Beginning in the 1880s, the Department of Indian Affairs implemented bureaucracy relating to the execution of justice on reserves. These administrative forms of non-Aboriginal justice served less as a protector of individuals and communities than an enforcer of an inappropriate and unhelpful system of law that facilitated the government’s agenda. Indigenous peoples were the most knowledgeable about their own cultural paradigms and the systems of justice that best served their philosophical perspectives. The stripping of power as it relates to self-governed frameworks of law, however, resulted in the continued inability of bands to provide for the safety and security of their own members. A forced reliance on non-Indigenous administered courts also resulted in the absence of authority for bands to correct problematic jurisdictional gaps, confusion over procedures and policies, and power vacuums whereby outside police forces refused to enforce by-laws.-------------------- In other cases, the exercise of local power through forces of non-Aboriginal justice extended from outside of the reserve to increase control. For example, in 1881, the jurisdiction of magistrates was broadened to reserves, and members of the Indian Affairs Department the Indian Agents were made ex officio justices of the peace. In 1882, the Indian Agent was given the same power as magistrates, despite lacking formal legal training. In 1884, another Indian Act amendment permitted Indian Agents, acting as justices of the peace, to conduct trials whenever they thought necessary, to “any other matter affecting Indians.” Within the same amendment, Indian Agents were granted judicial authority which enabled them to not only lodge a complaint with the police, but to direct the process of prosecution and then act as the sitting judge as well. Aboriginal peoples were thoroughly excluded and alienated throughout the judicial process, except by virtue of their position as the accused.-------------------- Also in 1884, in anticipation of an Indian and Metis uprising due to growing minority agitation, the Act was amended to prohibit inciting “three or more Indians, non-treaty Indians, or halfbreeds” to breach the peace or to make “riotous” or “threatening demands” on a civil servant. This amendment also prohibited the sale to any Indian in the west of “fixed ammunition or ball cartridge,” thus preventing stockpiling of ammunition. These actions effectively criminalized Indian and Metis political protest. Additionally, it prevented Indians from receiving the ammunition needed for hunting at a time when they were already suffering from government policy which restricted rations following the endangerment of buffalo herds. Not surprisingly, these measures did not quell the growing discontentment of Metis and Cree people, who were increasingly frustrated with government policy.
As a means of consolidating existing legislation regarding Indigenous peoples, this new federal legislation marked the beginning of creating special offenses that only applied to Indians. From the Crown’s perspective, it unilaterally marked a transition of Indigenous peoples in British North America from that of sovereign tribal nation in the tripartite imperial system to that of legally incompetent wards of the state in the federal and provincial system. Whereas previously the Crown had an expressed goal of protecting Indian tribal autonomy, the Indian was now cast as a dependent child. There would be no further protection of the cultural distinctiveness of Indigenous people, but rather, an expressed goal of civilization, as defined by the Crown, and assimilation.
In its drafting of the Indian Act, the Crown chose not to make reference to the treaties made with Indigenous peoples that were already in existence. This was in keeping with the Crown’s emphasis on a policy of assimilation, as well as undermining the previous nation-to-nation legal relationship and shifting towards one which perceived Indigenous people as subordinates. The version of the Indian Act that was passed in 1876 communicated the paternalistic mindset of the Crown by dictating the operations of almost every aspect of the daily lives on Indigenous people on reserves, including procedures for determining Indigenous identity, land surrender, and land use
The Indian Act also attacked traditional forms of band governance in an attempt to implement democratic forms of government. Extensive steps were taken to supposedly educate Indians in matters of self-governance, despite the presence of functional structures of intra and inter-tribal governance prior to European contact. For example, the superintendent general acquired vast powers to direct all aspects of the electoral process. By controlling this process in its entirety including initiation and the selection of candidates, this interference was akin to appointment of band leadership by the Department of Indian Affairs. The government also included clauses that enabled the unilateral deposition of leadership. Section 75 of the Indian Act read that chiefs “shall continue to hold the rank of chief until death or resignation, or until their removal, by the Governor in Council, for dishonesty, intemperance, immorality or incompetency..." These grounds for deposition were vaguely defined to enable the government to manufacture legally unassailable arguments to remove band officials in the case that said leaders engaged in behavior that ran contrary to federal objectives, resisted the agenda of the Department of Indian Affairs or otherwise proved to be problematic to their goal of assimilation. The local Indian Agents also held vast powers in regards to interference in band governance and council meetings, and ensured that all aspects of band affairs were under the surveillance and control of the Department.
In addition to imposing democratic governance, the government attempted to undermine community ties by outlawing communal practices such as Potlatches and dances. This coordinated with the government’s desire to foster individualism, which was further encouraged by surveying reserves and dividing them into individual farm plots, isolating families. This demonstrates the devastating effect that the Indian Act held on women. Isolating families sabotaged the means that would have provided communal accountability for violent or otherwise abusive husbands. The Act also oppressed Indigenous women by taking away the Indian status of those who married non-Indigenous persons, thus alienating them from their land base and preventing them from inheriting family property, receiving treaty benefits and being buried with their ancestors on the reserve. Despite a history of inclusion in affairs of self-governance, particularly amongst matriarchal tribes, Indigenous women were now also excluded from taking part in band land surrender decisions. The exclusion of women would not change until 1951.
A conflict erupted among the Yellow Quill band at Portage La Prairie, resulting from an internal division within the band among those that followed Chief Yellow Quill, those that followed Short Bear (aka Young Chief), and those who wanted to create an independent band with a chief of their own choice. Alexander Morris was sent to mediate this dispute, and to provide bureaucratic consent for the division of the band. He was also present to listen to their concerns about the reserve land offered to them under Treaties 1 and 2.
For extensive information on this settlement, please see http://lplands.ca/Home/About
Introduction of two-year electoral system for band council, where new chiefs in council were elected every two years, sometime in the 1940s. Previously, chiefs-in-council had remained for their lifetime. This system had been promised in the treaties, but in the 1940s or early 1950s Indian Agents decided that the system should change.
The National Indian Brotherhood organized its first provincial association in Saskatchewan, bringing together Indigenous peoples across the province to work towards the betterment of the lives in their communities and across the province. Walter Dieter, whose interview is referenced below in "relevant resources", was the founding chief of the organization. Dieter is Cree from Peepeekisis reserve, near Balcarres, SK.
In 1934, the Bennett government introduced legislation that made it necessary for political organizations to have permits to hold meetings. As a result, Métis organizations were held secretly to avoid government surveillance and control.
On 6 July 1885 Riel was charged with high treason for his leadership in the North-West Resistance. His trial began on 20 July 1885. Riel could not afford a defense attorney, so money was collected from his supporters in Quebec and François-Xavier Lemieux and Charles Fitzpatrick (two prominent Quebec defense lawyers) were hired to defend Riel. The defense strategy was to prove that Riel was insane, as denying the charge of high treason was, at the time, viewed as implausible. Various witnesses were called that either upheld Riel's sanity or considered him 'insane.' Riel's final speech ended any prospects of acquittal. Riel spoke eloquently and passionately, justifying the reasons behind the resistance. After thirty minutes of deliberation, the jury arrived at a decision of guilt in relationship to the charge of high treason, with a recommendation for clemency. Judge Richardson disregarded the request for clemency and sentenced Riel to death by hanging in Regina on 18 September, 1885.
Riel's Lawyers appealed this ruling in the Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench as well as the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council but neither altered the original verdict. Riel was executed in Regina on 16 November, 1885. The extreme punishment and exodus of Metis leaders after the resistance, like Gabriel Dumont who fled to the U.S., represented a great loss of Metis political leadership within "Rupert's Land" and Metis Nationhood. It demonstrated to Metis and First Nations people across the plains that asserting sovereignty and self-determination would be met with a swift and oppressive colonial hand; while this did not stop Indigenous peoples, policies and laws implemented after the resistance made it exceptionally more difficult to organize, resist, and protect their nations. The establishment of the NWMP and Indian Agents on Western reserves aimed to curb inter-community organization and acted as state surveillance.
The Queen vs. Louis Riel, accused and convicted of the crime of high treason: report of trial at Regina: appeal to the Court of Queen's bench, Manitoba: appeal to the Privy council, England: petition for medical examination of the convict: list of petitions for commutation of sentence, Ottawa: 1886. pp. 192-199.
Following the amendment made the previous year (see entry for Indian Act Amendment 1894 - this allowed the superintendent general the power to lease the land of any Indian unable to cultivate it without having to secure a surrender) a new amendment allowed the Superintendent General to lease without the surrender any Indian land he saw fit upon his request. ----------------------------------------- During one House of Commons debate regarding the proposed amendment, the minister of Indian Affairs noted “As the law stands, no reserve or portion of reserve can be sold or alienated unless surrendered to the Crown...What we do now is...to provide that the SIG may lease for the benefit of any Indian the land to which he is entitled without the same being re-leased or surrendered. In a number of cases, particularly in Ontario, Indians have engaged in other occupations and are fairly well off…In a number of cases, the neighbours, through spite or pique, have used sufficient influence to prevent [Indians from engaging in other occupations]. This Bill provides that the SIG may lease these lands for the benefit of these Indians. This gives us no further power to alienate, but simply provides for the leasing of them.” The 1895 amendments to the Indian Act would entitle Indians who were "emancipated" (enfranchised) to receive their money and land benefits in a lump sum. The 1895 amendments also reinforced that the Indian Act had magisterial jurisdiction over the territories within their agency and beyond, and that when an Indian is admitted into membership to another band, he loses all interest in the lands and moneys of the band to which he was formerly a member. He is then entitled to the lands and moneys of the band to which he has been newly admitted.------------------------------- Section 88 was amended to read that Indians must possess exemplary good conduct and management of property to prove that they are qualified to receive their share of moneys of the band. Section 88.3 was amended to read that shares of money of unmarried children of full age would only be obtained if they were qualified by the integrity, morality and sobriety of their character. Otherwise, they would be required to pass through a probationary period. Section 117 was also amended to read that Indian Agents have the power and authority of two justices of the peace.
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 assembly organized by Louis Riel at Batoche confirmed the split between the Metis and the Catholic Clergy at the settlement (represented by Fathers Fourmond, Moulin, and Végréville). The clergy did not support Riel’s plan for resistance. In the following months this split grew into an estrangement. The clergy threatened to withhold the sacraments from the Metis if they rose up again the “established authority.” As a result, on 19 March 1885 when the “little provisional government of Saskatchewan” was formed the government took over the church and rectory at Batoche.
AM, MG9, A6, Guillaume Charette, “Memoirs de Louis Goulet” translation.