Ernie Callihoo, 81, is the only remaining member of the Michel First Nation living where the reserve was prior to enfranchisement. (Brandi Morin) Brandi Morin Brandi Morin, Métis, born and raised in Alberta, possesses a passion for telling Indigenous stories. Based outside Edmonton, Morin has lent her talents to several news organizations, including Indian Country Today Media Network and the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network National News. She is now hard at work striving to tell the stories of Canada’s Indigenous peoples to a broader audience.
Ernie Callihoo proudly looks out onto the rolling hills of barley growing on the land that he’s farmed for over 50 years. He was born just across the dirt road in a small cabin in 1936, on what was then the Michel First Nation.
Now, the 81-year-old is the only band member left living on the land. It was enfranchised on March 31, 1958.
According to Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, before April 17, 1985, a person could apply to give up their Indian status for various reasons, including the right to vote in a federal election. Until 1960, the only way Indians could vote in federal elections was to give up their Indian status through a process called enfranchisement.
"That was a bad thing," Callihoo said.
"I always did think it was the wrong thing to do. I remember my dad fist-fought with other band members because he wanted to keep this land. He was mad at them because they wanted to get rid of the reserve."
Now, Callihoo and other members are launching a new legal fight to be recognized as a band under the Indian Act once again. An experiment
The Michel Band, consisting of people of Iroquois and Cree descent, signed Treaty 6 in 1878, settling on a 40-square-mile piece of land on the Sturgeon River northwest of Edmonton.
In the 1950s, the Department of Indian Affairs approached the Michel Band to enfranchise under the guise that it would become a model for other reserves in Canada, says band Coun. Celina Loyer.
"They used Michel as an experiment," said Loyer.
"It was the banner reserve of the agency. The people were doing very well. Their houses were well-kept, they had crops in, owned animals like cattle, pigs, chickens. They were very well-to-do. But the Indian agent was controlling everything they did. Like, if they wanted to go sell a dozen eggs, they had to get a pass. If you weren’t agreeing with the Indian agent at the time, he wouldn’t give you a pass."
A group of 10 families from the reserve first agreed to enfranchise in 1928 because, according to Loyer, they were blackmailed.
"They didn’t want to continue to send their kids to the residential school in St. Albert," said Loyer, whose father, Gilbert Anderson, was chief of Michel in the 1980s. Elders told Loyer they were coerced into enfranchisement.
"They were told if they didn’t enfranchise, their kids would have to go to residential school. What kind of choice is that? Either your kids go to this school or you have to enfranchise and give up all of your rights so that your kids can go to the school of your choosing." ‘I’m the only one’
Those who chose to enfranchise were given full Canadian status while giving up their treaty rights. Land prospectors lined up at their doorstep and it didn’t take long for some members to be convinced to sell for various reasons. Some wanted to assimilate into mainstream culture, said Loyer, while others couldn’t afford to pay the municipal land taxes.
The land was often sold at below market value prices, to friends and family members of […]
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