Overcoming The Differences Of Treaty And Scrip: The Community Development Program In Fort Chipewyan(1)

By Patricia A. McCormack


There is a great deal of scholarly interest today in how the parallel processes of treaty and scrip, developed and imposed on Aboriginal peoples by the Dominion of Canada, contributed to their evolving social identities and economic circumstances.(2) In the 19th century in northern Canada, distinctions between “Indian” and “Métis” categories of Aboriginal peoples were not clearly drawn. As Dr. O. C. Edwards commented in 1900 when he traveled with the treaty party:

I have not seen an Indian as he is popularly known or depicted since I left Calgary. These so called Indians of the north are all half breeds… If they choose ‘treaty’ then they are written down Indians, if they select ‘scrip’ then they are called half breeds [Leonard and Whalen 1999:53].

It was Treaty No. 8 that created “status or treaty Indians” in this northern region. This legal identification was assigned to all Aboriginal peoples whose names were entered onto band lists and subsequently onto the Indian Register. Those Aboriginal peoples who chose to apply for “Half-breed scrip” were considered to be “Half-breeds,” a common term of the day for people of mixed European-Aboriginal ancestry. They enjoyed no special on-going legal status after their one-time benefit, but disappeared legislatively. In short, the treaty and scrip process erected a legal and a conceptual boundary between Aboriginal peoples known collectively as “Indians” (now “First Nations”) and other Aboriginal peoples known mostly as “Half-breeds” (now “Métis”). Those individuals who became “status Indians” were governed by an additional set of boundaries when they were organized into legal “Indian bands,” as defined and governed by the Indian Act. While these bands were based only loosely on real socio-political groupings, as they appeared to the Treaty Commissioners in1899-1900, they acquired a new reality once they were established legally, and many of them have persisted as largely unchanging entities.

These formal distinctions played important roles in structuring social, economic, and political relations throughout the 20th century. They affected personal and community identities. They strengthened the localized Aboriginal identities newly-constructed by the federally-imposed Indian band system, while weakening the ability of broader collectivities of Aboriginal people to speak with a common voice. Nevertheless, people in local communities recognized that they had common interests and sometimes tried to surmount these artificial divisions.

This paper considers one such instance in the community of Fort Chipewyan, the home of two Indian bands or First Nations – one Chipewyan, one Cree – and a Métis population socially and ethnically divided into three segments: French-Métis and Scots-Métis closely associated with the historic development of Fort Chipewyan, and another distinct group of French-Métis who arrived in family groups after World War I from the Lac La Biche-Plamondin area (McCormack 1984:chp. 4). Fort Chipewyan has always had a non-Aboriginal population as well.

Until the 1950s, the inhabitants of Fort Chipewyan itself were mainly its non-Aboriginal occupants – traders, missionaries, government agents (and their families, if any) – and members of its historic Métis groups. Most Chipewyans and Crees and the Lac La Biche Métis lived in settlements in the surrounding lands, or “bush.” From about 1955 to 1965, they relocated to Fort Chipewyan, initiating a period in which they and the long-term Métis residents began to forge a new social community in the context of a deteriorating economy (McCormack 1984).(3)

One tool they used was the new, government-initiated Community Development Program. It offered these diverse groups a vehicle to speak with a single community voice. Community Development represented an attempt by Aboriginal community residents to overcome the boundaries imposed by treaty and scrip, to unite in analyzing and resolving the difficulties of establishing a secure economic base in the community. This collaborative approach was encouraged by the local Community Development officers assigned to assist Fort Chipewyan residents. While I will argue that the program did not achieve its immediate goals, what is of particular interest was the community strategy to override or by-pass the differences between different Indian bands and between “Indians” and “Métis.” It was a strategy that continued to be pursued long after the end of the Community Development Program.

Ironically, current government taxation and Indian Affairs structures have led the Chipewyan and Cree First Nations to abandon a unified, community-based approach for more isolated, band-based strategies. These are beginning to reshape the community in ways that may reverse nearly 50 years of attempts to overcome the differences imposed by government policies and definitions.


The Context For Community Development

Fort Chipewyan, one of Canada’s oldest fur trade posts, evolved after World War II into a small town and administrative center. The community features a highly complex social formation. Residing together are people with different legal and cultural statuses, as well as different economies, interests, and opportunities to shape their own destinies. In the Fort Chipewyan region, as elsewhere in the Treaty 8 region, the Aboriginal economy declined seriously during the 20th century, and people found it increasingly difficult to support themselves.(4) These difficulties began after World War I, with the arrival of White trappers in the region, the consequent decline of fur and game resources, and an expanding, restrictive regulatory regime governing access to those resources. At the same time, members of the Métis labor force were often displaced by non-Aboriginal workers. Economic difficulties heightened after World War II, when the federal and provincial governments provided support to industrial development, but regarded the bush-based mixed economy as archaic and obsolete (McCormack 1984:chps. 7, 8; McCormack 1993:98-99; Clancy 1991; Asch and Smith 1993). Federal and provincial policy developers believed that the trapping economy would eventually have to give way to a more “advanced” economy based on wage labor and the commercial exploitation of resources. Post-war inflation meant that local people needed additional revenue to purchase the items that had become integral to their livelihood, at a time when market forces sent fur prices plummeting.

The Aboriginal peoples of Fort Chipewyan and the surrounding region were desperate for income and food. Men even left the area to look for work. Some went as far as the beet fields of southern Alberta, others went to Great Slave Lake to work at commercial fishing, and many went to the mines at the east end of Lake Athabasca. The abandonment of the bush settlements for permanent residence in Fort Chipewyan was part of this economic transformation, and it left government agencies scrambling to provide recently arrived residents with basic services, such as housing. A social transformation was also underway. The move into town meant that the new Aboriginal co-residents had to regenerate a much larger social community at the same time that they were trying to remodel their economy, and they could see that they were all facing the same hard times and difficulties.

Federal and provincial government representatives hoped and believed that new industries would provide local jobs as an alternative to the fur trade. Commercial fishing, commercial lumbering, and a bison slaughter-meat production program were all initiated in Wood Buffalo National Park, on the edge of Fort Chipewyan, often with considerable government investment. Commercial fishing and mining continued on Lake Athabasca. But, few local Aboriginal people were able to find good, permanent jobs with any of these industries. They were stuck with poorly paid laboring jobs, when they could get work at all. They were also unhappy with the ways in which these enterprises were organized.(5) They saw the richness of their region being used to benefit other people, not themselves.

Frustrated and unhappy with their deteriorating economy, in May, 1963, they sent a petition to Premier Manning (Fort Chipewyan community leaders 1963). They wrote: “Because so many of us are not working does not mean that we are lazy.” They told Manning that work was not available. Their petition outlined multiple ways in which they could improve the local economy. They wanted control over and protection for fishing and other resource enterprises, jobs, and reduction in freight costs.

They were painfully aware that they did not know how to achieve these goals. After all, they had been trying unsuccessfully to retain some measure of control over their local economy since the 1920s. They asked Manning to send them someone who could help them learn how to organize themselves to overcome their problems. The sentiments in this petition were not new but built upon decades of reasoned opposition to the imposition of government restrictions on their access to resources. Later that year, the two chiefs wrote a letter expressing similar sentiments to Guy Favreau, the Superintendent General of Indian Affairs, and they proposed that the federal and provincial governments cooperate to assist the community (Marcel and Cowie 1963).


Community Development Programs In Fort Chipewyan

The timing of the Fort Chipewyan petition was opportune. In the same year, The Metis in Alberta Society was published, a major report whose authors – prestigious University of Alberta professors – recommended the “creation of an Alberta agency to initiate, take administrative responsibility for, and under-write community and regional development programs” (Card et al. 1963:404, underlining omitted; also in Hynam 1973:38). A formal community development program was implemented in Alberta in 1964, aimed primarily at Aboriginal communities (Hynam 1973:38). It was intended to encourage citizen participation in the development of their communities and regions, by involving them in the “traditional bureaucratic machinery of government” (Hynam 1973:37). What the government role really amounted to was support and encouragement for local people to become involved in various enterprises that would improve their economic situations and also their political and organizational savvy. The government was not going to create jobs for them. It was – in theory – going to help them create their own jobs.

Over the course of the program, Fort Chipewyan had two resident Community Development Officers, Ray Albert and Pat Dixon. Ray Albert moved to Fort Chipewyan with his family in 1964 and stayed until 1967 (Albert 1979). He and his wife, Therese, were French-Canadians, and Albert was known locally as the “Frenchman” (Albert 1979). He began the process of community development with meetings on November 20 and 21, 1964, with the help of Ben Baitch, a controversial organizer whose “…visit to Fort Chipewyan was both traumatic and salutary for everyone concerned including the Community Development Officer” (Albert 1965:2). Ray Albert provided a strong and directive leadership role, encouraging people to become involved in projects which he thought were particularly suitable. However, he saw his role as primarily “catalytic” and advisory (Albert 1965:2; 1967:2).

His wife was also involved, though in a more informal advisory capacity (Albert 1979). While her role does not emerge clearly in the written literature, she explained that she participated in community activities, such as the Catholic Women’s League and the newly organized Handicraft Club, where women would frequently ask her opinion. Both the Alberts and Pat Dixon acknowledged the importance of women in Fort Chipewyan in providing support for new initiatives: According to Ray Albert, “most of the…change of climate of public opinion was actually taking place through the ladies that belonged to that thing [Handicraft Club]” (Albert 1979). Pat Dixon agreed: “All the formal structures show men, but there’s always an old granny someplace” who would be consulted prior to a decision being made (Dixon 1979).

Ray Albert’s main project was to foster the establishment of the Cremetchip Association, a community-wide group which acted as a “common umbrella” (Albert 1979) to bring together the three Aboriginal segments of Fort Chipewyan – Crees, Métis, and Chipewyans – for letter-writing and organizational purposes. The Association was formally created when Noel McKay, from the local Métis community, was elected president in absentia, on January 31, 1965. His election was affirmed at a second meeting on February 7, after “he outrightly stated that he did not want to be president unless he received majority support and confidence” (Albert 1965:3). Fred Marcel, Chief of the Chipewyan band, was elected Vice-President, and Lloyd Antoine, a Cree band member, Secretary-Treasurer. Structurally, the executive mirrored the community membership (Albert 1965:3). Eventually, about 100 people were members of the Association (Albert 1965:8). In Ray Albert’s assessment (1965:8):

The Cremetchip Association has developed the reputation of being the one body whose role is to carry out the community’s business. It is also the one body which has promoted and which will promote economic and social development in every respect possible. It has accomplished great strides towards the unification of the Natives of the area.

The Cremetchip Association launched several projects. The Chipewyan Buying Pool began when about 30 people pooled their fur in order to place a food order worth about $4,000, thereby saving 20 per cent over the cost in local stores (Albert 1965:5). The Buying Pool was the forerunner to the Cremetchip Co-operative, or C.M.C. Co-op. People who were active in the development of the Co-op included Noel and Isabel Mackay, Frank Ladouceur, Jack Whiteknife, James Paquette, and the Campbells. However, an article in a 1966 edition of Wastawin, a community newsletter, pointed out that “the Board of Directors is remarkable in that it consists entirely of women” when the store opened (Wastawin 1966a:1), on October 15, 1966, with $8,000 of merchandise (Albert 1967:12). The Co-op had purchased an old building for $200 in the spring of 1966 for its new store. Frank Ladouceur worked very hard to move the building and was injured in the process. His commitment and example led other people to become involved (Albert 1979). The Co-op was intended to provide competition for the Hudson’s Bay Company. Ray Albert argued that it was also important symbolically, as the first institution in Fort Chipewyan established and controlled by local Aboriginal people (Albert 1979).

The Association fostered at least three different organizations intended to increase financial returns to local producers. There was a Fur Marketing Club, whose members worked with Edmonton Fur Auction Sales through its official agent in Fort Chipewyan, the Co-op. This project operated by providing cash advances to trappers, up to two-thirds of the estimated value of the furs. The trappers received significantly better returns than trappers who marketed their furs locally (Albert 1965:5; 1967:4-5; Wastawin 1966b:3). The Athabasca Fishing Co-operative was incorporated in 1965 to promote community-based commercial winter fishing on Lake Athabasca, as well as to respond to the Fish and Wildlife Branch of the provincial Department of Lands and Forests, which intended to open up several inland lakes for winter fishing (Albert 1967:3; 1979). Finally, a Handicraft Club was established in early 1966 and affiliated with Team Products, a provincial organization, to promote the marketing of locally-produced moccasins and other items (Albert 1965:6; 1967:5-6).

The Cremetchip Association also engaged in a variety of other ventures concerned with community welfare. These included attempts to set up a sawmill, obtain a timber berth in Wood Buffalo Park, and lobby for better community services (Albert 1965; 1967; 1979). It may also have been responsible for publishing a weekly community newsletter, Wastawin.

Albert was replaced in 1967 by Pat Dixon, who worked in the community until 1970. By his tenure, the Cremetchip Association had evidently been supplanted by a renewed Community Association, which had finally elected Aboriginal leadership, and the organizations fostered by the Cremetchip Association were operating independently. In fact, the Cremetchip Association never met while he was in Fort Chipewyan, although its members talked about getting together again (Dixon 1979). While Pat Dixon worked with the Community Association, he also worked with the Chipewyan and Cree bands and the new Apithtowkosan (Métis) Association, a structural equivalent to the bands (Dixon 1979; 1969:1).

Ray Albert had not considered the band councils to be “good tools to carry out Community Development,” because of their “extreme dependency towards the Indian Agency” (Albert 1979). He considered Pat Dixon’s work with the band councils and Métis Association a divisive strategy. Yet Pat Dixon (1979) recalled that the members of these three groups did not get along well enough with each other to cooperate easily on an organizational level: “The Treaty Indian and Métis people are unable to co-operate together to any great extent and this precludes any total community approach to their common problems” (Dixon 1969:3). In hindsight, it seems likely that the somewhat different approaches taken by the two Community Development officers were conditioned by the fact that the Aboriginal occupants of Fort Chipewyan were at different stages in their own political development in the 1960s.

Ray Albert arrived at a time when band councils were still weak, enjoying little real power, and before the Métis had begun to organize locally. Long-term Indian Agent Jack Stewart, in Fort Chipewyan from 1944 until 1967, controlled critical resources and was effectively able to direct band activities into the 1960s (McCormack 1984:356-359, 370; Mackenzie 1993:chp. 3). Patrick Mackenzie (1993:4) has argued that Stewart’s influence was not reduced until the late 1950s and the 1960s, and he seems to have remained powerful until shortly before he left the community. One result was that the band councils were weak and ineffective. Stewart wrote in his 1964 Annual Report, “‘Band councils still do not take much interest in their affairs, some of the younger members show interest sometimes but are easily discouraged'” (in Mackenzie 1993:108). The following year, he noted on a questionnaire that “The councils of these bands are not agressive [sic] enough… [and] presently leadership is poor…” (Stewart 1965). It is not surprising that at least some band members were willing to support an alternate, community-wide strategy.

Once the federal government began to delegate power to local Indian bands to run their own affairs, Chipewyan and Cree interest and involvement in their own political organizations rose, supporting inherent divisive tendencies within the community. Pat Dixon (1979) commented on this political evolution:

The Chipewyans…were the first ones…to try and get their band organized, and starting to move in towards the band administration. They had a council together for starters, and people were willing to get together; they wanted to move into administration and start things on their own.

Beginning about 1968-69, the Chipewyans and Crees began to take over welfare, housing programs, and other programs of special interest to their members (Dixon 1979:5). Although it might seem that the similarities in their respective situations would facilitate cooperative initiatives, in fact the political development of each band followed its own path. There were persistent conflicts between the two bands, stemming from complicated histories of inter-ethnic enmity, 20th century developments relating to the creation of Wood Buffalo National Park and a Chipewyan reserve, and the fact that each band felt that the other had received special favors (McCormack 1989; 1984; Albert 1979).

The Métis Association was formed in large measure because the Cremetchip Association collapsed, and the Métis wanted an organization that would speak on their behalf. Local Métis saw the two Indian bands benefitting from a variety of social programs, especially the Indian Affairs housing program. They wanted access to new housing for themselves, as well as the jobs that would accompany such a program, and they successfully lobbied the provincial government for funding to be spent in Fort Chipewyan (Dixon 1979).


Failure Of The Community Development Program

It is difficult to determine how much influence each Community Development officer had on the course of political development in Fort Chipewyan. However, we know that the community-wide programs they fostered, which all seemed to be excellent initiatives and in line with community expectations, did not always operate smoothly, and they never achieved the hoped-for economic dominance.(6)

A primary difficulty was that the onus was put on the individual community to create its own solutions. Effective community development work meant challenging established community patterns and authorities, especially the Hudson’s Bay Company. As Charles Hynam commented in his assessment of the provincial Community Development Program: “‘It is inevitable that Community Development Officers in carrying out their duties…have to come into conflict with local power groups, government bureaucracies, etc.'” (1973:40).

Ray Albert (1979) explained that at first, the non-Aboriginals residing in Fort Chipewyan expected him to behave in such a way that “their prerogatives” would be reinforced. They felt that they were the ones who should decide what was good or bad for the community, not the Aboriginal peoples, who were, after all, dependent upon them. At least some residents also perceived that they were going to be excluded from the new process. When Ray Albert made it clear that his ties were going to be primarily with the Aboriginal residents, he and his wife remembered that the non-Aboriginals reacted with “a fit of rage” (Albert 1979; cf. Hynam 1973:40). People stopped speaking to them on the street, and their social contacts with the non-Aboriginal community were mostly severed.

They also encountered considerable resistance from established businesses. The Alberts explained that the Hudson’s Bay Company used both direct and indirect means to prevent a successful competing operation. They threatened people with the possibility that they would not be able to get advances from the Bay if they dealt with the new C.M.C. Co-op. The Bay was also in a position to control Family Allowances and other funds that came to the store, which housed the community’s postal service. There were accusations that cheques, old age pensions, and family allowances were appropriated by the Bay, either deposited directly by the Bay to repay advances it had made or withheld as “collateral” for later repayment (Albert 1967:6, 8; 1979; cf. inter alia Ladouceur 1966). The owner of the other store in town, who had also been extending credit to trappers, was also remembered as resisting the Co-op. He was so threatened by the new situation that “…he lost his cool” and threatened Native people with “financial reprisals” (Albert 1979). Eventually, he closed his store and moved away (ibid.).

This entrepreneur was also the president of the Community Association when the Alberts first arrived. While the entire community apparently contributed funds to the Community Association, it is not surprising that the small group of non-Aboriginal people who controlled these funds was unwilling to have the Community Association support the new Co-op financially (Albert 1979). In 1967, Wastawin reported that Charlie Somers had argued against loaning $1,000 to the Co-op:

Mr. Somers said that they were elected to run the Community Association for the good of the Community Association. What good was a loan of 5% going to do the Community Association, when the money could be invested at 7% elsewhere. Mr. Ladouceur replied that if the money were lent elsewhere it would not benefit Fort Chipewyan as it would were it lent to the Coop [Wastawin 1967a:3].

By that time, Aboriginal board members had been elected, and at the March 29, 1967 meeting of the Community Association, the members agreed to provide this loan (Wastawin 1967b:1).

In short, the most obvious impediment to a successful Community Development program was the strenuous resistance to local Aboriginal initiatives by non-Aboriginal residents, who had more resources behind them than a lone Community Development officer could muster. However, one can also see the steps Aboriginal residents were taking to overcome at least some of this opposition.

The Roman Catholic Mission may have provided the only institutional support enjoyed by the Community Development program. This support was due both to the personal ties established by the French and Roman Catholic Alberts to the resident priests and nuns and to local Oblate traditions of supporting Aboriginal efforts to improve their situation (cf. Fumoleau 1975). While the priests at the Mission did not take sides publicly, they provided private support. For example, they were instrumental in helping to obtain the stock for the Fort Chipewyan Buying Pool, which was crucial to establishing the Co-op, by recommending the Pool to the Catholic Institutional Agency in Edmonton, which was at that time helping to establish Inuit co-ops in the Arctic (Albert 1979).

Ironically, it was not only the non-Aboriginals residents who resisted the Alberts. There were two sources of Aboriginal resistance. One source was broadly structural, the inherent divisive tendencies within the community itself, discussed above. On a more personal level, each group of non-Aboriginal people – entrepreneurs, government representatives, and missionaries – had its Aboriginal clients (cf. inter alia Albert 1979). These individuals were put in a position of either taking up sides openly or trying to walk a most delicate balance. In other words, the existing political alignments of the community countered the efforts to develop a community-wide strategy. For example, people were afraid to shop at the new and struggling Co-op, which badly needed their business, out of fear that their credit would be cut off by one of the other stores. People still needed fall credit, even though not much was being given, in order to outfit for the fall hunting and trapping season. People who became involved in initiatives such as the Co-op were also sometimes accused of working only for their own gain. In the Alberts’ words, “They sacrificed a great deal. They suffered a great deal of social pressure and ridicule” (Albert 1979).

What is amazing is the amount of support which people were willing to provide to the Co-op, despite these circumstances. For example, the fact that a group of trappers would pool their furs, worth about $700-800, send them to the Edmonton Fur Auction, and contribute the proceeds to the Co-op is noteworthy (Albert 1979). While they received shares in the Co-op, it was nevertheless a donation that must have been a real sacrifice at the time, when everyone was strapped for cash. It suggests what high hopes some people must have had for the new collaborative organizations.

There was a broader structural problem with Community Development. While less obvious, it was probably more important in the long run. It relates to the earlier discussion in this paper about the burden being placed on the individual, or the individual community, to solve its own problems. Although local people had not created these problems, which originated in government and business decision-making and were related to the expansion of national and global capitalism, they were being asked to solve their problems on their own, using highly limited resources. On the other hand, the outside agencies which were responsible for many of the problems were not being involved in this process of community change, and they were evidently allowed to oppose local Aboriginal initiatives if they chose to do so.

At no time did the provincial government insist that its various departments cooperate with federal government departments and with the major businesses in order to develop, in conjunction with the local people, a coordinated community development plan. This lack of direction may have resulted in part because of the difficulty of coordinating so many departments, each represented in Fort Chipewyan by at most only a few agents. Ironically, the 1963 report on Metis in Alberta (Card et al. 1963) had included a definition of community development that specified it as “‘the process by which the efforts of the people themselves are united with those of government authorities to improve the economic, social and cultural conditions of communities…'” (Card et al. 1963:405; emphasis added). Similarly, a report published in 1965 about parallel community development among Crees in Quebec argued that many community problems were created by individuals other than Crees (McDonald et al. 1965:36).

However, it took a decade for the various interested government agencies finally to meet together to address the “many problems of Fort Chipewyan.” This intergovernmental meeting occurred on January 3, 1975, in the joint context of the signing of the Alberta North Interim Agreement with the federal government and the environmental crisis in the Peace-Athabasca Delta. Meeting participants discussed the role of Fort Chipewyan itself in its own development. The people at the meeting concluded that:

…priorities [for program development] must be established by the community. To this end, the implementation of local government should be encouraged to co-ordinate the many interest groups in the community to provide direction for economic and social development [Paley 1975].

Ironically, no Fort Chipewyan residents were present to participate in this discussion.

In the late 1960s, Fort Chipewyan Aboriginal peoples and non-Aboriginal peoples, both those living in Fort Chipewyan and those in positions of power elsewhere, were clearly in conflict about community development goals. As they stated over and over again, Aboriginal residents wanted to have access to good jobs and be able to continue to pursue bush activities. However, they also had a very clear perception of their relationship to non-Aboriginal people and the difficulties they faced as a result:

Many years ago we were a proud people and planned our own lives, now with this new way of living [in Fort Chipewyan] we find ourselves too dependent on transient people who come here and don’t know us and our proud past, when they learn our way of living, then they move away and we have to go through this painful thing again with new transients who boss and try to control us. We need this organizer so that these transient people become a service to our leaders not a control [Fort Chipewyan community leaders 1963:10].

Similarly, a few years later, in an editorial about education, the Apithtowkosan Association (n.d.) wrote:

The white teachers and white society in our community by and large ignore the Indian Culture. They don’t attend the social functions and show little interest in the Indian way of life.

The history in Canada of Indian Affairs and Aboriginal-non-Aboriginal relations is one dominated by a paradigm in which Aboriginal people were believed to be recalcitrant, clinging to outmoded cultural patterns and therefore in need of direction – tutelage – from more knowledgeable non-Aboriginal peoples. In northern Canada after World War II, the future for Aboriginal people was believed to lie in wage labor, not in traditional land-based economic activities. Moreover, it was always non-Aboriginal people who organized and operated these programs, whether they were initiated by the public or private sector. There is no evidence that government agencies ever tried to involve Aboriginal people in planning or provided them with the training that would have allowed them to fill managerial roles.

Decisions made about economic development in the Fort Chipewyan region reflect these considerations. Even if local agents were sympathetic with local residents, they were still powerless themselves to change the programs which they administered, they could not provide good job opportunities, and they did not really understand how the local economy and society operated. So in Fort Chipewyan, it was business as usual, as local people came up against powerful government and business interests which prevented them from realizing their hopes through the Community Development program.


Continuing Influence Of The Community Development Strategy

Jerome Slavik has argued (pers. comm. 1987) that while individual Community Development initiatives may not have succeeded, the Community Development Program in Fort Chipewyan was important in another dimension. It was a political training ground for community leaders, many of whom continued to be politically active after the CD program ended.

The communal, consensual aspect of the CD program resonated with community residents. The model of community life was one of homogeneous community interests.(7) At the same time, persistent intra-community divisions made it difficult for community members to operationalize this model. Both Ray Albert (1979) and Pat Dixon (1969; 1979) commented about conflict between different Aboriginal segments of the community – the two bands and the Métis – as well as between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal groups. However, as Fort Chipewyan residents, old and new, explored ways to construct a new social community after WWII, this model of community consensus was a powerful one.

We see it still at work in the late 1980s, when the Mikisew Cree First Nation – formerly the Cree band – began to invest the money it received in its land claims settlement. While the Cree could have acted singly in all its initiatives, it cooperated with the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, the Métis Local, and non-Aboriginal residents in funding a community lodge. It can be conjectured that one model for this recent community cooperation was the old Cremetchip Association.

As in the 1960s, however, local initiatives are not enough to overcome external forces. Contemporary federal taxation regulations require First Nations people to earn income on reserves in order to enjoy a tax-exempt status. Treaty 8 First Nations are fighting this rule on the grounds that the treaty commissioners promised them that treaty “…did not open the way to the imposition of any tax…” (Govt. of Canada 1966:6). At the same time, they are being pragmatic and re-orienting their policies to work around government regulations. In Fort Chipewyan, the Mikisew Cree First Nation is constructing a new townsite on the reserve lands located at Alison Bay, a few miles outside of Fort Chipewyan, that it acquired as a result of its land claims settlement in 1986 (cf. Price 1993). Members of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation are also considering relocating to their reserve lands, which are situated across Lake Athabasca. Both enterprises are/would be enormously costly reactions to externally-imposed constraints, not necessarily the result of proactive community planning and decision-making.



To conclude, there is a history in Fort Chipewyan and the neighboring Aboriginal settlements of a consensual approach to community issues. The Community Development program in Fort Chipewyan built upon this approach but was powerless to effect meaningful change in the face of resistance and inertia by more powerful government and commercial interests, as well as long-standing internal community divisions. While community-wide initiatives in Fort Chipewyan have persisted in the 1980s and ’90s, they are undermined by their counter-point – equally persistent external constraints whose impact has been to divide the community into segments, or factions, whose actions are governed by more narrow factional interests.




Albert, Ray, and Therese Albert

1966 Community development at Fort Chipewyan. Report by Ray Albert, in author’s possession. In “Community Development” file in author’s possession.

1967 Annual report. Prepared for J. R. Whitford, Provincial Co-ordinator of Community Development. February 10, 1967. In “Community Development” file in author’s possession.

1979 Interview with Ray and Therese Albert, St. Paul, Alberta. May 23, 1979.


Apithtowkosan Association of Fort Chipewyan

n.d. [C.1969] Statement of the Apithtowkosan Association of Fort Chipewyan re “Education.” Oblate Provincial House Archives, Fort Smith.


Asch, Michael, and Shirleen Smith

1993 Some facts and myths about the future of the hunting and trapping economy in Alberta’s north. In Patricia A. McCormack and R. Geoffrey Ironside, eds., The Uncovered Past. Circumpolar Research Series No. 3. Pp. 149-156. Edmonton: Canadian Circumpolar Institute, University of Alberta.


Card, B. Y., G. K. Hirabayashi, and C. L. French

1963 The Metis in Alberta Society. A Report on Project A (1960-63), University of Alberta Committee for Social Research prepared for The Alberta Tuberculosis Association, Oct. 1963.

Clancy, Peter

1991 State policy and the Native trapper: post-war policy toward fur in the Northwest Territories. In Kerry Abel and Jean Friesen, Aboriginal Resource Use in Canada: Historical and Legal Aspects. Pp. 191-217. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press.

Dixon, P. G. (Pat)

1969 Annual report, community development. June 18, 1969. In “Community Development” file in author’s possession.
1979 Interview with Pat Dixon, March 2, 1979. Whitehorse, Yukon.


Fort Chipewyan community leaders

1963 Letter to Premier Manning, May 30, 1963. In “Fort Chipewyan Economic Problems 1963-65” file, in possession of author.


Fumoleau, René

1975 As Long as This Land Shall Last. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart Limited.


Hynam, C. A. S.

1973 A unique challenge for community development: the Alberta experience. Community Development Journal. 8(1):37-44.


Ladouceur, Frank

1966 Letter from Frank Ladouceur, President, Cremetchip Association, to Jack Biggs, House of Commons, March 8, 1966. In “CDO and Economic Development” file in possession of author.


Leonard, David, and Beverly Whalen, eds.

1999 On the North Trail. The Treaty 8 Diary of O. C. Edwards. Alberta Records Publication Board, Historical Society of Alberta. Vol. 12.


Mackenzie, Patrick Niven

1993 The Indian Agents of Fort Chipewyan: bureaucrats in isolation. M.A. thesis, Dept. of History, University of Calgary.


Marcel, Fred, Chief Chipewyan Band, and John Cowie, Chief Cree Band

1963 Letter to Guy Favreau, Superintendent General of Indian Affairs. In “Fort Chipewyan Economic Problems 1963-65” file, in possession of author.

McCormack, Patricia A.

1984 How the (north) west was won: development and underdevelopment in the Fort Chipewyan region. Ph.D. dissertation, Department of Anthropology, University of Alberta.

1989 Chipewyans turn Cree: governmental and structural factors in ethnic processes. In K. S. Coates and W. R. Morrison, eds. For Purposes of Dominion: Essays in Honour of Morris Zaslow. Pp. 125-138. North York, Ont.: Captus Press.

1998 Northern Métis and the treaties. In Picking up the Threads; Métis History in the Mackenzie Basin. Pp. 171-201. Yellowknife: Métis Heritage Association of the Northwest Territories and Parks Canada- Canadian Heritage.

1993 Romancing the Northwest as prescriptive history: Fort Chipewyan and the northern expansion of the Canadian state. In Patricia A. McCormack and R. Geoffrey Ironside, eds., The Uncovered Past: Roots of Northern Alberta Societies. 89-104. Pp. Circumpolar Research Series No. 3. Edmonton: Canadian Circumpolar Institute, University of Alberta.


McDonald, Richard, Hedley Dimock, Hubert Guindon, and Norman Chance

1965 A community development study regarding the life of the Cree Indians in the Mistassini-Chibougamau region of Quebec, December 1965. Sir George Williams University: The Centre for Human Relations and Community Studies.


Paley, Rick

1975 Notes taken at intergovernmental meeting, Jan. 3, 1975. In “CDO and Economic Problems” file in possession of author.


Price, Richard T.

1993 Contemporary land claims negotiations and settlement: the political leadership challenge of Alberta’s Fort Chipewyan Cree. In Patricia A. McCormack and R. Geoffrey Ironside, eds., The Uncovered Past: Roots of Northern Alberta Societies. Circumpolar Research Series No. 3. Pp. 127-148. Edmonton: Canadian Circumpolar Institute, University of Alberta.


Stewart, Jack W.

1965 Resources Questionnaire – Indian Bands 1963. Filled out by Jack W. Stewart Jan. 12, 1965. In “CDO and Economic Problems” file in possession of author.



1966a Article about the Co-op. Wastawin. No. 1. Oct. 3, 1966.

1966b Article about the relationship between the Co-op and Edmonton Fur Auctions. Wastawin. No. 3. Oct. 17, 1966.

1967a Article about Community Association and loan to the Co-op. Wastawin. No. 20. March 20, 1967.

1967b Article about the March 29 meeting of the Community Association. Wastawin. No. 21. April 10, 1967.



1. An earlier version of this paper was delivered in 1987 at Nurturing Community, a conference on community development organized by The Edmonton Social Planning Council. The paper was revised for the 1899 Centennial Conference in Grouard, Alberta, June 17-19, 1999.

2. Several papers delivered at the 1899 Centennial Conference addressed this theme. See also McCormack 1998.

3. Non-Aboriginal occupants seems to have had little involvement in these developments. They have typically been temporary residents, and they have often lived in Fort Chipewyan as single individuals or in isolated family units, lacking the extensive ties of kinship and friendship that would link them to a broader community social structure. As the discussion in this paper will show, their opposition to Community Development initiatives lent support to the inter-ethnic boundaries that already existed between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal social communities.

4. Market forces have often been interpreted as independent and neutral, but we can easily see how government policies facilitated and encouraged certain kinds of land uses, usually at the expense of Aboriginal occupants. A detailed analysis of this history is available in McCormack 1984.

5. For example, bison in the park had been protected since the 1890s, and the herds had built up to a reasonable size. The, in the mid-1940s, the park administration decided that the moose population in the park was too low to allow hunters to hunt more than one male moose per family per year. The park Indians asked to be allowed to hunt bison again, but the park management turned them down. Yet a few years later, the park was investing heavily in a scheme to kill bison and sell the meat. While Indians were still not allowed to hunt bison for food, they could get some short-term employment during the slaughters (McCormack 1984: chps. 5, 7).

6. It is beyond the scope of this paper to do a detailed analysis of each business initiated under the aegis of the Community Development Program. However, it is noteworthy that the Co-op is still in existence today and that there is still an active fisherman’s association, now the Delta Fishermen’s Association.

7. Traditionally, conflicts were resolved by moving away from the point of conflict.