Metis Scrip: how newborn Canada dispossessed indigenous people from the northwest

When Canada was still forming as a country, works were underway to displace indigenous people from their lands. For the First Nations people, they were offered treaties. For the Metis people, they were offered scrip.

Under the Manitoba Act of 1870, Metis scrip was established as a less expensive solution than entering treaty relationships with the people in the province.

The Manitoba Act established the legal process for “extinguishment of the Indian Title to the lands in the Province” and guaranteed “one million four hundred thousand acres of land for the benefit of the families of half-breed residents”.

In the simplest of terms — scrip was a coupon. Throughout the late 1800s, Metis people were issued scrip coupons that could be redeemed for 240 acres of land or 240 dollars.

Zachary Davis, legal counsel for the Metis Nation of Alberta, explained Metis scrip saying, “When Canada, the new country, acquired the lands that became the prairies provinces from the Hudson’s Bay Company — it did so with he promise that was worked into the Canadian constitution that they would deal with the claims of the indigenous people in the territory. There were two people at the time, and it was acknowledged at the time — the First Nations and the Metis. The First Nations got treaties. The Metis got scrip. Scrip was very different. Scrip was an individual entitlement, a coupon, that could in theory be redeemed for land. The issue is that it was extremely convoluted and difficult to exchange the coupon for land. And in a lot of cases the land that could be acquired wasn’t anywhere near where they were or anywhere where the Metis people wanted to live.”

As a result, the Metis people did not get the land they were promised, were dispossessed from their traditional territories and ended up squatting on road allowances and crown land.

A second problem, according to Davis, is that white speculators ended up illegally claiming the land set aside for Metis through fraudulently cashing in scrip coupons. In an investigation in the 1920s, the Department of Justice acknowledged that 65% of scrip was cashed in for money while the remaining 35% was redeemed for land. Metis people would sell their scrip to white land speculators. “White people had to present themselves at the land office and often what they did was they engage in fraudulent impersonation,” said Davis. Further research of the fraudulent redeeming of scrip showed that “90% of scrip passed in to the hands of speculators, including chartered banks, private dealers, etc., and only 10% was ever used by the Métis themselves”

This was so well known at the time — the Metis brought a legal case against on individual  who made a significant profit off of fraudulently cashing in on Metis scrip. To push back — Davis said Canadian government officials made amendments to the Criminal Code which made it impossible to prosecute Metis scrip — protecting white land speculators and white interests and making sure the Metis got nothing.

Additionally — Canada denied the claims of Metis scrip to anyone who fought in the 1885 Louis Riel rebellion, anyone who joined the rebellion even if they didn’t fight and any widows or children of men who were involved in the conflict.

In 2019, a lawsuit was filed by a coalition of Metis people, descendants of those denied scrip entitlement in Saskatchewan and Alberta, seeking redress for being wrongfully deprived of their lands.

The claim covers an area of 120,000 square kilometres crossing the Saskatchewan and Alberta borders and lands rich in oil.

The plaintiffs are not seeking to remove anyone from the land involving the claim and are in support of resource extraction on the land but are demanding that justice is done for the descendants of the Metis who were originally displaced from their communities.

The coalition says they expect the case will end up in the Supreme Court of Canada.

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