In whose interest?: government-Indian relations in Northern Saskatchewan and Wisconsin, 1900-1940
Gulig, Anthony G.
American and Canadian Indian policy in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries generally focused on "civilizing" Indian peoples. In other words, the government wanted a more sedentary, less dispersed Indian population who would likewise require less land for traditional hunting and gathering activities and might be more easily assimilated when time and circumstance required. Such policy, however, was best suited to agricultural regions. In forested regions or other areas which were not suitable for commercial cultivation, conflict arose as Aboriginal groups tried to maintain their traditional practices while other interest groups sought to access the same resources. Increasing use of these non-agricultural areas by sport hunters, commercial fishing industries, logging enterprises, tourists, and in some cases prospectors and land speculators, grew in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These interests not only competed for the same resources from which the Indian population secured its subsistence, but they also influenced the governments of the United States, Canada, Wisconsin, and Saskatchewan to regulate traditional Indian hunting and gathering activity. Conservation commissions in both the United States and Canada went about the business of re-shaping the public perception of the acceptable use of fish and game. Traditional subsistence activity had little, if any place in these new fish and game management strategies. This was the case even though Indians in both northern Saskatchewan and Wisconsin negotiated treaties which they believed upheld their access to vital resources. The conflict over resources became acute in the early twentieth century when governments in both places actively interfered with traditional activities. Such interference had the most dire consequences for the Indian people in both areas. The case studies presented here illustrate the historical antecedents of conflicts which still exist today. The Indian concern for continued access to natural resources has rarely been heard in its historical context. This study places the historic confrontation between Indian subsistence resource users and government resource-managing agencies in the context of the early twentieth century conservation movement. The two areas studied here have striking similarities. The governments refused to uphold treaty promises and rarely listened to the Indians' demands for continued access to natural resources. This study explains how governments managed resources in their own interest and relates not only the struggle for access to resources, but also how Indians responded to government interference in their way of life. It is important to move beyond a comparative analysis of two similar tribal populations in a cross-border analysis. By examining two disparate tribal groups who negotiated similar treaties in two different eras but in distant geographic locations, a better understanding of governmental conservation motives and actions, as well as the impact of such governmental activity on Indian people, may be achieved. This study is a unique look at the impact of the early conservation movement on the subsistence needs of Indian peoples in North American non-agricultural regions.