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Peasant Policy

The government created many policies and rules that made it almost impossible for First Nations people to be successful farmers.

In 1889, the Indian Commissioner in North Battleford named Hayter Reed introduced the Peasant Policy. First Nations people were supposed to farm like peasants. They had to keep their farms small, and only use very basic tools and equipment. They were not allowed any metal tools or mechanized equipment, like tractors.

An illustrated green tractor has an open cab.

The Peasant Policy did not allow First Nations people to use tractors.

The treaty negotiators said that farming instructors would show the First Nations people how to farm and be self-sufficient. The Peasant Policy broke this promise. The farming instructors who went to the reserves did not teach any modern methods.

An Indigenous man is using a plow that is being pulled by three horses.


Farming instructors on reserve did not teach any modern farming methods.


Sometimes First Nations people were originally given certain land for their reserve but were later forced to move. There were different reasons for this, but sometimes it was because the Canadian government wanted the good farmland to be given to the settlers instead.

The people living on the Thunderchild First Nation were treated very unfairly and forced to relocate because they were too successful at farming.


First Nations people approached farming in the same way they hunted, fished, and trapped in the past. It was a collective approach, with the entire community working together to succeed.

An Indigenous man holds onto a plow that is being pulled behind a horse in order to break the prairie soil.

The Hutterite communities farmed collectively and that was accepted, but it was not accepted for First Nations people to farm collectively.

The Canadian government did not want First Nations people to farm as a group. They wanted to force the First Nations people to farm individually because this was another way that they could destroy the First Nations culture. Reserve farmland was divided into 40-acre plots and no one farmer could own more than 160 acres.

Land Sold to Settlers

Another policy in the Indian Act allowed the Federal Government to sell reserve land to settlers without consent from the First Nation. If the government (often the Indian Agent) felt that the First Nation was not using the land ‘properly’, they could sell those sections of the reserve land to non-Indigenous farmers.

An illustrated farmer.

If reserve land was not cultivated, it could be sold to non-Indigenous farmers.

Pass and Permit System

The Pass and Permit System was devastating for First Nations farmers. They could not leave the reserve to sell products when they wanted. They had to get a permit to sell their goods. The settlers were also fined if they bought any kind of produce from the First Nations farmers. The Indian Agents had all of the power. Sometimes they did not give permits, or they gave them too late, so the goods that Indigenous people hoped to sell had rotted.

An illustrated farmer talks with an Indigenous man.

Indian Agent granting and signing permission on the Pass or Permit Card.


Segregation is the separation of different groups in the same country or community. The Pass System prevented the First Nations and settlers from continuing or building their relationships with each other. The First Nations people and the European settlers both respected the land and instead of being allowed to share and learn from each other, they were kept separate.

An illustrated farmer talks with an Indigenous man.

Settler farmers and First Nations people started to distrust each other because they were kept separate by the Canadian government.

An unfortunate outcome of this segregation is the long-term effect it would have on generations to come. By not allowing for an opportunity to have a healthy reciprocal relationship, the benefits of sharing knowledge, culture, and worldviews was taken away.

An Indigenous farmer stands talking to a Caucasian person. There is an air-seeder in the background.

A First Nations farmer on Muskoday First Nation is sharing information with a non-Indigenous person.

Greater Production Campaign

During the First and Second World Wars, the Government of Canada promised that they would give each First Nations person land, farming equipment, and resources if they went to war. When the Indigenous soldiers came back from war, they were not given what they were promised. Often Indian agents would claim the equipment for themselves, and the First Nation veterans were simply not given the land they were promised.

An Indigenous soldier named Sergeant Harvey Dreaver smiles with a uniform on. The caption under the photo reads: Sergeant Harvey Dreaver, son of Chief Joe Dreaver of the Mistawasis Band, was killed in action during the battle at the Leopold Canal and is buried at Adegem Canadian War Cemetery in Belgium. -Doris Rowe.

Sergeant Harvey Dreaver, son of Chief Joe Dreaver of the Mistawasis Band, was killed in action.

Many First Nations war veterans wondered why they went overseas to fight for freedom when they did not have freedom at home.

The Greater Production Campaign allowed First Nations land to be leased to non-Indigenous settlers if it was not being cultivated. The government claimed that it was necessary to produce more food because of the war. After the war, most of this land was given to non-Indigenous Veterans.

A group of Indigenous soldiers are standing together in their uniforms.

Brave Indigenous soldiers came home to Canada only to continue to be treated very unfairly.

After the Second World War, many First Nations veterans would return home from fighting overseas for Canada to discover they were no longer called able to live on the reserve. There was a government act in place that specified that First Nations people that were absent from the reserve for four years were no longer considered First Nations.

Years later, a settlement agreement was reached to address the loss of land to Indigenous Veterans.