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The Peoples, Their Places

The Métis Nation: Scrip and Speculators


scrip commissionIn the eyes of government officials and politicians, the mixed-bloods were not a distinct group.  In the Manitoba Act of 1870, the first legislative act to recognize the aboriginal rights of the Métis and Half-breeds, scrip was not included, but the act was later amended to compensate for their Indian title; Mixed-bloods were given 160 acres of land or scrip valued at $160.  During the Treaty 8 commission of 1899, mixed-bloods at Lesser Slave Lake and Dunvegan were offered either land scrip or money scrip.  Land scrip could be exchanged for Dominion land; money metis at dunvegan scrip for a block sum of money equal to the value of land.  Most preferred money scrip, as their need for money to buy provisions was immediate and many Métis did not have the inclination or the necessary money for equipment to establish a homestead.  The land scrip was supposedly meant to prevent land speculation, but this took place anyway, as the government did little to prevent land speculators from purchasing scrip from the mixed-bloods.  Speculators from Edmonton were already in waiting at Lesser Slave Lake when the Métis received scrip; many of these speculators paid a fraction of what the scrip was actually worth, taking advantage of the fact that most mixed-bloods were illiterate and did not fully understand the significance of scrip.  Some of the more prominent scrip speculators included the Imperial Bank of Canada, Bank of Montreal and Bank of Nova Scotia, as well as private banks and individuals.

During the early decades of the twentieth century, many Métis eked out a living trapping, trading, working at mixed farming and hiring out as labourers or domestics for settlers.  As they were not treaty Indians, they could not be eligible for education and medical benefits from the government, although some reserve schools did accept Métis children as students.  Liquor became an increasing problem.  Many men enlisted during the First World War, but because their names did not reflect their distinct culture, the numbers of Métis men having joined the Canadian forces are unknown.  In the 1920s, when other groups were experiencing the post-war boom, the Métis as a group remained the poorest of the poor.  They suffered greatly from malnutrition, tuberculosis, pneumonia and other communicable diseases.

Reprinted from "A Sense of the Peace," by Roberta Hursey with permission of the Spirit of the Peace Museums Association and the author.