Ottawa apologizes for ‘radical social engineering’ experiment on First Nations

CREE NATION OF PEEPEEKISIS – A First Nation in Saskatchewan testified Wednesday to the words it has expected from the federal government since the early 1950s — an apology.

The Peepeekisis Cree Nation opened its powwow grounds to Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Millar, who issued an apology after Canada imposed an agricultural colony on the community’s lands between 1898 and 1954.

The File Hills agricultural colony received graduates of residential and industrial schools from Saskatchewan and Manitoba who were given parcels of prime agricultural land without the First Nation’s consent or compensation.

To make room for the colony, members of Peepeekisis were driven from their land. And those who worked on the settlement were unable to return to their own First Nations communities.

“At the time, Canada incorrectly claimed that this program would improve agricultural activity, but we now understand that this was an experiment of an invasive nature, an experiment in radical social engineering,” Miller said. .

Canada’s actions led to a loss of culture because the federal agent who ran the colony restricted access to land, limited household visits and banned powwows, dances and other ceremonies, Miller said.

“On behalf of Canada, I apologize for these actions,” he said, also apologizing in Cree, the language of the Peepeekisi people.

“They have caused great harm to your community, your language and your culture, and we are deeply sorry for that.”

These are words that Peepeekisis chief Francis Dieter and 18 chiefs before him had been calling for since the 1950s.

“(The Colony) was a social engineering project that contributed to the genocide of the Crees who resided on the Peepeekisis reserve,” Dieter said.

He said the colony was designed to extend the policies of assimilation that began in Canada’s residential school system.

Nearly 7,700 hectares of nation land was taken without permission and given to the colony, many of which were not part of the First Nation, Dieter said.

About 3,200 hectares were left to the original 62 members, leading to continued divisions among some who remain in the Cree Nation of Peepeekisis, he said.

Last year, the First Nation agreed to a $150 million federal settlement with the option to add more reserve land.

Miller acknowledged that Canada’s actions breached its fiduciary duty to Peepeekisis and failed to protect the nation’s interests in the territory.

For the Band Councilors and the Chief, they are now focusing on the youth of the community and making sure they don’t carry the same divisions that plagued their ancestors.

“The loss of culture has contributed to the loss of faith and identity among the young people of the band,” Dieter said.

Sara Poitras, who is also from Peepeekisis First Nation, said she could identify.

The primary school teacher said there was a lot of anger and disconnection within her community.

She said her ancestors were transferred to the colony and, like her, there are many inside who don’t know where they came from.

“We come from Peepeekisis now, but where did we come from before? I’m envious of those who say ‘I’m from here, I’m from here.’ I wish I had that,” Poitras said.

“Now I have a new journey. I want to know where I come from.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on August 3, 2022.

— With files from Kelly Malone in Winnipeg

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