Rehabilitating Saskatchewan’s dispossessed Métis was a primary concern for government from the 1930s to the 1950s. In 1939, the province’s Liberal government and the Roman Catholic Church created a Métis farming or “rehabilitation” colony in Green Lake, which removed Métis from their southern road allowance communities and put them into a segregated northern community. In 1944, the new CCF government wanted to ameliorate the Métis’ destitution by establishing a series of segregated Métis rehabilitation “farms” in the province’s south, where eventually, after learning to farm, they could better integrate into the larger society. In 1945, the government purchased the Oblate-run Lebret Métis Farm; using it as a model, in the late 1940s it created other farms such as those in Baljennie, Crescent Lake, Crooked Lake, Duck Lake, Glen Mary, Lestock, and Willow Bunch. The Métis farms were plagued by administrative tension between the government and the Church, misunderstandings among the Métis regarding private versus communal ownership (Lebret and Willow Bunch were co-operatives), and blatant paternalism. The Métis had no input into the farms’ governance, and officials, through the Department of Social Welfare and Rehabilitation (or, for Green Lake, the Department of Municipal Affairs) were often unhelpful or racist. More importantly, the government did not understand that the Métis preferred wage labour employment to farming. By the late 1950s, it was clear that the farms were a failure: southern Métis were moving to the cities in search of wage labour opportunities, while those living on the farms often subsisted on government relief.
Darren R. Préfontaine