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Conflict And Struggle

Indian Act Hearings: Gains And Losses

Saskatoon Star Phoenix
September 4, 1954. p.17

Prince Albert. - The recent change in the Indian Act could almost double the assets of many of the Indians in the Prince Albert district. At the same time, the change promises to swamp the dockets of district courts in Saskatchewan and across Canada for many years to come.

The change, section 9 of the Indian Act, allows members of any band on a reserve to appeal to the registrar of Indians at Ottawa against the inclusion of any other Indian in their band or against his being located on the reserve. The exclusion of an Indian from a band or reserve may also be protested.

Hearings on the appeals have been conducted for the past few months, starting in eastern Canada and reaching Saskatchewan at the beginning of July. Hearings were concluded in the district last week.

The basis of the appeals would be that a particular Indian within the meaning of the act and could, therefore, not hold property on the reserve or participate in the benefits accruing from the band funds.

On the Muskeg Lake Reserve at Duck Lake, over 30 appeals have been lodged against Indian families presently farming on the reserve. The band reserve fund there totals over $100,000. Commissioner for the hearings was Alex Prociuk of Saskatoon. J. H. Fraser of Prince Albert conducted hearings at Mistawasis.

Each of the decisions handed down by the registrar - and they are not expected to be given for at least a year - may be appealed by either the appellant or the defendant to a district court. Legal circles in Prince Albert estimate that every single one of the rulings would be appealed, no matter in whose favor they are.

The original treaty between the Cree Indian nations and officers of H. M. Queen Victoria in August 1876, was aired at all three hearings in the Prince Albert district. In itself it made interesting reading, apart from the arguments advanced at the hearings regarding the family trees of many defendants.

The treaty with the Crees was negotiated by Lieut.-Gov. Alexander Morris of the North West Territories, with his aides James McKay and W. J. Christie, at the same time as General Custer was being defeated at the Little Big Horn in the Dakota territory of the United States. Consequently, the Indian reserves here were limited in size to 20 tents, or families, to prevent any Indian gathering on the Canadian side of the border.

According to the transcript of the treaty, Lieut.-Gov. Morris was a real diplomat. It was evident that he knew when to be friendly, when to be stern, when to give a little and when to stand firm.

However it appeared that one incident, in dealing with the Willow Crees of Duck Lake, almost brought the treaty to naught. Chief Kah-Mee-Yis-Too-Ways (The Beardy) and Say-Sway-Pus, a band leader, both wanted sky-blue coats to the uniforms that were to be presented them as chiefs. Although told that all officers of the Queen wore red coats as did Lieut.-Gov. Morris himself, they said they wanted to be different so their friend the Lieutenant-Governor could pick them out whenever he came to visit. It took many days of talking before the two chiefs were resigned to wearing the same coats as any other councillors of the Queen.

When meeting with the Indian chiefs and their councillors, Lieut.-Gov Morris always emphasized that he "came not as a trader, to barter or to buy and sell horses, but to you, the children of the Queen, to try to help you."

As an ambassador, Lieut.-Gov. Morris had a definite offer to make to the Indians in return for their promise to confine themselves to the selected reservations. His offer included seed, one plow and two harrows for every 10 families, two hoes, a spade, a scythe and an axe to each family, and a team of oxen to each chief for the use of his band. These were in addition to a bull and four cows to each band to encourage the raising of cattle.

However, shrewd bargaining on the part of Tee-Tee-Quay-Say of the Mistawasis Indian band of the Plains Cree brought them an additional $1,000 a year for the first three years to assist in planting of their reserves, an additional two hoes, spade, scythe and axe, as well as a whetstone, two hay forks and two reaping hooks to each family, and a plow and harrow to each 3 families instead of 10 families, and a horse, harness and wagon to the chief of each band.

From the recent hearings in the Prince Albert district, too, it became clear that many of the Indians were aware of an anomaly in the treaty and the negotiations that led to it.

Lieut.-Gov. Morris, in talking with Carton House bands, had told chief and councillors that they were at liberty to hunt as before. "I told you that we do not want to take that means of living from you. You have it the same as before, only this, if a man whether Indian or half-breed has a good field of grain, you would not destroy it with your hunt."

The Lieut.-Gov. meant, it is clear from the actual, legally worded treaty, that the Indians were at liberty to hunt as before on their reserves.

However, in view of the fact that the Indians before this had hunted where ever they liked, restrained only by the anger and the guns the white settlers, his remarks could only be interpreted as meaning they still had the right to hunt on any unoccupied land.

This interpretation has never, as far as research can show, been tested in the courts, although there is a case record of a charge against a Saskatchewan Indian being dropped when he appealed to a higher court a sentence for shooting a deer on a provincial game preserve.

It is from the rulings regarding the inclusion of half-breeds into bands being settled on the reserves that the new headaches are arising. Lieut.-Gov. Morris stated that only true Indians could take advantage of the treaty, but that the rights of any half-breed families, actually living with the Indians and accepted by them as members of the bands, would be individually decided on by the commissioners in Ottawa.

The appeals under the new section 9 of the Indian Act will require much searching of old Ottawa records to determine whether many of these half-breed families have ever been declared true Indians with the provisions of the treaty.

If it is found that the families now being appealed against were never declared true Indians, they can be summarily evicted from the reserves, being compensated only for the improvements they have made to the land they occupied.

In other cases, Indian families are being appealed against on the grounds that they have been wrongfully included in the band by some past administration, although still true Indians of another band. These appeals if allowed, will necessitate the government compensating for improvements on the land, and, in addition, relocating the families on the proper reserves.

A real headache will arise on the Beardje and Okeemasis reserves that adjoin each other in the Duck Lake area. Since the Riel Rebellion, in which the Beardje Indians participated, their band had been without a chief and, unofficially, amalgamated with the Okeemasis band.

Most of the members of the two bands have settled on the Beardje part of the two reserves and now the Beardje Indians are appealing that the Okeemasis men be returned to their own reserve. The latter is still largely undeveloped, while the Beadje Reserve is of well cultivated, good soil.

Other appeals are being made to the registrar on the basis that members of the bands are descendants of Indians who had voluntary left the reserve and who had become enfranchised, thus loding true Indian status. Once an Indian loses his status as such (an Indian woman can lose it by marrying a white man, although an Indian can marry a white woman without doing so) all their descendants likewise are no longer considered Indians.

When the new section was included in the Indian Act few, if any appeals were expected. Now, after almost a solid year of hearing appeals, involving lands funds worth many millions of dollars, and with Alberta and British Columbia Indians still to be heard from, members of Parliament must be wishing that they had never heard of the amendment.