Bill Waiser

Monthly Archives: November 2020

Opinion: Reconciliation a work in progress on Beardy’s & Okemasis

Reconciliation work, made necessary by the fallout from the 1885 North-West Resistance, is not over.

By: Angus Esperance and Bill Waiser.

A ceremony on Aug. 28, 2020 saw treaty medals restored to the Beardy’s & Okemasis First Nation. Mary Culbertson, the Treaty Commissioner of Saskatchewan (left), Chief Edwin Ananas, Beardy’s & Okemasis First Nation, and Saskatchewan Lt.-Gov. Russ Mirasty. (Photo courtesy Angela Merasty, Office of the Treaty Commissioner.) 

Saskatchewan’s Beardy’s & Okemasis First Nation and the Crown are actively engaged in reconciliation.

It wasn’t always that way.

Willow Cree Chiefs Beardy and Saswaypew (succeeded by Okemasis) signed an adhesion to Treaty 6 in August 1876. Alarmed by the disappearance of the bison, they accepted the Queen’s offer of assistance to make the transition to farming.

The Beardy’s & Okemasis people settled near Duck Lake, just west of the South Saskatchewan River. The first few years of reserve life were marked by hardship and privation. Promised agricultural assistance was not only late in arriving, but often inadequate.

Then, in the spring of 1885, the Willow Cree people were helplessly drawn into the vortex of the North-West Resistance. The Willow Cree leaders counselled their followers to remain on the sidelines during the Metis resistance. But some band members were forcibly coerced into joining Metis ranks — a fact willfully ignored by government officials. The historical record suggests they were not allies.

Canada moved quickly to punish First Nations for their alleged involvement in the resistance. Then-prime minister John A. Macdonald told Gov.-Gen. Lansdowne, “We have certainly made (the resistance) assume large proportions in the public eye. This has been done … for our own purposes.”

Those bands found off-reserve were accused of violating Indian Commissioner Edgar Dewdney’s early May 1885 order that Indians remain peacefully in place. It did not matter that the Beardy’s & Okemasis people, like the white settler community, had feared for their safety and fled from their homes because the Battle of Duck Lake took place on the edge of their reserve.

They were now considered a “rebel” band.

Canada suspended annuity payments to the Beardy’s & Okemasis people for four years — from 1885-1888 inclusive­ — even though this unilateral action violated the Treaty 6 agreement. General Frederick Middleton, the commander of the North-West Field Force, also confiscated the treaty medals of Beardy and Okemasis and deposed them as chiefs of their bands.

The Beardy’s & Okemasis First Nation have lived with the shame of being “disloyal” for 130 years.

Finally, in 2015, the Specific Claims Tribunal ruled that the Crown had wrongly accused the Beardy’s & Okemasis bands of insurrection and breached its treaty obligation to pay annuities to band members at a time of suffering and starvation. Canada was required to pay $4.6 million to the Beardy’s & Okemasis people in compensation. The tribunal decision also applied to 12 other bands who had their treaty payments withheld.

Another step on the road to reconciliation was taken this past August. Mary Culbertson, the Treaty Commissioner of Saskatchewan and a member of the Keeseekoose First Nation, arranged to have two replacement treaty medals presented to the Beardy’s & Okemasis First Nation. The event, purposely held on Aug.28, marked the 144th anniversary of the Willow Cree’s entry into treaty. It was also significant that His Honour Russ Mirasty, the lieutenant-governor of Saskatchewan and a member of the Lac La Ronge First Nation, participated in the ceremony.

That’s the good news.

But the reconciliation work, made necessary by the fallout from the 1885 North-West Resistance, is far from over.

Three Cree chiefs­ Poundmaker, Big Bear, and One Arrow­ were found guilty of treason-felony in the aftermath of the resistance and sentenced to time in Stony Mountain penitentiary. In May 2019, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pardoned Poundmaker. That same consideration should also apply to Big Bear and One Arrow who were reluctant participants in the troubles­ and convicted for what Prime Minister Macdonald called, “our own purposes.”

General Middleton also took One Arrow’s treaty medal after the fall of Batoche. No one knows what became of the medal, but a replacement should be presented to the One Arrow band.

Canada also refused to recognize the chief and headmen of the Beardy & Okemasis First Nation from 1889 until 1936. Twenty-seven other bands were similarly treated. Canada must make amends for this heavy-handed action.

Perhaps the most painful consequence of the resistance was Canada’s declaration that 28 Indigenous bands had been disloyal in 1885. This “rebel” label was arbitrarily applied in many instances.

Until these outstanding issues are resolved and Canada formally apologizes for its actions, reconciliation remains a work in progress.

Angus Esperance is an Elder with the Beardy’s & Okemasis First Nation.

This article originally appeared as an opinion piece in the Saskatoon StarPhoenix.

Sask. Party earns a place in history

A fourth consecutive majority mandate is also history-making. It’s something that has been accomplished only twice in the past. | File photos

Now that the Sask Party has secured its fourth consecutive majority mandate, it’s time to look at other powerhouse parties from Saskatchewan’s electoral past. 

The Sask Party’s re-election is a significant achievement, one that will ensure that it continues to be the longest serving provincial government in Canada today. There’s even talk of the Sask Party being the province’s “natural governing party.” 

A fourth consecutive majority mandate is also history-making. It’s something that has been accomplished only twice in the past. 

The last time was from 1944-64 when the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation Party won five consecutive elections (1944, 1948, 1952, 1956, and 1960) during its 20-year reign. 

Tommy Douglas was the CCF leader for those majority victories. He also enjoys the distinction of serving 17 years as premier. 

No other Saskatchewan premier has matched the Douglas record. Liberal leader Walter Scott (1905-1916), New Democratic Party leader Allan Blakeney (1971-1982), and Sask Party leader Brad Wall (2007-2018) all served 11 years as premier. 

Tommy Douglas also book-ended his years as Saskatchewan premier as an MP. 

He represented Weyburn (1935-44) in the House of Commons before the 1944 Saskatchewan provincial election and then stepped down as premier in 1961 to head the fledgling New Democratic Party. 

He was defeated in Regina in the 1962 federal election and had to find a safe seat in British Columbia later that same year. Douglas never tried to run in Saskatchewan again, despite his long association with the province. 

Douglas would serve the next 17 years in Parliament. When his past service as Weyburn MP is included, he spent 26 years in federal politics — much longer than his term as premier. 

Douglas was not the only Saskatchewan premier with Ottawa experience, nor does his CCF party hold the record for the most consecutive majority election victories. 

The Liberal party was a Saskatchewan dynasty in the early 20th century, enjoying power for almost a quarter century (1905-29). It won a string of six consecutive majority elections (1905, 1908, 1912, 1917, 1921, and 1925), even though it faced several challenges, including the First World War and the farmers’ progressive movement. 

Saskatchewan’s first and second premiers, Walter Scott (1905-16) and William Martin (1916-22), respectively, both sat in the House of Commons as Liberal backbenchers for Saskatchewan ridings before entering provincial politics. 

Charles Dunning (1922-26) and Jimmy Gardiner (1926-29 and 1934-35), on the other hand, went from the Saskatchewan premiership to the Liberal cabinet table in Ottawa. 

Dunning was finance minister in the William Lyon Mackenzie King government. Gardiner served both King and Louis St. Laurent as minister of agriculture for a remarkable 22 years.

Before Gardiner entered the federal cabinet in 1935, he had to overcome a political embarrassment. In the 1929 general election, Gardiner was the first Saskatchewan premier to lead his party to defeat. He did not like it. It was only after Gardiner had brought the Liberal party back to power in 1934 that he resigned as premier a year later to go to Ottawa.

It was on the floor of the House of Commons that Gardiner, a former premier of Saskatchewan, did verbal battle with Douglas, a future premier of Saskatchewan. Both men were famously short. One day during a steady barrage of heckling led by Gardiner, Douglas retorted, “I don’t want any more interruptions. If the minister of agriculture will sit up in his chair and dangle his feet, I’ll go on with what I have to say.” Gardiner never forgave him. 

What’s often forgotten about this Regina-Ottawa Liberal connection was that King represented a Saskatchewan riding for 19 of his 27 years as federal Liberal party leader (1919-48). He was the MP for Prince Albert from 1926-45. He was prime minister for 14 of those years. 

So, what’s next for Premier Scott Moe and his Sask Party government? If they want to continue to make Saskatchewan electoral history: 

  • Moe needs to remain premier until 2035 (Douglas served 17 years).
  • The Sask Party needs to govern until 2031 (the Liberals governed for 24 years). 
  • The Sask Party needs to win two more majority victories (equalling the Liberal record). 

Given the Sask Party’s decisive victory in the 2020 Saskatchewan election, especially its capture of three-fifths of the popular vote, two more majority victories seem possible. 

But as British Liberal politician Joseph Chamberlain warned, “in politics, there is no use in looking beyond the next fortnight.”

Just look at the fate of the other two “natural governing parties” in the October 2020 provincial election. The Liberals secured only a few hundred votes (less than one percent of popular vote), while the NDP (the successor to the CCF) still struggles to expand its electoral appeal.

One thing is certain, though. The Saskatchewan Roughriders have only won the Grey Cup (1966, 1989, 2007, and 2013) when the NDP has not been in power.

This article originally appeared in the Western Producer.