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Year in review: hearing hard truths about First Nations farmers

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Jan 7, 2023 | 09:33 1 From the Manitoba Cooperator

Year in review: hearing hard truths about First Nations farmers
Digging into the history of oppression and neglect of Indigenous farmers on the Prairies a heartbreaking but necessary endeavour

By Geralyn Wichers

Published: 20 hours ago

“They said agriculture is going to be your new buffalo. That’s how you’re going to feed yourselves,” Robert Maytwayashing told me.

By ‘they’ he meant the Canadian government, many years ago.

Maytwayashing is a former cattle farmer from Lake Manitoba First Nation, and he’s worked in multiple advocacy, leadership and cultural training roles.

Farming went way back in his family, but they didn’t call it that, he said. It was simply raising food anyway they could.

Until the late 1950s, there was no point in farming above subsistence level, he said. If Indigenous people wanted to sell cattle or butcher for food, they had to get permission from the Indian agent. The proceeds or meat went to the agent, who distributed them as he saw fit.

“So what was the sense of busting your butt year-round when you weren’t even allowed to reap the benefits?” Maytwayashing asked me.

This year, I dug into the history of Indigenous farmers on the Prairies and their relationship with the federal and provincial governments.

The more I read, and the more I spoke with farmers and former farmers like Maytwayashing, the more it seemed clear that — after telling First Nations to farm — the Canadian government did almost everything it could to make it impossible.

What’s worse, thanks to those historical decisions, it’s still remarkably difficult for many First Nations people to make a living by farming.

Case in point: I spoke to Derrick Gould, who raises horses and cuts and sells hay on Pinaymootang (Fairford) First Nation.

There used to be dozens of farmers there. Gould related a family history of how, in the early 1960s, the Fairford Dam opened, water came up the river, and cattle just floated away.

Apparently, the province hadn’t considered the dam’s effects on Pinaymootang residents or bothered to warn them the water was coming. A 1990s-era study I found said the flooding rendered grain fields and hay lands useless, either because of moisture or because of salts brought to the surface.

When Gould was a teenager, he cut hay with an ancient tractor and implements and pitched hay by hand into a wagon.

Because he lives on a reserve, he doesn’t own his land or his house, so he doesn’t have much to use as collateral on loans. Gradually he saved enough money, got small loans — the bank wouldn’t loan him more than $20,000 at a time — and upgraded his equipment bit by bit. He also built a cow-calf herd.

Not much has changed in this regard. It’s still very difficult for First Nations farmers to get loans. Farm Credit Canada is working to make it easier, Shaun Soonias, director of Indigenous relations, told me. It didn’t sound like they were close to a solution.

In 2003, the BSE crisis hit the cattle industry. It was no different for Gould and other Indigenous cattle farmers. But unlike many producers off-reserve, Gould and many other First Nations farmers didn’t get financial aid from government programs.

[Frozen out: BSE-era relief programs a case study in how Indigenous farmers fall through the cracks

Gould said he was told he couldn’t participate in provincial aid programs, and when he spoke with federal officials, they said there was nothing for him. Gould lost his herd.

I spoke with David Natcher, a researcher at the University of Saskatchewan who said — based on a study he and other researchers did in Saskatchewan — that Gould’s experience was the rule, not the exception.

Of 33 producers his team spoke to, only one had received financial aid during the BSE crisis. The rest had either not heard of the programs or had been told they weren’t eligible. I found the same pattern in Manitoba.

The federal and Manitoba governments told me First Nations farmers were eligible for many of the aid programs. One even had a specific intake process for them. I tried to learn who had responsibility for helping Indigenous farmers during the crisis but couldn’t figure it out.

This may be the crux of the issue. No one knew who was responsible. No one took responsibility. No one followed up. Did they even know farmers existed on reserves? Gould told me a federal official he’d spoken to wondered aloud if there were First Nations farmers on reserves.

To me, this anecdote bears a sharp sting of historic irony. A federal official, representative of the body that told First Nations to embrace agriculture, was surprised to find an Indigenous farmer. It was heartbreaking to learn that neglect and bad information stamped out farms that had, to that point, survived so much hardship.

Particularly haunting to me was that no one even noticed.

It’s not for me as a journalist, or the wider agriculture community, to dictate to Indigenous peoples what would best serve their farmers.

I believe, however, that it’s incumbent on us to challenge our own preconceived notions.

Sarah Carter’s Lost Harvests: Prairie Indian Reserve Farmers and Government Policy is a great primer. It may be bit tough to find a hard copy, but it’s also available as an e-book.

For a shorter read, 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act, by Bob Joseph is a slim volume that touches on policies that affected farmers. It’s also available as an audiobook. Reply With Quote
Jan 7, 2023 | 10:02 2 You start, chuck. Give your land to the Indians to farm Be an example, be the first. Reply With Quote
Jan 7, 2023 | 10:29 3 They weren't even allowed to succeed as farmers on their own land.

When land claims are settled and compensation paid out you should be quiet. Reply With Quote
cropgrower's Avatar Jan 7, 2023 | 10:48 4 100% garbage CC , their is no law in this country stoping first nations folk working ,makeing money buying property same as all the rest of us have done , in fact they are further ahead by getting a free house to start with , i left school started with notting , built up a buisness back in 80s when intrest was near 20% , was also refused money to borrow when starting out , sold everything bought my own farm , you give them your farm or whatever you have and if you feel that is what shud be done Reply With Quote

  • Jan 7, 2023 | 10:49 5
    Quote Originally Posted by chuckChuck View Post
    They weren't even allowed to succeed as farmers on their own land.

    When land claims are settled and compensation paid out you should be quiet.
    Along with Harpers plan to have the leadership of bands accountable, he also wanted Indians to have the ability of land and property ownership. But the left squealed and cried and screamed and wailed.

    A question for you. Tribes with unwritten languages and only oral “history” and legends, can assert they owned a certain tract of land how exactly? Reply With Quote

  • jazz's Avatar Jan 7, 2023 | 11:11 6 Natives can get rid of the Indian Act any time, distribute property as private and let citizens use it to further their economic interests.

    But instead, the white man farms their land. I think they prefer that.

    Thank god we got rid of our own Indian Act, the CWB. Reply With Quote

  • Jan 7, 2023 | 13:48 7 Hmmm , there are some very successful First Nation farmers out west of here , individual farms

    One earth was a train wreck along with the “farm” at Red Pheasant that is plagued with mismanagement Reply With Quote
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  • blackpowder's Avatar Jan 7, 2023 | 14:41 8 Not an expert at all.
    But if you look, it is clear the various acts of the past were as fair and sensible as residential schools. (Sarcasm if you couldn't tell)
    Leaving the reserve and borrowing money the conventional way the only way to get ahead. You can't leverage what the King owns.
    To me it seems First Nations must own the difficulties they control. It can't stop at perpetual acknowledgment of wrongdoing.
    Deeding their land was turned down by them I believe.
    My housekeeper was raised on a reserve. Her father raised cattle. He quit when hay was divvied up based on not the number of cows you had but whether or not you were in the Chief's family.
    Indigenous schools for troubled youth still place kids far from their families.
    Will our propensity for intergenerational guilt solve First Nation's propensity for intergenerational self harm?
    The hard choice would be a hand up with tough love not a hand out. Instead we all continue down the easy path.
    If we were all on a 12 step program. We would acknowledge wrongs, speak truths and apologies. But the work and responsibilities are still all our own.
    Chuck remains on the easy path and as such is as much a part of the problem as anyone.
    PS. This was not a cut and paste but solely originated from my own limited brain. Others should try it. Reply With Quote

  • Jan 7, 2023 | 14:45 9
    Quote Originally Posted by wiseguy View Post
    chuck doesn't have any land to give !
    No, but his NFU is more than eager to give everyone else's land away. With their support for the land back campaign. Reply With Quote
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  • Jan 7, 2023 | 16:25 10 Land Back protests in US too. Starting at Mount Rushmore and Black Hills. Where did Custer go? Battle of Little Bighorn revival? Reply With Quote
    Jan 7, 2023 | 17:40 11 Land back is why the South Africans are moving here?

    Never say never. Reply With Quote
    blackpowder's Avatar Jan 7, 2023 | 18:18 12
    Quote Originally Posted by chuckChuck View Post
    They weren't even allowed to succeed as farmers on their own land.

    When land claims are settled and compensation paid out you should be quiet.
    True.

    I will be when I know it's the last check ever written, forever. Reply With Quote

  • Jan 7, 2023 | 20:39 13
    Quote Originally Posted by blackpowder View Post
    True.

    I will be when I know it's the last check ever written, forever.
    Which is why it will never happen. Reply With Quote
    Jan 7, 2023 | 20:41 14 I was born in Canada and it just as much my Canada as anyone else’s.

    If the Indians want it Back they had better get back into the Stone Age.... Reply With Quote
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  • jazz's Avatar Jan 7, 2023 | 22:41 15 Maybe its the natives that should be giving the land back

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  • Jan 8, 2023 | 01:14 16 Good morning CC...

    That humanity treats itself in unjust manners... is a given... from the decision to seek knowledge... and choose to disobey the creator of this universe.... evil has been present in our 'civilization'.

    How each of us choose to treat other humans... and creation... is a personal responsibility... that after we die; we will be held accountable for.

    Have no fear, CC; what we sow, we shall reap.

    Because we are all personally responsible for our actions...

    Let us, each one of us; because our creator insists that we are all equal and created in his image... choose to Love one another and each have the self-discipline to hate evil, be kind, love our enemies, and trust God to bring justice to humanity; when, where, and how our Creator chooses to.

    I can only be responsible for my actions... let us each seek truth, billions of copies of the Holy Bible, are available... for those who choose to seek the Truth. Otherwise this discussion is pointless!

    Blessings and Salutations Reply With Quote
    Jan 8, 2023 | 01:27 17

    Happy Reading CC! Reply With Quote
    Jan 8, 2023 | 08:51 18 The first step in reconciliation is understanding the history of what really happened to first nations and what is happening to them now.

    Taking away their land, culture, dignity and independence was what happened.

    They were purposely forced onto small reserves in many cases with starvation and planned dependence on the federal government.

    Anybody who dosen't accept that past treatment has had a profund impact on the current state of first nations is in denial.

    Its a shared responsibility to fix the current problems. Reply With Quote
    Jan 8, 2023 | 09:06 19 CC:

    You missed the point many have presented:

    Personal Responsibility.

    I can only change myself.

    Therefore CC… by your example…. You can be a leader… and bring‘freedom’ to those people whom you can.

    I am responsible for myself and my future.

    Blessings and Salutations Reply With Quote

  • blackpowder's Avatar Jan 8, 2023 | 09:55 20 Ya, he was looking for a fight he never got. Reply With Quote

  • jazz's Avatar Jan 8, 2023 | 10:31 21
    Quote Originally Posted by blackpowder View Post
    Ya, he was looking for a fight he never got.
    chuck is the guy who believes the govt can do no wrong, now tells us the govt did wrong. The self own is incredible.

    Really throws a wrench into the marxist way. Imagine the mental gymnastics at work there.

    let the govt handle it, but there will be no reparations or private land back happening. Crown owns 90% of the country, let them give land back first. Reply With Quote
    Jan 8, 2023 | 11:28 22 I went to high school with Judge Gerald Morin.
    He got an Order of Canada recently.
    Kind of the equivalent of knighthood and a Sir in front of your name.
    Probably one of the most successful guys I know.
    Nobody ever looked at Gerry as under privileged as he created his own image. Strong athlete who played multiple sports,good student who took stacks of homework home and always had the best looking girls.
    Made his own success.
    Will tell you it was hard work but he knew where he wanted to go.
    In a recent interview he said he tells young kid in front of him in court;

    "Stay in school, learn how to say a key word… ‘no’,” said Morin. “No, I have to study; no, I have to work on this project. Those are the messages the young people need.” Reply With Quote
    Jan 8, 2023 | 11:45 23 Just want to point out, he's Metis.

    To separate Nations! Reply With Quote
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  • Jan 8, 2023 | 11:48 24 Your right.

    At school the Metis used to tease us they had to walk to school like us but our friends with treaty got the taxi!
    They all came from Cumberland House. Reply With Quote
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  • Jan 8, 2023 | 15:24 25 Interesting story ! Reply With Quote
    Jan 9, 2023 | 08:36 26 Tom, lack of "Personal Responsibility" is the only problem? Are you serious?

    And how would "personal responsibility" solve all the problems that were created by the indian act, residential schools, poverty on uneconomic reserves, let alone the systemic racism?

    What did Prime Minister Harper apologize in the House of Commons for? Did you forget already? Reply With Quote
    Jan 9, 2023 | 08:50 27 Following buffalo all day and realizing it’s mice for supper is real poverty. Reply With Quote
    Jan 9, 2023 | 20:34 28
    Quote Originally Posted by chuckChuck View Post
    Tom, lack of "Personal Responsibility" is the only problem? Are you serious?

    And how would "personal responsibility" solve all the problems that were created by the indian act, residential schools, poverty on uneconomic reserves, let alone the systemic racism?

    What did Prime Minister Harper apologize in the House of Commons for? Did you forget already?
    why did numbnuts not want chiefs and councils to be accountable ? Reply With Quote
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  • Jan 9, 2023 | 21:11 29
    Quote Originally Posted by chuckChuck View Post
    Tom, lack of "Personal Responsibility" is the only problem? Are you serious?

    And how would "personal responsibility" solve all the problems that were created by the indian act, residential schools, poverty on uneconomic reserves, let alone the systemic racism?

    What did Prime Minister Harper apologize in the House of Commons for? Did you forget already?
    So what is the solution for the wrongs done to native people? Reserves, Indian Act and the problems resulting from it see no end in sight because reserves and Indian act still in place. Said before white man came chief and council didn’t exist. It was an invention of the powers at the time. Here’s a video from a native guy I found thought provoking. Ties in with your agenda 2030 You should watch it.
    https://vm.tiktok.com/ZMFEMhago/

    Been watching some YouTube videos from Russia of journalists visiting the far east of Siberia. Similar situation. Resident populations ethnically diverse almost like our native people here. No work, living in crumbling cities with no real hope drunk most of the time. Heck a lot of Russians probably live that way. What do you think has caused these parallels? Please think and respond. Reply With Quote
    Jan 9, 2023 | 23:00 30 Stating the obvious CC…

    I know people of native heritage…. Who were, are, and continue to be prosperous, productive, people.

    Just as Hutterites are often successful, prosperous, productive contributors to Canadian and Global civilization…

    So there are plenty of native people and organizations who make valuable contributions to humanity.

    Any person can be a victim… their heritage is secondary to their personal lives and how they deal with life’s challenges.

    Personal responsibility… CC…

    Stop being a victim… take responsibility for your own destiny!!!

    Blessings and Salutations Reply With Quote