Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Native Studies

Compulsive Measures: Resisting Residential Schools at One Arrow Reserve, 1889-1896

Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Native Studies

Compulsive Measures: Resisting Residential Schools at One Arrow Reserve, 1889-1896

Article excerpt

By 1897, Indian Agent Robert Sutherland McKenzie had become adept at working with the First Nations children of the Duck Lake Agency, located in what is now Saskatchewan. In this instance, Agent McKenzie had just transferred guardianship of a child from a widow living at One Arrow First Nations reservation to her new partner, another band member. "This boy is between 10 and 11 years of age, and if properly handled I think would grow up a good boy, but left on the reserve he will be a very bad boy," McKenzie explained to his superior, Amédée Forget, the Indian Commissioner of the Northwest Territories. McKenzie had previously tried to have this boy sent to the Duck Lake Boarding School, but the new guardian, Plains Man, was unwilling: he wanted to keep his adopted son at home to "cut wood and attend to his horse." Forget wrote back to McKenzie, telling him that "after exhausting all other measures, you may, if unsuccessful, proceed under the compulsory clauses of the regulation."1

On February 13, McKenzie went to the home of Plains Man, taking with him a Mountie and a warrant. He described the scene to Forget: "Again, I used all the persuasive power I could bring to bear, but without avail; and placed the warrant which I was carrying in my pocket in the hands of the police. When [Plains Man] found the boy was to be taken, he gave in and gladly signed the papers rather than have the boy taken by the police."2

McKenzie helped the man fill out the "Application for Admission into the Duck Lake Boarding School," and later that same evening he personally delivered the boy to the school. This description by the Agent omits the matter of how Plains Man must have struggled with his decision, or his fear while being intimidated by the pair of Canadian government officials. McKenzie felt in 1897 that "the use of compulsive measures had a beneficial effect on the Indians", but prior to this, he had consistent difficulty removing children from One Arrow First Nations into Indian Residential schools.3

In the late years of the nineteenth century, most of the Cree from One Arrow First Nations were consistently assertive against organized efforts to relinquish control of their children to the network of residential schools established by various religious denominations and the Canadian government. Ultimately, the effectiveness of the One Arrow residents' opposition was limited: their children eventually entered, or more accurately, were forced into, residential schools. In this narrative, the direct views and voices of these Cree are almost entirely absent. The focus is on Indian Agent McKenzie, a man using "compulsive measures" against a First Nations group with its own view on the goals of the Indian Department where their own band was concerned.

One Arrow is one of a trio of reserves of Willow Cree (the other two are Beardy's and Okemasis) first settled in the early 1880s by natives who were generally interrelated and belonged to a large pre-Treaty hunting group. The political context for these early reserve residents was what historian J.R. Miller refers to as "the policy of the Bible and the plough"-a characterization of the government assimilationist policies that were gradually added to the Indian Act after 1880. The One Arrow band pursued small-scale farming throughout the 1890s, encouraged by Indian Department policy, and used the "Birtle system" of government-loaned cattle to grow and manage a large herd. Still, Agent McKenzie observed that: "It seems an impossibility to get them to leave off the old style of living."4

Whether these Cree knew it or not, their children were already spoken for by the Roman Catholic church. The early missionary work in the Duck Lake/Batoche region was undertaken by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI), beginning in the mid-nineteenth century. Based in France, the Oblates built a worldwide organization to focus on what they perceived to be the poorest and most marginalized groups. …

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