The Muscowpetung 1909 Surrender Claim

When the Muscowpetung Saulteaux entered into Treaty 4 in 1874, the Crown promised to set apart reserve land for our First Nation as well as provide other benefits to assist our people in making a transition to an agricultural livelihood. In 1881, the Crown set apart 37,760 acres (59 square miles) as Muscowpetung Indian Reserve 79. The Queen’s representatives told the Treaty 4 Indians that “the promises we make will be carried out as long as the sun shines above and the rivers flow in the oceans.”
Imagine 105 years ago on January 4, 1909. It was the dead of winter and the temperature was bitterly cold at 52 degrees below zero. Supplies, goods, and morale were running low, and Muscowpetung band members, many elderly, were summoned at noon by the Indian Agent to meet at someone’s house. The Agent told the band members he was there to take a surrender of half the reserve, and he was not leaving until the band consented. The meeting took hours and there was ready cash put on the table by the Indian Agent.The pressure put on the band by the Department of Indian Affairs to surrender almost 28 square miles of land was relentless. Although the men initially opposed a surrender, those that were in attendance at the meeting gave in to the pressure at 11 pm and accepted the cash inducements offered by the Indian Agent. The 1909 surrender resulted in the loss of 17,600 acres of the best agricultural land on the reserve (almost half 47% of the original reserve).

The 1909 surrender was part of a much larger picture. The Muscowpetung Band were victims of unscrupulous Indian Affairs officials who were engaged in widespread speculation and frauds relating to the surrender of Indian reserve lands during this shameful period in Canadian history from 1905-1911. The Muscowpetung Band and others in the Qu’Appelle valley were among the most successful and progressive bands leading up to the surrender and used their own profits to purchase agricultural equipment to expand their operations. It was this success that attracted the attention of land speculators connected to senior Liberal politicians, including the Minister of Interior and Superintendent General of Indian Affairs Frank Oliver, who obtained the surrender of large reserve holdings at less than fair market value that were quickly sold by land speculators for a tidy profit. The agricultural lands of the Qu’Appelle River Valley, the best lands in the area, were very tempting, and Canada sought to get its hands on this land.

There were numerous problems with the 1909 surrender. The Indian Act procedures for a valid surrender were not followed – the surrender meeting was not properly called, a majority of voting band members did not attend, and the surrender was not properly sworn. Apart from these procedural irregularities, Canada did not honour its fiduciary obligations to the Muscowpetung Band. Canada had approached the Band repeatedly and relentlessly since 1904, pressing for a surrender of what was by far and away the best half of its reserve. The Band’s cattle herd, its main livelihood, was located in a 9,000-acre fenced area on the part of the reserve that Canada wanted. Once the land was surrendered, the band was forced to move the entire fence and relocate its herd to the remaining and inferior reserve land. After the surrender was orchestrated by Canada, it fixed the upset price for the surrendered lands too low which allowed the lands to be sold for less than fair market value, much of which fell into the hands of land speculators connected to senior Liberal officials and politicians. In short, thesurrender was not only illegal but Canada’s actions fell short of honourable conduct required of a fiduciary.

The Qu’Appelle River Valley is home to eight First Nations. Between 1906 and 1919, Canada sought and obtained six surrenders of huge swaths of the reserves of these First Nations. The Muscowpetung surrender was just one of these surrenders. To date, three of these surrenders have already been validated by Canada and settled through negotiations. The Pasqua surrender is currently being assessed by Canada and we are confident that if we re-file our claim, the Muscowpetung surrender will be next in line for Canada to validate and negotiate.

The Muscowpetung surrender claim was first submitted under Canada’s Specific Claims Policy in 1994 and rejected. Since then, the legal landscape has changed significantly. It is now well-recognized in law that Canada owes clear and definable fiduciary duties to First Nations when it seeks a surrender of their land. Canada must now own up to its fiduciary responsibilities to First Nations, and the time is ripe to resubmit the Muscowpetung surrender claim to Canada. Maurice Law is in the final stages of preparing the legal arguments for this claim to be resubmitted to Canada. The First Nation is optimistic that this longstanding claim will be validated by Canada and the process of righting this wrong can begin.