Meanwhile, economic conditions were becoming unbearable for Native people in many other parts of the country. Doubly hit were Métis and non-Status Indians, many of whom continued to see themselves as Indian but were not recognized as such under the Indian Act and so were not considered eligible for government assistance under the paternalistic provisions of that Act. With the Natural Resources Transfer Agreement of 1930, many of these people in Alberta and Saskatchewan became concerned that the provincial governments would not respect their interests in the lands they occupied. As had happened in 1869 and 1885, they were afraid that these governments would simply turn their lands over to non-Native settlers.

1930 - Natural Resources Transfer Agreement

By federal legislation in 1930, the Prairie provinces gained jurisdiction over Crown lands within their borders, a privilege reserved to the federal government since the acquisition of Rupert's Land in 1870. In establishing the Natural Resources Transfer Act, the federal government required the provinces to honour treaties guaranteeing Native fishing, hunting, and trapping rights in all seasons on unoccupied Crown lands. However, the terms confirming these rights were augmented by the words "for food," thus implying a limitation of these Native practices in a way not consistent with the original treaties. The provinces subsequently applied a narrow definition to this commitment in an attempt to enforce provincial game and fishing regulations and prosecute Native offenders of these laws.

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1938 - Métis Population Betterment Act (Alberta)

The Social Credit government of Alberta responded to the Ewing Commission's recommendations regarding the Métis population of the province by passing the Métis Population Betterment Act in 1938. The Act established 12 locations for Métis agricultural communities, of which 8 remain in existence, and established procedures for settling individuals on their land plots within the settlements. The Act was unique in that these terms were established through consultation with representatives of the Métis community, but later revisions of the Act did not continue that trend. The eight settlement areas now encompass a total of 539,446 hectares of land under lease to the Métis, but the Métis Association of Alberta, established in the 1930s and reorganized in 1940, has spearheaded continual attempts to persuade the government to increase Métis autonomy and control over the lands. The Alberta settlements have become a type of homeland for the Métis people, although only a relatively small proportion of the population actually resides in the colonies.

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Map of Métis Settlements, Alberta.

Métis Settlements, Alberta.

Paul Hackett

Concern over the issue led to the formation of the Métis Association of Alberta in 1932, which lobbied the Department of Indian Affairs for attention to these problems. But the government in Ottawa reiterated its policy that it considered the Métis to be fully assimilated citizens with no special rights. So the Métis turned to the provincial level and succeeded in getting an official investigation into their living conditions launched in 1934. The report was issued in 1936; two years later, the Alberta government passed the Metis Betterment Act, which paved the way for the establishment of farm colonies for the exclusive use of the Métis. People could apply for membership in a settlement association by proving that they had at least one-quarter Indian blood (that is, that at least one grandparent was Indian) and that they were not registered (or entitled to be registered) under the terms of the Indian Act. Settlements of various sizes were established across the province, some of which remain today.

The Saskatchewan government of Tommy Douglas watched the discussion with interest and decided in 1944 to introduce its own program for the Métis. However, in keeping with the philosophy of Douglas’s party, the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (forerunner of the New Democratic Party), the Saskatchewan settlements were to be run along a rather different line. They would be collectives, with co-operative marketing and management. The Saskatchewan experiment, unlike the Alberta one, was relatively brief.

Written By

Kerry Abel
Adjunct Professor
Carleton University
This is a brief description of Kerry Abel

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