Two Acres and a Cow: 'Peasant' Farming for the Indians of the Northwest, 1889-1897


Excerpt from Article, Page 28-29:

"Agriculture was not well-established on western Indian reserves by the turn of the century. It has generally been argued that Indians, because they were hunters and warriors, were unable to adapt to farming, and that they could not be transformed into sedentary farmers. The story is far more complex, however. There was an initial positive response to agriculture on the part of many reserve residents which has been overlooked in the literature to date. There were also many difficulties. Some of these problems were those experienced by all early settlers - drought, Dost, hail, and prairie fire, an absence of markets, and uncertainties about what to sow, when to sow, and how to sow. There were other problems that were not unique to the Indians but were likely magnified in their case. For example, reserve land often proved to be unsuitable for agriculture. Indian farmers also had limited numbers of oxen, implements, and seed: the treaty provisions for these items were immediately found to be inadequate. Indians were greatly hampered in their work because they lacked apparel, particularly footwear. They were undernourished, resulting in poor physical stamina and vulnerability to infectious diseases.

Indian farmers were also subject to a host of government policies and regulations which hampered agricultural development. If an Indian farmer sought better railway, market, or soil advantages he was not able to pull up stakes and try his luck elsewhere, since an Indian could not take out a homestead under the 1876 Indian Act. Nor could Indians raise outside investment capital; reserve land could not be mortgaged and Indians had difficulty obtaining credit. Freedom to sell their produce and stock and to purchase goods was strictly regulated through a permit system, just as movements off the reserves were rigidly monitored through a pass system." (28-29).

Publication Information

Carter, Sarah. "Two Acres and a Cow: ‘Peasant’ Farming for the Indians of the Northwest, 1889–97." Canadian Historical Review 70, no. 1 (1989): 27-52.

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