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Section 3. British Columbia after 1871 and the

Establishment of Shuswap Reserves

In 1871, British Columbia entered Confederation. BC Indian policy remained unchanged even though it was different from the federal Indian policy. On the prairies and in Ontario, the government had entered into treaties with the Indians. These extinguished Indian land title and compensated them for their loss. A minimum of 160 acres was allotted to each family. The treaties were a partial recognition of the existence of aboriginal title to lands. That was more than the BC Indians were given.

Here are the areas of the existing Shuswap reserves in 1871:

Reserve Number of Acres
Spallumcheen 218.5(two parcels)
Deadman's Creek 575
Bonaparte Creek 471
Shuswap Lake 3,112
Adams Lake 1,000
Kamloops River 6,000

A) The Terms of Union

BC Indians were not involved in the talks on British Columbia becoming a province of Canada. A motion for the protection of Indians was defeated. Another motion that proposed extending federal policy to BC Indians was withdrawn.

Under the Terms of Union, one article stated that the federal government would assume responsibility for the Indians and the lands reserved for their use. Clause 13 (see Appendix 1) further stated that "a policy as liberal as that hitherto pursued by the British Columbia Government shall be continued by the Dominion Government after the Union." In addition, at the federal government's request, the province was to give the federal government additional land in trust for the Indians. Any disagreements as to the quantity of land were to be arbitrated by the Secretary of State for the colonies. In 1873, the federal government recommended that Indian reserves be based on 80 acres per family. The province of BC offered 10 acres. Finally 20 acres was agreed upon.

B) The Indian Reserve Commission

The Indians of BC objected to the amount of land they were being given, to the methods used, and to the lack of recourse. In 1874, A.W. Powell, the provincial commissioner of Indian Affairs, visited the Indians at Kamloops. They told him that the land available to them was not enough to graze their increasing herds of livestock. The white settlers, however, had access to thousands of acres and often treated the Indians badly. Powell thought that the Indians were justified in their grievances. The Indians were getting support from people in eastern Canada and abroad. Still, the BC and federal government would not budge from their position.

In 1874, the province passed a new Land Act consolidating all previous ones. Even though the federal government would not approve the legislation because it made no minor changes; the bill was officially enacted. Between 1875 and 1876, the BC and federal governments came to an agreement regarding the establishment of Indian reserves. This resulted in the formation of an Indian Reserve Commission. These points were included in the terms of the agreement:

  • The Commission would determine the number, extent and locality of the reserves required for each Indian band separately
  • No basis of acreage would be fixed for reserves
  • The size of reserves would depend on the habits, wants and pursuits of each band. The amount of land available and the claims of white settlers would be considered in setting the size.

The Commission existed from 1876 until 1910. During this time it allotted over 1,000 Indian reserves in British Columbia. The initial committee consisted of three men, but they worked as a group for only one year. After that, the province could not afford to participate. The federal commissioner, Gilbert Sproat, carried on alone from 1878 until 1880. Peter O'Reilly replaced Sproat until 1888. Then A.W. Powell became the commissioner until 1910.

In 1876 the commission worked only in the Lower Mainland. Finally, in late June of 1877, the commission arrived in Kamloops, prompted by the settlers' fears of an Indian war. The government had ignored the Indians' concerns and delayed meeting for so long that the Indians of the Interior eventually began to talk of taking arms against the settlers. Some of the Shuswap had been in contact with Indians across the border. There was also talk of joining with Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce and other Washington Indians, who held strong anti-European sentiments.

When the commissioners came to Kamloops, they found most of the people were in the Okanagan attending a conference of Interior chiefs. Sproat realized that the situation was very serious. He sent a telegram to Ottawa warning that in the Interior there was general dissatisfaction and fighting was possible. Sproat thought that the Indians were reacting to the treatment they were receiving from the provincial government.

The outcome of all this activity was the formation of a stronger alliance among the Interior bands. It continues to this day. This alliance presents a united front in the struggle for a just settlement of land claims and the protection of Indian rights.

Public opinion was against the commission because settlers thought it was too generous. In the Kamloops area, the townspeople did not want to live so close to Indians. They wanted the Reserve relocated. Still others complained about the Indians trespassing on their property. Trade and commercial representatives of the settlers gave the same argument. They said that the Indians were not utilizing their land and were incapable of developing it.

The settlers had tremendous influence on the government. In 1879, the government told the commission that it would not recognize reserves that had not been surveyed according to the regulations of the Land Amendment Act of 1879. In the end, not one reserve allocated by the commission was approved by the provincial chief commissioner of Lands and Works. In some places, the good land had already been pre-empted by non-Indians before the commission came around. In other areas, the provincial government had sold land that had already been allocated as a reserve by the commission. In many cases, the white ranchers grazed their livestock indiscriminately on Indian lands.

In 1880, Peter O'Reilly, Trutch's brother-in-law, replaced Sproat. Trutch was now Dominion agent in BC on railway matters and advisor on Indian Affairs in British Columbia. Trutch recommended that all future decisions of the Indian Reserve Commission be endorsed by the Indian superintendent and the commissioner of Lands and Works. This recommendation was accepted by the Department of Indian Affairs. During O'Reilly's term, reserves were reduced. The commission terminated community-grazing lands in the Interior.

At Soda Creek, O'Reilly told the chief that he had better accept the land he was offered, as O'Reilly would be leaving the next day. At Alkali, he gave to the Indians land that had been rejected by a white settler because it was impossible to irrigate.

C) McKenna-McBride Royal Commission

The federal government appointed Dr. J.A.J. McKenna as a special commissioner in 1912. His job was to resolve the issue of Indian land distribution. The McKenna-McBride Agreement was struck, outlining a joint federal-provincial initiative to settle Indian questions. The McKenna-McBride Commission was to review and make adjustments to the land requirements of the Indians.

The McKenna-McBride Royal Commission lasted from 1913 to 1916. It had two provincial representatives, two federal representatives and one chairman. They reviewed the work of the Indian Reserve Commission of 1876-1910. They confirmed existing reserves or made adjustments. Approximately 500 new reserves (about 87,000 acres) were approved and recommended. There were 54 instances of reductions or cut-offs (about 47,000 acres), but none of those Bands had consented to the loss of land.

Between October 24 and 30, 1913, the commission visited seven Shuswap reserves in the Interior: Neskainlith, Adams Lake, Little Shuswap, North Thompson, Kamloops, Deadman's Creek and Bonaparte. These Bands used their land for farming, haying and pasturage. The Shuswap people who testified before the commission made it clear that they did not wish to lose or sell their land. They reported that they needed funds to use their land productively. They needed equipment for clearing the land and building irrigation systems. A new federal policy restricted the management and expenditure of band revenue. This made it impossible for the Bands to expand and maintain their irrigation systems.

In most cases the Shuswap were concerned about the size of their reserves and the problems posed by overgrazing. The Adams Lake Band requested additional grazing land, but that was rejected. The North Thompson Band requested 1,280 acres for pasturage and was granted 640.

Other concerns were expressed. These included hunting and fishing rights, water rights, expropriations, and leases. These concerns were treated lightly by the commission, often with the comment that the Indians seek recourse elsewhere. The commission's primary concern was with the adjustment of Indian reserves. The Indians testified that existing reserve land was being used as much as possible within the constraints of inadequate irrigation, a lack of equipment and funds, and a lack of grazing lands. Despite this testimony, the commission made reductions.

The Little Shuswap Band lost 2,105 acres. In Neskainlith, Reserve No. 2, 480 acres was cut off. Adams Lake Reserve No.6 had 55 acres cut off and an additional 82 acres from Reserve No.7.

In Canim Lake, the Indian agent testified before the McKenna-McBride Royal Commission that the Indians "had no usage." Canim Lake had applied for six additional parcels of land for general farming, haying and pasturage. All applications were rejected. One was an application for a 360-acre parcel of land worked by George Archie and taken up by a white man. That particular application was rejected because the land was considered alienated.

According to the Schedule of Indian Reserves in the Dominion, 1913, Canoe Creek was recorded as holding seven parcels of land; six of these totaled 12,305 acres. The 1913 Schedule had listed Toby Lake, Reserve No.6, as a 4,440-acre parcel. The McKenna-McBride Royal Commission found the Schedule to be in error and confirmed that the Toby Lake parcel was only 320 acres. Reserve No.7, which was listed as a graveyard, was not included in the final 1916 report. The reason was that no claim had been made to confirm it as a Reserve.

Soda Creek applied for an additional three parcels of land for fishing, haying and general farming. The land applied for was vacant and available, but the commission did not consider the applications. The report states that Mr. Green, the surveyor, went to Soda Creek to locate the parcels of land. Mr. Green said that Chief Antoine told him that the Band had sufficient land and did not want the lands that had been applied for. The report also said the chief refused to accompany Mr. Green to locate these lands.

At Enderby, the commission cut off 3.65 acres plus a 1,689-acre strip. The Kootenay-Okanagan District Report records that these reductions were not accepted by the federal government. The Commission had no authority to recommend cut-offs in the Railway Belt.

In 1915, at Clinton, the commission cut off Reserve No.1, which in 1883 was surveyed as having 225 acres. Reserve No.2 was surveyed in 1833 as having 848 acres. The commission confirmed this as an 820.90-acre lot. The commission allotted to the Clinton Band two parcels of land: No.2A, containing 607 acres, and No.3, containing 3.5 acres.

The Royal Commission disallowed Reserves No.15 and No.17 for Alkali Lake. It also reduced Reserve No.7 from 14 to 7 acres.

At Williams Lake, the commission set aside Reserves Nos.7 to 14, totaling 2.18 acres, as graveyards. It was later found that these could not be made available to the Band.

The Indians were not involved in the establishment of the commission's allocations. The commission did not deal with aboriginal title, nor was it able to deal with water, hunting or fishing rights. Even where additional land was received, it was still found to be inadequate for the needs of the bands. The conveyance of portions of Indian reserves for railway and road purposes did not have the consent of the Indians.

The BC government was not satisfied either. It thought that the McKenna-McBride Royal Commission had been too generous. Once again, the governments could not agree that justice had been done. They both did, however, enact legislation that would allow them to approve and implement the recommendations of the McKenna-McBride Royal Commission.

Between 1913 and 1943, at least 1870 acres were lost by the Shuswap bands. This estimate does not include three Bands where the data was incomplete and one Band where information was unavailable.

Annabel Cropped Eared Wolf
Shuswap Political Activity 1910-1995, SCES 1996/97