Academic journal article Manitoba History

"Infamous Proposal:" Prairie Indian Reserve Land and Soldier Settlement after World War I

Academic journal article Manitoba History

"Infamous Proposal:" Prairie Indian Reserve Land and Soldier Settlement after World War I

Article excerpt

Sarah Carter

Department of History

University of Calgary

The Soldier Settlement Board (SSB) acquired over 85,000 acres of Indian reserve land in Western Canada for non-Aboriginal soldier settlement in the years immediately after World War I, constituting a significant erosion of the lands remaining to Aboriginal people. The federal government, through the Department of Indian Affairs (DIA), initiated and vigorously pursued the process of reserve land diminishment for non-Aboriginal soldier settlement, clearly acting to the detriment of the communities whose interests and estates the government was supposed to protect and conserve. The encouragement of reserve land surrender was not a new departure in policy; since the late nineteenth century the federal government had facilitated the diminishment of reserve land, responding to vocal and often powerful non-Aboriginal interests who wished to acquire land for farming, grazing, or speculation. The fresh set of circumstances created by wartime conditions however, the "stern needs of the times," provided a rationale for this process to be pursued with new vigour. Indian land was appropriated first for the purposes of greater production during the war, and immediately after, large tracts were permanently alienated for non-Aboriginal soldier settlement.

In the post-war period there was much talk about the need to rejuvenate rural Canada. Some vocal interests promoted the idea that the ethnic diversity of the West was a source of danger and weakness, and that it was necessary to take steps to ensure that the West would become an Anglo Saxon country. There was concern about the potential danger of peoples identified as the "foreign element" who live in colonies, compact settlements or reserves. Influential people promoted the idea that such land could be put to much better use if settled by patriotic native sons-soldier settlers. These efforts to obtain Indian reserve land for non-Aborignial soldiers was all the more odd as this was a time when a great deal of publicity was being given to the significant contribution Aboriginal people had made to the war effort, at home as well as overseas. There were others however, who were less concerned about the ethnic diversity of the West, and instead saw as the source of weakness the power wielded by corporate interests who operated to enhance profits and showed little concern for community formation. A particular target was the land that was held out of production by corporations such as the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) and the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) for the purposes of speculation. It was these idle lands within the transportation belt, including the very pick of the Western soil, that were seen as a great drawback to the economic health of the West, and had the most obvious potential firs for the greater production campaign, and then for soldier settlement. The federal government's response to this clamour however was to divert attention to the issue of supposedly vacant and idle Indian reserve lands, rather than taking steps that might offend or harm the investments of powerful commercial interests. There were many people, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, who objected to the program to acquire Indian reserve land for soldier settlement, arguing that this was a fundamental violation of the government's commitment to act as trustee for the residents of Indian reserves, and in some cases this protest was effective in withstanding the pressures to surrender the land. Efforts to acquire Indian reserve land for non-Indian soldier settlement in Manitoba for example, did not meet with success.

Since the election of the Wilfrid Laurier Liberal government in 1896, a major preoccupation of Indian Affairs administrators was to encourage the diminishment of Indian reserves in Western Canada. The Liberals were fortunate to have won the election at the start of an age of prosperity for the West. …

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