The genesis and anatomy of government policy and Indian reserve agriculture on four agencies in Treaty Four, 1874-1897

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Carter, Sarah.
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This study of government policy and aqriculture on four agencies in Treaty Four, 1874-97, challenges the widely-accepted belief that reserve farming failed despite concerted efforts of government to train, equip and assist because Indians were culturally resistant to becominq farmers. Although farming did not become the basis of a stable economy on reserves, an initial positive response to agriculture on the part of many reserve residents was evident in the years 1874-1897. The Indians of this period consistently displayed greater determination to see farming succeed than did government administrators. Government policy, combined with the same environmental and economic adversities that plagued all farmers, contributed to the decline or blunting of the initial positive response. Victorian Canadians believed that the future of the Indians lay with farming although they perceived Indian society to be the antithesis of an agricultural way of life. The plains Indians, who throughout their history showed an ability to adapt and change were well aware of the advantages farming offered and by the late nineteenth century were anxious to explore this option. The Canadian government however showed little determination to ensure that agriculture prospered on the reserves. In the years from the Qu'Appelle treaty of 1874 to the disappearance of the buffalo in 1879, little agricultural aid or instruction was offered, despite repeated requests from Indians. The home farm policy, hastily implemented in 1879, proved of little benefit to most Indian farmers as the instructors and their farms were remote from the reserves. With massive government cutbacks in funding and staff after 1883, efforts to establish agriculture on reserves became even more difficult. The goal of government policy after 1885 was to destroy the "tribal" system and enhance individualism. Measures desiqned to control and monitor Indian movement and activity eventually had an effect on reserve agriculture. By 1890 however, Indian farmers had overcome some obstacles that had hampered agriculture in the past and were adoptinq dry-land farming techniques, purchasing necessary implements, and specializinq in grain. The severalty and peasant farming policies, enforced during the years 1890 to 1897, set tight limits on agricultural productivity and expansion. These policies were crucial factors in the checking of the initial positive response to agriculture. With the erosion of the Indian land base in the years after l896, the opportunity for agriculture to form the basis of a stable economy on reserves became ever more remote.