We Are All Treaty People

Treaty Promises, Indian Reality
Treaty Promises, Indian Reality

Life on a Reserve

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Media Book
Author Harold LeRat with Linda Ungar
ISBN 1-895830-26-5
Publisher Purich Publishing, fall 2005

The vast open plains of the prairies drew thousands of settlers to the Canadian West. But what of the people who already inhabited these lands? The federal government promised to care for the Indians in perpetuity and in return, the nomadic Indians would sign treaties, settle on reserves, and learn to be farmers. Many Indians, including those led by Chief Cowessess, camped and hunted in the Cypress Hills where there was plenty of game, water, and wood. Forced out of the Hills by the government and driven by hunger to a reserve in the Qu'Appelle Valley, Cowessess and his people were successful farmers, but they had little control over what was supposed to be their land.

The story of life on reserves after treaty is a story of power: the power of Indian Affairs. Indian agents controlled every aspect of life on and off reserve - the dreaded pass system and permission slips needed to sell farm produce, or not as it suited the agents; the instructors whose job it was to transform Indian hunters into farmers; the residential school system, and the questionable surrender of reserve land. Yet, this book does not make a political statement. It does not judge the actions of the government, its agents, or anyone else. In an ever-respectful voice, this book relates things as they were, and points to the many successes of Indian peoples despite the many challenges they faced.

This book is a story of triumph over adversity and oppression. In this very personal account of life on an Indian reserve and in residential schools, Harold LeRat, with the assistance of writer Linda Ungar, relates the history of the Cowessess people based on stories told by elders, research he did in connection with the land surrender, and his own recollections. In many ways, this book provides a look at the Indian reality of the lives of many First Nations peoples and the development of reserves on the Prairies. Anyone interested in the history of the west will treasure this book.

Harold LeRat, a treaty Indian from the Cowessess First Nation, speaks from a wealth of experience, his own and that of his ancestors. He is a farmer/rancher and a horse trainer whose animals have raced on tracks across Canada. Linda Ungar spent two decades farming near Crooked Lake and has written extensively for newspapers and magazines focusing mainly on agricultural and Aboriginal issues. She currently works in Regina, SK.