Survey of DFN Indian Reserves

Survey of DFN Indian Reserves

Survey instructions that included setting aside Indian Reserves for Duncan Testawich‘s Band were transmitted on April 15, 1901 to Dominion Surveyor A.W. Ponton. However, these instructions were not acted upon immediately and it was not until February 1905 that Indian Department surveyor J. Lestock Reid, received instructions to survey Reserves that may be required at or near Peace River.

The influx of non-Aboriginal settlers into the Peace River region, which had begun in the 1880s, increased markedly in the years following 1899 when Duncan Testawich‘s Band signed Treaty 8. The Peace River District, though located about 450km (approximately 280 miles) northwest from Edmonton, offered the settlers soil and climactic conditions suitable for commercial wheat production. This influx of settlers created increasing difficulties for Duncan‘s Band Members. Among the difficulties encountered was the encroachment of settlers on parcels that had been identified as Temporary Indian Reserves. In 1903, for example, Sergeant Butler had to accompany Duncan Testawich and Xavier Mooswah to evict California settlers who at that time squatted on land staked in 1900 as a Temporary Indian Reserve. Butler was not entirely sympathetic to the Aboriginal residents and wrote in July 1904 to Indian Commissioner David Laird, complaining that Duncan‘s Band Members were interfering with settlement at Peace River by claiming that any settler who chose a location in this area was in trespass. In Butler‘s view, these increasing difficulties made it imperative that Indian Reserve surveys be completed before the end of the summer in 1904 so that a real boundary, rather than what Butler called an imaginary line, could be placed between the Indian Reserves and available Crown land. It was not until February 1905, however, that Indian Department surveyor J. Lestock Reid was told to survey Reserves in the Peace River region.

At the same time as the Department of Indian Affairs instructed Reid to survey Indian Reserves, they advised him to ensure that the Indians were not deprived of any land that was justly or properly theirs. Prior to this time, Indian Affairs had been informed that eight non-Aboriginal residents of the Shaftesbury Settlement had expressed concern about the allotment of Indian Reserves and had asked that their own property not be affected adversely by the survey of Reserves in the area. Indian Affairs told the Department of the Interior, to whom the settlers‘ concerns had been relayed, that the surveyor had been instructed not to include the settlers‘ claims in the Reserves to be surveyed.

When surveyor Reid arrived in this area on March 20, 1905, he found that Duncan Testawich and some of his Band were reported to be away on a hunting expedition to the north. Hence, Reid sent a man with dog train to find Duncan and tell him the surveyor had arrived to lay out his reservation. Reid further reported that while waiting for Duncan and his people to return, he made a traverse of the north bank of the river (Peace) between the English mission [Church Mission] and the Big Island flat, as this was said to take in several Indian locations. On the 1st of April, 1905, Reid wrote to the Department of Indian Affairs advising them that Head Man Duncan Testawich of the Peace River Crossing Band of Indian had visited his survey camp.

In total, Duncan Testawich and his Band selected ten parcels of land. Reid surveyed six parcels of Indian Reserve lands (IR 151B through 151G) situated along the northwest bank of the Peace River in the vicinity of the Shaftesbury Settlement. These six Indian Reserves included the previously-established holdings (houses, improvements etc.) of individual Duncan‘s Band Members and their families, some of whom had been living there for a period of time described by Reid as a number of years. Of the remaining four Reserves, two (IR‘s 151 and 151A) were surveyed as larger communal reserves, adjacent to what are today the villages of Berwyn and Brownvale, respectively.

The six smaller parcels were surveyed by Reid between 4th – 13th of April 1905, and the two larger parcels, between 15th – 28th of April 1905. Concerning his surveying of eight of the ten DFN Reserves, Reid on the 26th of April 1905 wrote:

“Having held the usual talk with the Head-Man and his people and after some delay and adjusting I have at last got their lands allotted I think satisfactory to them and I hope the same will meet your approval. I enclose a rough tracing of the work already completed except the remaining, which I hope to have done [?] tomorrow. The tracing will give you an idea of the work already finished and also my connection with the Dominion Land Survey.”

Duncan Testawich and his people had as usual a very inflated idea of the amount of land they were entitled to and it was only by giving some of them places on the River [Peace River] and the Reserves No. 1 & No. 2 [IR‘s 151 and 151A] that they could be satisfied and I hope they could be satisfied.

The total number of Indians in this Band seventy-three (73) and the lands allotted as follows:

  • [The 6 Indian Reserves] On the Bank of River [Peace River] = 1.20 Sq. Miles
  • Reserve No. 1 = 5.50 Sq. Miles [IR 151]
  • Reserve No. 2 = 7.90 Sq. Miles [IR 151A] Total = 14.60 Sq. Miles
  • Acknowledging this 26 April 1905 letter, Indian Commissioner Laird told Surveyor Reid: “I do not like members of the Dunvegan Band receiving land among the Peace River Crossing Band, but I suppose it could not well be avoided.” The group that Laird refers to here as the Dunvegan Band is the band who signed Treaty 8 in 1899 as the Beaver Band and who were also known as the Beavers of Dunvegan and Grande Prairie or the Beaver Band of Horse Lake and Clear Hills. The 1905 Treaty 8 Annuity Paylist shows that five families, totalling twelve people, transferred from Duncan‘s Band to the Dunvegan Band. Thus, Reid allotted Reserves at Peace River Crossing to people of both Cree and Beaver ancestry.

The last two of the ten Reserves allotted to the DFN were identified as IR 151H and IR 151K and were surveyed in May 1905. Reid allotted these parcels because some Duncan‘s Band members had requested land separate from the other members of this Band. Specifically, Duncan‘s Band member Louison Cardinal requested land on the northeast shore of Bear Lake (now known as Cardinal Lake), north from present-day Berwyn, a parcel identified as IR 151H. Cardinal had been born at Lac La Biche in 1836. Duncan‘s Band member William McKenzie and his wife and four children wanted to live on land later identified as IR 151K, situated about 40 km (25 miles) south from Peace River Landing, at a place called Little Prairie on the trail to Grouard. William McKenzie‘s stepfather, Alexander Mackenzie (also spelled McKenzie) was said to be a great nephew of his celebrated namesake, Sir Alexander Mackenzie.

Hence, in total, in 1905 Reid surveyed ten Indian Reserves for the Peace River Landing Band (Duncan‘s Band; now, Duncan‘s First Nation). He also surveyed two reserves for the Dunvegan Band (now the Horse Lake First Nation). The reserve land selection along the Peace River and on the surrounding prairies indicates that members of the Duncan‘s Band supplement their continuing reliance on hunting, fishing and gathering with the new pursuit of farming.

Reid forwarded his report and completed survey plans to Indian Affairs in January 1906. In July of 1906, these plans were sent by Indian Affairs to the Department of the Interior for confirmation. Eight of the ten Indian Reserves for the Peace River Landing Band were confirmed by Privy Council Order-in-Council on 3 May 1907, as follows:

  • No. 151 [Peace River Crossing] for the Peace River Landing Band, 5.5 square miles;
  • No. 151A [Duncan Tustawits] for the Peace River Landing Band, eight square miles;
  • No. 151B [John Felix Tustawits] on the Peace River [Big Island Flat], 294.4 acres;
  • No. 151 C [Tavia Moosewah] on the Peace River, 126.56 acres;
  • No. 151D [Alinckwoonay] on the Peace River, 96.65 acres;
  • No. 151E [Duncan Tustawits] on the Peace River, 118.68;
  • No. 151F [David Tustawich] on the Peace River, 134.02 acres;
  • No. 151G [Gillian Bell] on the Peace River, 5.67 acres.

While Reid also surveyed Indian Reserve 151H and 151K in 1905, they were not included within the above-mentioned 3 May 1907 Privy Council Order-in-Council, as Ottawa questioned the technicalities concerning the surveying of these two parcels. When Surveyor Reid in January 1906 forwarded his final report and completed survey plans to the Department of Indian Affairs in Ottawa, and these materials in turn were sent to the Department of the Interior for confirmation, the Surveyor General indicated that the lands surveyed for Louison Cardinal and William McKenzie had not been related to existing township surveys. As there was no reason not to proceed with confirmation of the other Reserves, Indian Reserve 151H and 151K did not appear in the 1907 Order-in-Council. Final confirmation of Indian Reserve 151H and 151K would not occur until 1925, by Privy Council Order-in-Council 990.