Taking Treaty 8 Scrip, 1899-1900: A Quantitative Portrait Of Northern Alberta Metis Communities

By Gerhard J. Ens

[Editor’s Note: Many figures in this paper did not reproduce correctly for the on-line edition. Please see the published version]

Treaty 8 And Scrip(1)

When the government of Canada finally decided to initiate negotiations for Treaty 8, the Department of Indian Affairs clearly regarded the Metis as an important element of the treaty process. Given that the treaty was intended to extinguish Indian title and maintain peace, the department recognized that the Metis would have to be considered.(2) A.E. Forget, the Indian Commissioner for the North West Territories, clearly linked the extinguishment of Indian title with the extinguishment of Metis title and reported in April of 1898 that Bishop Grouard had told him that the Government had to be prepared to deal with the Metis simultaneously with the Indians or the Metis might dissuade the Indians from signing.(3)

At first the government believed the best policy would be to encourage the Metis to enter treaty. A.E. Forget recommended that as many Metis as possible be taken into treaty rather than be given scrip.(4) As the Order-in-Council of 1898 noted, this strategy “would be more conducive to their own welfare, and more in the public interest . . . than giving them scrip.” Metis would be allowed into treaty if they so desired on the judgement of the Commissioners who would decide which Metis would be dealt with as Indians.(5) In order to convince the Metis to enter treaty it was decided that those Metis choosing not to take treaty would be dealt with according to the terms of earlier scrip commissions in Manitoba and the North West. This meant that the claims of those Metis born after 1870 would not be recognized unless they entered treaty. This early strategy nearly derailed the treaty process in 1899. Unhappy with the terms of the scrip offer, the Metis were influential in determining the early treaty discussions.

The reports of the NWMP made it clear that the Metis were discouraging Indian peoples from accepting treaty, would not enter the Treaty themselves en masse, and would not accept the terms of the scrip offer.(6) Writing to Clifford Sifton in April of 1899 one of the appointed Treaty Commissioners noted that the Commissioner charged with effecting a settlement with the Metis would find it very difficult to do so under the scope given him by the Dominion Lands Act, the only statutory provision on the books to deal with Metis claims. This provision (Subsection F of Section 90) only referred to those Metis residing in the North West Territories on July 1870, and hence only recognized the claims of Metis who were 29 years of age or older. The consequent dissatisfaction among the Metis, he wrote, could lead to their using their influence with the Indians in such a way as to make it difficult to negotiate a treaty at all.(7) The minister agreed with this assessment and noted that the 15 July 1870 cutoff for scrip would only lead to dissatisfaction. With regard to Metis rights it was noted that:

whatever rights they have, they have in virtue of their Indian blood; and the first interference with such rights will be when a surrender is effected of the territorial rights of the Indians. It is obvious that while differing in degree Indian and Half-breed rights in an unceded territory must be co-existent, and should properly be extinguished at the same time.(8)

The fears that the Metis would not enter treaty themselves and would disrupt the treaty process pushed the government to offer a new scrip settlement in May of 1899. In effect, they would offer scrip to all Metis living in the proposed treaty area who had not received a settlement elsewhere. The government also decided to create a separate “Half-breed Claims Commission” to accompany the treaty commission.

On a report dated 29 April 1899, from the Superintendent General of Indian Affairs, stating with reference to the Order in Council appointing Commissioners to negotiate a treaty with the Indians of Athabasca District and surrounding country, that he considers its advisable that concurrently with the treaty negotiations, the claims of the Half-breeds should be investigated and dealt with….

The Minister therefore recommends that as to the Half-breeds of the territory to be covered by the proposed Treaty the following policy be adopted:

(1) That every Half-Breed occupier of land in the said territory be confirmed in possession to the extent of one hundred and sixty acres.

(2) That scrip – redeemable in land – to the extent of Two hundred and forty dollars, or at the option of the grantee, scrip entitling the grantee to two hundred and forty acres of land of the class open to homestead entry be granted to each Half-breed found to be permanently residing in the said territory at the time of the Indian Treaty and not to have previously received scrip in extinguishment of his claim.(9)

Under this order James Walker and Joseph Arthur Coté were appointed Commissioners to investigate the claims which might be preferred by the Metis of the Treaty Eight region.

The type of scrip issued to the Metis in western Canada fell into two categories: money scrip and land scrip. Both were intended to give the recipient a certain amount of crown-owned land. These scrip certificates were issued in different monetary values (i.e. $80, $160 or $240), or in amounts of land (i.e. 80 acres, 160 acres or 240 acres). When the first Metis scrip was issued in Manitoba in the 1870s, Dominion land was valued at $1.00 an acre so that the a $160 scrip certificate would get the bearer the same amount of land as a 160 acre scrip certificate. As the value of land increased, however, money scrip was good for a correspondingly smaller amount of land.(10)

The different types of scrip also had different regulations governing their use which, in turn, affected their value on the scrip market. Money scrip was always more desirable to speculators because there were fewer restrictions on its use. Money scrip could be sold easily and its rights could be transferred as it was defined as personal property rather than real property or real estate. Land scrip was more restricted by regulations which discouraged easy sale and therefore speculation. It could only be used to locate land in the name of the Metis grantee.(11)

The process of scrip distribution involved sending out notices to the areas that were to be visited that year. These were posted in such places as church halls, land offices and trading posts. In larger centres, advertisements were placed in the local newspapers. Once a schedule had been arranged, Commissioners and their staff travelled by land and boat to the various sites, sometimes holding hearings en route. These Commissions usually set out in spring and continued into the fall and winter, weather permitting. It was, however, the responsibility of individuals who had claims to present themselves at the sittings of the Commissions. If individuals missed a particular sitting of the Commission they had the opportunity to appear at subsequent hearings. Applications which were made by Metis claimants had to be supported by relevant documents. Sworn affidavits were often used to confirm the place and date of birth of the person applying, their place of residence over the years, and whether or not they had taken treaty in the past. Interpreters were used when the applicants did not understand English, and each application was processed individually. Tents were set up where the Commissioners, sitting behind tables, took applications and listened to the evidence presented. In addition to the Commissioners, the Metis claimants, and the interpreters, there were usually representatives of two other groups present who had a stake in the proceedings. In addition to the Catholic clergy who advised both the Metis and the commissioners, the Scrip Commissions were followed by speculators who were willing to buy scrip almost as soon as it had been issued.(12) The Catholic priests were quite influential when decisions were made whether someone was to enter treaty as an Indian or take scrip.

Having seen how quickly the Metis had sold their scrip in Manitoba, most clergy tried to convince the Metis to take treaty which provided benefits that were ongoing.(13) Scrip speculators, on the other hand, were advising the opposite. Once the hearings had been completed for each season, the Commissioners submitted a report to the Minister of the Interior detailing the places the Commission had held meetings, the number of applications received and claims registered, and the number of certificates issued, along with recommendations for future Scrip Commissions.(14)

This brief summary of the scrip process provides some of the context needed to examine the Metis Scrip Commissions of 1899 and 1900, and the remainder of this paper will be focussed on other issues. In this paper I am not so much concerned with the evolution of scrip policy, the scrip process, government intentions, or even the constitutional implications of Treaty 8 scrip as I am on the more prosaic fact that all Metis who did not enter Treaty 8 and wanted the benefits of scrip had to fill out a detailed application providing something of a life history of themselves and their families. This information has been used to examine the nature of the Metis populations in Northern Alberta at the turn of the 20th century.


Data And Questions

Applicants for scrip were asked detailed questions regarding place of birth, names of their parents and their ethnicity, names of their children and their birth dates, whether they had taken treaty before, and all prior places of residence and their occupation (See Appendix 1). These applications present a snapshot or group portrait of Metis Communities in Northern Alberta at the turn of the century. Working from the registers that Treaty 8 Scrip Commissioners provided, I identified those applications of Treaty 8 Metis in the index of all scrip applications from 1870 to the 1920s and then located the individual applications in the 73 reels of microfilm which contain these applications.


Table 1Coverage of Treaty 8 Scrip Applications and Claims
Year Total Applications TotalClaims TotalAllowed Found Applications Found Claims
1899 602 1706 1243 575 1316
1900 381 156 353
1901 60
1902 64
1905 60


I had good results in locating applications made in 1899 and 1900 when most Treaty 8 applications were taken (90%), less success with 1901 applications, and almost no success with applications taken between 1902 and 1908. Problematic applications and ones which were under review were removed from the general scrip files and filed under specific subject files. Given that a large number of the applications taken after 1900 came under review, I limited my study to applications taken in 1899 and 1900 (see Table 1). These do, however, make up the vast majority of scrip applications in the Treaty 8 area. The data from these applications were then entered into a computer data base for analysis.

There are a number of questions that this data and the literature on northern Metis communities raise. What were the Metis adaptations to the environment and economy by 1900? To the extent that this can be determined, what light does this shed on the predominant strategy of the Metis to take money scrip over land scrip in 1899? As well, I wanted to know how much diversity and difference there was between Metis Communities in Northern Alberta. What could the migration history of these individuals and families tell me about Metis origins in this area? For example, in the last twenty years, Fur-trade and Metis historians have complained about “Red River Myopia” – that is of defining all Metis history and culture in terms of the Red River Metis. Trudy Nicks, looking at the Metis communities that developed in the Jasper/Grande Cache Region, has argued quite convincingly that the origins of this group were quite separate and distinct from those of the Red River Region. In a number of papers and in her Ph. D dissertation, she maintains that Metis populations in Northern Alberta generally appeared to have been very much indigenous developments out of local fur trade experiences. Looking at scrip applications over a much larger area, but in less depth than my study, she argued that the Red River Metis appear to have settled far less frequently in Northern Alberta than in Saskatchewan or Montana.(15)


Distribution Of Metis Populations In The Treaty 8 Area

The following two graphs ( see Figures 1 and 2) show the place of application and address at time of application provide a basic geographic distribution of the Metis in the Treaty 8 area. The largest centre of population, by a large margin, was Lesser Slave Lake which was the address of 40% of all applicants in 1899 and 1901. The other main centres of population, in order, were Fort Chipewyan, Peace River Landing, Fort Vermillion, Wabascaw, Dunvegan, Fort Resolution, Wolverine Point, and Smith’s Landing.

An Indigenous Northern Alberta Metis Population?

On first glance, the argument that the Metis populations were indigenous to Northern Alberta carries some weight. Figure 3 shows the birthplace of applicants, and demonstrates that close to 80% of applicants were born within the Treaty 8 area. As well the migration history of the applicants indicates that 35% of all applicants remained their whole lives in one location (Figure 4). Within the Treaty 8 area, however, there was a good deal of variation between locations on the question of the persistence of Metis populations. Of those born at Lesser Slave Lake over 75% had lived in that region continuously to 1899. Other locales varied considerably on this scale of persistence with none of those born at Sturgeon Lake, Fort Laird, and Smoky River still there in 1899 (see Table 2). By and large, the persistence of a Metis population was higher in those locales where the occupational opportunities were most diverse.


gerha5{image0}fig2fig3When this data is looked at a little more closely, however, the argument for indigenous development loses some of its force. The percentages of applicants born within the Treaty area and persistence in one location exaggerate the extent to which this was the case for the entire Metis population in the region. The eligibility rules for applying for Treaty 8 scrip explain, to some extent, why this would be the case and why Trudy Nicks found little evidence of Red River Metis in the scrip applications in Northern Alberta. Although the Order-in-Council that established the eligibility for scrip in 1899 stated that all Metis living in the proposed treaty area, and who had not received a settlement elsewhere, were eligible this did not apply to the children of Red River Metis whose parents had received scrip in the 1870s.

Table 2Breakdown by Birthplace of Applicants who always lived at the Same Location
Birthplace Number Percentage who Never Moved
Lesser Slave Lake 157 76
Fort Resolution 24 63
Fort Vermillion 26 62
Smith’s Landing 13 58
Fort Chipewyan 54 56
Battle River (Peace) 15 40
Grande Prairie 8 38
Trout Lake 13 31
Fond du Lac 13 31
Wabascaw 30 30
Peace River Landing 17 24
Dunvegan 44 20
Lac La Biche 45 18
Jasper 21 14
Sturgeon Lake 21 0
Fort Laird 8 0
Smoky River 9 0

For example, those Metis families who had moved into the Treaty 8 area in the 1870s and 1880s and who had received scrip earlier in Manitoba and the Northwest Territories could not apply for scrip for those of their children who had subsequently been born in the Treaty 8 area and who had never received scrip. These claims were disallowed because it was ruled that the parents, having received scrip in Manitoba or the North-West, had extinguished both their Metis title and the title of their children born after the issuance of scrip. As late as 1906, Johnny Grant, a Red River Metis who had moved to the Peace River district in the 1880s, was still petitioning Frank Oliver to correct this injustice to Red River Metis living in Alberta. The only cases in which children of Red River or Northwest Metis could receive Treaty 8 scrip occurred when a Red River or North-West Metis married or remarried a Metis or Indian in the Treaty 8 area. Children of these later marriages were then, eligible for scrip. For these reasons, Treaty 8 scrip severely under represents the presence of Red River and Saskatchewan Metis in Northern Alberta.fig4

Given these rulings, the fact that 20% of applicants were born outside the treaty area is significant. Treaty 8 scrip applications represent, for the most part, only the youngest adult generation and their children living in Northern Alberta. Close to 85% of all applications came from those from Metis between the ages of 18 and 50. The average age of an applicant was 34 years of age and the median age was 30 (see Figure 5).(16) Although there were a number of other reasons why the parents of scrip applicants did not apply (were classified as Indian, white, or were no longer alive) the primary reason was that they had already received scrip elsewhere. This would indicate that, contrary to Nicks’ arguments, there was a significant Metis migration into Northern Alberta from Manitoba and Saskatchewan, and that the Metis population in Northern Alberta was not as indigenous as a quick perusal of scrip applications might indicate.


Table 3Profile of Scrip Applicants and Parents
Scrip Application found 1899-1900 731
Total Claims Resulting from these Applications 1669
Percentage of Applicants who were women 49.5%
Percentage of Applicants who were men 50.5%
Percentage of Applicants who were Married 82%
Average age of Applicant 34
Median Age of Applicant 30
Average Number of Living Children per Applicant Family 3.5
Average Number of Deceased Children per Applicant Family 1.3
Average Number of Total Children per Applicant Family 4.8
Percentage of Fathers of Applicants who took Treaty 8 Scrip 18.5%
Percentage of Mothers of Applicants who took Treaty 8 Scrip 19%
Percentage of Spouses of Applicants who took Treaty 8 Scrip 60%
Percentage of Fathers of Applicants who were Metis 80%
Percentage of Mothers of Applicants who were Metis 81%
Percentage of Fathers of Applicants who were Indian 12%
Percentage of Mothers of Applicants who were Indian 18%
Percentage of Fathers of Applicants who were White 8%
Percentage of Mothers of Applicants who were White 1%


Occupations Of Northern Alberta Metis

One of the striking facts about Metis declarations of occupation on their scrip applications was the very few applicants who listed only a single occupation.(17) Not only were there still numerous economic opportunities for the Metis in northern Alberta at the end of the 19th century, but their adaptation to these opportunities was very flexible. The occupations listed on the applications included:

Blacksmith/Carpenter/tradesman, Boatman/Trader, Boatman/Freighter, Clerk/HBC, Cook, Farmer/trader, Farmer, Farmer/fisherman, Farmer/Boatman, Fisherman, Hunter/Trapper, Hunter/Trapper/farmer, Hunter/Trapper/boatman, Hunter/Trapper/trader, Hunter/Trapper/labourer, Hunter/Trapper/fisherman, Interpretor/HBC, Labourer, Rancher, Steamer Pilot/Engineer, Trader, Servant, Interpretor/NWMP/Mission, Trader/Miner. The most common occupations were: Hunter/Trapper (23%), Boatman/Freighter (17%), Labourer (10%), Clerk/HBC (6%), Hunter/Trapper/Boatman (5%) (see Figure 6).

gerha5{image1}fig6When occupation is broken down by location or between communities appears (see Appendix 2). There were some communities that were primarily hunting/trapping communities (Wabascaw, Calling Lake, Dunvegan, Lac La Biche, Fort Resolution), others that had large numbers of boatmen/freighters (Athabasca Landing, Lesser Slave Lake), and a few that had some degree of farming (Peace River Landing, Fort Vermillion). The most diverse communities in terms of occupation were Athabasca Landing, Fort Chipewyan, Lesser Slave Lake, Peace River Landing, and Fort Vermillion. As a rule, the more diverse the occupational base the larger and more persistent the population.


Metis Strategy In 1899-1900: Money Vs Land Scrip

Those Metis who took scrip in 1899-1990 overwhelmingly chose to take money scrip as opposed to land scrip. Contrary to the advice of the local clergy, the Metis of Treaty 8 chose that form of scrip that would put money in their hands as quickly as possible. While land scrip was alienable, and would have provided a better return if sold, land scrip had to be located before sale and entailed a bureaucratic process that took at least a year. Money scrip, on the other hand, was immediately alienable (even children’s scrip) and there were speculators on hand at every scrip distribution to buy up this money scrip on the spot.


Table 4Applications and Claims by Year and Type


Land Money Unknown

ClaimsLand Money
1899 51 (9%) 488 (85%) 36 (6%) 78 (6%) 1150 (94%)
1900 22 (14%) 133 (85%) 1 (1%) 36 (10%) 315 (90%)
TOTAL 73 (10%) 621 (85%) 37 (5%) 114 (7%) 1465 (93%)


The choice of money scrip and its rapid sale to speculators has occasioned a good deal of analysis, and has usually been interpreted as the loss of a potential land base for the Metis in Alberta. The Catholic clergy most closely associated with the Metis were against the issue of scrip at all, and when it was issued, tried to convince the Metis to take land scrip rather than money scrip. The clergy had earlier blamed the quick sale of money scrip on ruthless speculators who took advantage of the “gullible, child-like” Metis. In their view, the government should have taken a far more paternalistic view of the Metis and protected them from themselves and speculators.(18)

This general attitude was adopted by one of the first major historians to study Metis history, George F.G. Stanley. Portraying the Metis as irresponsible and improvident, Stanley placed the blame for failure of the scrip programme squarely on the shoulders of the Metis themselves.

. . . the Métis disposed of their scrip to eager purchasers, often at ridiculous prices, content to live for the present at the sacrifice of the future; and unable to compete with the white man as farmers or artisans, they sank in the social scale, their life, society and national spirit crushed and destroyed.(19)

Most historians and social scientists writing about Metis scrip no longer agree with these ethnocentric judgements. Scholars as diverse as Thomas Flanagan, Joe Sawchuk, and Ken Hatt agree that the decision of the Metis to take money scrip and sell it quickly was often the most practical and reasonable response to local conditions at that time. In other words, the Metis were acting in a rational manner.(20)

While agreeing that the Metis acted reasonably and even rationally in disposing of their scrip, scholars are divided on the issue of whether the Metis were fairly dealt with through the issue of scrip. Both Hatt and Sawchuk, having acknowledged that the Metis generally preferred money scrip to land scrip, and that they acted rationally in selling it, are somewhat at pains to detail where the unfairness lay. Both turn to the actions and intentions of the Federal government to make their case. For Sawchuk, an assessment of the over-all direction and effect of the scrip programmes points to the conclusion that,

most of the rules, regulations, and Legislative Acts seemed designed to get the scrip out of Metis hands as fast as possible. Defining most Half-breed scrip as personal property, recognizing powers of attorney, allowing Half-breed scrip to be used on homesteads, offering assistance to land companies to deal in scrip, all seemed expressly designed to facilitate speculation.(21)

For Sawchuk, the policy of using scrip to extinguish Metis Aboriginal claims was designed so that Metis land rights would be alienated as quickly as possible to open the west to White settlement. Hatt, in studying the Scrip Commissions of the 1880s, makes a similar point, arguing that the granting of scrip was a part of the Canadian state’s policy to accumulate and appropriate land held by the Metis. He further contradicts Flanagan’s positive assessment of the role of the speculator. While he acknowledges that the Metis acted reasonably in selling their scrip, he argues that the Metis were operating from a position of serious deprivation and were not in a position to weigh their long-term options.(22)

This view, however, is hard to sustain in the context Treaty 8 scrip. As mentioned earlier, by 1898 even the government was dubious about the long term benefits of issuing scrip and had tried to convince the Metis of northern Alberta to enter Treaty instead. It was the Metis who insisted on being granted scrip, as had been the policy in the past, and they did so insisting they would disrupt the treaty process if scrip were not granted. They also insisted that scrip be granted in a form that made it as easy to sell as possible. Far from being gullible, they understood that making children’s scrip harder to alienate would not stop its sale but would only lead to a lower price offered by speculators. The Half-Breed Commissioners noted in 1899 that the Metis,

claimed the right to use the scrip of their children, for the latter’s benefit, during their minority, and urged that to do so would be more in the interest of the children, than would be the locking up of the certificate before the issue of the scrip to anyone but the person named ion the certificate. Enquiry has shown that the Half-breeds are determined not to take land scrip but money scrip for themselves and their children, with the object of immediately realizing upon it, and that scrip buyers are prepared to purchase the certificates of the old and young, notwithstanding the requirement as to assignment, but at a very low rate on account of that assignment.(23)

Even Father Lacombe, who had earlier characterized the Metis as victims of speculators and who in 1899 tried to convince the Metis to take land scrip instead of money scrip, noted that the Metis knew what they were doing. He wrote to the David Laird, the Chairman of the Indian Treaty Commission, urging that the Department of the Interior accede to the demands of the Metis regarding easily alienable scrip.

I have come to the conclusion that very much trouble will arise if the parents be not able to make use of their children’s scrip for their benefit during their minority. As you have no doubt observed, the Half-breeds here have evinced more intelligence and industry than did the Half-breed to whom scrip was issued in 1870 and 1885, and although I came here strongly impressed with the desirability of doing everything possible to prevent the parents from using the scrip of their children and from freely disposing of their own, the conditions here have led me to the conclusion that action in that direction will not result in any benefit to the Half-breeds here but their disadvantage, for they are determined to make prompt use of their scrip and that of their children. I find that the Half-breeds here, when they heard that scrip was to be issued, counted on turning it into money for investment in cattle for themselves and their children. Very, very few, if any of them will take land scrip.(24)

In this letter, Father Lacombe both acknowledged that it was the desire of the Metis to take the easily disposable money scrip, and that they exhibited a good deal of intelligence and industry in their choice. He went on to say that this money would probably be invested in buying cattle. This information, combined with information in the actual scrip applications, provides a good explanation of Metis rationality and strategy in taking money scrip.

If one examines the relationship between those who took land scrip and the occupation and residence of the scrip applicants a number of interesting anomalies appear. At those locations where a significant number of Metis identified themselves as farmers (Peace River Landing and Fort Vermillion) few took land scrip. Instead, at the locations at which Metis were more likely to take land scrip (Athabasca Landing and Dunvegan), the majority of Metis were hunters and boatmen. (see Table 5). Similarly, those Metis who identified themselves as farmers in some way were less likely to take land scrip than those who identified themselves as hunters, trappers, boatmen, and labourers (see Table 6).


Table 5Crosstabulation of Type of Scrip by Selected Locations
Location Land Money Unknown Total Percentagetaking land
Athabasca Landing 6 7 1 14 43
Dunvegan 16 29 0 45 35.5
Lesser Slave Lake 27 245 24 296 9
Fort Chipewyan 6 62 0 68 9
Wabascaw 3 34 0 37 8
Peace River Landing 4 56 0 60 7
Smith’s Landing 1 13 9 23 4.3
Fort Vermillion 2 55 1 58 3.6
Fort Resolution 1 31 0 32 3.3
Wolverine Point 0 18 0 18 0
Calling Lake 0 19 0 19 0
Fond du Lac 0 11 0 11 0




Table 6Crosstabulation of Type of Scrip by Occupation
Occupation Land Money Unknown Total % taking land
Unknown 6 43 15 64 9
Tradesman 1 3 0 4 25
Boatman/Freighter/Trader 0 3 0 3 0
Boatman/Freighter 13 48 13 74 17.5
Clerk/HBC 4 24 0 28 14.3
Farmer/Trader 0 1 0 1 0
Farmer 1 9 1 11 9
Farmer/Fisherman 1 0 0 1 100
Farmer/Boatman 1 3 0 4 25
Fisherman 1 8 0 9 11
Hunter/Trapper 16 83 0 99 16
Hunter/Trapper/Farmer 2 16 0 18 11
Hunter/Trapper/Boatman 3 15 2 20 15
Hunter/Trapper/Trader 1 6 0 7 14
Hunter/Trapper/Labourer 1 5 2 8 12.5
Hunter/Trapper/Fisherman 1 7 0 8 12.5
Labourer 7 36 1 44 16
Rancher 1 1 0 2 50
Steamer Pilot 0 2 0 2 0
Trader 3 6 0 9 33.3
Servant 2 16 0 18 11
Interpreter NWMP/Mission 0 2 0 2 0
Trader/Miner 0 1 0 1 0


These anomalies can be explained. What critics of the government’s scrip policy usually overlook in arguing that the issuance of scrip, and the Metis choice of money scrip, deprived the Metis of a land base is that those Metis who that wanted to farm had other avenues to acquire land. The Order-in-Council (P.C. 918, 6 May 1899) that established the guidelines for the issuance of scrip in 1899 also stated that those Metis who occupied land “in the said territory be confirmed in possession to the extent of one hundred and sixty acres.” Thus those Metis who had a settled abode and wanted land could claim up to 160 acres in addition to claiming scrip. For those who already worked the land it would only make sense to take money scrip to purchase livestock and implements rather than take more land. Of the 55 applicants who made a land claim in addition to applying for scrip only 7 took land scrip.



Table 7Cross-tabulation Land Claim by Type of Scrip
Land Claim Land Scrip Money Scrip Unknown Total
No 66 578 32 676
Yes 7 43 5 55
Total 73 621 37 731



For those Treaty 8 Metis whose occupation was in some way tied to hunting and trapping (37%), land was not an issue as the hunting and trapping economy was very viable in1900.(25) It is interesting to note that those Metis who identified themselves in some way as boatmen or freighters (23%) had the greatest number of land claims (45%). This is somewhat to be expected given that boatmen could be expected to have a fixed abode and hence eligible for a land claim.

Table 8Cross-Tabulation of Occupation By Land Claim
Occupation No Land Claim Yes Totals
Unknown 64 0 64
Tradesman 3 1 4
Boatman/Freighter/Trader 2 1 3
Boatman/Freighter 58 16 74
Clerk/HBC 22 6 28
Farmer/Trader 1 0 1
Farmer 8 3 11
Farmer/Fisherman 0 1 1
Farmer/Boatman 2 2 4
Fisherman 9 0 9
Hunter/Trapper 95 4 99
Hunter/Trapper/Farmer 14 4 18
Hunter/Trapper/Boatman 15 5 20
Hunter/Trapper/Trader 4 3 7
Hunter/Trapper/Labourer 6 2 8
Hunter/Trapper/Fisherman 7 1 8
Labourer 42 2 44
Rancher 2 0 2
Steamer Pilot 2 0 2
Trader 7 2 9
Servant 18 0 18
Interpreter/NWMP/Mission 2 0 2
Trader/Miner 1 0 1
TOTALS 384 53 437



Treaty 8 scrip applications, while they provide a snapshot of northern Alberta Metis communities at the turn of the century, do not give a complete view. Scrip applicants, for the most part, represent only the youngest adult generation and their children. While a good argument can be made that Treaty 8 Metis represent an indigenous Northern Alberta Metis population with many born in the region and a significant percentage living their entire lives in the same locale, this is not the entire story. The parents of this generation are not well represented in the Treaty 8 scrip applications. This older generation had more diverse origins, and the fact that most had taken scrip outside the Treaty 8 region indicates a significant migration into Northern Alberta from the southern Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

This paper does not advocate a return to Red River determinism in terms of Metis history, but it would be a mistake to see little Red River influence in northern Alberta. The Metis of the 19th century were a very mobile people who moved quite easily to take advantage of new opportunities. Those historians who have reacted against the “Red River myopia” often forget that Red River was itself a very short-lived phenomenon as a Metis homeland (less than 50 years), and that a large number Red River’s original Metis population migrated there from across the Northwest. In the 1820s when the Hudson’s Bay Company and Northwest Company merged and fur trade posts across the northwest closed, superfluous employees were let go as the fur trade was rationalized. With fewer opportunities in the west and north hundreds of native families from the Hudson Bay, Saskatchewan River, Rocky Mountains, and Northern Alberta congregated at the Red River area where new opportunities were opening up (agriculture, schools, employment, provisioning, and trade). Many of these opportunities began to close again in the 1870s resulting in a reverse migration back to the Northwest.(26)

Metis adaptations to the economic conditions in northern Alberta was very opportunistic and sophisticated. While no one single model fits the diverse communities that existed in the Treaty Eight area, all followed a very flexible subsistence and wage earning strategy. Few Metis listed a single occupation often combining hunting and trapping with freighting, farming, fishing, and general labour. These occupational strategies, combined with the fact that few Metis farmed exclusively, and those that did had other avenues to acquire land, made the choice of money scrip the most rational course of action. Certainly the Metis of 1899-1900 could not have been expected to have predicated the resource crash that came in the 1920s. In 1899 there were few indications that a way of life based on hunting, trapping, fishing, and freighting would soon come to an end.

Appendix 1 – Scrip Application Of Colin Collins

appendixaappendixbAppendix 2 – Occupation of Metis Scrip Applicants by Location



1. The term “scrip” was widely used in North America during the nineteenth century to refer to a negotiable certificate issued by various governments entitling the holder to take up or receive an allotment of public land. In this context scrip was usually used to distribute land to certain groups of people, either in payment for services or as a reward. In Canada, for example, scrip was issued to the volunteers of Colonel Wolseley’s Red River Expedition dispatched to Manitoba in 1870, to the soldiers who were sent to put down the 1885 Rebellion, and to the veterans of the Boer War. More importantly, in the context of this paper, it was used to extinguish the Aboriginal rights of the Metis.

2. David Hall, “The Half-breed Claims Commission,” Alberta History 25 (1977), 3-4.

3. NAC, Department of Indian Affairs, RG 10, v. 3848, f. 75236-1, Forget to McKenna, 16 April 1898.

4. NAC, Department of Indian Affairs, RG 10, v. 3848, f. 75236-1, Forget to Secretary of Indian Affairs, 12 January 1898.

5. P.C. 1703, 27 June 1898.

6. Hall, “The Half-breed Claims Commission,” 4.

7. NAC, Department of the Interior, RG 15 D-II-I, Vol. 771, File 518158, Letter of J.A.J. McKenna to Clifford Sifton, 17 April 1899.

8. P.C. 918, 6 May 1899.

9. Ibid.

10. Joe Sawchuk, Patricia Sawchuk, and Theresa Ferguson, Metis Land Rights in Alberta Edmonton: Metis Association of Alberta, 1981), 88.

11. Ibid., 90.

12. Ibid., 127-130.

13. Ibid., 124, 129.

14. Ibid., 120.

15. Trudy Nicks and Kenneth Morgan, “Grande Cache: The Historic Development of an indigenous Alberta métis Population,” in New Peoples: Being and Becoming Métis in North America, 173-175. Gertrude Nicks, “Demographic Anthropology of Native Populations in Western Canada, 1800-1975,” (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Alberta, 1980).

16. Parents would typically apply for those of their children who were minors.

17. This does not count the designation of wife which was the most frequently designated occupation for women. In the following analysis wife, widow, and spinster have been eliminated from calculations.

18. Letter of Father A. Lacombe to the Winnipeg Free Press, 1 October 1896.

19. George F.G. Stanley, The Birth of Western Canada: A History of the Riel Rebellions (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1961), 378.

20. Thomas Flanagan, Metis Land Rights in Manitoba (Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 1991); Thomas Flanagan, Riel and the Rebellion: 1885 Reconsidered (Saskatoon: Western Producer Prairie Books, 1983); Joe Sawchuk, Patricia Sawchuk, and Theresa Ferguson, Metis Land Rights in Alberta; Ken Hatt, “The North-West Rebellion Scrip Commissions, 1885-1889,” in F. Laurie Barron and James B. Waldram (editors), 1885 and After: Native Society in Transition (Regina: Canadian Plains Research Center, 1986); Ken Hatt, “The Northwest Scrip Commissions as Federal Policy – Some Initial Findings,” The Canadian Journal of Native Studies 3:1 (1983).

21. Sawchuk, 110

22. Ken Hatt, “The North-West Rebellion Scrip Commissions, 1885-1889,”199.

23. NAC, Department of the Interior, RG 15, D II-1, Volume 771, File 518158, “Extract from a Minute of a Joint Meeting of the Indian Treaty and Half-breed Commissions, Held at Lesser Slave Lake, District of Athabasca, on the 22 June 1899.

24. NAC, Department of the Interior, RG 15, D II-1, Volumer 771, File 518158, Father A. Lacombe to David Laird, 22 June 1899.

25. Between 1895 and 1911 both the demand and price for fur mushroomed. See Chapter Three in A.J. Ray, The Canadian Fur Trade in the Industrial Age (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990).

26. Marcel Giraud, Le Métis Canadien, Tome II (Saint Boniface: Les Éditions de Blé, 1984), 1134-1155. Gerhard J. Ens, Homeland to Hinterland: The Changing Worlds of the Red River Metis in the Nineteenth Century (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1996), 139-171.