Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Treaty Promises, Indian Reality: Life on a Reserve

Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Treaty Promises, Indian Reality: Life on a Reserve

Article excerpt

Harold Lerat with Linda Ungar, Treaty Promises, Indian Reality: Life on a Reserve (Saskatoon: Purich Publishing, 2005), 160pp. Paper. $20. ISBN 1-8958-3026-5.

Harold LeRat's story, told with the help of an amanuensis and co-researchers, covers not just his own experiences as a Treaty Indian from the Cowessess Reserve in Saskatchewan (as he describes himself ), but also that of his own band and the acquisition of its reserve. Much of this is recalled as oral history interspersed with official documentation. This produces a kenspeckled story that flits between personal recollections and tribal traditions.

The origins of the Cowessess Reserve are traced to a period of turmoil in the history of both the province and its First Nations. Before the border with the USA was fixed, the indigenous population followed the buffalo across the prairies. The calamitous collapse of the buffalo herds due to unsustainable harvesting for non-indigenous purposes coincided with upheavals caused by the illegal expropriation of tribal lands in the Dakotas following the discovery of gold; the Little Bighorn defeat of the US army; and the escape of Sitting Bull and his followers into Saskatchewan. A little later, the coming of the railroad and the Louis Riel rebellion further fuelled unrest.

All this made the federal authorities distinctly nervous about First Nations co-located on both sides of the border. Sitting Bull was forced to return south through the refusal of provisions for his people, while predominantly Canadian First Nations were pressurised into moving into reserves located away from the border. One of the more poignant aspects of the fate of LeRat's own band is that those who sought to dispossess them of their lands were often of Scottish origin. Many could trace their own presence in Canada to the highland clearances, a Canadian version of which they were now helping to inflict on people similarly regarded by the ruling political establishment as inferior, of questionable loyalty and in need of direction. …

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