3) Scrip process

[previous page: 2) ‘Indian’ Title]

‘Scrip’ is the abbreviation of “subscription receipt,” which is “a certificate, voucher, etc. establishing the bearer’s right to something.”[1] Métis scrip was officially known as ‘Half-breed’ scrip. It was issued by the Dominion of Canada to Métis people in order to ‘extinguish Indian title’ by granting land (or money).

“The scrip process entailed more than government officials simply issuing coupons. … Because the individual interest in a scrip coupon could be converted to real interest in land, an elaborate system evolved to determine who was entitled to the coupons and how these coupons could be disposed of.”[2]

The process did not really begin in Manitoba until 1875. In that year, commissioners appointed by the Dominion government’s Department of the Interior collected genealogical affidavits, to determine eligibility for scrip under The Manitoba Act (which had already been amended by various Orders in Council).[3] The Department of the Interior took in applications from approximately 9,000 people including:

  • Canadian or Selkirk settlers who had entered the region of ‘Red River Country’ between 1815 and 1835;
  • “partly Indian heads of families in 1870″; and
  • “partly Indian children in 1870”.[4]

The distribution of scrip in Manitoba did not begin until 1876.[5] The distribution was beset with difficulties, including protests. The dispensation of land titles never really emerged from a state of “conflict and confusion.”[6] The Dominion government altered its policy, by legislation, on “no fewer than eleven occasions between 1873 and 1884.”[7] Each time, the number of ‘Halfbreed’/ Métis individuals entitled to land in Manitoba was reduced.[8] In frustration (and in some cases because of safety concerns), many families relocated westward, to what are now the provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta, as well as southward to Dakota and Montana in the U.S.[9]

The resettlement of Métis families beyond the boundaries of the province of Manitoba compelled the Dominion government (via the Department of the Interior), to undertake a second phase of the scrip process.[10] Although the second phase, taking place in the North-West Territories, was geographically separate,  it overlapped with the Manitoba phase in terms of time frame and in terms of Métis people who were affected.[11]

The North-West scrip process was to have begun in 1885 to deal with people who had formerly resided in Manitoba.[12] A census was undertaken to that end.[13] The violence of 1885 — a.k.a. the North-West Resistance/ Saskatchewan Rebellion/ Northwest Uprising/ ‘Second Riel Rebellion‘/ Métis Resistance — brought one concession from the Dominion government: scrip was not to be limited only to people formerly of Manitoba, rather it would extended to include all ‘Halfbreed’/ Métis who were “British subjects” over the age of fifteen years who “have resided all their lives in the Northwest Territories.”[14]

Policy related to scrip was modified in multiple ways during the 1880s and 1890s by twelve Orders in Council and by an amendment to The Dominion Lands Act in 1899.[15] In consequence, applicants found the process “cumbersome and confusing”:

  •   applicants were mired in “Formalities, paperwork, and lengthy waits”;
  • there were impediments in the way of exchanging scrip for actual land (particularly distances that had to be travelled to claim land and then submit a claim for approval);[16]
  • people were required to pay the Dominion government to have already occupied land recognized — and to pay at rates that became increasingly expensive over time.[17]

Delays meant that by 1901, scrip commissions were still processing claims.[18]

A third phase in distributing scrip was implemented in conjunction with Numbered Treaties. In 1889, the Green Lake Commission offered scrip alongside the signing of the Treaty 6 Adhesion (an addition of territory covered by the treaty) in what is now Saskatchewan.[19] Commissions also took scrip applications alongside signings to Treaty 8. With adhesions, that treaty was concluded from 1899 to 1900, with “Cree, Beaver, Chipewyan, and other Indians” (including Slaves, Yellow Knives, and Dog Ribs/Tlicho), who inhabited lands in what is now northern British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and the south-central Northwest Territories.[20]

From 1906 to 1908, scrip applications were taken in conjunction with Treaty 10, which was undertaken with “Chipewyan, Cree and other Indians,” who inhabited lands in northern portions of Saskatchewan and Alberta.”[21]

From 1921 to 1922, scrip applications were taken alongside signings of Treaty 11. That treaty, with adhesions, was undertaken with “Slave, Dogrib, Loucheux, Hare and other Indians,” who inhabited lands in the Mackenzie District (Northwest Territories and the Yukon.[22]

Scrip Commissions continued to 1925.[23] In all, about thirteen Scrip Commissions took applications in Manitoba and the North-West Territory (the latter being subdivided during the process so as to separate out the provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta in 1905).[24] The Department of the Interior approved 24,326 of the applications by 1929.[25]

By 1929, however, very little of the entitlement to land had translated into actual ownership by ‘Halfbreed’/ Métis individuals or families. Much of the scrip was acquired by third parties, most of whom appear to have been working as, or for, land speculators.[26]

Scrip Commissioners and government officials were among those who recounted irregularities of the process and noted unscrupulous dealings.[27] Instead of inquiring into the extent of abuses that might have been perpetuated, the Senate of the Dominion Government had responded in 1921 by amending the Criminal Code:

  • A time limit was imposed on prosecuting “Any offence relating to or arising out of the location of land which was paid for in whole or in part by scrip or was granted upon certificates issued to half-breeds in connection with extinguishment of Indian title.”[28]
  • Three years only — from the date a scrip certificate had been issued — were allowed to prosecute offences. Children, therefore, who previously had the right to seek restitution for theft of an entitlement when at any point in the future they might become aware of a transgression, had that recourse severely limited. For most, it was effectively eliminated.[29]

Ultimately, the scrip policy met the same end everywhere:

  • only some people acquired the lands to which initial government assurances (in 1870) had stated they were entitled;
  • children did not have their entitlement to reserved lands protected or respected;
  • a substantial number of people who had registered themselves and their children as “Half-breed” or “Métis” were left “land poor.”[30]

Numerous researchers have concluded that “the scrip system was not intended to result in a true Métis land base. … The government of the day feared the growing numbers, economic strength and fire power of Métis people and aimed to break up their collectivities.”[31]

The treaty process has been identified as having the same effect.[32]

[next page: 4) Treaty Process]

[1] Roxanna Thompson, “Metis history in print,” Northern News Service Online, http://www.nnsl.com/frames/newspapers/2007-07/jul5_07met (accessed 28 February 2012). Frank Tough and Erin McGregor, “‘The Rights to the Land May Be Transferred’: Archival Records as Colonial Text — A Narrative of Métis Scrip,” in Natives & Settlers – Now & Then: Historical Issues and Current Perspectives on Treaties and Land Claims in Canada, ed. Paul W. DePasquale (Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 2007), 36–38.

[2] Tough and McGregor, “Rights to the Land May be Transferred.”

[3] See D.N. Sprague, Canada and the Métis, 1869 – 1885 (Waterloo ON: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1988), 44, 90, 94, 95, 101.

[4] Douglas Sprague and Ronald Frye, “Manitoba’s Red River Settlement: Sources for Economic and Demographic History,” Arichiavaria 9 (Winter 1979–1980), 179, 189. D.N. Sprague and R.P. Frye, The genealogy of the first Metis nation: the development and dispersal of the Red River Settlement, 1820–1900 (Winnipeg: Peguis, 1983), 31, indicate the 9,000 included “All descendants of Selkirk settlers, Canadian settlers entering the territory between 1818 and 1835, and all married Métis.”

[5] Camie Augustus, “Métis Scrip,” Our Legacy, University of Saskatchewan Archives, University of Saskatchewan Library, and Pahkisimon Nuye?ah Library System, http://scaa.sk.ca/ourlegacy/exhibit_scrip (accessed 8 February 2012).

[6] H. Douglas Kemp, “Land Grants Under the Manitoba Act,” MHS Transactions ser. 3, no. 9 (1952 – 1953 Season), http://www.mhs.mb.ca/docs/transactions/3/landgrants.shtml (accessed 8 February 2012). See also Darren O’Toole, “Métis Claims to ‘Indian’ Title in Manitoba, 1860–1870,” The Canadian Journal of Native Studies 28. 2 (2008): 241 – 271.

[7] Brad Milne, “Historiography of Métis Land Dispersal,” Manitoba History 30 (autumn 1995), http://www.mhs.mb.ca/docs/mb_history/30/metislanddispersal.shtml (accessed 6 February 2012).

[8] Ibid, explains,

“The first amendment, passed in 1873, reduced the number of people eligible for allotments under section 31 from ten thousand to less than six thousand. Winterers, protected under section 32, were dealt with much more harshly.

Correspondence between the Minister of the Interior and Governor Morris, and also passages from the Minister’s private papers, showed that David Laird had utter contempt for persons of partly Indian ancestry who established a shelter on one of the rivers of Manitoba in the winter, planted a garden in the spring, spent the summers in pursuit of plains provisions, and returned in the fall to harvest the unattended garden. … To make certain such persons did not acquire patents to their lots, section 32 was amended to make it more stringent. The new law, 38 V. Chap. 52, provided that a claimant would have to establish ‘occupancy’ rather than ‘peaceable possession’ of his river lot. Thus it did not exclude squatters but it was used to bar anyone who had not made sufficient ‘improvements’ of the land. Approximately 1,200 families lost all chance of obtaining patents due to the force of this amendment.

Mailhot and Sprague argued that by 1870, the Métis were committed settlers but various forms of pressure from the federal government drove them off the land. According to their statistical evidence, … of 938 Métis families in the 1870 census … overlooked by land surveyors between 1871 and 1873 … 501 did not receive patents. Similarly … of 844 native English families … [that were] missed, 341 … did not emerge as patentees. … [L]ess than 10 percent of overlooked Métis were able to pass improvement standards imposed by the Dominion government’s administration of the Manitoba Act. … Drawing heavily upon the records of the Commission of Inquiry into the Administration of Justice as to Infant Lands and Estates, appointed by the provincial cabinet in 1881 with hearings held between 9 November and 5 December of the same year, [Gerhard J.] Ens argued that there was widespread collusion among the Manitoba government, land speculators, and Judges of the Court of Queen’s Bench. While sufficient legislation was in place by the end of 1878 to protect the interests of Métis children, Ens showed that it was consistently ignored by the legal profession.”

See also Flanagan and Ens, “Metis Land Grants in Manitoba,” who note,

“There is a striking correlation between the benefits the children received (and indeed whether they received any benefits at all) and the land ownership of the parents. … [F]ully 90 per cent of those children whose parents received at least one river lot shared in the allotment of the 1.4 million acres, against only 31 per cent of the children whose parents had no land. Of the children whose parents were landless, 23 per cent went into treaty with their parents, 18 per cent got supplementary scrip … and 31 per cent received no benefit that we could discover. Two quite different subgroups are included in this group of landless people. One group, consisting of 14 English Metis families living mainly in St. Peter’s, decided to become legal Indians. Other landless families, both English and French Metis living in different parishes around the colony, tended to be out on the prairies hunting buffalo and often decided to leave Red River at an early date. Thus they and their children were less likely to appear before the Machray/Ryan commission, which enumerated the Metis claimants in 1875, and their children often ended up with scrip rather than land, or even with no detectable benefit.”

[9] Augustus, “Métis Scrip,” http://scaa.sk.ca/ourlegacy/exhibit_scrip (accessed 8 February 2012). Ken Hatt, “The Northwest Scrip Commissions as Federal Policy – Some Initial Findings,” Canadian Journal of Native Studies 3, no. 1 (1983): 122. See also see “Mort d’un Vieux Metis,” Le Manitoba (28 February 1889), 2, which refers to the relocation of François Dauphinais, who had been named the vice-president of the Provisional Government on 8 January 1870, and had represented the parish of St. François-Xavier in the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia. See E.H. Oliver, “18. Orders of the Provisional Government of Rupert’s Land, Jan. 8, 1870,” The Canadian North-West: Its Early Development and Legislative Records, vol. 2 (Ottawa: Government Printing Bureau, 1915), 913. See also Norma Hall, with Clifford P. Hall, and Erin Verrier, A History of the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia/le Consiel du Gouvernement Provisoire (Winnipeg:  Manitoba, Department of Aboriginal and Northern Affairs, 2010), 15, 32.

Note: the boundaries of the province of Manitoba changed in 1881 and again in 1912. See Douglas Kemp, “From Postage Stamp to Keystone,” Manitoba Pageant (April 1956), MHS, http://www.mhs.mb.ca/docs/pageant/01/boundaries.shtml (accessed 6 February 2012).

[10] Hatt, “The Northwest Scrip Commissions as Federal Policy,” 121, observes of the Department of the Interior,

“This ‘executor of the National Policy’ was formed in 1873 in a manner similar to the British Colonial Office. It was highly centralized throughout most of its history, although there were some periods of relative decentralization in which decision-making was subject to large discretionary powers by administrators. At various times, the Department included the following functions: The Dominion Lands Branch, Indian Affairs; Immigration; Agriculture; the Northwest Mounted Police; Timber and Forestry; Mining; Irrigation and Grazing Lands, and administration of the Yukon District. From 1878 to 1880 Sir John A. Macdonald was both Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior, indicating the centralization of power.”

[11] Augustus, “Métis Scrip,” http://scaa.sk.ca/ourlegacy/exhibit_scrip (accessed 8 February 2012), notes,

“Claims still outstanding from Manitoba forced the government to implement a supplementary commission which ran simultaneously with, although independently of, the North-West Half-Breed Commission.  For this reason, the two are difficult to separate and have often been confused.   To further complicate the issue, some of the North-West Métis making claims in the 1880s were original inhabitants of Manitoba.  While they were not making claims under the Manitoba Act, they were originally eligible to do so.  This unfinished business carried over into 1885. … An order-in-council in January of 1885 marked the first definitive indication that the federal government intended to deal with these complaints which had persisted since at least 1879.”

[12] Hatt, “The Northwest Scrip Commissions as Federal Policy,” 123. See also “Alberta, Past and Present, Historical and Biographical, Vol 1 – Chapter VII, Political History of the North West Territories and Alberta From 1867-1905, ” ElectricScotland.com, http://www.electricscotland.com/history/canada/alberta/vol1chap7.htm.

[13] See “S.C. 1885, Chapter 3, An Act to provide for the taking of a Census in the Province of Manitoba, the North-West Territories and the District of Keewatin,” http://globalgenealogy.com/Census/Download/1885Chapt3.pdf (accessed 8 February 2012). See also Canada, Parliament, House of Commons, Official Report of the Debates of the House of Commons of the Dominion of Canada, vol. 27, third session, sixth parliament (Ottawa: Queen’s Printer, 1889), 355. The actual census documents are apparently classed as confidential and kept by Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa [see http://net.lib.byu.edu/fslab/researchoutlines/Canada/Alberta.pdf] (or they no longer exist). A ‘content of tables’ page is available online, http://prod.library.utoronto.ca/datalib/reference/can_census/1885/1885.pdf. The general results were published as Canada, Dominion Bureau of Statistics, Census of the Three Provisional Districts of the North-west Territories, 1884 – 5 (Ottawa: Maclean, Roger, and Co., 1885). Censuses were also conducted in Manitoba during 1885–1886 and the general results published as Census of Manitoba 18856 (Ottawa: Maclean, Roger and Company, 1887).

[14] Hatt, “The Northwest Scrip Commissions as Federal Policy,” 125.

[15] Augustus, “Métis Scrip,” http://scaa.sk.ca/ourlegacy/exhibit_scrip (accessed 8 February 2012). Hatt, “The Northwest Scrip Commissions as Federal Policy,” 122.

[16] Augustus, “Métis Scrip,” http://scaa.sk.ca/ourlegacy/exhibit_scrip (accessed 8 February 2012). “Fort Simpson Metis Nation,” DFN Member Communities, Dehcho First Nations, http://www.dehcho.org/members/fort_simpson_metis.htm (accessed 8 February 2012), notes, “Often the land that was being offered to the Métis was so far distant from their home base that their only real option was to sell the scrip for whatever they could get. Local land speculators were ready and willing to buy — at bargain basement prices.”

[17] Hatt, “The Northwest Scrip Commissions as Federal Policy,” 122, notes, “The major significance of lodging Metis claims in the Dominion Lands Act is that they were now essentially treated as another class of homesteaders. As Taylor points out, this meant — among other things — that they had to wait three years before title could be issued on land.”

[18] Augustus, “Métis Scrip,” http://scaa.sk.ca/ourlegacy/exhibit_scrip (accessed 8 February 2012), explains that from 1889 to 1901 “Four types of claims were dealt with during this period: outstanding claims from the 1885 commissions; outstanding claims from Manitoba; new claims arising from land recently ceded through Indian treaties; and new claims based on the 1900 amendment allowing Métis born between 1870 and 1885 to apply for scrip (in previous commissions, only those born prior to 1870 were allowed to apply).”

[19] Ibid.

[20] Canada, “No. 428. Treaty No. 8,” in Indian Treaties and Surrenders from No. 281 to No. 483, [3 vols.] vol. 3 (Ottawa: C.H. Parmelee, 1912), 290.

[21] Augustus, “Métis Scrip,” http://scaa.sk.ca/ourlegacy/exhibit_scrip (accessed 8 February 2012). “Treaty No. 10,” in “Treaty No. 10 and Reports of Commissioners,” Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, Government of Canada website, http://www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/eng/1100100028874 (accessed 10 February 2012).

[22] “Treaty Number Eleven,” in “Treaty No. 11 (June 27, 1921) and Adhesion (July 17, 1922) with Reports, etc.,” Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, Government of Canada website, http://www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/eng/1100100028916 (accessed 10 February 2012). Augustus, “Métis Scrip,” http://scaa.sk.ca/ourlegacy/exhibit_scrip (accessed 8 February 2012). Hatt, “Northwest Scrip Commissions as Federal Policy,” 119.

[23] Tough and McGregor, “Rights to the Land May Be Transferred,” 39.

[24] Hatt, “Northwest Scrip Commissions as Federal Policy,” 117, 119.

[25] Augustus, “Métis Scrip,” http://scaa.sk.ca/ourlegacy/exhibit_scrip (accessed 8 February 2012).  Hatt, “The Northwest Scrip Commissions as Federal Policy,” 119, states that there were 14,133 claims allowed in the Northwest. Tough and McGregor, “Rights to the Land May Be Transferred,” 41, supply a flow chart showing authority to list claimants as ‘Métis’ (or not).

[26] “Fort Simpson Metis Nation,” http://www.dehcho.org/members/fort_simpson_metis.htm (accessed 8 February 2012), notes that for Treaty 11, the Scrip Commissioner

“stated that he did not ‘propose to extend the difficulties and the abuses which were practiced when scrip was given out before.’ Scrip was therefore given in cash only, at $240 per claimant. … 172 claims for scrip were allowed totaling $41,280. … In the end, as a result of rampant speculation, out of 14,849 money scrip notes, which were issued — 84.6 per cent — or 12,560 of them were acquired by speculators. … Further, only one per cent of the land scrip originally intended for the Metis remained in Metis hands.”

[27] Tough and McGregor, “Rights to the Land May Be Transferred,” 53–55. Augustus, “Métis Scrip,” http://scaa.sk.ca/ourlegacy/exhibit_scrip (accessed 8 February 2012). “Fort Simpson Metis Nation,” http://www.dehcho.org/members/fort_simpson_metis.htm (accessed 8 February 2012).

[28] Tough and McGregor, “Rights to the Land May Be Transferred,” 54.

[29] Augustus, “Métis Scrip,” http://scaa.sk.ca/ourlegacy/exhibit_scrip (accessed 8 February 2012).

[30] D.N. Sprague, “The Manitoba Land Question,” in The Prairie West: Historical Readings, ed.  R. Douglas Francis, Howard Palmer (Pica Pica Press, 1992), 131. Gerald Friesen, The Canadian Prairies: A History (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1984), 197–199. Augustus, “Métis Scrip,” http://scaa.sk.ca/ourlegacy/exhibit_scrip (accessed 8 February 2012).

[31] “Fort Simpson Metis Nation,” http://www.dehcho.org/members/fort_simpson_metis.htm  (accessed 8 February 2012).

[32] Ibid. Bonita Lawrence, “Real” Indians and Others: Mixed-Blood Urban Native Peoples and Indigenous Nationhood (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2004), 91.


Published: 19 March 2013


  1. Wow, one of the most comprehensive recount to help explain who Metis folks are. Miigwech for this ❤

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