Work for Welfare Policy

A new Indian Agent at the Battleford Agency, Hayter Reed, suggested the implementation of a new policy where rations were given to able-bodied First Nations people only if they were willing to work in a way the agency determined. This became standard (at least in theory) in the distribution of rations to First Nations.



AR, 1881. p. 75

This policy was presented as a way to demand First Nations people participate in the labour market as the Canadian government saw fit, and to reduce the fiduciary obligation and allotment of resources towards Indigenous peoples as stipulated in the Treaties. In actuality, the Government saw an easy opportunity to ‘develop’ the West for settlement; withholding rations from First Nations who refused to partake in the Work for Welfare program aimed to starve them into compliance with Indian Agents who enforced the policy locally. However, this policy was hard to enforce, especially on reserves where there were not enough implements and/or seed for farming, as even those who wanted to work were not always able to. The "Work for Welfare" policy was not only hard to enforce, but also a legal failure; outlined in the numbered treaties the Government committed to the fiduciary obligation of providing aid and welfare to First Nations signatories whether they worked or not. This created an unfair environment wherein First Nations had to redirect labour away from their communities and homes and redirect it to projects that were largely off reserve and aimed to further the colonization of Indigenous lands.
Rural or Urban
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