Land Use (Subsistence Patterns)

Unauthorized Lumber Harvesting on Little Red River Reserve (Lac La Ronge and Montreal Lake Bands)


An excerpt from Merle Massie’s, Forest Prairie Edge, which explains in great detail the effects of logging North of Prince Albert and unauthorized harvesting committed by logging companies on the Little Red River Reserve, between 1904-1910. A Specific Claims Commission case between LLRIB and Montreal Lake v. The Crown is ongoing for the Crown's failure to uphold it's fiduciary obligation. The court found a failure to uphold fiduciary obligation and compensation settlements are underway:

Impact of Logging Industry on Local First Nations

“Both Sturgeon Lake Reserve (known at the time as William Twatt’s band) and Little Red River Reserve (sometimes referred to as New Reserve or Billy Bear’s Reserve) were embedded in the major wood “basket” of the north Prince Albert region and straddled both the Sturgeon River and the Little Red River systems.[50] Extensive commercial lumbering in the region led to both opportunity and loss. First Nations men worked in the lumber camps, freighted supplies, cut and traded hay and oats, provided fresh meat, and worked on the river drives in spring.[51] Women found a ready market for moccasins and mittens, jackets and belts. Members living on these two reserves derived considerable income from the lumber camps, either through direct wage labour or in a supply capacity. Little Red River members in particular were closely tied to the lumber camps. The Indian Department noted in 1901 that residents of Little Red “derive their income from grain, potatoes, the sales of lumber, hay, freighting, and day labour (lumbering).”[52] Reports from the Indian Department until the end of the First World War reiterated these occupations, along with continued fishing and hunting.

The extensive lumber industry, however, had a negative ripple effect in the region. Trapping and fishing activities along the rivers were severely disrupted by the large log drives. Hundreds of men, strange sounds, and extensive environmental disturbance virtually eliminated local hunting opportunities, and hunters were forced to go farther and farther away from the reserves to find meat. Finally, the two reserves contained excellent saw timber. In particular, the Sturgeon Lake Lumber Company and the Prince Albert Lumber Company desired those trees, and documents show that both companies culled valuable timber from Sturgeon Lake Reserve land without compensation or authority. In 2001, the Sturgeon Lake band succeeded in settling a major claim with the federal government for the loss of this wood revenue.

The Little Red River band (as of 2013) is in the process of prosecuting a similar claim, but the economic and environmental impacts of lumbering on their reserve were more complicated. It was set aside as a farming reserve for the Montreal Lake and Lac La Ronge bands by 1897, but permanent farming was slow to take hold. In 1903, A.J. Bell, manager of the nearby Sturgeon Lake Lumber Company, requested disposal of the standing and fallen timber on the reserve.[54] The Indian agent went to Montreal Lake to consult with the chief and council there and came away with a signed deed of surrender, which initiated a series of problems. The Montreal Lake band expressed uncertainty over whether or not they should sell the timber and left it up to the Indian agent to make the final decision on their behalf. In effect, the band signed a carte blanche: ‘We have decided to leave the question of the sale of the standing and fallen timber in [the agent’s] hands, if after he goes through the timber, he considers it best to leave it at present, we agree to that; if on the other hand he thinks it should be sold then we agree to that.’[55]

The agent decided that the timber should be sold for several reasons: it was at its maturity and thus at its economic height for merchantable timber; nearby timber limits were currently being logged, particularly the Shannon and Sanderson timber berths; the slash from those nearby limits heightened the fire potential of the area, and if a forest fire swept through before the timber could be logged it would be virtually worthless; the merchantable timber within the reserve was estimated at most to be 2.5 to 3 million board feet, considered a small cut. It would be better, the agent thought, to sell the timber when loggers were nearby and it was practical to cut it. A second surrender, this time from members of the band living on the reserve, was also taken.[56]

The fact that Little Red River Reserve was so far away from its two parent re-serves created an administrative dilemma. It was difficult to decide whom to ask for a surrender, who had authority, and who had the right to make decisions. The timber was advertised and sold by tender in the summer of 1904 to I.G. Turpiff of Canada Territories Corporation Limited.[57] Almost immediately, a letter arrived from Reverend James Hines of Prince Albert at the Indian Commissioner’s Office in Winnipeg. The letter indicated that the men living on the reserve in question, the New Reserve, “strongly object to all their timber being sold from them.”    Those who signed the timber surrender, the letter noted, “are living 60 miles north and have plenty of timber there.” Those on the reserve did not object to selling some of the timber for cash, recognizing its proximity to the timber limits being worked all around the reserve, but they wanted to make sure that some of the bluffs were kept for their own use.[58]

The letter from Reverend Hines indicated the difficulty under which all parties were operating. By this point, there were two surrenders taken for this wood, one from Montreal Lake and one from men located on the New Reserve. Clearly, though, there were divisions within the New Reserve as well as between the two northern settlements and the one southern settlement. The Indian Department, however, was operating on the legal strength of the two surrenders, and the timber was sold. The sale led to the second major problem: the New Reserve was co-owned by both the Montreal Lake and the Lac La Ronge bands. In January 1905, a letter arrived from the Lac La Ronge band expressing their concern over how the wood surrender had been handled, since they were also owners of the New Reserve.[59] Although the response was that, indeed, the Lac La Ronge band was entirely correct in this assertion, ‘it was not deemed necessary to confer with them on the question of surrender of timber as they reside at a great distance from the Reserve…, although they are entitled to their equitable share of the proceeds of the timber and will receive it at the proper time.’[60]

The proceeds of the down payment on the timber berth were split between the two bands. The company that won the contract, however, was slow to hand over the capital. When it finally did, the sum was placed in trust solely for use of the Montreal Lake band. The trust amounted to over $5,000, and the interest was expended in purchasing supplies for the Montreal Lake band beyond those agreed to by treaty.[61] It was only in 1910, after a lengthy investigation into the surrender and sale of the timber and the disposal of funds, that the trust was redistributed to the credit of the Lac La Ronge band.[62]

The timber on Little Red River Reserve, because of its proximity to transportation, mills, and a market, was correspondingly much more valuable than any similar stands of timber found on the Montreal Lake home reserve or at La Ronge. Correspondence indicated, however, that only a portion of Little Red contained merchantable white spruce saw timber. The rest of the reserve, chosen for its agricultural capability, had open hay lands and stands of brush and aspen—it had been logged, in fact, long before it became a reserve.[63] The controversial timber limit on the New Reserve was neither large nor lucrative, at least according to official documents. The original bidder neglected to pay the rest of the tender price and never logged the timber. The Sturgeon Lake Lumber Company took over the contract. It tried unsuccessfully to renegotiate the original tender, arguing that it was unfair to pay ground rent on the whole reserve—56.8 square miles—when there was merchantable timber on only a small portion of that area, about three square miles. The company by this time was under considerable scrutiny from the Indian Department regarding its logging on Sturgeon Lake Reserve No. 101, for which it had not paid its dues or cut payments. The Indian Department was reluctant to renew the timber berth contract for Little Red when the company was obviously tardy in paying dues, rent, ground fees, and payment on the cut from Sturgeon Lake. The company protested, saying that it still had about a million board feet of timber to log out at Little Red. The company paid the remaining dues but only after many threatening letters from the Forestry Department. It soon rescinded the logging request. By 1909, the Sturgeon Lake Lumber Company had logged only a portion of the available timber. Of the original estimated 2.5 million board feet, it cut 1.5 million. Its timber licence was not renewed.”[i]

Differing accounts from the members of Little Red River IR and the Department of Indian Affairs suggest that unauthorized harvesting continued even after permits were not renewed. The Indian Agent, Silas Milligan, on Little Red River IR claimed that no unauthorized harvesting commenced in correspondence with the Forestry Department.[ii]  The opinion of DIA, “contradicts the oral memory of Little Red residents, who record extensive non–First Nations timber cutting that was never paid.”[iii]

“The timber dispute, and the subsequent fight over the trust funds, set the stage for division. Little Red River Reserve was informally split. The Lac La Ronge band was accorded a much larger share of the reserve since they had not yet chosen all their treaty land entitlement in and around La Ronge; moreover, at the time of the treaty in 1889, they were a much larger band and had a larger treaty land entitlement. The Montreal Lake band was accorded nine out of the roughly fifty-six square miles, the Lac La Ronge band the remaining forty-seven.[67] Confusion over who owned what proportion of the timber (until the land was informally split), investigation of how much timber was actually logged and paid for when and by whom, and the debate over which band (Montreal Lake or Lac La Ronge) owned which parts of the reserve will complicate the current court case…Landscape and tree cover, regional logging prior to creating the reserve, ownership, payment, and actual logging are subject to conflicting interpretations.”[iv]

In the case of Lac La Ronge Band and Montreal Lake Cree Nation v. Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, the Hon. W.L. Whalen ruled that the Crown had breached its fiduciary obligation to the LLRIB and Montreal Lake Bands, citing numerous failures to prevent unauthorized harvesting.[v] In finding that the Crown had breached its fiduciary obligation to the LLRIB and Montreal Lake Band, hearings to determine compensation are still ongoing almost 8 years later.

“There was an almost wanton disregard for the environmental impacts of the logging industry. Cutting trees and bringing them to market abused and reshaped the entire north Prince Albert landscape. The Spruce/Little Red River was small and could not reliably handle log volumes. To compensate, the Prince Albert Lumber Company cut all the trees along the riverbank and built a series of dams to control water flow. This intervention culminated in damming Beartrap Lake (now in Prince Albert National Park) and building a canal southward to move its water into the Spruce/Little Red River system to flow south to the mills at Prince Albert—an environmental intervention with major implications for the local landscape [flooding]…

White spruce is an old-growth tree that requires specific conditions to flourish. Unless a large area of fully mature white spruce was left unlogged, to offer a seed source for new growth, the species could not regenerate efficiently. The debris left from extensive logging, combined with the flammable nature of forest litter in aspen stands, led to forest fires within the area. Homesteaders placed increased pressure on the landscape. Escaped fires from brush clearing on the homesteads raged through the region. The combination of logging, agricultural settlement, and fire was nearly catastrophic: white spruce was virtually eliminated from the forest canopy.[72] Although the boreal forest is a fire-dependent regime and fire is a necessary part of the forest regeneration cycle, extensive forestry intensified the effects of fires. Logging virtually eliminated mature white spruce capable of producing cones, and the extensive tree litter prohibited cone regeneration. The impacts of fierce ground and canopy fires resulted in a local transition from primarily mixed-wood forest to a canopy dominated by aspen, burnt brush, and open meadows.”[vi]

The effects of deforestation were readily apparent by 1919 and years following, when forest fires swept through Northern Saskatchewan and Alberta. Bishop J.A. Newnham of Prince Albert wrote to the Daily Herald:

“‘On the way up the whole country seemed to have been burned over by the recent fires, and only blackened tree trunks, which had fallen or will fall within a year or so, remain in the once well-timbered area. The soil also has been deeply burned and even the muskeg had been on fire. The game suffered heavily, young birds and eggs being destroyed.’ The roads suffered as well, he added. ‘In general all bridges over the Little Red and Sturgeon rivers have been burned and a number of the Prince Albert Lumber Company’s dams. The forest rangers are now [making] temporary repairs to the bridges and clearing the trails of fallen trees.’[85][vii]

The devastation seemed complete. Scientists and historians have pinned these fires to increasing agricultural expansion into the forest edge, where homesteaders and settlers, eager to clear land for farming, employed extensive brush burning.”[viii]

Deforestation, in particular clear-cutting, has since increased over the last century; under the current Provincial Government (2022), plans to continue aggressive clear-cutting are being pushed as “environmentally friendly.”[ix] This incites great concern amongst First Nations and Métis residents in the North, as clear-cutting has expanded into remote regions beyond the Prairie Forest edge (Little Red River, Nisbet Forest), into areas like La Ronge, Montreal Lake, Meadow Lake, and even further.[x] Residents have witnessed dramatic changes to the wildlife and ecology of their homelands over the last 60 years, and comment on the alarming impacts to their traditional lifeways, economies, and food resources, as well as environmental destruction.[xi] The threats which clear-cutting poses had, and continues to have, damaging long-term socioeconomic impacts to Indigenous residents whose lands, and the protection of those lands, are innately connected to their lifeways.[xii]  




  1. [i] Massie, Merle. Forest Prairie Edge. 81-84.
  2. [ii] Massie, Forest Prairie Edge, 84.
  3. [iii] Massie, Forest Prairie Edge, 84.
  4. [iv] Massie, Forest Prairie Edge, 84.
  5. [v] Lac La Ronge Band and Montreal Lake Cree Nation v. Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, 2014 SCTC 8, [2014], 5002 SCT 11, at paras. 184-195.
  6. [vi] Massie, Forest Prairie Edge, 85,86.
  7. [vii] Prince Albert Daily Herald, 12 June 1919.
  8. [viii] Massie, Forest Prairie Edge, 90.
  9. [ix] Dayal, Pratyush. “Stumped.” CBC News Features. July 10, 2022.
  10. [x] Dayal, “Stumped,” 2022.
  11. [xi] Dayal, “Stumped,” 2022.
  12. [xii] Dayal, “Stumped,” 2022.





CCF Creates Métis Colonies


During the 1940s, the CCF created Métis ‘colonies’ at Crooked Lake, Lestock, Crescent Lake, BalJennie, Willow Bunch, Duck Lake, Glen Mary, Green Lake, and Lebret of which contained about 2500 Métis residents. These colonies were introduced by Tommy Douglas’ CCF government as a colonization project that they felt would ‘deal’ with socioeconomic struggles Métis, particularly Métis in the southern part of the province, were facing as a result of westward expansion and land loss. Colonies were intended to integrate and assimilate Métis peoples into western social and economic ideals that embraced the free market and prepared them for settler society. Schools established in Métis colonies were used to prepare Métis children for the ‘workforce,’ instill a community identity that based itself upon the cultural collective (White society), while simultaneously undermining cultural Métis knowledge and identities.



Colonies, however, provided very little to ebb the widespread poverty that many Métis at this time experienced, as land, livestock, and resources obtained in the ‘colonies’ were not owned by any Métis. CCF officials rationalized this by believing that the Métis were incapable of caring for themselves or their land. This belief was firstly, unfounded, and second, predicated on years of land dispossession and colonial interference across the prairies that robbed Métis from wealth and resources they formerly had access to. In doing this, the CCF continued to perpetuate the same behaviour as federal agents wherein Métis peoples were disadvantaged and assumed to be ‘incapable.’ 

Barron writes,

“Colonies, as a rehabilitation scheme for the Métis, were entirely in keeping with this thinking because they were seen as a way of making the Métis competitive in mainstream society. By removing the Métis from the road allowances and grouping them into distinct settlements, the government would be able to manipulate the environment to maximize local community development. The understanding was that, if the Métis could not integrate individually, they might do so collectively through the creation of economically viable, self-sustaining communities. Through proper training, self-actualization, and cooperation, they would evolve as a community of farmers contributing to the regional agrarian economy.”


Barron, F.L., Walking in Indian Moccasins: the native policies of Tommy Douglas and the CCF, 40-50.





CCF Social Programming and Erosion of Traditional Lifeways in Northern Saskatchewan


The establishment of a government presence in Northern Saskatchewan instigated an immense cultural shift, one that was initiated by the CCF who sought to expand operations beyond Prince Albert. The intention of the CCF was to create a ‘cultural majority’ in Saskatchewan, attempted through assimilation policies which undermined Indigenous lifeways and cultures in the North.

“The CCF took steps to see that the entire province would share northern resource revenue, yet, contradictorily, it refused to equally share provincial wealth with northerners. This occurred for several reasons. The CCF strongly feared that northern Aboriginals would take advantage of generous social programs and become lazy; in a sense then, the CCF limited benefits to northerners for their own good. Secondly, the CCF simply ignored northern needs, knowingly permitting the continuance of third world-like conditions in the northern half of the province. The CCF consequently applied a weaker non-economic socialism in the North than in the South, which received many more benefits from social and health programs.”[1]

The CCF government had no Northern representatives in caucus to advise on policy implementation; Joseph Lee Phelps, a farmer from Southern Saskatchewan, was tasked with designing ‘social’ programming in Northern Saskatchewan as the Minister of Natural Resources and Industrial Development.[2] Phelps had no lived experience or familiarity with Northern lifeways, and whose strong political convictions informed his trajectory in policy and practice.

“Phelps and his cohorts hastily developed new policies and a structure largely separate from that in the South to introduce the CCF's plans for northerners. Douglas and cabinet generally supported Phelps' fur, fish, timber, and other northern initiatives. They also gave him a lot of free rein. Several reasons explain Phelps' unusual freedom to act in the North. Possibly most importantly, the CCF accepted the view that the northern society was not worth preserving. Wiping it out would leave a clean slate on which to build a better society. Additionally, many southern politicians knew or cared little about the North and let Phelps do as he pleased there as long as his actions did not create problems for them.”[3]

Social programming happened in two distinct streams, first was through the implementation of the Family Allowance. Gwen Beck, a long-time resident of La Ronge and interviewed by Murray Dobbin in 1976, had this to say:

Murray: “What kind of an effect did that have on the sort of nomadic lifestyle of native people? Did that contribute to changing that, where they'd take their whole families onto the trapline and then come back again?”

Gwen: “Well, that... I don't know whether it was right or it was wrong. You see when I was on the School Board I felt that education was very, very important and to meet the children. So I couldn't tell you whether it was correct or not, but Family Allowance came into being somewhere about then and, you know, they were supposed to educate the children.”

Murray: “That was the condition of the Family Allowance?”

Gwen: So this was the condition that I stipulated, that I felt. That anyone that took the family away [to the trapline] and did not educate them, they were not entitled to the Family Allowance. Now probably... now I'm not proud of that stand that I took -- I don't know whether I was right or wrong, but I was very strong on it when I was young.… I don't know exactly whether it was correct or not, but gradually the Family Allowance was the biggest drawing card for keeping families in [communities with a school]. But it did split up... the women had to stay behind or they had to find homes. We talked about building a hostel - which we never ever got to - to take the children so the children could stay. We went through all these phases but, you know, I think it finally ended up that more people stayed home and sent their children in school…Money-wise, money again was a big thing, the Family Allowance meant quite a lot to get, and most of them had good-sized families, you see. So it meant they stayed, and trapping became less and less, really. Even today they cannot support themselves by trapping, no matter how good a trapper they are, so you understand.”[4]

The Family Allowance alluded to was dependent upon children entering the school system. Long-time La Ronge resident, Robert Dalby, confirmed this:

Murray: Would you say that the disruption of the traditional way of life started in the early fifties?

Robert: Yeah, it started manifesting itself at that time and several reasons. It wasn't just economics. It was the growing population for one thing. It was beginning to grow because of health services and things. And I remember very distinctly the old business even with the treaty Indians, the treaty agent would threaten to cut off family allowance if the kids didn't go to school. So parents were compelled to stay in the settlements. At least the mother was compelled to stay in the settlement so that the kids went to school. And I know of several families, people I've known for twenty-five, twenty-eight years, who faced this situation. They could no longer go out to the trapline as a family group. The kids had to stay in school and these people around here, these bush people around here, have always respected the law. They haven't liked it necessarily, but they've respected it. And so if someone threatened to cut off the family allowance and threatened them with dire punishment, most of them went along with it and believed it, you know.”[5]

The second stream was the creation of Fur and Fish Marketing Services, as explained by Dalby:

Robert: “[T]he CCF pulled some awful boners as far as the north was concerned, you know [....] From lack of knowledge. One of the serious ones was the fur marketing service. And done with the best of intentions but when I arrived here, I had been with the game branch of Manitoba for a couple of years. I knew the situation there with registered traplines and so on. And it worked fairly well at that time there. And here I found that the trappers had to sell the beaver and muskrats (which is the principal crop) to the Fur Marketing Service in Regina. And they all resented it, without fail, you know, even though perhaps they got a better price. And I think the intent was to give them a better price but for some reason it just didn't work properly. There wasn't any education done certainly.”[6]

This is corroborated by Albert Broome, a former manager at numerous Government Trading stores in the North (La Ronge and Pinehouse, A.K.A. Snake Lake) who administered part of the Fur Marketing Service credit system:

Albert: “The credit trading policy is a dangerous one and we were always enforcing our collections at every stage of the game. There was very little welfare at the time. So you couldn’t rely on welfare. You had to judge each individual trapper by his merits. His fishing ability and his trapping ability.”

Murray: “How did you judge when a person’s credit would be cut off?”

Albert: “Well, in some cases you had to use your own judgement with the store operation. In some cases you would get direction from head office when your accounts receivable were getting out of order. At the same time you were judging the trapper by his ability to produce and in some cases they would have some tough luck and accounts would soar a little. Or bad price structure. In some cases you are playing with the market in fish and fur and it reverts back to the economy of the particular settlement.” [7]

Pierre Carriere, a long-time resident of Cumberland House, stated that the Fish Marketing service:

 Pierre: "... was a compulsory program first. But that's where it hurts the government. See, they didn't have no transportation services. They didn't have proper management services. The fishermen were the ones to lose money. Not the government."[8]

Murray: “And the government started the program to help fishermen right?”

Pierre: "Yeah, supposed to help fishermen but they didn't have no management and they didn't have no transportation service and everything was against them and therefore, the poor fishermen was the one that was losing his shirt. So it was really, politically unrest then.[9]

He states that after the implementation of the fish and fur marketing programs, people lost faith in the provincial government.

"You can't trust people. Once you are losing your shirt, you can't trust the government. Doesn't matter what kind of government you have."[10]


  1. [1] Quiring, David. “Battling Parish Priests, Bootleggers, and Fur Sharks: CCF Colonialism in Northern Saskatchewan." PhD Diss. University of Saskatchewan, 2002. 20.
  2. [2] Quiring, “Battling Parish Priests, Bootleggers, and Fur Sharks,” 25.
  3. [3] Quiring, “Battling Parish Priests, Bootleggers, and Fur Sharks,” 26.
  4. [4] Beck, Gwen. Interview by Murray Dobbin. Transcript. July 20, 1976. Virtual Museum of Métis History and Culture. Gabriel Dumont Institute. Pg 12.
  5. [5] Dalby, Robert. Interview by Murray Dobbin. Transcript. June 18, 1976. Virtual Museum of Métis History and Culture. Gabriel Dumont Institute. Pg 2.
  6. [6] Dalby, “Interview with Robert Dalby,” 5.
  7. [7] Broome, Albert. Interview by Murray Dobbin. Transcript. September 4, 1976. Virtual Museum of Métis History and Culture. Gabriel Dumont Institute. Pg 5.
  8. [8] Carriere, Pierre. Interview by Murray Dobbin. Transcript. August 18, 1976. Virtual Museum of Métis History and  Culture. Gabriel Dumont Institute. Pg 4.
  9. [9] Carriere, “Interview with Pierre Carriere,” 6. 
  10. [10] Carriere, “Interview with Pierre Carriere,” 7. 



Government imposed economic sanctions had serious implications. First, the creation of the Fish and Fur Marketing Service brought the livelihoods of First Nations and Métis trappers and fishermen under the direct control of the provincial government. Whether this program was established with good intentions, the result was resentment amongst Northern residents who viewed CCF meddling asserting monopolistic control over their livelihoods and economies.

Dolores Poelzer found in her work with Métis women from La Ronge (1986) that provincial regulation became a barrier to hunting and trapping, which had the effect of increasing reliance on Church administered social welfare programs.[1] The Church required that women and their families maintain church membership to receive education, health, employment, and welfare services. They were also expected to meet the moral expectations of church leadership and were shamed for common-law relationships, even in cases of domestic violence and abuse.[2] Previously, women reported they enjoyed the freedom of common-law relationships because it allowed for personal independence and were able to leave abusive partnerships more easily.

“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.”[3]

Following the 1960s, construction of hydroelectric dams and clear-cutting for various deforestation projects further eroded Northern environments, effected animal migrations, and at times changed floodways. Terry Newell a current resident of Whiteswan Lakes comments that “Clear-cutting close to the lakes causes eroding banks containing mercury in the soil to end up in the lake,” which can cause mercury poisoning in humans, and species who rely on lake habitats.[4]  Residential and Day Schools continued their operations during this period, in some cases for another 40 years.

During the 1950s-1960s, the CCF developed several industries supported by government infrastructure through the DNR.

“DNR [Department of Natural Resources] officers, nurses, teachers, and other CCF employees formed a separate class within the small, primarily Aboriginal villages. Civil servants also became part of the white upper class in the larger communities. White government workers frequently considered themselves superior by virtue of their race. The mandate given them by the CCF to bring forced change to northern Aboriginals gave them additional prestige and authority.

Some Aboriginals established special relationships with DNR officers similar to the earlier ‘Patron-Client relationship’ with the HBC, and officials had a special clientele who supported their programs, as part of a system of reciprocal obligations. Yet many northerners felt ‘contempt and hostility’ to the CCF and its employees, largely because of conservation policies." Administrators also often did not relate well to Aboriginals, since they did not know the Aboriginal languages or grasp local ways.”[5]

There remained a scarcity of work opportunities in the North because employers were particularly hostile towards First Nations and Métis applicants and employees.[6] A continuous barrier was that DNR and local administration were reluctant or refused to train or hire First Nations and Métis residents, choosing instead to relocate civil servants from the South.[7] Positions that were available were frequently underpaid in comparison to civil servants. The wealth and employment disparity which developed during this period had lasting implications. Resources directed towards Northern education and infrastructure were not intended to service Indigenous community members, especially remote communities (like Grandmother’s Bay, Stanley Mission, Sucker River, and many others), demonstrating early service barriers and an unequitable dispersion of funds. This pattern of chronic underfunding has continued and contributes to the unique and systemic background factors which contribute to an over-representation in the justice system.

In Poelzer’s interviews with Métis women in La Ronge, one participant commented on the challenges that she and her community faced following the implementation of regulations:

“For instance, there are so many regulations changing about fishermen and their nets. One year, they buy one size of mesh for their fish nets; and then maybe a year or two after that the regulations change to a certain other size, such that they have to throw the first net away because it is not the right size anymore. There are all kinds of pressures...housing...parents might have problems with the kids at school...The pressure all stem from the society, from the rapid growth. Then drinking starts.”[8] 


  1. [1] Poelzer, Dolores T. and Irene A. Poelzer. In Our Own Words: Northern Saskatchewan Métis Women Speak Out. Saskatoon, SK: Lindenblatt & Hamonie, 1986. 27-36.
  2. [2] Poelzer, In Our Own Words,” 48-49.
  3. [3] Poelzer, In Our Own Words,” 49.
  4. [4] Dayal, Pratyush. “Stumped.” CBC News Features. July 10, 2022.
  5. [5] Quiring, “Battling Parish Priests, Bootleggers, and Fur Sharks,” 41.
  6. [6] Quiring, “Battling Parish Priests, Bootleggers, and Fur Sharks,” 40.
  7. [7] Quiring, “Battling Parish Priests, Bootleggers, and Fur Sharks,” 40.
  8. [8] Poelzer, In Our Own Words,84-86.





Aftermath of the North-West: Weapons Prohibited


Following the 1885 North-West Resistance, First Nations and Metis ownership of guns and knives was heavily restricted, Canada fearing another resistance in which they wouldn't be able to control. Even sharp knives were confiscated, and when authorities came to confiscate weapons, some people hid their knives so that they would not be taken away. Guns and knives were both integral to subsistence patterns, and a source of wealth. Many of these items had been procured in the west out of trade relationships during the fur trade, and were a form of a currency (trade good). This was especially true of guns and ammunition, which had become a staple trade good brought by European traders and which were highly valued by Plains-orientated Indigenous peoples for hunting. Inhibiting the ability to hunt resulted in a higher reliance on Government provided aid and welfare - such as rations - this was an intended result in Canada's genocide of Indigenous peoples. Hindering the ability to feed their community members, and then refusing to supply rations to starving bands was intended to weaken and "make room" for white settlers who would come to the west at the turn of the 19th c. 





Introduction of Timber, Mineral, Coal and Indian Land Regulations


The federal government established a set of regulations which dictated the sectioning of reserve lots (known as the severalty system) and methods of purchase and settlement of Indian lands, including the method of paying the purchase money to Indians and disposal of timber from surrendered reserve lands. These regulations dictated that lawful use of reserve land required not only settlement and occupation, but improvement as well. As well, these regulations indicated that if said reserve land was unfit for cultivation, the Superintendent General could dispose of Indian land or of its resources (timber, saw logs, staves, lathwood, shingle bolts, cordwood, or any other wood cut for sale) for the Indians without having to justify it on the basis of occupation, improvement, or cultivation/agriculture.


Government interference and the paternalistic management of Indigenous affairs were based on the assumption that Indigenous peoples were incapable of managing their own lands and resources.  As well, it's insistence on land use patterns through occupation, improvement and cultivation constituted the imposition of Eurocentric cultural norms regarding land "productivity," to the detriment of Indigenous practices that prioritized stewardship.

The policy of severalty was created to eliminate the tribal system, specifically by creating family-run farms, replacing communal and cooperative farming efforts.  This policy was part of the government's plan of assimilation by implementing capitalist economic systems on reserves, which required undermining values of collectivity and replacing them capitalist values of  individualism and self-interest.  




An act to amend “An Act respecting the appropriation of certain lands in Manitoba.”


The Canadian Government amended the Manitoba Act Section 32. This amendment stated that all claimants had to demonstrate “undisturbed occupancy” and “actual peaceable possession.”

The government had been informed by Henry Youle Hind that in the summer, many Metis were trying to make a living by hunting buffalo or freighting supplies for the Hudson’s Bay Company, and were not present to confirm their land occupancy.  These amendments, therefore, were used to alienate Metis and their families from a protected land base. 



Sprague argues definitively that this amendment was passed to undermine the ability of Metis to obtain patents for their land. However, Thomas Flanagan indicates that this amendment was not malicious, but was a method of ensuring land was being used. In this argument, Flanagan assumes the position of a Eurocentric apologist, based on the Lockean philosophy that humans have been given a divine command to dominate the land through constant agricultural use. This constitutes land "productivity" and is an ideal that was and is central to the project of European colonization, as it validates colonization of new lands to use said land in accordance with one interpretation of a passage from the book of Genesis in Christian scripture ("Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it").

It stands in stark contrast to Indigenous philosophies, which, although also perceive land as a gift from the Creator, does not perceive land as something to be dominated and conquered. Rather, Indigenous worldviews emphasize that humans have a responsibility to steward the land and its creation. This belief extended to the social and political organization of the Metis around the buffalo hunt, as they harvested buffalo judiciously and used every part of the animal. On a deeper philosophical level, Flanagan is also assuming the right to sovereignty of the Canadian government, a right that would be based on the doctrines of Terra Nullius (that the land was empty when the Europeans arrived because Indigenous peoples were not socially or politically sophisticated enough to constitute civilization or nationhood) and the (aforementioned) Doctrine of Discovery (the right of Christian princes to colonize new lands for European expansion).


  • Statues of Canada (1875), Chapter 52: An act to amend “An Act respecting the appropriation of certain lands in Manitoba.”
  • Sprague, D. N. Canada and the Métis, 1869-1885. Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1988. 
  • Flanagan, Thomas, and Gerhard Ens. "Metis Land Grants in Manitoba: A Statistical Study." Histoire Sociale/Social History 27, no. 53 (1994): 65-87. 





Creation of Saskatchewan Fish Products and Saskatchewan Fish Marketing Board


In an attempt to regulate fisheries and establish a product of uniform quality, the CCF government created the Saskatchewan Fish Products board to operate filleting plants in the province, and later in the same year created the Saskatchewan Fish Marketing Board. Several shipments of fish had been refused at the American border, due to the presence of bacteria found in Saskatchewan lake fish, prompting the government to increase quality inspection and establish quality standards. The SFMB applied many of the same policies that the SFMS did to furs: licenses for local fishers and regulation of fish prices were central to their goals. In 1946, the board was reorganized with the creation of the Saskatchewan Lake and Forest Products Corporation, which included three divisions: fish, timber, and the Box Corporation. The goal of the board was to encourage participation in the fish industry, especially by Indigenous peoples, and to create a government monopoly over the sale and trade of fish. The board also established six stores throughout Northern Saskatchewan as a Crown corporation in order to regulate the purchase and sales of goods in the fishing industry. The board also effectively served as a social services board until it was eliminated in 1949 after years of deficit.                      

After the failure of the Saskatchewan Fish Market Board to stabilize fishing industries, it was reorganized in 1949 to create the Saskatchewan Fish Marketing Service. Fisheries were then structured by region, which were administered by one central administration. An interview with Berry Richards reveals that one purpose of the Fish Marketing Service was to give Indigenous fishermen a better price than paid by private fishing companies. However, this was not the case as many Indigenous fishermen reported that what they received from the Government was substantially less that what they received from private contractors. They were also unable to negotiate better prices for their catch, as they had with private buyers, because the Fish Marketing Service came from a top-down standardized approach which did not allow for negotiation. 



The top-down approach the CCF took towards fish marketing, despite intentions to assist Indigenous fishers, ultimately created problems from new restrictions with fishing permits. Indigenous fishers who had previously accessed many different lakes found that they were prevented from fishing if they did not have a permit to continue. This furthered barriers to food and engaging with livelihoods which supported life in the North. Fishing without permits could result in a fine, multiple fines over a period of time, or in some cases incarceration. Similar policies were replicated by the CCF in their implementation of the Fur Marketing Service, another poorly devised program that bought the lives of Indigenous people in the North under further scrutiny. Please see "CCF Social Programming and Erosion of Traditional Life in Northern Saskatchewan" which details how the implementation of these programs undermined Indigenous livelihoods and increased reliance on welfare and social services, an outcome the Provincial Government sought.   


  • Glenbow Archives, M125 James Brady Collection, v. III, "Correspondence, 1933-67," f. 22, "Norris 1945-67 (Mining and Native Rights)," M.F Norris to James Brady, December 5; S-M15, Box 7, "Fish Marketing, 1945-1946," April and May1948 Fish Board Operation Statement; S-M15, Box 8, "Lucas, A.A., Office Manager, Fish Board, 1946-1948," Lucas to Phelps, 24 January 1947; S-M15, Box 9, "Sask. Lake and Forest Products Corporation, 1946-1949," H.H Lucas, Address on mechanics of STB, 16 January 1948; J.F Gray to Phelps, 5 May 1947;
  • Thomas Hector Macdonald McLeod, "Public Enterprise in Saskatchewan: The Development of Public Policy and Administrative Controls" (PhD dissertation, Harvard University, 1959), 95.
  • Sask Sound Archives Program: Gus McDonald interview, 29 June 1977. 11-12.
  • Carl W. Christenson interview, IH-358, 12 August 1976. 3-4.
  • Saskatchewan Archives Board: S-M15, Box 6, "Fisheries, 1944-1946 (3)," Phelps to L.H Ausman, 19 September 1945
  • SM-15, Box 5, "Economic Advisory Board Recommendations, 1945-1946," DNR Activities Summary for 1945 and plan for 1946, 3
  • Richards, Berry. Interview by Murray Dobbin. Transcript. June 14, 1976. Virtual Museum of Métis History and Culture.Gabriel Dumont Institute.\
  • Quiring, David M. CCF Colonialism in Northern Saskatchewan. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2004. 128.
  • Piper, Liza. The Industrial Transformation of Subarctic Canada. Nature, History, Society. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2009. 218.


Sub Event
Establishment of Fish Marketing Board Stores in 1945. Reorganized as Saskatchewan Fish Marketing Services in 1949.



Construction of Whitesand Rapids Storage Dam


In 1942-1943 the Churchill River Power Company constructed a storage dam at Whitesand Rapids on Reindeer Lake to stabilize the water supply for the Island Falls dam. The Peter Ballantyne Band is upstream from the Whitesands Dam at Southend Reindeer Lake. Six hundred acres of shoreline part of their reserve lands was flooded by the operation of the dam.



The construction of this dam raised water levels in Reindeer Lake nearly five feet, and the outlfow south of the dam changed so drastically that the habitat became unliveable for muskrat, beaver and mink.  It also led to the destruction of spawning grounds and reduced fish harvests.  Local Indigenous residents were never compensated for their significant fishing and trapping losses, nor were they provided with alternative means to support their livelihoods. In addition, flooding represented more than a material loss; environmental destruction and the disappearance of key species in an ecosystem contribute to emotional, cultural, physical, and intergenerational impacts of colonialism within an Indigenous community. According to oral histories conducted by the Churchill Committee in March 1978, Pelican Narrows resident Alex Bear stated that very little consultation was undertaken with Indigenous residents when the Whitesand dam was built. He explains that the deeper water levels the dam created rendered net fishing impossible. Ernest McLeod, a resident of Stanley Mission explains how the high water levels flooded the muskrat nests, killing the animals in the process (Churchill Committee Brief to the Churchill River Board of Inquiry, 1978). 




File Description
Richard H. Bartlett. Hydroelectric Power and Indian Water Rights on the Prairies

Pasqua Reserve: Antapa Point Lease


The Antapa shooting club, whose membership included Department of Indian Affairs employee William Morris Graham (he was likely the Prairie Indian Commissioner at the time), requested a lease for duck-hunting on Antapa Point, which was part of the Pasqua reserve. The lease was granted, but neither the chief nor the membership of the Pasqua reserve had consented to the lease. Furthermore, the lease included a clause allowing the group to bring in alcohol for the purpose of hunting parties, which conflicted with the alcohol rules appearing in the Indian Act. MP J.S. Woodsworth accused Graham of using his position and influence for his personal benefit.


  • Titley, E. Brian. The Indian Commissioners: Agents of the State and Indian Policy in Canada's Prairie West, 1873-1932. Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 2009. 198-199. 





Coté Land Surrenders


In 1904, the Cot. band surrendered 272 acres for the creation of a townsite and 30.06 acres for station grounds along the Canadian Northern Railway. This was only the first of many land surrenders on the Coté reserve that would significantly reduce the band's land base in the 1900s. In 1905, 18,043 acres of the eastern part of the Coté reserve was surrendered to feed the growing townsite of Kamsack. In exchange for the 18,043 acres surrendered, the band was granted approximately 6000 acres of hayland, which officials deemed more necessary for the band. Officials decided that the band would make better use of haylands, and settlers would make better use of the surrendered reserve lands. The band was also granted significantly less land than they surrendered, which suggests the deal was one-sided.

In 1907, Indian Affairs requested that the 1905 land surrender be nullified, and a new land surrender take place as the originally surrendered land was of poor quality and did not attract settlers. The new land surrender (10,740 acres) also created a boundary between the reserve and the town of Kamsack.


The new surrender returned the non-ideal farmland to the band, and removed a section of the reserve closest to Kamsack, which limited the band's access to the townsite. This event demonstrates that settlers were given priority as it related to quality of farmland, despite the professed goals of the federal government to assist Indigenous people with a transition to an agricultural livelihood. It should also be noted that this transition was a legal obligation - included in the numbered treaties.

In the 1870s, the Government of Canada negotiated various treaties with Indigenous peoples of the Prairies. One of the crucial elements promised in these treaties was land that would be reserved for the Indians. And yet, less than a dozen years into the new century, almost a quarter of those valuable reserves that were considered essential to enable Indians to make the transition to an agricultural economy had been surrendered back to the government. Many of the land surrenders that occurred on the Prairies raise arguments regarding the validity of the surrender. Indigenous communities often allege non-compliance with the Indian Act surrender procedures, being pressured to surrender under duress, undue influence on behalf of Indian agents and government officials, unconscionability, lack of informed consent, and breach of fiduciary obligations in the taking of the surrender itself and in the management and administration of the land and the proceeds after the surrender. Over 100 surrenders were obtained on the Prairies between 1896 and 1911, making way for western expansion and an influx of immigrants. Although government officials often argued that Indians had more land than they could use, many of these bands had experienced population loss due to epidemics - a population loss that was in part a product of the government's refusal to provide promised farming implements or food rations. The government played an active part in creating the conditions leading to population loss on reserves, and subsequently took advantage of the situation to gain reserve land from Indian bands. In addition, many of the nations that surrendered their land were in difficult financial situations, and were often indebted to the government. The sale of land was seen as a means to pay back their debts or to purchase much needed food, clothing and farming implements

Evidence collected through various Indian Claims Commission inquiries suggest the land was often bought from the bands at a cost much lower than what it was resold at. For example, the government would offer the band $1.50/acre, and would then sell it to farmers or land developers for $3.00/acre. The government took advantage of the fact that the bands were in dire need of money and knowingly offered them less than what the land was worth. Most bands had little experience with real estate, land development and speculation, while government officials were well aware of the factors affecting land value and were well connected to the business community. In addition, the notions of private property and land division differed greatly from Indigenous philosophies of communal land use, ownership and responsibility. As with the signing of the numbered Treaties, historians and Indigenous community members have argued that cultural differences and power imbalances allowed for confusion and abuse in the processes of land surrender. As the buffalo populations were dwindling, many Indigenous nations were facing starvation, and entering into treaties was deemed by some leaders to be the best solution to avoid the complete loss of their bands. In this situation, government officials were in a position of power to negotiate treaty terms that were favourable to the Canadian state, although many Indigenous leaders did press the officials for better terms for their bands, and requested additional farming tools, schools and medicine chests. However, the government's failure to abide by the terms of the legally binding treaties was not uncommon; many bands never received promised farming implements / livestock, and food rations. Denied the opportunity and the proper tools to succeed in developing agricultural economies, many bands faced hardship and starvation as they once again negotiated the terms to land surrenders with government officials. As settler interest in western lands increased, the federal government responded with a series of Orders in Council and amendments to the Indian Act which increased the government’s control over reserve affairs and facilitated the surrender of treaty reserves. One such measure occurred in 1911 when an amendment to the Indian Act allowed the government to take reserve land without consent when the reserve was in or near a town of more than 8000 people, or where the land was needed for public purposes (please see database entry entitled: Laurier Government Gives Itself Power to Claim Reserve Land for further information on this subject). Although more research is required regarding this subject, some evidence suggests personal interest of Department officials played a part in generating demand for the surrender of Indian lands. The 1915 Ferguson Commission was appointed by the federal government to investigate Indian Affairs officials who were suspected of conflicts of interest in their dealings with reserve land surrenders. Please see database entry entitled: Ferguson Royal Commission for further information on this subject

Finally, as aforementioned, Indigenous leaders and historians have pointed to issues pertaining to consent in the context of reserve land surrenders. The Indian Act of 1876 specified that consent for reserve land surrender had to be obtained from the "majority of the male members of the band at the full age of twenty-one years, at a meeting or council thereof summoned for that purpose according to their rules." Although it was clear from the Indian Act that a majority vote was required, there was much debate within government circles as to whether the “majority” referred to in the Act was a majority of only the qualified members attending the surrender meeting or an absolute majority of all eligible members of the band. Consequently, many land surrenders were premised on loosely interpreted consent rules. Evidence gathered through various Indian Claims Commissions suggests government officials employed coercive measures when negotiating reserve land surrenders. On occasion, cash was offered to band members to bribe them into accepting proposed land surrenders. In addition, as some deliberations lasted several days, and votes were taken multiple times, instances occurred where a majority of band members were absent or had left the negotiations, allowing the government to secure a vote in favour of land surrender.

The loss of reserve land had many detrimental consequences for Indigenous communities, who were already faced with traditional land base dispossession as European settlement increased rapidly on the Prairies. Despite the professed goals of the federal government to assist Indigenous people in their transition to agricultural economies, many bands were left with little to no farmable land, as the best fertile land was often part of the surrender. Evidence collected throughout various Indian Claims Commission inquiries also found that several bands failed to receive the payment amounts promised by the government, if any payment at all. The loss of large parcels of land also meant a reduced access to resources and traditional hunting grounds, loss of identity and cultural disconnection. It also signified a loss of self-sufficiency and autonomy. As fertile lands were surrendered, many bands struggled to provide sufficient food for their populations, increasing their dependency on the federal government. Federal economic policies such as an 1881 amendment to the Indian Act prohibiting the sale of agricultural products by Indian bands without the consent of the Indian Agent greatly contributed to the hardship many bands faced. Please see database entry entitled Indian Act Amendment: Regulations of sale of agricultural products for further information on this subject. To conclude, in the past 30 to 40 years, many Indigenous communities on the Prairies have undertaken negotiations with the federal government to obtain compensation, either land, financial or both, as a means to redress government wrongdoings in the cases of reserve land surrenders. The Indian Specific Claims Commission, which has investigated many reserve land surrenders in Canada, was established as a temporary independent advisory body authorized to review specific claims rejected by the government and to issue non-binding decisions.    


NA, RG 10,vol. 4011, file 260260-1, Report of July 19, 1905; NA, RG 10, vol. 4011, file 260260-2