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Learning European Methods

Treaty Promises

During the signing of the treaties, the two sovereign Nations agreed to terms. Many Indigenous nations believe that the Creator was also present during the development and signing of the treaty. In exchange for land and resources, the government agreed to share with First Nations people the western way of living (for example: education, tools, technology, and agriculture).

An illustrated group of Indigenous people are sitting down to talk with a group of White men wearing suits.

Government officials agreed to give the First Nations people tools and teach them how to farm. They did not always keep their promises though.

The details in each treaty were different, but generally, all Indigenous people would have a space to live called a reserve. Each individual family on the reserve was to be given a certain amount of land and items to help set them on a path to sustain themselves.

The government promised farm implements and farm instruction to the First Nations people, but they were slow to deliver it. Farming was challenging just as it was for the early settlers. The land had to be broken, the weather was harsh and farming implements were not advanced.

An illustrated Indigenous man is holding onto a plow as he walks behind a horse in a farm field.

First Nations farmers had to break the land.

Willingness to Farm

First Nations people needed to learn how to farm because they wanted to provide for their family. After their main ways of life had been changed, communities needed to adapt by learning to farm to survive.

Traditional hunting, fishing, and trapping was getting harder to do. Many of the reserves were surrounded by towns and farms, and the wildlife was disappearing. When the Pass System was implemented, First Nations people had to get permission from the Indian Agent to leave the reserves for any reason. This made hunting and fishing very difficult. First Nations people could not make a living trapping either because the price of pelts and skins was incredibly low.

An illustrated Indigenous man dips a pole into a hole through a frozen lake.

There were not many beavers left because of over trapping.

Different Views

European methods of farming were introduced to First Nations people. However, the European view of cultivating the land was quite different than the First Nation worldview of living in harmony with the land. The European farming practices involved clearing the land of what grew naturally and cultivating it to grow crops that they brought over from Europe. Farming completely changed the landscape of the Prairies.

An illustrated farmer sits on a seeder as it is being pulled by three horses.

Land was broken and crops were grown.

First Nations people learned new farming methods. They did not change their knowledge of the land. First Nations people understood the land very well and knew what to do and what not to do. Unfortunately, the knowledge that the First Nations people had was not appreciated by settlers.

Black and White photograph of Chief Fine Day in farmer's clothing.


Chief Fine Day in farmers clothing.

An illustrated tornado is shown.


How could agriculture on the Prairies have evolved differently if the First Nations peoples’ understanding of the land was more valued?

Relationship with Early Settlers

When the settlers first began arriving in Saskatchewan to farm, the First Nations people helped them survive. They learned from one another. First Nations people provided settlers with the knowledge of the land and showed them how to survive in the harsh climate.

The First Nations people knew a great deal about their environment, such as rainfall and frost patterns, where to find good water, and how to care for horses in winter. They also had a lot of knowledge of plants, roots, berries, and herbs for food and for medicine. They shared this knowledge with the early settlers.

Two illustrated Indigenous women are kneeling on the ground picking blueberries.

First Nation people shared their knowledge of the land with the settlers.

Many First Nations people worked for the settlers on their farms. They were hired to cut brush, pick rocks, clear land, and help with threshing. The First Nations people also sold firewood, clothing, and moccasins to the settlers.

First Nations stone pickers work in a field near Davidson, SK

First Nations people pick stones on a farm near Davidson, SK.

A group of First Nations farmers are picking up grain with pitchforks and putting it into a thresher.

Many farmers relied on Indigenous men to help them on the farm.

Early Success

By the late 1880s, many First Nations people were finding success with farming. The reasons First Nations people were so good at farming included their knowledge of the land and the fact that they often farmed collectively, not individually like European settlers. They had deep relationships with the land, the environment, and one another and applied these relationships to their farming practices.

A group of Indigenous farmhouses from the early twentieth century stand together in a farmyard.


These are farmhouses on a reserve.

First Nations people began winning seed and farming competitions. These competitions were put on by the government in order to promote agriculture in the province. It was a problem for the government and the settlers that the First Nations groups were winning. The settlers claimed that because First Nations people were getting farming ‘coaches’ (as a part of treaty promises), the competition wasn’t fair. The government wanted the European farmers to be more successful so they could attract more settlers to the Prairies.

Two illustrated golden-coloured wheat sheaves.

First Nations farmers won competitions for growing the best wheat. This upset the settlers and the government.