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Virtual Museum of Canada The Making of Treaty #8 in Canada's Northwest
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1899 and After

"Protecting Their Inheritance": The Swan River Reserve, 1920-1938

Article Feature By Donald G. Wetherell

view of heart river settlementDuring the negotiation of Treaty 8, the Treaty Commissioners observed that Indians would never be landless because they would have reservations where they could live unmolested by white society and from where they could pursue an independent economic life. Despite such pledges, the Indian Act and the policies of the Department of Indian Affairs allowed (and at times encouraged) the sale of reservation land. Indeed, during the 1920s most reservations in the Peace River country were sold. This was a common pattern in prairie Canada where reservations with good farmland or where land was wanted for urban expansion were often sold. The Indians were then moved to other locations or were concentrated on remaining reservations.

In some cases, First Nations people were able to block the sale of reservation land. One case of this was at Swan River reserve where Indian Affairs, prompted by demands by local and provincial Euro-Canadian interests, prompted the sale of the reserve. Even so, Indian Affairs' efforts to sell the reserve over a 15 year period ended in failure because of the resistance by the reserve's residents to the sale of their land. While their ability to preserve the territorial integrity of their reserve demonstrated the complexity and variety of Indian-state relations, it also showed that aboriginal people were not always passive in the face of changes that took place in northern Alberta after 1899. 

For more information on Treaty 8 Revisited: Selected Papers on the 1999 Centennial Conference, visit the Lobstick website

Reprinted from with permission from Lobstick: An Interdisciplinary Journal. 

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