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.”
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. 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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.” 
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."
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.
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."
-  Quiring, David. “Battling Parish Priests, Bootleggers, and Fur Sharks: CCF Colonialism in Northern Saskatchewan." PhD Diss. University of Saskatchewan, 2002. 20.
-  Quiring, “Battling Parish Priests, Bootleggers, and Fur Sharks,” 25.
-  Quiring, “Battling Parish Priests, Bootleggers, and Fur Sharks,” 26.
-  Beck, Gwen. Interview by Murray Dobbin. Transcript. July 20, 1976. Virtual Museum of Métis History and Culture. Gabriel Dumont Institute. Pg 12. http://www.Metismuseum.ca/resource.php/01180
-  Dalby, Robert. Interview by Murray Dobbin. Transcript. June 18, 1976. Virtual Museum of Métis History and Culture. Gabriel Dumont Institute. Pg 2. http://www.Metismuseum.ca/resource.php/01164
-  Dalby, “Interview with Robert Dalby,” 5.
-  Broome, Albert. Interview by Murray Dobbin. Transcript. September 4, 1976. Virtual Museum of Métis History and Culture. Gabriel Dumont Institute. Pg 5. http://www.Metismuseum.ca/resource.php/01174
-  Carriere, Pierre. Interview by Murray Dobbin. Transcript. August 18, 1976. Virtual Museum of Métis History and Culture. Gabriel Dumont Institute. Pg 4. http://www.Metismuseum.ca/resource.php/01172
-  Carriere, “Interview with Pierre Carriere,” 6.
-  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. 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. 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.”
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. 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.”
There remained a scarcity of work opportunities in the North because employers were particularly hostile towards First Nations and Métis applicants and employees. 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. 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.”
-  Poelzer, Dolores T. and Irene A. Poelzer. In Our Own Words: Northern Saskatchewan Métis Women Speak Out. Saskatoon, SK: Lindenblatt & Hamonie, 1986. 27-36.
-  Poelzer, In Our Own Words,” 48-49.
-  Poelzer, In Our Own Words,” 49.
-  Dayal, Pratyush. “Stumped.” CBC News Features. July 10, 2022. https://www.cbc.ca/newsinteractives/features/stumped
-  Quiring, “Battling Parish Priests, Bootleggers, and Fur Sharks,” 41.
-  Quiring, “Battling Parish Priests, Bootleggers, and Fur Sharks,” 40.
-  Quiring, “Battling Parish Priests, Bootleggers, and Fur Sharks,” 40.
-  Poelzer, In Our Own Words,” 84-86.