After the Conservatives returned to power in 1878, Edgar Dewdney was appointed to the newly created position of Commissioner of Indian Affairs for the North West Territories. Using this powerful position Dewdney implemented a policy he referred to as “sheer compulsion.” The policy entailed withholding rations and agricultural equipment (promised in many treaties) from First Nations that opposed the government’s actions or decrees. Furthermore, he incarcerated chiefs and restricted movement and gatherings between bands. As the name suggests this policy was meant to ensure compulsion to the will of the government.
Policy resulted in great hardship, and exemplifies a complete disregard for treaty promises and the intentions of Dewdney and other officials. In fact, limiting and withholding rations failed to meet the agreements outlined in the numbered treaties in spite of the obligation to provide aid. In certain uses of the Sheer Compulsion policy, First Nation peoples resisted or rioted in order to attain rations that were being withheld due to desperation and hunger.
House of Commons, Ottawa, Sessional Papers, XVII (1885)