The Veterans and the Rise of Aboriginal Associations

The war experience gave the members of the First Nations the opportunity to live more freely. The soldiers were even allowed to exercise their right to vote (1917). However, on their return to the country, they were faced with a much different situation: Status Indians were forced to return to their reserves. The Department of Indian Affairs assumed responsibility for applying the Soldier Settlement Act, which fell under the jurisdiction of the Soldier Settlement Board for non-Native veterans.

The Soldier Settlement Act allowed veterans to rent or purchase land to settle on, to purchase livestock or equipment at low interest rates, and to receive advance loans or mortgages and agricultural training. However, it was next to impossible for Status Indian veterans to benefit from these advantages. Since it was prohibited by the Indian Act, not a single veteran on the Prairies or in the Northwest Territories obtained off-reserve land. They did not have access to the 160 acres of land that non-Native veterans could claim. Although they were able to obtain location tickets in order to settle on the community’s collective lands, band councils were often against this measure, fearing that their lands would be carved up.

Furthermore, starting in 1917, the government got a hold of reserve lands to resettle non-Native veterans. At the time of the war, the government had already modified the Indian Act in order to rent reserve lands to agricultural producers. It managed to acquire 85,000 acres of reserve lands for this purpose. In addition, the Department of Indian Affairs, which was in charge of granting loans to veterans, allowed only a very small number of veterans to receive such loans. Indeed, in 1921, only 150 loans had been granted.

Faced with these injustices, First Nations veterans joined forces to defend the rights of their communities. Frederick Ogilvie Loft, an Akwesasne Mohawk and lieutenant in the First World War, established the League of Indians of Canada in 1918. Loft’s plan was to make the League a national organization dedicated to defending the rights and lands of the First Nations. Duncan Campbell Scott, Superintendent of Indian Affairs at the time, took it upon himself to keep an eye on the League’s activities. He was nonetheless unable to prosecute Loft (Bans – Indian Act). Although the League was not successful in fulfilling its mandate, it led to the creation of other associations.