are not welcome as partners of change in systems reluctant to share or change.

  21. Douglas Adekat says:

    Yes I’ve seen this happen to my father on many occasions during our farming operations . We tried to help as many members on both reserves as they had little or no means of carrying on any farming activities.

    • When you read – as I did while doing my research for the history of Wandering Spirit Survival School which WSSS’s founder, Cree Elder Pauline Shirt, asked me to write – that First Nations farmers began sweeping up prizes at fairs in the early years of the reservation system and their non-Native neighbours complained. When you read of the restrictions imposed on First Nations farmers by the government, after those complaints, such as denying them the use of readily available and up-to-date equipment. When you read that First Nations were denied the right to compete in future fairs, or to sell their produce to non-Natives, and you know that this law still exists in the Indian Act, you realize that the government’s intent was to hamper, not to help First Nations in their transition to settled people. Indeed, when you read about the restrictions being so severe that the First Nations farmers were required to use wooden plows, and that all of their implements had to be made without the use of nails – yes, there are records of this – it becomes very clear that the discrimination heaped upon First Nations was genocidal.

  22. How they have survived to date, let alone how people like Elder Pauline Shirt can be so forgiving for all of the wrongs committed against them, is nothing short of miraculous. Non-Native people are given the undeserved gift of forgiveness, yet most of them complain they have heard enough about the wrongs of their grandparents and should not be asked to provide recompense. That attitude ignores the fact that these ills are still being perpetuated against First Nations in Canada. As long as we benefit, it is not only our grandfathers but every generation that follows which is complicit in their torture. This is the reality of the situation, especially for the fly-in reserves. The fact is that many First Nations have suffered like prisoners of war and the government of Canada continues to perpetuate this war for land and resources through its denial of assistance in obtaining clean drinking water, sufficient housing, educational resources, quality food, and access to the ‘outside world’ on so many of the First Nations reserves. Every Canadian, even those immigrants who have just been declared citizens, owes a tremendous debt to the First Nations of Canada.

  23. John Lagimodiere says:

    Bravo! Well done. Great lesson. Thank you

  24. Having been born into a farming family on the harsh prairies all I know is that farming is a very hard way of life for any race of people and to make It you have to be smart, healthy, optimistic and willing to make many sacrifices. I have always respected my native neighbour’s and always will because for any people to survive on the harsh, cold prairies it takes courage and resilience along with other positive attributes. I do not understand or relate to racism because mother earth is a beautiful and bountiful place to exist and there is enough for all if we learn to share wisely with compassion and empathy. I read your story and It touched my soul because this is not the way I personally view indigenous people or would ever treat my neighbour and friend. Injustice in any form is wrong and should be dealt with harshly and with fairness. We as a human race only get one chance at life to get it right and then our spirit is no more, so for the sake of us all we must live in peace and share in the bounty that mother earth has to offer.

  25. Norm Roach says:

    Many times, I have tried to explain these facts to others. Others who did not know the gravel and the swamps where many First Nations were supposedly expected to thrive; who had not met any despotic Indian Agents (yes, there were some of good spirit and good intention, but they were discouraged by the powers above them); who just did not understand.

    Canadians are more than ready to condemn the atrocious treatment of the “Indians” in the United States, referencing The Trail of Tears and other shameful stories. Somehow, they overlook our own shabby history. We might stop a moment to consider how the Thunderchild First Nation was dispossessed of its good land at Delmas (natural gas discoveries on their present location may give them the last laugh); or, how my great-grandparents were among those able to acquire land along Manitowaning Bay in Ontario (land initially set aside, in perpetuity, for the use and enjoyment of the people of the Wikwemikong First Nation). Just two examples among possibly hundreds of such tales.

    Having lived at Wikwemikong, I am inclined to consider that the majority of those good folk were probably as content as any of my ancestors or our family, in general, so maybe what goes around, comes around. But, I digress … The “experts” who were sent to supervise the efforts of the “Indian” farmers included many Englishmen who hadn’t a clue about farming; and, even my own grandfather, whose credentials as a farmer we’re not overly impressive. I think that — even though men such as my grandfather were seemingly personally well intentioned, official attitudes toward the First Nations farms were largely “don’t give a damn”.

  26. Wil skarra says:

    Totally agree

  27. Val Jobson says:

    During WW! William Morris Graham was building his own little empire inside the Dept. of Indian Affairs, using his family connections to Meighen. At first he reported directly to Meighen as Minister, instead of through D.C. Scott; after the war Scott was able to reassert control over Graham.

    During the war there was a high demand for wheat and Graham’s activities reflect that. In early 1918 he was getting Indian reserves to lease land so non-Indians could farm there & fill the demand for wheat. At that time, the government thought the war would last several more years, so leasing suited the gov’t’s purpose.

    Then in summer 1918 the Allies drove back the Germans and the war ended in November. Now the Canadian government needed land for the soldiers who would be returning, so W.M. Graham concentrated on getting reserve land surrenders for Soldier Settlement.

    It’s a whole complicated story.

  28. Leonard G. Flett says:

    The pressures on our continuing existence in the past were relentless and to a lesser extent continue to this day. The European-rooted farmers of today sadly shake their heads at the injustices perpetrated upon the First Nations and wonder what they can do as they continue to reap the bounty that fell into their possession as a result of early government policies. We certainly cannot and do not expect them to give up what is now in their possession. There is no denying the hard work and sacrifices that were required to bring the agricultural industry to the level it enjoys today. However, they certainly can and should appreciate the difficulties that our young Indigenous people face today in overcoming the barriers and challenges indiscriminately thrown up and imposed in the past. It would behoove them to encourage and support any political or societal effort to better the circumstances of our people rather than express concern, overtly or covertly, over their personal income tax considerations. There is a change are in the air and everyone, Aboriginal and not, must maintain the momentum to positively change the narrative.

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