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Alberta Online Encyclopedia

The Indian Agent

"Everything had to go through the administration of the government. The Indian agent, he was the almighty. If you had to go to town you had to get a permit. . . If you had cattle that you wanted to sell, you had to get a permit. You couldn't slaughter your own animals. You had to get a piece of paper stating you had the right to do these things. Our people found it very ridiculous and it hurt us in our hearts. "

- Raven Makkannaw, Plains Cree Elder

Indian agents administered the Indian Act. It gave them enormous discretionary control over virtually every aspect of day-to-day life in Indian communities. Agents managed band funds and oversaw economic ventures. They acted as justices of the peace and had the power to both prosecute and sentence Indians accused of violating the Indian Act.

Indian agents not only managed a community's official business, they oversaw residents' personal affairs. They issued food rations, supervised farm operations, enforced school attendance, assigned housing and settled domestic disputes. They had the authority to withhold rations and to issue passes that allowed people to leave their reserves temporarily.

Some Indian agents worked hard to benefit the communities to which they had been assigned. But others used coercive tactics to push forward policies that worked against communities' interests. In 1917-18, for example, the Blood Indian agent forced a vote on the surrender of a large tract of reserve land. He denied those who voted against the surrender permission to withdraw money from their personal accounts and gave individuals who favoured the sale cash advances against future earnings. The proposal passed by a small margin but was overturned when charges of bribery and fraud were raised.

By 1969, all Indian agents had been removed from office as First Nations moved toward self-determination.

From pgs. 58-59 of Aboriginal Cultures in Alberta: Five Hundred Generations by Susan Berry and Jack Brink.  Reprinted with kind permission of Susan Berry

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