This entry concerns the history of the Crooked Lake Agency from 1880s to 1913. This history is told from the viewpoint of the colonial authorities who controlled the Agency. Furthermore, this entry concerns four bands that were located on Crooked Lake at this time. These bands are as follows: Ochapowace (#71), Kake-wista-haw (#72), O'Soup or Cowessess (#73) and Sakimay (#74). The general observations made by Dr. D.G. Mandelbaum noted that “In general the Indians under this agency seem ultra-conservative living part of the year in tipis and maintaining their own religion and customs.” What is described as “progressive” can be summed up as enrollment in government established schools on the reserve, the tending to livestock such as horses, and farming. Mandelbaum also notes that traditional dances were decreasing, and that “... in 1906, the agent reports that no Indian dances were held during the year for the first time. However, such statements must be taken with some reserve.” This particular comment was in reference to the Ochapowace band. Concerning the other three bands at Crooked Lake he notes that a member of the Kake-wista-haw band was punished for holding a give-away dance in 1898. This happened just before the turn of the century in 1898. He maintains that the O'Soup or Cowessess band were far more “progressive” stating that the band had a “… fair number of horses and most of their children in school.” He further states that the Chief of this band was considered a “reactionary” and a “a hindrance to progress.”
With the emergence of settler society, many of the social norms of Indigenous groups became seen as morally corrupt, or deviant. The idea of polygamous marriages was foreign to European settlers, was a stark contrast to the Christian marital norms and common law monogamy. Government actors took it upon themselves to discourage the practice of polygamy and eventually entrenched it in law by 1890. It was important for settlers to reinforce the idea of traditional, European, monogamous marriage because they feared it was being disintegrated by the industrial revolution and was a marker for 'de-civilization.' The arrival of the Mormons in the late 1800s further escalated fears held by the state, triggering them to take action against the practice of polygamous marriages.
By passing an anti-polygamy law, it left many Indigenous women in vulnerable positions. It was determined by most ministers which wife was allowed to remain married to her husband. To ensure that the system was fair, they almost always chose the first wife to remain legally married to her Indigenous husband. This was problematic because often times the first wife was the oldest, and any children she may have had would also be older. This resulted in many young Indigenous women being left in dangerous situations because of their young ages and inability to care for their young children on their own. It also interfered with the traditional way of life in many Indigenous communities. Taking multiple wives was seen by the settler colonists as a form of abuse, but in some Indigenous communities it was done out of necessity and with the approval of the other wives. A household with multiple wives in the family meant that there were more people to help with the daily chores, care for children, direct labour, and offered a strong support system. It was assumed by settler colonists that polygamous marriages was based on sexual desire and subjugated wives, when in fact the wives almost always consented prior to a new wife being married into the household. By newly isolation Indigenous women from these arrangements, many of them lost their shared families, support systems, and partners.
- Beaman, Lori G. "Church, State and the Legal Interpretation of Polygamy in Canada." Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions 8, no. 1 (2004): 20-38.
- Rutherdale, Myra, and Katie Pickles. Contact Zones: Aboriginal and Settler Women in Canada's Colonial past. 2005.
Metis women from La Ronge and area in Northern Saskatchewan were respondents interviewed by Doris and Irene Poelzer for their study on Metis women's experiences in their home-communities. Numerous respondents reported discrepancies in the types of work available for men and women. They also reported discrepancies in the wages of men and women, with men being paid more for the same work. For example, these respondents stated that the types of jobs available for women were those that restricted them to traditionally feminized work, such as caregiving/nurturing, feeding, serving or providing instruction. That is, although job opportunities are scarce in the northern part of the province, those that were available for women were typically concession work, cleaning, health-related, teaching and clerical. These women believed that they had the same intellectual capacities as men, and that they should not be restricted (Poelzer 1985, 21-22).
One stated, “Women need training for jobs...I don’t want women to have the kind of life I had before” (Poelzer 1985, 23).
There was also a need expressed for support from one’s community and romantic partner. For example, women who ran for public office positions such as the school board believed that they were discriminated against because of their gender, and thus received few votes. In another example, women found that men refused to take instruction from them because of their gender. Overall, some respondents felt that men ignored, underestimate or exploited their Metis female co-workers (Poelzer 1985, 24-26).-
Metis women in Poelzer’s study also spoke extensively on the impact of religion in their life and the community. This impact was construed as both positive and negative. One respondent noted, “The church has been so much a part of exploitation”, as it provided a variety of services including education, health, employment and welfare. However, this also provided church officials with a great degree of control over the community, in which they took advantage of their privileged position by humiliating some individuals and also keeping community members dependent and indebted to their services. For example, individuals in the community must be church members in order to access services (Poelzer 1985, 27-36).
As well, women as a demographic are more likely to live in poverty and are often perceived to be primarily responsible for child-rearing. The financial burden resulting from poverty and raising children often results in a greater degree of reliance on these services. Metis women in the communities surveyed noted that church control was exerted by shaming women who practiced family planning or separated from a violent spouse. They also noted that they would be shamed for living common-law, even though some women declared that cohabitation gave them a greater degree of control, equality and autonomy than marriage.
One woman described the social pressure (resulting from the internalization of Christian moral norms) this way:
“You don’t feel right when you stay with the man without marrying him. It is just that when you go to some places, somebody asks if he is your husband, and you have to lie most of the time. You say ‘yes’ and you are lying. So it hurts you that way...And when you get kids, somebody is going to tell (them) that ‘he is not your dad. That is not your mother’s husband.’ It is not very nice very much” (Poelzer 1985, 49).
Another woman reported a more direct form of religious pressure: “...The church feels that if you are living common-law, you are not following the religion...marriage is quite a big thing” (Poelzer 1985, 49).
In contrast, Metis women respondents reported that common-law arrangements allowed for an easier separation if men were discovered to be immature or abusive. They also reported that such an arrangement prevented male romantic partners from perceiving his wife as property, that is, of possessing rights of ownership over her body or labour. An arrangement of cohabitation, therefore, was perceived to prevent domestic violence as well as prevent men from becoming jealous or of forgetting their household responsibilities.
Overall, women who received social services through the church were made to feel obligated to meet the expectations of religious officials by adhering to their moral and purity ideals (Poelzer 1985, 31-49).
Prior to provincial government intervention and rapid economic shifts in Northern Saskatchewan, women relied on traditional means of survival, and their livelihoods were not threatened. It should also be noted that the high rate of susceptibility of Indigenous women to physical and sexual violence did not exist prior to colonization. Rather, its dramatic increase since the establishment of the settler state is indicative of implementation of systems of male dominance, inherent in western philosophy, politics and social organization, as well as in Christian institutions. As it relates to the experiences of Metis women in Northern Saskatchewan, the majority of respondents referred to the power and influence of the Catholic church in their Metis communities as problematic.
Poelzer observed that internalized attitudes of male dominance and women’s submission to male leadership permeated the areas in which she conducted her research (1985, 58-59). This researcher surmises that such widespread acceptance of these attitudes may be related to the influence of religious institutions in these areas. In terms of the implications of these social problems, physical injuries inflicted by domestic violence can make it difficult and even impossible for women to search for work, complete work-related duties or attend their jobs, while also impacting their wellbeing greatly. Psychological distress caused by domestic violence such as trauma, depression or anxiety can also severely impair an individual’s ability to function on a day-to-day level. Transportation to leave such situations may, and it very often, inaccessible to women - especially in rural or isolated communities in the North where bus services were and remain few and far between.
In addition, women who leave environments of domestic violence may find themselves and/or their children houseless of facing housing insecurity. The Provincial Association of Transition Houses and Services of Saskatchewan notes that women living in Northern Saskatchewan face extreme housing shortages. The Metis women surveyed in Poelzer’s study confirmed this - they stated that the lack of availability of homes, in addition to the unacceptable quality of government-constructed residences have an effect on family living in terms of the moods, attitudes and relationships of individuals, and these dynamics compound the pre-existing stress arising from housing difficulties (Poelzer 1985, 74-81).
This association also notes that women living on-reserve experience heightened isolation from domestic and sexualized violence crisis services. Individuals who cannot access support services may resort to substance abuse in order to manage symptoms of psychological distress. Moreover, women are prevented from advocating for improvement of these issues because of attitudes of male dominance in community development and public office. Women can't advocate for change if they are not at the decision-making table - and those in power (men) rarely see these issues as important enough to warrant change.
As one Metis woman stated, "if a woman attends a community meeting, men say, ‘What is she doing here?’ or ‘This is for guys only’” (Poelzer 1985, 111).
Historian Peter Bakker writes that the ethnogenesis of the Metis began out of the pairings of people who were male European fur traders (French) and women who were Indigenous (Cree/Ojibwe). In Contours of a People (see "relevant resources" below), historians Brenda McDougall, Carolyn Podruchny and Nicole St. Onge write: "Studied together, the three characteristics [of Metis culture and nationhood that arise from these collected essays]—an expansive geographic familiarity, tremendous physical and social mobility, and maintenance of strong family ties across time and space—appear to have evolved as a result of an entrepreneurial spirit in a variety of economic niches associated with the fur trade writ large. The Metis were involved most famously in the large scale, commercial buffalo hunt specific to Plains Metis culture, but they were also involved in other important activities, including trapping and freighting, working on vast transportation networks that operated along waterways and cart trails, taking part in subsistence and commercial hunting and fishing operations, free trading, and performing contract jobs within the fur trade industry, all practiced in a variety of geographies encompassing plains, parklands, woodlands, and the subarctic. All these economic endeavors, and the cultural practices that subsequently emerged from them, contributed to a sense of shared community and contributed to the nationalist sentiment felt by many Metis today" (pages 7-8). These historians also discuss the formation of genealogical structures and extended family relationships as inherent to Metis identity. In light of the importance of kinship networks, the community fracturing and detriment to social well-being caused by land dispossession, diaspora and fragmentation of Metis people heading west becomes more apparent: "The link holding all of this together—mobility and geography—is found in the Metis conceptualization of family. Like many other societies throughout the world, the Metis created for themselves a system of extended family relationships within fixed communities and across these vast distances because of their tremendous mobility. Looking at subarctic Metis communities, Richard Slobodin argued that a widespread feature of Metis family and social life was an emphasis on family surnames as a means of inspiring and maintaining social and cultural unity. He attributed this particular cultural characteristic to the vastness of the region in which they lived, their relatively small population, and the range of economic activities in which they participated. Within a generation or two, the Metis developed a complex genealogical structure and shared knowledge by emphasizing those surnames as a key aspect of their identity" (pages 12-13). In the same book, historian Etienne Rivard notes the importance of Catholicism in Metis life, as indicated by primary sources: "Métis accounts also provide a sense of the importance of settlements in Métis community life. Describing the moral importance of Father Ritchot, Goulet emphasized the central role of the Catholic Church. Indeed, churches and religious figures regulated most of the central activities of community life in settlements—marriages, baptisms, funerals, and masses. The churches also affected patterns of settlement when they divided territory into parishes of specific religious adherence. Furthermore, Goulet stated that newcomers from Ontario in the 1850s affected the Red River communities, recalling his father’s sense of loss for the 'feeling of unity and friendship that had always been felt among those people of different races and religions'" (page 151).
As noted below in "Relevant Resources", Metis historian Harry Daniels distinguishes between legal and political identities of Metis status. That is, legally, a “Metis” person is the descendant of someone who received a Half-breed land grant. Politically and culturally, however, the term Metis refers to a descendant of people who developed distinct socio-political communities on the Prairies and in the Red River area, demonstrating nation-specific religious, linguistic, economic and legal characteristics, as well as cultural traits exhibited in music and apparel (pages 18-19). The researcher notes that extensive literature exists on the importance of Metis (and Indigenous) sovereignty over categories of self-identification. There is also agreement amongst Indigenous scholars who write on this topic that state-imposed categories of legal identity are colonial constructions designed to reduce the number of "Indians" in Canada over time, and thus state financial obligations to Indigenous peoples. Further, these state-imposed identities do not conform to the definitions of community or poltico-legal membership as held by Indigenous peoples, and in doing so, do not recognize Indigenous nationhood. For more information, please consult: Andersen, Chris. 2014. “The racialization of ‘Metis’ in the Canadian Census” in "Metis: Race Recognition, and the Struggle for Indigenous Peoplehood," 74-89. Vancouver: UBC Press. See also Walter, Maggie and Chris Andersen. 2013. "Indigenous Statistics: Quantitative Research Methodology." Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.
Bonne Madon was a Metis/French community in Saskatchewan. A primary source interview with Pierre Vandale indicates that his father was able to rent a river lot for farming in this locale. "River lot" is a term that refers to an agricultural plot of land which was preferred by Metis farmers. These lots were designed as long, narrow strips of farmland of which one short edge was connected to a river for ease of access to water. These narrow strips would be individually tilled and lined up against each other.
Cultural Dislocation - Loss of Metis Languages and Culture through Education System and other Forms of Assimilation
Cultural dislocation began during the Treaty and Residential School eras. Metis children attended residential schools, day schools and mainstream schools. Although the churches participating in residential/day schools wanted Metis children to attend, these children didn't qualify as "Indian", occasionally resulting in their rejection and subsequent attendance of classes in mainstream schools. However, mainstream or "white" schools also often rejected Metis children, leaving them in jurisdictional limbo and without an education (as an aside, a number of Metis children were in regions where the government refused to construct schools, later preventing the ability to find gainful employment - please see related entries on Metis education). For those who attended school, one of its results was the alienation of Metis children from their language and culture. Primary source interviews indicate that the public education system at the time privileged the language of the dominant culture - English - and children were instructed to speak this language only.
This privileging derived from usage of the education system as a tool to assimilate Indigenous children into mainstream western culture. In particular, Metis languages (Michif, Cree, French) were perceived as inferior to English. Although Metis history is central to the formation of the prairie geographical landscape, it was not considered “important” or legitimate Canadian history, and thus was rarely mentioned. When it was acknowledged, Indigenous people were portrayed as savages and Metis political actors, such as Louis Riel, were perceived as socially deviant and psychologically unstable criminals. Metis children were also shamed and harassed for their ethnic heritage at school.
A gradual loss of Metis-spoken languages, including French, Cree and Michif is indicated through the process of intergenerational transmission of language. For example, a number of Metis individuals interviewed had parents who spoke English in addition to their Indigenous languages of French, Cree and Michif. These parents less often taught their children Cree and Michif because of cultural pressures to assimilate and due to internalized ethnic inferiority. The individuals interviewed also noted that they often had grandparents who did not speak English, but instead spoke either French, Cree, Michif or a combination of two or three of these languages. While the creation of a language barrier can prevent transmission of cultural values from parents to children, it is particularly harmful as it relates to the roles of Old People and Elders - individuals who often only speak an Indigenous language and are typically designated as transmitters of a vast reservoir of nation-specific knowledge and wisdom. Thus, the loss of language not only resulted in the loss of an ability to communicate in Metis-spoken languages, it also resulted in an inability to transmit philosophies inherent to Metis culture.
See: Attached Resources (Interview Transcipts)
Maryville is a Metis settlement where a farming community was established. Children in this community were required to attend the residential school at Cowessess / Maryville. It was also an area in which Catholic missionaries of the order of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate worked to learn the languages of the Indigenous peoples in the area so that they more effectively recruit converts to Christianity. Christian conversion required the forfeiting of Indigenous spirituality and life ways. In addition to the gender discrimination contained in the Indian Act, Christianity also introduced rigid structures of patriarchy.
The Qu'Appelle Industrial School was built in 1884 to fulfill one of the conditions of Treaty 4, which had been signed 10 years earlier. It was the first residential school in the west, and Father Joseph Hugonard was the first principal. This was likely because Lebret/Qu'Appelle was established as the main centre of Catholicism for the Metis and First Nations people in the region - Lebret/Qu'Appelle had been a Catholic mission since 1865. There were fifteen students in attendance the first year. The Grey Nuns of Montreal served as teachers at the school until 1975. In 1935, the Lebret Indian residential school was built to replace the industrial school. In the following years, several additions were made to the school including a large gym, classroom block sections and a secondary school section in 1951. This residential school was signed over to First Nations school board administration in October 1973, after which point in time it was called "White Calf Collegiate." This collegiate remained open until 1998.
The Beauval boarding school continued to educate Indigenous students from surrounding communities until its closure in 1983. In the 1980s, students were attending from areas including Flying Dust, Waterhen, Ministikwan, Makwa Saghaiehcan and Joseph Bighead. In 1963, six classrooms were added. In 1974, the school was extended to include high school education, and the first grade 12 graduates were produced in 1978. In 1979, the Department of Indian Affairs added a gym, library, and science lab. By the time the school closed in 1983, it was considered highly technologically advanced with 28 typewriters, 12 computers, and 2 word processors. The school stated that it had graduated 134 students at the high school level, 100 of them with complete high school diplomas. Past students of the school pursued careers such as mine lab tech, mill operator, security staff, chiefship, band councillor, teacher, municipal policing, clerical staffing, dental assistants, educational counselling. One student was noted to become a lawyer
The school is recorded as having various forms of recreational activities available. Sport programming available at the school included hockey, soccer, cross-country running and other track and field events. The sports teams enjoyed marked success at the provincial level and the school is recorded as being well-known for its hockey players. Student councils and other clubs and activities were also available at both the school and residence.
Religious beliefs formed the basis of the educational curriculum at the school until its closure in 1983. Between 1919 and 1934, 30 young men were trained for the priesthood at this institution
On July 1, 1984, the Meadow Lake bands assumed responsibility for overall administration of the school. The ten chiefs of this group had previously served as Beauval's school board. At the time of the transition, the bands assumed powers similar to a school division. The intent was to turn the school into an educational centre that could be used by the entire district for various purposes.
A report put out by a committee of the Privy Council, and approved by the Governor General, established the official stance of the Canadian government on the issue of marriage and polygamy for Aboriginal people in Western Canada. This report was made in response to demands from the Aborigines Protection Society of England that legislation be put in place to protect Aboriginal women from Euro-Canadian men who married and then abandoned Aboriginal wives.