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No. 87

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Manitoba History: Agriculture and Agitation on the Oak River Dakota Reserve, 1875-1895

by Sarah Carter
History Department, University of Manitoba

Manitoba History, Number 6, Fall 1983

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make it available here as a free, public service.

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After signing their treaties, Indians vanish from most histories of Western Canada. Those historians who briefly touch on Indians in the post-treaty era describe a period of calamitous cultural, social and economic disintegration. Indian existence on the plains is depicted as a “cold, hungry, shelterless void” after the disappearance of the buffalo; fumbling attempts at agriculture were interrupted by destitution. [1] As G. F. G. Stanley wrote of the plains Indians in The Birth of Western Canada: “In the space of a few years they were transformed from lords of a barbaric wilderness into miserable dependents upon mission and state charity.” [2] Very often the blame for this state of “miserable dependency” is placed squarely on the shoulders of the Indians for what is understood to be their failure to make the transition to an economy based on agriculture. This failure is usually attributed to cultural distinctions. Stanley believes that farming was not suitable to the Indian character, as they had a restless disposition and a dislike of uncongenial labor. [3] Another explanation for the failure of agriculture on reserves is that tilling the soil caused the Indians spiritual anguish, as it violated concepts sacred to their religion. [4] It is also argued that Indians did not prosper as farmers because of the nature of their pre-industrial culture. [5] This explanation for the “culture of the reserve” asserts that Indians did not act as “economic men” as understood by non-native society, that Indians had no natural impulse to acquisitiveness and were content to have a standard of living that remained static or at a near-subsistence level. Close ties to family or kinship groups discouraged the accumulation of money or goods and stifled individual enterprise, as a man’s kinsmen claimed a share of any good fortune.

Ploughing on a western reserve
Source: Public Archives of Canada

These explanations assume the failure of agriculture on reserves, and they place the blame for this failure on Indian culture which is seen as static or dormant, incapable of coping with the introduction of new ideas or technology. In accounts of the post-treaty era the Indian is generally depicted in a state of catatonic stupor: uprooted, confused and perplexed, he is unable to adjust to a different economic system. A study of the first twenty years of the Oak River Dakota reserve in southwestern Manitoba challenges the assumption that the Indian traditions and values limited their capacity for agriculture. On the Oak River reserve there was a steady expansion of agriculture so that by the early 1890s the residents had gone beyond subsistence farming and were practicing commercial agriculture. Not all at Oak River were farmers, but farming was not limited to just a few individuals. Clearly the Dakota were not constrained from farming by a culture that prevented them from adjusting to changing conditions. Agriculture at Oak River does not appear to have progressed however, after an initial period of expansion, and the Dakota did not successfully enter the grain-centered cash economy of their white neighbours. This study suggests that certain policies of the Department of Indian Affairs denied the Dakota some of the requirements necessary to form a strong agricultural base and that the rigid supervision of their activities adversely affected their agricultural enterprise.

The people who settled at Oak River were from among the American Dakota who entered British territory during and after the “Sioux War” of 1862-63 in present-day Minnesota. [6] The Dakota formed a loose confederacy of seven council fires or extended family groups based on location. The Oak River Dakota were primarily “Sissetonwan” (“People of the Ridged Fish Scales”), together with some “Wahpetonwan” (“Dwellers Among the Leaves”) and “Mdewankantonwan” (“The Spirit Lake People”). These three council fires and the “Wapekute” (“Shooters Among the Leaves”) formed the “San-tee” people, the most easterly of the Dakota. The aboriginal home of the Santee was west of Lake Superior where they were semi-sedentary agriculturalists. [7] Communal hunts were organized each summer but for most of the year the Santee lived in villages. They grew corn, beans, squash and pumpkins, fished, gathered wild rice and made maple sugar. In the mid-eighteenth century the Santee were pushed toward the west by their enemies the Ojibway and they began to live on the margin of plains culture. Some participated in the buffalo hunt but they continued to pursue forest game and supplement their resources with fish and garden produce. The plains culture was more true of the Yankton Dakota who occupied the territory to the west of the Santee to the Missouri, and certainly of the Teton Dakota, to the west of the Yankton.

The Santee were allied with Great Britain in the War of 1812, participating in the British capture of Michilimackinac, and in several operations including that which led to the capture of Detroit. When manyof their number arrived in British territory in the early 1860s they carried memories and mementos of this alliance, as well as some expectation of protection in return for their support. [8] The Dakota fled and were driven from Minnesota after the “Sioux War,” an outbreak of violence against the white settlers the causes of which included the smouldering resentment felt over a series of “treaties,” the failure of the government to keep its obligations, and a winter of starvation. [9] The Dakota who were not executed or imprisoned fled to join the Yankton and Teton to the west and others escaped to British territory to the north. It is estimated that about fifteen hundred Dakota arrived across the border in 1862 and 1863. [10] At first many camped in the vicinity of Fort Garry where they were a cause of considerable anxiety to the settlers, but eventually those Dakota that remained in British territory broke up into small bands to the west of Red River. Some congregated in lodges at Portage la Prairie, Poplar Point and High Bluff where they were employed by the settlers ploughing, harvesting and making fence rails. [11] By the late 1860s some Dakota were planting small grain crops of oats and barley along the Assiniboine River. [12] One band of Dakota camped at Turtle Mountain and others pursued buffalo to the west. [13] The followers of White Eagle or Wambdiska, who were later to settle at Oak River, moved to the west in search of buffalo. [14]

In the early 1870s the Dakota made several appeals to the Canadian government that they be allowed to settle on reserves, claiming that “they had no homes or means of living,” and that they wished to support themselves by farming. [15] The Dakota were not included in the numbered treaties with the western Indians, as they were not regarded as having aboriginal land rights in Canada. They were granted reserves, however, as “a matter of grace and not of right.” [16] The Dakota were becoming an object of anxiety for the authorities; there was concern that they would develop “a sort of gypsy life” and it was hoped that the grant of land would be an inducement to conduct themselves well. [17] The Dakota participated significantly in the selection of the location of their reserves; they rejected an original site for one large reserve in favour of two that were chosen in 1875, one on the Assiniboine river at Oak River and another at Bird Tail Creek, near Fort Ellice. The Turtle Mountain Dakota were granted a reserve in 1877 near Oak Lake. The Dakota reserves were allotted on the basis of eighty acres per family of five, even though other reserves in Western Canada were based on one hundred and sixty acres or six hundred and forty acres per family. [18] As the Minister of the Interior explained in his annual report for 1875, the Dakota “cannot reasonably claim to be placed on the same footing or treated with the same liberality as the Indian bands who had always been British subjects resident in British territory.” [19]

The Oak River reserve became the home of approximately one hundred families from the bands of White Eagle, the Crow and Singer. The land that they began to settle in 1875 was to prove to be located in one of the finest wheat-growing districts in Western Canada. The reserve is also beautifully situated; the Oak River joins the Assiniboine on the reserve and the river banks, fringed with maple and elm, are a dominant feature of the landscape. In the land along and between the rivers there are extensive low-lying meadows. The Dakota first farmed the bottom lands but, finding their crops subject to frost and the flooding Assiniboine, began to grow the greater quantity of them upon the bench. Outcroppings of land formed by the Assiniboine are valuable features of the landscape. By throwing fences across these necks of land the Dakota acquired pasture fields of many hundreds of acres each, with-out having to fence every field of grain. Another attractive feature of the location was its proximity to the main line C.P.R. at Griswold, five miles to the south. A deficiency that was to plague the settlement was a lack of wood suitable for building, which led to a chronic problem of poor housing.

For the first ten years of the Oak River reserve, from 1875 to 1885, not all residents were committed to permanent settlement or an agricultural life. Until the early 1880s many wintered at Portage la Prairie, returning to the reserve for the summer months. The first report of cultivation was in the summer of 1877 and the acreage steadily increased in the following years. Laurence Herchmer, appointed Indian Agent in 1878, found the Dakota’s supply of seed, cattle and implements to be inadequate and requested more. He reported that the Dakota were not settling permanently on the reserve because they did not have enough oxen and ploughs to work half the land already broken. [20] The Canadian government was relatively generous to the Dakota in the late 1870s; it was anxious to retain their friendship in the light of the presence of Sitting Bull on Canadian soil. [21] The Dakota clearly recognized the strength of their bargaining position. They informed officials that they were in contact with the American chief and warned that if more were not done to improve their reserves they might not remain settled on them. [22]

Steady but unspectacular progress in agriculture characterized the first ten years of the Oak River reserve. Wheat was not grown until the late 1880s as, according to Herchmer, the absence of a grist mill made wheat unprofitable. [23] A large root crop of turnips, potatoes and carrots was cultivated. The Dakota did not farm extensively in this period as they found it more profitable to work outside the reserve: haying, fencing and harvesting for other settlers, working on survey crews, on railway construction or cutting wood for steamers. [24] The Oak River Dakota also continued to hunt, selling furs for ammunition, matches, tea and tobacco. Game was scarce however, and limited to skunks, badgers and wolves. By the early 1880s it was reported that the Dakota had ceased to hunt and were subsisting on their own produce. [25]

Apart from the ill, the aged, and those just beginning to farm, the Oak River Dakota hadreceived no assistance by 1882. [26] They were reported to be well clothed and adequately housed, although an absence of suitable timber continued to be a problem. The Dakota were often ill however; deaths were attributed to consumption and scrofula. The Agents believed the Dakota were weakened by the sudden reduction in the amount of meat in their diet. In 1885, eleven out of eighty-five heads of families at Oak River died, as did seventeen children under the age of three. [27] A Church of England mission was established on the reserve in 1880 and Department of Indian Affairs officials hoped its influence would convince the Dakota of the “immorality” of their medicine dances. The Dakota constructed a large round house on the reserve where they met for dances. The women of Oak River did bead work, knitted, tanned hides and manufactured rush mats and baskets. [28] It was reported that the Dakota got along well with their white neighbours. They were invited to participate in local agricultural fairs where they paraded in traditional dress to the annoyance of Department officials. The Agent commented in 1882 that any trouble that had arisen way caused by white settlers who did not like to see Indians in desirable locations. [29]

Dakota family
Source: Minnesota History

From the mid-1880s until 1892, with the exception of the crop of 1889, the Oak River Dakota made outstanding advances in agriculture. They began to grow wheat, not solely for their own requirements but for the market. In 1887 two hundred acres of wheat were sown, and sixty-eight more acres were broken the following year. Inspector McGibbor reported in 1888 that the fields were clean and well-ploughed, and that the seed was well-sown. [30] He added his highest words of praise: “in fact from every point it was equal to any white man’s crop.” [31] This was accomplished without the aid of the resident Farm Instructor present on most other reserves in the West. The Dakota were entirely responsible for their own financial affairs, purchasing machinery and implements with their income, By 1888 they had acquired mowers and rakes, wagons and a threshing machine. In 1890 they purchased three binders, six mowers and rakes, six wagons, ploughs and harrows and in 1891 they bought two new mowers and rakes, six ploughs and five binders. [32] Inspector Wadsworth noted during his tour of inspection in the summer of 1891 that the Dakota at Oak River required all their machinery because they had such a large crop, and indeed the crop that year was magnificent. [33]

In 1891 the Dakota at Oak River were reported to be “in the van of Indian farmers in this country.” [34] Forty-two heads of families were engaged in farming with five hundred acres in crop and forty it summer fallow. The band had 350 head of livestock all in good condition. The Dakota were more than self-supporting; they were producing a surplus for profit.

It might be expected that the Department of Indian Affairs would have been delighted with the progress in farming at Oak River by 1891, but in fact the Dakota were becoming a source of some anxiety. They were not conforming to the agricultural policy of the Department which was to encourage subsistence level farming among Indians, in which they produced for their own needs and not for the market. Indian Commissioner Hayter Reed’s annual report for 1891 instructed Indian Agents in western Canada that the manner best calculated to render Indians self-supporting was to emulate “peasants” of other countries who kept their operations small and their implements rudimentary. [35] In Reed’s opinion, an Indian could make large strides toward independence if he raised wheat on a single acre from which he could reap eighteen bushels which would render five bags of flour. A second acre could be planted with roots and vegetables and this, combined with a cow or two, would result in a farmer producing sufficiently for himself and family. Reed’s report continued: “this is commonly accomplished by peasants of various countries with no better implements than the hoe, the rake, cradle, sickle and flail. The necessary use of these implements can never be acquired if Indians contemplate the performance of their work by labour-saving machinery ...” [36] Promoted to Deputy Superintendent of Indian Affairs in 1893, Reed was in a strong position to implement his policy for reserve agriculture which he again outlined in 1895. The Department’s goal was

... to restrict the area cultivated by each Indian to within such limits as will enable him to carry on his operations by the application of his own personal labour and the employment of such simple implements as he would likely to be able to command if entirely thrown upon his own resources, rather than to encourage farming on a scale to necessitate the employment of expensive labour-saving machinery. [37]

Few farmers in Western Canada in the early 1890s would have agreed with Hayter Reed that the hoe and rake were central to a successful operation. The use of machinery was by this time universal: the gang plough and the sulky had replaced the walking plough, seed drills had replaced broadcast sowing methods, and the binder had replaced the reaper as the reaper had the cradle. Yet it is clear from the correspondence of Indian Agents that they were directed to discourage the use of labour-saving machinery among Indians, a policy that many Agents found absurd. W. L. Grant of the Assiniboine Reserve near Sintaluta wrote in 1896 that the growing season in the West was too short to harvest any quantity of grain with old-fashioned, hand implements. [38] Grant pointed out that the amount of grain lost in two years could pay for a binder and that hand binding was impracticable with straw in that climate. One resident of Grant’s reserve, with fifteen acres of good wheat, deserted his wheat, oxen and the reserve when told he would have to harvest and bind his crop by hand.

With their considerable amount of machinery and large-scale farming operation, the Dakota at Oak River were defying the directives of Department policy in the early 1890s. In 1891 there began a period of unprecedented involvement by the Department in the agricultural activities of the Dakota at Oak River. In that year a Farm Instructor, W. R. Scott, was placed on the reserve. Inspector Wadsworth prophetically expressed doubt about the utility of this appointment at the time: “as they are doing so well, let well enough alone, particularly when it is in the line of economy, and not attempt to bring them too near perfection.” [39] Despite the fact that Wadsworth noted in 1891 that the Dakota had the amount of machinery required to harvest such a large crop, other officials suddenly began to view the Dakota’s machinery as superfluous and the Dakota to be unreliable in market transactions. Agent Markle termed their purchases “reckless and improvident.” [40] In the margin of Wadsworth’s annual report for 1892 the Assistant Commissioner angrily scribbled that the purchase of labour-saving devices such as binders was totally opposed to the Commissioner’s views. [41] The Department professed particular concern that certain individuals owed money to implement dealers. Three who were singled out as heavily in debt owed $119., $147., and $214. to Massey Harris. [42]

The Dakota were effectively restrained from purchasing any more machinery when Farmer Scott took over the management of their financial affairs through the strict implementation of the permit system, which took control of the proceeds from their grain crop out of the hands of the Dakota. Under the Indian Act the Department could prohibit or regulate the sale, barter, exchange or gift by any Indian or Indian band of any grain or root crop or other produce grown on any reserve in Western Canada. [43] Before 1892 the Dakota had been allowed to dispose of their crops as they wished but in that year Scott was instructed to see that no grain left the reserve without a permit. Grain buyers, when presented with a permit, were asked to pay a sum to the implement dealers, a sum to Scott and the balance to the Indians.

The Dakota clearly found the permit system an unnecessary encumbrance on their freedom after years of handling their own financial affairs. They first attempted to rid themselves of their debts. The band worked feverishly in the spring and summer of 1892. They put one thousand acres under crop, double that of the year before. They were reported to be in “supreme anxiety to produce wheat,” and greatly reduced their root crop. [44] Most of their grain that year was damaged, however, as it was not threshed before rain and snow storms began in October. Winter set in early in November of 1892 and continued with great severity until April. Cattle required food and shelter for six months and toward spring the food supply for both whites and Indians in the district was low. [45] Matters did not improve in the summer of 1893 as low prices combined again with a low yield due to hot, dry winds in August.

As the Dakota were not in a position to pay off their debts by the fall of 1893, they began to use other means to protest the permit system. In October of 1893, three residents of Oak River, Harry Hotain, Mahpiyska, and Kinyanyahan suddenly appeared at Hayter Reed’s office in Ottawa. Their grievances were outlined in a letter written for them by their missionary, Reverend Hartland. [46] They protested that they could not sell their grain without a permit and they resented the Farm Instructor keeping some of the proceeds. In this and in later petitions and letters the Dakota stated that the permit system discouraged their interest in farming as they did not know what they got in return for their crops.

The replies of Department officials to this deputation and to subsequent petitions and letters consistently contained some combination of the points of view mentioned below, all of which allowed them to dismiss the Dakota’s grievances without serious consideration. Officials of the Department shared the belief that to complain was a chronic feature of the Indian nature, or they maintained that Indians were encouraged to complain by those who might profit from Indian dissatisfaction. In this case Department officials variously blamed the missionary at Oak River, a man whom they believed was lobbying for the position of Farm Instructor on the reserve, and a Dakota from a neighbouring reserve who was associated with the Presbyterian Church.

Whoever penned letters or petitions for the Dakota was immediately suspect in the eyes of Department officials. Officials also shared the belief that Indians would go to any lengths to acquire money to purchase alcohol. The three Dakota who visited Ottawa were quickly sent home: they had broken Department regulations by leaving the reserve without a permit. They were later informed by letter that after careful inquiry and full consideration they had no grounds for complaint. [47] Agent Markle had informed Reed that the three Dakota were implicated in bringing intoxicants on to the reserve, and he suggested that Reverend Hartland was at the bottom of the agitation. [48]

The controversy over the permit system had only just begun. In December, 1893, Farmer Scott discovered that the Dakota were defying regulations and continuing to market their grain without permits. This time Department officials took action against the grain buyers. William Chambers of Ogilvie Milling Co. and Alexander and William Forrest of Leitch Bros. at Oak Lake were found guilty of buying grain from Indians without permits and each was fined. [49] The buyers were enraged at this and at the whole permit system which they felt turned them into collection agencies for Massey Harris. [50] The grain buyers believed the government was working in the interests of the implement dealers and the fact that the presiding magistrate on the grain buyers’ convictions was the agent for Massey Harris at Griswold did little to allay their suspicions. In January, 1894, F. W. Thompson of Ogilvie Milling Co. of Winnipeg threatened to instruct his agents that they were no longer to buy wheat from Indians with or without permits as the best means of protecting the interests of his Company. [51]

By January, 1894, the Virden Chronicler demanded an investigation of the grievances of the Indians and grain buyers about the permit system. [52] It was felt that the matter might assume serious proportions “and we do not want another rebellion.” The paper sympathized with the position of the Dakota: they farmed their own land, worked hard all summer, but were not allowed the full benefit of their labour because of the permit system. The Indians were placed at a disadvantage in competition with their white neighbours, the article continued. It concluded that Indians find it just as annoying as white men to have to submit to obnoxious orders.

The Oak River Dakota continued to protest the permit system throughout 1894. In May, the same three men who had visited Ottawa wrote to Hayter Reed saying that their problems continued, and asked to know when they could expect him to visit Oak River. [53] Reed replied that the Indian Agent and Farm Instructor were doing their duty, which was in the best interests of the Indians, and asked that they give the officials no more trouble. [54] Not satisfied with this answer, the Dakota forwarded a petition with forty-two signatures to Reed in November, 1894. [55] They once again voiced their displeasure with the permit system, claiming that they had no idea where the proceeds from their grain was going. The petition stated that the Dakota did not like Scott, as he did not speak their language and showed favour to a few whom they did not respect. The Indian Agent and Farm Instructor had chosen a chief whom they did not regard as their chief. The petition was written by Peter Hunter, a Dakota from the Bird Tail reserve, who had received some education in the United States and was associated with the Presbyterian Church.

The petition succeeded in persuading officials that the Dakota were earnest in their protest. In December, 1894, Inspector Wadsworth began an investigation into complaints at Oak River by interviewing farmers and merchants in Griswold on municipal election day. [56] All gave remarkably similar testimony, solemnly claiming that Farmer Scott was diligent in his duties, did not partake of alcohol, and that since his arrival Indians were not loitering about town. All declared that the permit system was decidedly in the interests of the Dakota. Wadsworth reported that he could find no one in town who was antagonistic to Scott.

Two days of meetings were then held at the school house on the Oak River reserve. Thirty-five male residents were present along with Inspector Wadsworth, Agent Markle and Antoine Flamant, an interpreter. Wadsworth claimed that the translated words of the Dakota were recorded verbatim by him. [57] The band was divided into two factions. The larger group of about twenty-five, represented by Harry Hotain, led the protest. The other ten supported Chief Pat who advocated compliance with the rules and regulations of the Department of Indian Affairs. Hotain restated the grievances contained in previous letters and petitions. He claimed that the reason why the Dakota did not care whether or not they raised a large crop was because they never knew what they got in return for it. Hotain had a number of complaints against Scott, particularly that he had prevented the Dakota from threshing at the proper time three years earlier. Hotain stated that they wanted a good man to replace Scott and if this was not possible they wanted to choose their own Farm Instructor.

Mahpiyska, also one of the three who had visited Ottawa, spoke in support of Hotain. Both brashly admitted that they sold their wheat without permits contrary to the rules of the Department. Mahpiyska defiantly stated that he relied on his own opinion when to sell, that he would sooner give his grain away for pig feed than be governed by the permit system, and that he was ashamed that Scott had paid his threshing bill for him. He stressed that he raised crops to make money. Others on the side of the protestors complained that Scott did not inform the owners of the wheat what their profits came to, and that he did not treat Indians with respect. A Dakota by the name of John Noel, declaring that he could support neither side, summed up the debate from his point of view: “Those on that side Harry’s are talking how to live, the other side are talking about being Chief.” [58]

Chief Pat’s testimony at the meeting suggests that the way to become Chief was to pledge allegiance to all rules of the Indian Department. He stated that Hotain and the others talked nonsense, that without the Agent and Farmer present on the reserve there would be alcohol and murders. Chief Pat claimed that Scott regularly visited the residents, could understand some of their language and did not partake of alcohol. The Chief stated that he did not approve of the petitions, letters and the visit to Ottawa as he knew that all complaints should go through the Agent. In closing, Chief Pat declared that he had always followed the rules of the Department and would continue to do so for “If I don’t follow the rules of the Department I have no where else to go.” [59] Others who spoke on the side of Chief Pat agreed that Hotain and his followers were lying and that without Scott’s help many would have been in jail because of their debts.

Inspector Wadsworth concluded on the basis of this inquiry that all the evidence was in favour of the permit system and Farmer Scott. [60] He believed that the Dakota were attributing their distressed condition to Scott and the permit system when their debt burden, series of poor crops and low prices were to blame. Once again outside agitators were seen at the root of the protest. It was believed that Peter Hunter, who had written a petition for the Dakota, was working in the interests of a man who was interested in Farmer Scott’s position. [61] This outsider, in Wadsworth’s opinion, gave the Dakota the idea they had “the right to dictate to the Department.” [62] Wadsworth also believed that the Dakota were lazy and that this was at the heart of the matter; they would sooner “trust to luck” than work if they could get out of it. [63]

Agent Markle was instructed to read a letter to the residents of Oak River from Hayter Reed informing them that the permit system was in their best interests, and that if the Department did not control their business affairs these would only get worse. [64] Reed wanted the Dakota to know that the system of purchase on credit of farm machinery had widely and ruinously affected white settlers to the extent that laws were being considered to control sales on credit by implement dealers. Reed expressed strong disapproval of Hotain’s party, for trying to find fault in their Instructor and for refusing obedience to lawful instruction. He asked the agitators to emulate the example set by Chief Pat whose conduct was approved by the Department. Agent Markle reported that Harry Hotain made no comment when the letter was read but later informed him that he was resolved to give up the fight.

Medicine Bottle
Source: Public Archives of Canada

The Oak River Dakota remained small-scale farmers and eventually ceased raising wheat altogether as it was unprofitable on such a small scale. [65] Quite likely a number of factors contributed to their failure to enter the grain-centred cash economy of their white neighbours. What is certain is that historians must look beyond the idea that the Indian culture limited their capacity for farming. Like other settlers in Western Canada who failed to establish a stable economic base, the Dakota were subject to locusts, droughts, floods, inconsistent prices for agricultural products and soil depletion. But native farmers were also subject to a set of rules that denied them some of the technological and financial opportunities to form a strong agricultural base. In the 1890s the policy of the Department of Indian Affairs was to discourage large-scale farming and labour-saving machinery on reserves in Western Canada. By means of the permit system, the Department attempted to implement this policy at Oak River. It is difficult to argue conclusively that the permit system discouraged large-scale farming at Oak River, but it is certainly a factor that warrants consideration. In 1894 the Dakota clearly stated that they felt the permit system curbed their enthusiasm for farming, as they were in the business to make a profit. But the inquiry they demanded was a dialogue of the deaf: its outcome was decided before it began. There was no serious reconsideration of the permit system, and not even any appeasing gestures such as arranging that the Dakota be better informed of where their profits were going. There was no recognition of the fact that for over ten years of successful farming the Dakota had managed their own financial affairs and had been independent of government assistance. It was felt instead that the Dakota were foolish to think they could look after their own interests. The official mind of the bureaucracy insisted on looking at natives as lazy, as alcoholics, as chronic complainers, and as easily influenced, despite all the obvious evidence to the contrary.


1. I. Spry, “The Transition From a Nomadic to a Settled Economy in Western Canada, 1856-96,” Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada 6, Series 4 (1968), p. 195.

2. G. F. G. Stanley, The Birth of Western Canada: A History of the Riel Rebellions (1936; rpt. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1975), p. 218.

3. Ibid., pp. 238-9.

4. T. D. Regehr, Remembering Saskatchewan: A History of Rural Saskatchewan (Saskatoon: University of Saskatchewan, 1979), pp. 18-19.

5. H. B. Hawthorne (ed.), A Survey of Contemporary Indians of Canada: Economic, Political and Educational Needs and Policies (Ottawa: Indian Affairs Branch, 1966), pp. 54-8.

6. See Gontran Laviolette, The Sioux Indians in Canada (Regina: 1944). I would like to thank Father Laviolette for his help in preparing this paper.

7. See Roy W. Meyer, History of the Santee Sioux: United States Indian Policy on Trial (Omaha: University of Nebraska Press, 1967).

8. Doug Elias, “The First American Refugees,” Ontario Indian 5, No. 4 (April, 1982), p. 21. Thanks to Doug Elias for his helpful comments on this paper.

9. G. F. G. Stanley, “Displaced Red Men: The Sioux in Canada,” in Ian Getty and D. Smith (eds.), One Century Later: Western Canadian Reserve Indians Since Treaty 7 (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1978).

10. Elias, p. 21.

11. Alexander Morris, The Treaties of Canada With the Indians (1882: rpt. Toronto: Coles Publishing Co., 1971), p. 279.

12. Elias, p. 23.

13. Charles Eastman (Ohiyesa), one of the Dakota who camped in the vicinity of Turtle Mountain, published a very interesting account of his flight across the border and of the ten years he spent in Canada called Indian Boyhood (Boston: 1902).

14. Laviolette, p. 87.

15. Morris, p. 279.

16. Ibid.

17. Canada, Sessional Papers, no. 17, 1874: p. 5: Report of the Indian Branch of the Department of the Minister of the Interior.

18. Public Archives of Canada (P.A.C.), Indian Affairs, RG 10, volume 3585, file 1128, copy of order-in-council granting reserve, 1874.

19. Canada, Sessional Papers, no. 9, 1876, p. xii: Annual Report of the Minister of the Department of the Interior.

20. P.A.C., RG 10, vol. 3668, file 10506, L. W. Herchmer to the Deputy Superintendent-General of Indian Affairs, Sept., 1878.

21. P.A.C. RG 10, vol. 3643, file 7684, Lieutenant-Governor Morris to the Minister of the Interior, March, 1877.

22. P.A.C. RG 10, vol. 3655, file 8933, Lieutenant-Governor Morris to the Minister of the Interior, 20 Nov., 1877.

23. Canada, Sessional Papers, no. 6, 1882: L. W. Herchmer’s Annual Report for the Birtle Agency for 1881.

24. Ibid.

25. Canada, Sessional Papers, no. 5, 1883, p. 42: L. W. Herchmer’s Annual Report for the Birtle Agency for 1882.

26. Ibid.

27. Roy W. Meyer, “The Canadian Sioux: Refugees From Minnesota,” Minnesota History 41, no. 1 (1968), p. 23.

28. P.A.C., RG 10, vol. 3895, file 97, 456, Agent Markle to Inspector Wadsworth, circular letters of 11 Nov., 1889 and 9 Feb., 1891.

29. Canada, Sessional Papers, no. 5, 1883, p. 42: L. W. Herchmer’s Annual Report for the Birtle Agency for 1882.

30. P.A.C. RG 10, vol. 3803, file 50, 774-1, Inspector McGibbon’s Report of the Birtle Agency, 1888.

31. Ibid.

32. P.A.C. RG 10, vol. 3844, file 73, 406-2, Inspector Wadsworth’s Report of the Birtle Agency, 1890-91 and vol. 3859, file 82, 250-2, Wadsworth’s Report of the Birtle Agency, 1890.

33. Ibid., 1890.

34. Ibid.

35. Canada, Sessional Papers, no. 14, 1892, p. 193: Indian Commissioner Hayter Reed’s Annual Report for 1891.

36. Ibid.

37. Canada, Sessional Papers, no. 14, 1896, p. xx: Report of the Deputy Superintendent-General of Indian Affairs.

38. Isabel A. Andrews, “The Crooked Lakes Reserves: A Study of Indian Policy in Practice From the Qu’Appelle Treaty to 1900,” (unpublished M.A. thesis, University of Regina, 1972), pp. 142-3.

39. P.A.C. RG 10, vol. 3859, file 82,250-2, Inspector Wadsworth’s Report of the Birtle Agency, 1890.

40. P.A.C. RG 10, vol. 3896, file 88, 145, Agent Markle’s Report on the Birtle Agency for June, 1892.

41. P.A.C. RG 10, vol. 3895, file 97,456, Inspector Wadsworth’s Report of the Birtle Agency for 1892.

42. P.A.C. RG 10, vol. 3908, file 107,243, Agent Markle to Hayter Reed, 25 Nov., 1893.

43. Andrews, p. 115.

44. P.A.C. RG 10, vol. 3895, file 87,456, Inspector Wadsworth’s Report of the Birtle Agency for 1892.

45. Canada, Sessional Papers, no. 14, 1894: Agent Markle’s Annual Report for the Birtle Agency.

46. P.A.C. RG 10, vol. 3908, file 107,243, Memorandum to Assistant Commissioner Forget from Inspector Wadsworth, 2 Nov., 1893.

47. Ibid., H. Reed to A. Forget, 12 Dec., 1893.

48. Ibid., Agent Markle to H. Reed, 25 Nov., 1893.

49. Ibid., Memorandums from Agent Markle to Indian Commissioner, 18 and 23 Dec., 1893.

50. Ibid., William Chambers to F. W. Thompson, 4 Jan., 1894.

51. Ibid., F. W. Thompson to the Indian Commissioner, 8 Jan., 1894.

52. Ibid. Note clipping from Virden Chronicler 11 Jan., 1894.

53. Ibid., Peter Hunter to H. Reed, n.d.

54. Ibid., H. Reed to Harry Hotain and Kinyanyahan, 23 May, 1894.

55. Ibid., Petition of the Oak River Sioux, 4 Nov., 1894.

56. Ibid., Appendix to Wadsworth’s Report to the Indian Commissioner, 26 Dec., 1894.

57. Ibid., Wadsworth to the Indian Commissioner, 26 Dec., 1894.

58. Ibid., Appendix to Wadsworth’s Report to the Indian Commissioner, 26 Dec., 1894.

59. Ibid.

60. Ibid., Wadsworth to the Indian Commissioner, 26 Dec., 1894.

61. Ibid.

62. Ibid.

63. Ibid.

64. Ibid., H. Reed to Agent Markle, March, 1895.

65. Meyer, “The Canadian Sioux,” p. 25.

Page revised: 27 October 2012

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