Distribution of Metis Scrip in Association with Treaty 10


Metis communities in northern Saskatchewan (formerly North-west Territories) began appealing to the Crown in approximately 1886-87 to have their land claims recognized. Although the North-west Commission of 1885 would have surveyed a large number of Metis claims in the North-west Territories, there would have been a number of factors which would have prevented Metis who lived farther north from attending, such as distance. It was extremely difficult for families to leave their work for a number of days during the busy summer months. As well, many Metis were illiterate and did not speak English, and would have been unfamiliar with the complicated and unorganized bureaucratic process inherent to the policies of the Metis land claims Commissions. The process of applying for one’s claim was time-consuming as it required not only travelling to the Commission’s sitting, but travelling to the Dominion Land Office as well to mark one’s claim on a map. Sometimes scrip coupons were issued immediately, other times individuals had to wait for months for their claim to process. As well, if the land upon which the individual resided had not yet been surveyed, they could not use the land or money scrip to obtain title to their land. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- For the government, the purpose of distributing scrip was to extinguish Metis claims to land title, just as treaties did for non-Metis Aboriginal people. A distinct difference between the two, however, is that the Metis claims were dealt with individually, while Aboriginal title to land was collectively extinguished. Similar to the numbered Aboriginal treaties, Commissioners were appointed by orders in council to hold sittings at locations where Metis could come and fill out the requisite government applications. Although scrip had been issued for many decades, perhaps most notably in Manitoba following the Red River resistance in the 1870s, as well as in Saskatchewan in the 1880s and in conjunction with Treaty 8, the existence of prior commissions did not quell the fears of the Metis that their rights to occupation and land title would be recognized by the government. Ottawa’s intent to settle the west was demonstrated by their failure to follow through with their decade-long delay in distributing land in Manitoba following the issuance of land scrip in 1880. The Metis correctly assessed the situation by recognizing that the Crown was more preoccupied with the interests of the Settler population than the rights of the Metis people. In response, the Metis continually petitioned Ottawa regarding their concerns in the 1870s and 1880s, which are clearly documented by government records and correspondence from that time period. These concerns were ignored and resulted in growing political tension and the Riel resistance of 1885. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- As well, the decline of the buffalo in the 1880s as a result of enormously wasteful hunting by the Settler population required that the Metis transition to a new way of life. This wasteful consumption is starkly contrasted by the careful stewardship of the buffalo by the Metis, in which judicious hunting was exercised and all parts of the buffalo used. The fur trade was also in decline. Since the sharp dual decline of buffalo and the fur trade 1880s, requests had been made by the Metis for assistance in transitioning to a way of life based on a different economy. Aboriginal peoples of Northern Saskatchewan had also made requests to enter treaty due to destitution and sickness. The government ignored these requests until the time of the gold rush and the invasion of prospectors in Northern Saskatchewan in approximately 1906. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- On July 20, 1906, the Commissioner for the first half of Treaty 10 (McKenna) collected a total of 541 testimonies to land claim, of which 498 were allowed by the government. This amounted to $65, 040 in money scrip and 54, 480 acres in land scrip. Under the second Treaty 10 Commissioner (Borthwick), a total of 202 testimonies to land claim were made, of which 178 were allowed. The second half amounted to $14, 160 in money scrip and 28, 560 in land scrip. The scrip commissions were held in conjunction with the Treaty 10 commissions at Snake Plains, Lac la Ronge, Stanley Mission, Southend, Ile-a-la-Crosse, La Loche Mission, La Loche River and Portage la Loche. All successful applicants received either $240 in money scrip or 240 acres in land scrip, regardless of date of birth (this is in contrast to prior scrip commissions which required a particular birth date and where $160 in money scrip or 160 acres of land scrip was given to adults and $240 in money scrip or 240 acres of land scrip given to children). In 1908, a further 17 Metis claims to land title were made during the payment of annuities to Aboriginal residents of Lac la Ronge and Pelican Narrows. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- While the government’s presumed legal authority to assess these claims is questionable, as it is based on the assumption that it supersedes any rights to land claims made by Aboriginal or Metis people, it should also be noted that the claims made during the Treaty 10 era do not represent the totality of Metis people in the region. Some Metis individuals, particularly those in the northern and eastern fringes of the Treaty 10 area which spanned approximately 85,500 square miles, were prohibited by economic circumstances to leave their work during the busy summer months for several days. As well, there were other obstacles to filing claims, such as the language barrier (many Metis spoke Michif or French), the foreign, cumbersome and confusing nature of the Crown’s bureaucratic policies (the Metis would have had little to no experience with written laws, deeds or money), and the length of time that was required for processing (the process of obtaining scrip varied from commission to commission, and the application was frequently approved on-site if the individual qualified. The standard format involved filling out an application and an affidavit or obtaining the testimony of two reliable and disinterested witnesses. Following approval and reception of the land scrip coupon, the claimant needed to go to the Dominion land office and enter the scrip, which initiated the long wait to receive a land patent. This was granted as long as there were no conflicts with other settler claims, reserves, or public projects like railways or schools. The latter part of the process involved formalities, paperwork, and lengthy waits). Collectively, these factors served to discourage Metis people from making claims. Although the government may not have had malicious intent in making the process extremely drawn-out and complex, it served to discriminate against the Metis, not only by insisting that they conform to EuroCanadian government policy regarding recognition of land sovereignty, but because it made the process of obtaining such recognition difficult. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The end result for many Metis was alienation of their land title claims, if not because of the difficulty involved in obtaining them, then because of being preyed upon by land speculators. Land speculators frequently lurked alongside scrip commissions and land offices to purchase land scrip certificates, and speculators also frequently organized to agree upon a pre-set price so that Metis individuals had no bartering leverage to negotiate a better deal. In the struggle to adjust from a buffalo economy to an agrarian economy, many Metis were driven by poverty to sell their land scrip certificates for a fraction of their value. Also, government information about scrip certificates was not readily available and, when it was available, was unclear to applicants. As a result many Metis individuals failed to appreciate its value. There was also notable difficulty in locating the land distributed to them in the claim. Government documents clearly implicate the government in fraudulent dealings, as Commissioners, at least part of the time, worked in conjunction with land speculators to make the transfer of land easier. In government memoranda from 1921, it notes: “It appears that the scrip was handed to the half-breeds by the agent of the Indian Department and it was then purchased, for small sums of course, by speculators. However the half-breed himself was required by the Department of the Interior to appear in person at the office of the land agent and select his land and hand over his scrip. In order to get over this difficulty they speculator would employ the half-breed to impersonate the breed entitled to the scrip. This practice appears to have been very widely indulged in at one time. The practice was winked at evidently at the time and the offences were very numerous.” (Memorandum for Mr. Newcombe, 14 October 1921). ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Evidence of land speculation in relationship to Treaty 10 proceedings demonstrates some of the government’s attitudes towards Metis land rights. In a series of telegrams which were sent in July of 1907, the Minister of the Interior, Frank Oliver, became involved in a dispute whereby a scrip buying representative of Revillon Brothers named Bernard was using intimidation tactics to influence other scrip buyers and sellers. Oliver had received a telegram from an agency named Bradshaw, Richards and Affleck which advised him that “Revillon Brothers through representative Bernard in charge transportation Borthwick commission, is buying all scrip and terrorizing other script buyers submit Revillon Brothers. Government contractors should be prohibited, please wire answer.” Oliver replied to the agency that the government had no authority to prohibit individuals from buying scrip, but that he had also wired the acting Indian Agent for Mistiwasis, Thomas Borthwick, to see that Bernard did not use undue influence or terrorize either the “halfbreeds” (Metis) or other scrip buyers. To Borthwick, Oliver said, “See that he uses no undue influence in any degree with respect to any person You will be held responsible.” Oliver also wired Revillon Brothers and instructed them to notify Bernard that a complaint had been made and that he should “act accordingly.”


The speculation in Métis scrip, the fraud that often accompanied it, and the government’s refusal to protect scrip lands from these illicit activities deemed this land distribution policy a moral failure for the government and a devastating loss for the Metis, whose potential to succeed in an emerging capitalist economy would now be severely hindered. This subject is still debated in the secondary literature, but ultimately, government officials were fully cognizant of the role of speculation and fraud in the scrip process, and in fact, accepted it. Conservative historian Thomas Flanagan states that the Metis were free to participate in the free market by selling their scrip. Flanagan's argument, however, fails to address the creation of conditions of poverty by the government in the decimation of the buffalo economy and encroaching settlement. It also fails to address the issue of consent. If the Metis were not made fully aware of the value of the land scrip certificates and the implications of selling it by the government, they cannot be held to have engaged in a fully consensual process by selling it in the free market. Balanced scholarship acknowledges that the Metis economic institutions had been based on a system of bartering and trade. Metis individuals, therefore, were not familiar with the use of bank notes (cash), land certificates (scrip) and other operations of Euro-Canadian financial institutions. Furthermore, Dominion Land Offices were located a significant distance from Metis settlements, and many Metis could not take a week of vacation to travel to the office to inquire about the significance of scrip certificates. Legally, the fully informed consent of both parties is required to satisfy the ethical requirement of business dealings in Canadian law. As well, another factor affecting consent is the sale of scrip under duress/intimidation, which is also demonstrated to have been present in the selling of Metis scrip as mentioned by Minister Oliver in the aforementioned telegrams.

Apparently, it did not alarm Minister Oliver that the Metis land base was quickly being alienated through the sale of immensely valuable land scrip certificates due to conditions of poverty and other aforementioned factors such as a lack of awareness of the certificate’s value. The government was fully aware of the presence of land speculators and yet did nothing to hinder the illicit sale of land scrip for a fraction of its value. Nor did it crackdown on the complicity of government officials in fraudulent activity (until legislation was created in 1921, a long time after the bulk of offences had occurred). In the case of representative Bernard from Revillon Brothers, Oliver intervened after a non-Indigenous group of individuals had issued a complaint. But, there were likely several Metis individuals who would have been intimidated into selling their land scrip, indicated by Bradshaw, Richards and Affleck stating that Bernard was buying “all scrip.” Oliver makes no mention of the criminality of this action, nor does he discuss how restitution would be made to the Metis individuals extorted by representative Bernard, who had now been permanently alienated from their land base. As well, Oliver makes no effort to condemn the buying of land scrip at a portion of its value, but absolves himself by saying that the government cannot intervene in that regard. What is more likely is that Oliver was unwilling to propose legislative change which would prohibit the sale of land scrip and/or the role of speculators and fraudulent activity, thereby enabling protection of the Metis from land base alienation.------------------------------ The apathy of government officials towards Metis welfare and long-term interests is further demonstrated by a prioritization of the needs of North-west prospectors and settlers. The government failed to acknowledge that it was their encouragement of Settler encroachment that led to the steep decline of buffalo on the plains, and which forced the Metis to transition to an agrarian economy. After legal arrangements had been made, there was no compulsion to provide further assistance or ensure that a land base remained for the Metis.---------------------------- Additionally, the legal effectiveness of these “extinguishments” to land title are questionable, given that there was nothing in the process which indicated the forfeiture of the Metis individual to extinguish their land rights. The application process was preoccupied with the land’s potential for settlement, demonstrated by questions regarding previous and current land holdings, including whether or not they had a homestead entry, and improvements that have been made to the land. This is in contrast to questions that would indicate an esteem of Metis nationhood and its associated rights, such as self-identification and Metis community affirmation of the individual’s participation in the Metis nation, and, most importantly, an express consent to extinguishment of Aboriginal land title.---------------------------- The policy of land distribution failed because it did not take into account the Metis way of life or cultural disparity, did not guarantee land rights, and did not facilitate any economic or lifestyle transition.

Working reports and final reports by McKenna and Borthwick are on RG 15, Series D II 1, vol. 991, file 1247280, title: "J.A.J. McKenna, Commissioner to make treaty with Indians [1906-1914]"; McLean's brief report on his scrip taking activities can be found in RG 15, Series D II 1, vol. 1007, file 1457869, title: "W.J. McLean re. taking affidavits for Half-Breed scrip [1908-1914]".

Sub Event
Fraud/Speculation of Metis land scrip