Notes from Quaker study on Restoring Indigenous Community Economies

We have committed ourselves to study and action on issues that are relevant to us and relate to traditional Quaker Testimonies. We are delighted to have one of our regular attenders, Robert Miller lead a study session for us recently.  These are notes that he shared.

Notes from Quaker Study on Treaty Relations

Restoring Indigenous Community Economies

[R.M. February 12, 2017]

Two quotes for worship focus:

  1. If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time.But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work  – Lilla Watson, Australian Indigenous activist, academic and artist
  2. “… changing entrenched economic patterns needs to be borne forward on a great river of public concern and shared respectful vision. We pray for that river to rise in our land. – Aboriginal Rights Coalition (Canada, 2000)


CELEBRATING OUR ACTIONS:  What have we done, either individually or collectively, to engage in reconciliation in the past year?

  • We read: Breathing Life into the Stone Fort Treaty by Aimée Craft – life changing
  • Printed 6000 copies of “94 Calls to Action in pamphlet form
  • We Are All Treaty People Celebration Committee – planning an event this coming summer
  • Attended various solidarity events, marches, vigils, etc.
  • One person reached out to MLA
  • Participated in Kairos Cambrian/Agassiz – initiated Indigenous health equity campaign and Restoring Indigenous Community Economies
  • Supported funding application to United Church Healing Fund for Pimicikimak Cree Nation Celebration of Artists – 3 days in August
  • Dinner time conversation – i.e. growing engagement in issues
  • Listened to “Unreserved” on CBC, along with other broadcasts, articles, blogs, etc.


COLONIZATION IN MANITOBA – An historial overview

  1. Introduction
  • Colonization is always about land, always about extracting resources & wealth from the colony; but forms of colonization are specific to a place and a time;
  1. The Fur Trade Period: 1670 to 1870
  • 1670 – Royal charter, London, England – Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) granted monopoly rights to trade into North America
  • Mercantile colonialism – trading furs harvested by Indigenous people for European goods
  • No need to acquire large tracts of land; fur trade required Indigenous population to stay on the land, continue subsistence economy to support themselves;
  • All shipping through York Factory at the mouth of the Hayes River on Hudson Bay
  • Extensive transportation network from Rocky Mountains east throughout entire Hudson Bay watershed: large staging centres (eg. Nelson House at North end of Lake Winnipeg), trading posts, and later temporary ‘outposts’ closer to trappers so they wouldn’t go to competition. (Competition developed from Montreal, southern trade route through St. Lawrence, voyageurs, Northwest Company).
  • In addition to fur harvesting, extensive Aboriginal employment in construction of buildings and boats, freight hauling (York boats), hunting & fishing for food for the posts and transport workers, growing gardens even at the northern posts
  • HBC as ‘benevolent’ – provided credit so trappers could spend more time trapping for trade; occasionally provided medicine, food in emergencies
  • 1800’s – HBC trade declining: fur-bearing animals in decline; competition from French Canadians and American traders; 1830 – HBC merger with Northwest Company
  • 1867 – Americans buy Alaska from Russia; designs to acquire Rupertsland, n. of 49th parallel
  • 1867 – Dominion of Canada formed; initiates colonization of western prairies based on agricultural settlement
  • 1869 – Canada ‘buys’ Rupertsland from HBC for $1.5 million, 8 million square km., 12x the size of Great Britain; also 1/20 of fertile land across the prairies: huge transfer of wealth to HBC shareholders. Indigenous and Metis protest, “We want that money.”
  • 1870 – Metis Provisional Government to negotiate terms of joining Confederation of Canada, defeated by Canadian forces
  • Canada follows Royal Proclamation of 1763 requirement to use treaties to acquire territory in Rupertsland from Indigenous populationfor settlement, agriculture, access to resources
  • 1871 Aug. 3 – Treaty 1 signed at Lower Fort Garry. (See Aimée Craft, Breathing Life Into the Stone Fort Treaty for understanding treaties from Indigenous perspective, i.e. sharing land and resources, mutual care and respect, sovereignty of both parties, schools and medicine to be provided on reserves, support for indigenous agriculture, annual payments)
  • 1871 Aug. 21 – Treaty 2 signed at Manitoba Post (s. of the Narrows, Lake Manitoba)
  • 1875 – Treaty 5 signed – Berens River, Grand Rapids, The Pas, Norway House (+ some Pimicikamak)
  • Treaties established lands reserved for the exclusive use of Indians; gave Canada access to fish and lumber for booming Winnipeg & U.S. economies as these  regions were settled; rapid establishment of lumber camps, sawmills, fishing fleets, fish processing and freezing;
  • 1876 – Indian Act: Canada assumes responsibility for Indians and matters relating to Indiansin violation of Treaties promising to respect Indigenous sovereignty.


  • abundant seasonal employment in fishing (summer) and lumber camps & sawmills (winter) around Lakes Winnipeg, Manitoba & Winnipegosis; skilled workforce for this work; also work on steamships, other boats; many don’t bother to collect treaty payments;
  • many successful Indigenous farm and cattle operations on southern and Interlake reserves;
  • also seasonal employment on settler farms to meet labour shortages at haying and harvest times;
  • Canada (through Indian Agents) put pressure on ‘treaty Indians’ to stay on reserves, develop on-reserve farms;


  • sturgeon are slow growing (20 – 30 years to reach reproductive age); rapidly fished almost to extinction from Manitoba lakes and rivers; whitefish, once thought inexhaustible, also severely depleted; U.S. investors capitalize the industry, depress wages and prices;
  • Canada has jurisdiction over waters and fisheries; native and Icelandic fishers lobby for regulations, especially to protect traditional Indigenous fisheries for subsistence; Canada fails to regulate the industry;
  • advocates (missionaries, occasionally DIA Agents) decry destruction of Indigenous food staple, local (commons) fisheries;
  • chiefs protest that in treaties they gave up land to white settlers, they never gave up the water or the fish; Treaties 1 and 2 do not mention lakes and rivers;


  • shrinking economic opportunities after 1870 north of Lakes Winnipeg, Manitoba and Winnipegosis;
  • fur-bearing animals depleted;
  • though not as desperate as on the prairies where starvation and disease resulted from annihilation of the buffalo, northern communities suffered great hardship after 1870;
  • HBC lowers transportation costs by utilizing steamships on Lake Winnipeg, rail transport to the U.S. and later Canada (CPR to West coast completed in 1885); employment at York Factory, Nelson House and other northern posts drastically curtailed;
  • Indigenous families move from York Factory to Shamattawa, Split Lake, York Landing;
  • for 30 years Indigenous chiefs and advocates (missionaries, lieutenant governors) send requests to Canadian officials requesting treaties north of Treaty 5 boundary (Nelson House);
  • chiefs and advocates also request assistance in relocating northern residents to the Interlake – abundance of food (fish), opportunities for work;
  • although assuming responsibility for welfare of inhabitants of all of Rupertsland from HBC in 1869, Canada resists treaties in northern Manitoba until the need for a northern railroad to the Hudson Bay is contemplated, opening up mining the the north;
  • policy supports HBC – keeps a labour force in the north to pursue the fur trade;
  • 1908 to 1910 – Canada finally agrees to ‘adhesions’ to Treaty 5 for the entire northern part of the province
  • Most agricultural lands settled by 1910. Dept. of Indian Affairs comes under pressure to sell off reserve lands (eg. 1897 – Stoney Knoll Indian Reserve #107 taken from Young Chipewyan Band and sold to settlers; 1907- prime agricultural land at St. Peters Reserve surrendered ‘illegally’, violated Indian Act, residents resettled to Pequis Reserve on Lake Winnipeg.
  • 29 of the 63 First Nations in Manitoba have successfully pursued Treaty Land Entitlement settlement agreements;
  • Sarah Carter (1993) Lost Harvests: Prairie Indian Reserve Farmers and Government Policy – documents Canada’s inadequate support an interference in Aboriginal farmers’ and cattlemen’s ability to market produce off-reserve; required permits from local Indian Agent. Canada “destroyed any chance the Plains Indians had of making agriculture a stable economic base.
  • Modest Indigenous community land-based economies persist into the 1960’s (harvesting, hunting, trapping and fishing for export; growing gardens for local consumption);
  • Indigenous communities excluded from dominant regional industries: mining, forestry, transportation, hydro-electric development; neither federal nor provincial governments use control of access to resources (Crown land) to support Indigenous participation;
  • global competition and increased transportation costs gradually undermine land-based economies of hunting, trapping, fishing and harvesting (berries, wild rice);
  • 1950’s – Canada introduces federal social assistance to First Nations; designed as a social safety net for Canadians, ‘welfare’ becomes a substitute for an economic strategy for Indigenous economies;
  • current situation: shamefully high unemployment (50% +) in northern Aboriginal communities; result – social dysfunction, substance abuse, domestic violence, suicide;
  • Dependency Theory is the notion that resources and wealth are transferred from underdeveloped peripheries or hinterlands to developed (industrialized) metropolitan centres;
  • 1980: Manitoba Govt. brings development economist John Loxley to Winnipeg to northern Manitoba “…to map out a a comprehensive economic and social development project for the northern part of the province aimed at transforming the living conditions of one of the poorest sections of Canadian society.” [Loxley, J. The Great Northern Plan (1981); Studies in Political Economy (vol. 6)]. Project never implemented, Loxley concludes because Indigenous beneficiaries lacked political clout to get the Plan implemented.


  • local communities’ basic needs (food, clothing, housing, energy) met by imports from the south;
  • most of the money to purchase basic needs is spent in Northern Stores (essentially monopoly retailer), branch of HBC; money flows in, right back out without creating local employment;
  • purchases financed by federal transfer payments (taxpayers): social assistance & other program funds, facilitating continued dependency with corporate profits in the south;
  • Canada has the control but fails to develop a coherent economic development policy for Indigenous communities;
  2. Import substitution Social investment in capacity to replace imported goods with local goods where possible (eg. food, energy, building materials); (see Shaun Loney (2016) An Army of Problem Solvers: Reconciliation and the Solutions Economy)
  3. Employment in social sector Financial transfers to provide employment in meeting communities’ needs (eg. recreation, arts and cultural activities, land-based activities, spiritual needs, etc.)

Note:  These are two key strategies for full employment that referred to in the presentation. Other elements of an Indigenous CED (community economic development strategy:

  1. Participation in regional economies Social investment to expand participation in forestry, mining, hydroelectric generation, transportation, etc.
  2. Procurement strategy Support Indigenous communities in overcoming barriers to participation in government procurement procedures at all levels; (see National Indigenous Council of Elders strategies for accumulating wealth in Indigenous communities in Canada)
  3. Invest in people Social investment in equitable Indigenous education to allow local community members to fill jobs now held by outsiders (eg. teachers, health workers, various professionals) as well as to find employment outside their community; also equitable Indigenous health/mental health services and services for children and families; (see Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (1996) People to People, Nation to Nation)
  4. Community economic strategies Provide resources to assist Indigenous communities in developing their own local CED strategies and action plans;
  5. National Indigenous community economic and social development strategy and action plan With measurable targets, time frame, monitoring.

NEXT QUAKER STUDY ON TREATY RELATIONS:  How will Winnipeg Monthly Meeting work towards reconciliation?


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