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Handbook to Winnipeg and the Province of Manitoba
The Indians of Western Canada by the Hon. David Laird.

Commissioner of Indian Affairs

WESTERN CANADA may be described as ex tending from the eastern watershed of the watershed Lake Winnipeg basin west to the Rocky Mountains and from the International Boundary to the Arctic waters and the Hudson’s Bay.

This territory since first known to white men has been inhabited by four distinct families of aborigines: the Esquimaux, who frequent the coasts of the Arctic Ocean and of the bays and estuaries of rivers opening thereunto; the Dene or Athabascan, whose habitat extends from the domain of the Esquimaux south to the Peace and Churchill Rivers and west to the Rocky Mountains; the Algonquins, extending from Eastern Canada over the country south of the Athabascan habitat to the International Boundary; and the Sioux or Dakotah family, whose habitat in Canada is small portions of the prairies south of the North Saskatchewan River.

The principal branch of the Athabascan family are the Chipewyan, often on account of the similarity of name confounded with the Chippewas or Ojibways who belong to the Algonquin family. Another tribe belonging to the Athabascan family are the Beavers of the Peace river. The Sarcees, now settled upon a reserve near Calgary, belong to the Beaver tribe. In time long past they left the habitat of the race, moved into the Algonquin country, and remaining there, came to be commonly regarded as a distinct people. The Slaves, Yellow Knives, Dog Ribs, and other small


tribes of the Great Slave Lake and Mackenzie River country also belong to the Athabascan family.

The main divisions of the Algonquins in Western Canada are the Saulteaux or Chippewas, the Crees, and the Blackfoot. tribe, which latter originally included the Bloods and the Peigans. The Assiniboines are the Canadian branch of the Sioux. They separated from the main group, and in time their interests became so diverse that they came to be regarded as a separate people, and in fact joined in alliance with the Saulteaux against the Sioux nation. The Sioux proper in this country are refugees from the United States, who escaped into British territory after displaying some of the worst features of Indian warfare in Minnesota in the year 1862. They had no claim to lands in Canada, but were allotted small reserves and given some assistance in stock and implements to prevent them from trespassing upon settlers’ holdings. Most of these Sioux: have become industrious and self-supporting.

Apart from family and tribal distinctions the Indians of Western Canada can be grouped into two classes— those of the wooded country, and those of the open prairie. The former made their livelihood mainly by trapping and fishing, and moved as single families or as small family groups. They did not develop any well-defined tribal or band organization. As a consequence there was less conflict among them, and the country which they inhabited was free from tribal wars. They developed, therefore, a more peaceable disposition. Being trappers of fur-bearing animals, they first came under the influence of fur traders.

The Indians of the prairies formed into bands under the leadership of chiefs, and their principal means of subsistence was the buffalo. The different tribes came constantly into conflict.: the Crees of the plains and the Blackfeet were continually at war, the Assiniboines usually siding with the Crees. Sometimes tribal jealousy and often the mere desire for bloody war and barbaric torture, led to the conflict; but the main cause of strife among the Indians of the plains was the horse. The Blackfeet possessed herds of horses which grew larger from year to year as a result of raids upon Indians to the south and beyond the mountains. And the Crees kept themselves supplied amply with horses for the buffalo hunt by raids on the Blackfeet. The last great fight between the Crees and the Blackfeet ended in a pact made upon the Peace Hills that rise beyond the Battle River—the river taking its name from the fight, and the hills their appellation from the treaty.

The traders made little impression for good upon the Indians, and the mission field being vast and the laborers therein few, it took a long time to bring the aborigines to any extent under the influence of the Gospel, particularly those of the prairie country, who were not readily susceptible to its teaching. Writing as late as 1808, Archbishop Tache described the Saulteaux as “generally fine men,” with “a very great liking for intoxicating drink.” “War songs,” he wrote, “still exist there (the vicinity of Winnipeg), and often in the midst of starvation and privation they undertake journeys of several hundred miles on foot to surprise and scalp an enemy who is generally defenceless, and return triumphantly to perform the war dance and to shout the hideous scalping song.”

After the Dominion of Canada, through the British Government, obtained by purchase from the Hudson Bay’s Company the transfer in 1870 of all the territory which now forms Western Canada, a comprehensive policy was adopted in dealing with the Indians of the said territory. In regard to all such portions of the transferred country as were required for settlement, or for mining, lumbering or railways, treaties were made with the Indians of the districts successively needed for such purposes. Though the sovereign right to the soil was held by the Crown, yet it was recognized that there was an Indian title that ought to be extinguished before the land was granted by patent to settlers or corporations. This title is simply an admission by the Government that the Indians should not be deprived of their possessory rights without their formal consent and compensation. Besides the compensation, the Indians were conceded reserves at places generally selected by themselves. These reserves set aside for the occupation of the Indians were in most cases so extensive as to allow one square mile to every five persons, or at the rate of one hundred and twenty-eight acres for every man, woman, and child. Not onlv were the Indians thus dealt with, but the Halfbreeds wherever the land they occupied was covered by an Indian treaty, on account of their possessing Indian blood, have been allowed lands or scrip to extinguish the share of title which comes to them through that blood.

The Indian treaties made under the Dominion Government since 1870 are ten in number, though one of them, Treaty nine, does not come under the scope of this paper, as it was undertaken in co-operation with the Provincial Government of Ontario. Treaties one and two, which cover the Province of Manitoba, were negotiated in 1871, and the others in different years since, the last being in 1900. These treaties embrace all the territory in Canada east of the Rocky Mountains and south of the 60th parallel of north latitude, except a tract south and west of Hudson’s Bay.

In general the compensation granted under the treaties was a payment of twelve dollars for every man, woman, and child on the chief’s signing the instrument, and an annuity forever of five dollars per head to the ordinary members of the band, fifteen dollars to each of the headmen, and twenty-five dollars to each of the chiefs. A uniform suit of clothing befitting these two ranks is given every three years. An annual allowance of ammunition and twine is also granted to the hunting and fishing Indians. And where farming and grazing operations are practicable and engaged in, a supply of agricultural implements, seed grain, cattle, and carpenter’s tools are provided. Schools are also established on the reserves where a reasonable attendance can be secured.

It may be considered by some philanthropists that the terms to the Indians were not generous. There was a difficulty on this point. It is not desirable that large numbers of able-bodied men, Indians or others, should be maintained in idleness. The promises in the treaties, consequently, were made moderate. But it was foreseen that, owing at that time to the rapid disappearance of the buffalo, the only resource of the plains Indians, and that with the advance of settlement other large game would decrease in number, a heavy expenditure would have to be incurred by the Dominion Government to keep them from starvation. This anticipation was unfortunately too soon realized. In the eighties the expenditure of the Indian Department for destitute Indians averaged over three hundred thousand dollars a year. Of late this expenditure has been gradually decreasing, the report for 1907-190S showing that the cost of supplies for the destitute in that year amounted to only $143,033. "When the Indians become almost wholly self-supporting, large annuities would be burdensome to the country and demoralizing to them as wards of the Government. The averaging up, therefore, of the very large outlay that has been incurred in provisioning and educating them during their years of helplessness and tutelage, with the promises made to them in the-treaties, has made the allowances to them for the extinguishment of their title fairly liberal.

A few figures will show that this contention is not over-stated. As the Indians of the plains were totally ignorant of agriculture and the care of stock, farm instructors hud to be appointed for grain and vegetable raising reserves, and cattlemen for the stock ranges, to train them for their new duties. These, with agents for reserves or groups of reserves, and inspectors to report upon their work, make the administration of Indian affairs somewhat expensive. Taking this outlay into account, along with $271,365 for schools, for the supplies already mentioned, and for the provisions under treaty, the expenditure on Indians in Western Canada in 1907-1908 was $792,979. This amount cannot well be decreased in the near future, because, though the plain Indians are becoming self-supporting, the others who live by the chase, owing to the increasing scarcity of fur-bearing animals and large game, will require considerable assistance from the Government. It may be set down, therefore, as almost a certainty that the expenditure of the Indian Department will not for many years be much less than $800,000 per annum. This sum capitalized at three and a half per cent, amounts to about $22,800,000—-a fairly just sum to pay for the extinguishment of the Indian title to the lands in the western provinces and territories.

As has been already stated, when the buffalo disappeared, provision had to be made for feeding the Indians of the plains who had depended upon the herds for food, for clothing, and for lodges. Ration houses had to be established. They met the urgent need, but incidentally did not operate for good. Free food does not tend to the uplifting of men, and when the system was once inaugurated, it took long and careful work to bring about its restriction.

In the Blood Agency five years ago 450,000 pounds of beef were issued free to the Indians. During the last fiscal year the issue was only 139,000 pounds. At this rate it will be seen that the time is not distant when the issue will be restricted to those who are unable, through age or physical infirmity, to provide for themselves. In 1902 the free issue of beef to the Peigan Indians amounted to 210,410 pounds; in 1900 it was reduced to 04,504 pounds. Last year there was a further decrease of 1,004 pounds. This band is now practically self supporting, only the aged and infirm being provided for. On the Sarcee reserve the free rations continue to diminish towards the vanishing point. In the Stony Agency, where the Indians turn their beef into an abbatoir to be held for their own use, there were 0,142 pounds at the credit of the Indians, and to those who had exhausted their supply there were loaned but not given gratis, some 1,000 pounds. On the Blackfoot reserve the earning power of the Indians in the past two years is estimated to have increased fifty per cent., and now, outside of those incapacitated for labour, they are close to self-supporting.

It was thought that because he had formerly lived by the buffalo, the Indian would take more kindly to cattle-raising than to farming as a means of livelihood, but the early efforts to make him a cattle-raiser were disappointing. The Indian rather thought that, like the buffalo, the bovine should live without trouble on the part of man, and that he should be shot irrespective of the time or the season, whenever appetite suggested the desirability of a meat supply. Constant effort is, however, now being rewarded, and the Indian is coming to realize that in cattle-raising, as in every other avocation, work is essential to success. The live stock now held by the Indians of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta are valued at about $1,100,000.

It was difficult to induce the Indian to till the soil. He would put his hand to the plough only to quickly withdraw it. When game was plentiful, he would leave the field for the hunt. The scarcity of game, the pangs of hunger, the constant urging and teaching of the officials of the Indian Department, and the example of white farmers, whom the Indians saw grow rich through agriculture, at length led them to gradually make some use of the land set aside for them. At the beginning of their farming ventures, occasional failures so discouraged the Indians that it was difficult to induce many of them to resume work, and others continued reluctantly the tillage of the soil without the will which makes labour pleasant and profitable. Now, however, a fair proportion know the good results that the earth, notwithstanding occasional drawbacks, will yield to cultivation, and after failure they return to the tillage of the soil with hopefulness and energy. There, of course, is still much to be done before the Indians avail themselves to the full of the splendid agricultural possibilities of most of their reservations. But the present results are encouraging. According to the last returns, the Indians of Manitoba have agricultural implements and vehicles to the value of upwards of $71,500, the Indians of Saskatchewan to the value of about $165,500, and those of Alberta to the value of some $141,300. In the same year the Indians of Manitoba harvested some 83,000 bushels of grain, the Indians of Saskatchewan 132,000 bushels, and those of Alberta 42,448 bushels. They raised 18,659, 18,649, and 12,353 bushels of potatoes and other roots respectively.

The Blood Indians, one of the groups most averse to agriculture, having a reserve in a portion of southern Alberta, which long was regarded as unsuitable for farming, have been moved by the success of their white neighbors to assay the growing of fall wheat. Out of their funds a complete steam plowing outfit has been purchased, and fifteen Indians have broken 840 acres of land. 6U0 of which is now under wheat, not in a community farm, but in individual holdings. They have availed themselves of insurance against hail, and have evinced an unlooked-for interest in their farming operations. Last fall these Indians shipped 20 car-loads of wheat, for which they received $17,SW. The yield per acre went as, high as 45 bushels. Chief Running Antelope, who a few years ago scorned the man who plowed and sowed and looked to the harvest for return, had from his grain-growing a cash balance of $1,309 after every debt was paid. One Indian had a balance of $1,203, and another of $1,200.

Fishing and hunting still form a considerable means of support, but it grows smaller as settlement advances. In 1907-1908 the estimated value of- the fishing and trapping was in Manitoba $51,500 and $72,491; in Saskatchewan $27,751 and $80,107; in Alberta $5,690 and $17,471.

With respect to the Tndian population in the Provinces and Territories embraced within the scope of this paper, various estimates have been formed. The first official one, which was made in 1871, put the Indian population at 20,998. In 1880 the population was returned at 30,185, and in 1885 at 43,932, inclusive of an estimated population of 11,97S in the territory inclusive of the Peace River basin and extending to the Arctic, an estimate which has since been found to be excessive. The last census was made in 1907, and with some later returns gives the following results:—

Of this number about 28,732 are receiving annuities under treaty. In regard to their tribal character, these Indians may be approximately classified as follows:— Crees, 12,249; Saulteaux, 10,826; Blackfeet and their kindred the Bloods and Peigans, 2,465; Stonies or Assiniboines,924; Sarcees,203; Sioux, 1,029; Chipewyans, Beavers, Slaves, and other tribes of the Athabascan nation, 7,430; Esquimaux, 2,500. It is practically impossible with the figures available to form a correct conclusion as to the ratio of increase or decrease in the Indian population in the West. It can be safely asserted however that, all things considered, the Indian has not, as is often stated, rapidly disappeared since coming under Government control.

Before the extension of Canada’s Indian policy to the territory acquired from the Hudson’s Bay Company, and its being policed by the splendid force of the Royal North West Mounted Police, the Indians were often reduced by famine and epidemics, with which they were unable to cope; tribal feuds and fights continued; immorality was rampant, and but little account was taken of the female portion of the bands. However much it is to be regretted that even a greater measure of good has not been effected, credit must be given for what has been achieved, and from what has been done the Indian Department can with hopefulness look forward to the results which a continuation of its policy vvill produce. Inter-tribal feuds have ceased, polygamy •has been practically eliminated, the position of women, and particularly of female children has been improved, and no agencies are so potential as the efforts of the missionaries and the work of our Industrial and Boarding Schools.

It is true that the pushing of settlement up against many reserves, which until the marked western development of recent years were practically isolated, has intensified the strain which sudden contact with the settled conditions of Canadian civilization put upon the Indian, unprepared by his environment to readily make use of the advantages, while avoiding the evils of the new order. The history of the progress ot civilization shows that it often creates difficulties for those whom it is designed to benefit before removing the evils which it is intended to cure. Where not long ago Indian settlements could only be reached by devious trails or through the bushlands, railways have entered, and in place of scatter ed Indian dwellings, towns have arisen. With the towns has come the readier access to intoxicating liquor, so tempting to the red man and so destructive to all hope of his advancement. One of the greatest problems has been to find means to adequately cope with drunkenness, which, despite all effort, increases its baneful influence among many of the bands. And with every measure of increase in the liquor traffic goes a proportionate measure of immorality. It is consoling, however, to note that among a goodly number of the tribes the liquor traffic is gradually growing less, that groups are now noted for temperance, and that a healthier moral condition has taken permanent form. It is to be remembered, in justice to the Indian, that cases of dissoluteness generally obtrude themselves on the public notice, while virtue quietly practiced passes unobserved.

Unfortunately tuberculosis, which is the scourge of the white as well as of the red man, continues to claim many victims among the aborigines. But the Indian medical service, hampered though it has been, is producing beneficial results. There is a notion that the ravages of tuberculosis are entirely a consequence of the change from the former roving life of the Indians under tepees to their now more sedentary conditions of existence and to their life in unsanitary and ill-ventilated dwellings. As a matter of fact, the Indian was previously a victim of the dire disease. The Indians, who followed the buffalo generally wintered in mud-plastered cabins with fiat thatched roofs, with scarcely ever more than one door, and usually but one window. The only means of ventilation was the open fireplace made of mud, but this passed away and stoves were introduced, which the Indian, like the white man, preferred because of their greater heating capacity. It is just such of those huts as remain that continue to afford rich breeding grounds for the germs of tuberculosis; and it cannot be too strongly insisted upon that step by step with material progress the Indians must be led to provide themselves with better housing. The Indian himself is beginning to realize this, and, despite the discouraging ravages still wrought by the dread disease of tuberculosis, there is reason to look forward to the da}' when the Indian will be at least as free from this plague as his more favored white brother. And the reports indicate that improvement in health as a rule keeps pace with improvement m conditions.

Reference has already been made to the large expenditure which is being incurred for the education of the Indians in. Western Canada In Manitoba there are two industrial, nine boarding schools, and forty-five day schools ; in Saskatchewan three industrial, thirteen boarding, and nineteen day schools ; and in Alberta two industrial, nineteen boarding, and nine day schools. According to the last complete reports there were 1U,308 pupils enrolled .n the schools, and the average attendance was 6,451. Schools are grouped into three classes: day schools, boarding schools, and industrial schools. The day schools are a distinct class. Between the boarding and industrial schools it is not always easy to draw a clear line of demarcation, for many of the larger and better equipped boarding schools provide a measure of industrial training for the pupils. Indeed, in every case it is insisted upon that as far as possible some manual or industrial training be given; And in the case of the boarding schools erected within the last few years at Fort Alexander, Fort Frances, and Sandy Bay, it was specially arranged that means should be provided for giving the boys such training as would enable them to take up the tillage of the soil after they had finished their school course. Day schools have never been regarded as very effective agencies of Indian education, and indeed with the small salaries paid it would scarcely be reasonable to look for any large results. There are points, however, at which day schools are capable of doing and do effect good.

The work of the class-room is not allowed to absorb the whole time and attention of the Indian boys and girls. It is sought to have the hand trained as well as the head. The girls are taught household duties by taking part in the regular domestic work of the schools; they learn to cook meat and vegetables and to bake bread by seeing such cooking done and by helping thereat. They are taught to care for their clothes, and by example as well as precept are taught the pleasures as well as the advantages of cleanliness. They devote some time each week to sewing and mending, and their handiwork in this direction has been praised by many competent judges. Every industrial school takes measures to train the boys in practical agriculture, and in some of the boarding schools there are farming instructors who teach the rudiments of farming. No attempt is made to teach scientific farming, for the Indian has not reached a stage, and must not be expected to for many years, where he can grasp the significance of the chemistry of the soil. Effort is being confined to measures designed to make him familiar with the handling of the plough, and with the sowing and reaping of the grain. Carpentry and blacksmithing are also taught. It is not, however, aimed as a rule to give such technical training in these branches as would turn out finished artisans, but rather to make the Indian boy when he leaves school competent to do the carpentry work which a handy white farmer does, and to be able to make the ordinary repairs to implements, wagons, and harness. Indian boys have in one respect an advantage over the ordinary boy. As has been already stated, when the treaties were made, liberal reserves were set aside for the Indians, and now every Indian boy, when he leaves school has awaiting him an ample area of land, in most cases very good, and in all cases cultivable, upon which he can at once settle and make a home.

Each year seems to make the Indian more amenable to the restrictions of school life, and more ready to benefit by the advantages afforded. Indeed, the children were not at any time most to blame, for, apart from scattered individual cases, they seemed to appreciate what was being done for them. Many of the parents, however, suspicious of the new order and preferring to have their children grow up like unto themselves, often induced boys and girls, who had been placed in the schools, to desert, or in their intercourse with them so worked upon their minds as to make school life seem irksome, and rendered the children restive of discipline.

It would be invidious to make comparison among the several schools. The standing of each can be pretty correctly gauged from the particular reports which are published by the Department. An unbiased reading of these reports leads to the conclusion that it would be difficult to find more effective agencies for the uplifting of the Indian and the placing of him eventually in the position of a self-supporting citizen of the country. It is only about one-third of a century since the principal treaties were made with the Indians of the plains. Though this term is a large proportion of man’s allotted span, yet it is but a short period in the evolution of a race. It is a question whether in the history of aboriginal tribes the world over, such progress towards civilization can be shewn in the same space of time as is indicated by the foregoing statistics. It has taken many centuries to bring the barbarians of Europe up to their present state of enlightenment; and though industrial and other education, the bath-tub and the flesh brush cannot make a red-man white, yet it has been amply proved that he is capable in a very few centuries of becoming the equal of his pale-faced brother.

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