Ottawa tells Saskatchewan Cree Nation it’s ‘deeply sorry’ for assimilative ‘colony scheme’

The federal government has made a national apology to a Saskatchewan First Nation community for a scheme that breached treaty and fiduciary agreements by creating a farm colony that took over the nation’s land and contributed to the assimilation of Indigenous people.

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller is at the Peepeekisis Cree Nation on the reserve, just northwest of Balcarres, Sask., to deliver the apology on behalf of the federal government.

“On behalf of Canada, I apologize for these actions,” Miller said. “They caused great harm to your community, your language and your culture, and for this we are deeply sorry,”

Miller said that not many Canadians know the history of the File Hills Colony Scheme and “we must acknowledge that.”

Peepeekisis Chief Francis Dieter says he welcomes the apology from the government.

“Today is one step of many steps towards reconciliation,” Dieter said.

Peepeekisis Cree Nation Chief Francis Dieter, right, says he welcomes the apology from the government. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

The Cree nation previously agreed to a $150-million federal settlement in August 2021 that covered Canada’s breach of obligations, including transferring and settling residential school graduates onto the nation’s land in 1898, as well as selling off “prime agricultural Peepeekisis reserve lands,” according to the federal government release. Both were done without the Cree nation’s consent.

The settlement allowed the nation, about 110 kilometres northeast of Regina, the option to acquire nearly as much as 18,720 acres of land to be added to its reserve land.

Dieter says he hopes the funds from the settlement will help address the social ills and be used to purchase even more land for the community and development projects.

According to the nation’s website, the File Hills Colony aimed to create “an agrarian First Nation and [assimilate] Aboriginals into the colonial farming lifestyle.”

“The Colony was meant to encourage pupils who graduated from residential school to abandon traditional ways of life and permanently adopt a non-Aboriginal homesteading farmer lifestyle,” the website reads.

“By delivering this formal apology on behalf of the government of Canada we’re acknowledging the wrongs of the past and we’re taking another step toward reconciliation and a renewed nation-to-nation relationship,” Miller said.

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