Description of Materials

These collections contain the minutes of decision, correspondence, memoranda, reports, and maps of the Joint Indian Reserve Commission regarding allotment of Indian reserves in British Columbia.

They are organized into two separate collections, one Provincial and one Federal. Each collection contains some copies of the same documents as the commissioners would often send one copy of their field minutes or minutes of decision (MOD) to each office. In some cases these documents although from the same time, place, and author differ. When the Joint Indian Reserve Commission was in operation the delegate from either the provincial or federal governments corresponded directly with their respective authorities resulting in differing correspondence in each collection. At the beginning of each volume in each collection there is a description of the contents and any differences between the Provincial and Federal Collections especially when the same MOD with slight variations is included in both collections or when one MOD has been removed from one collection but not the other. The following is a general description of each of the collections followed by a summary of key differences.

B.C. Provincial Collection

The Provincial Collection consists of thirteen hardcopy volumes of documents covering the time period of January 1876 to February 1907. The first five volumes of the provincial collection cover the JIRC and G.M. Sproat’s tenure as the sole commissioner up to August 1880. The content of this period of the collection is mostly MOD, some field sketches and correspondence from Sproat. The Sproat correspondence in volumes two and three are especially of interest for their expression of discontent with the reserve allotment process. Sproat’s correspondence reveals his concerns for Aboriginal people and their rights to their lands and resources, his awareness of the limitations of his authority, and comments on the issue of pre-emption. There is a significant amount of correspondence regarding the dispute between some Okanagan people and the settler O’Keefe near Vernon who illegally pre-empted land that was part of an Aboriginal settlement. Sproat encountered difficult situation when settlers pre-empted land valuable to Aboriginal communities where reserves had not yet been allotted. In Sproat’s correspondence with the Chief Commissioner of Lands and Works he becomes progressively critical of and frustrated with the province’s failure to apply the law, regarding legal pre-emption, to settlers who blatantly disregarded evidence of Aboriginal settlements and land use within their pre-emption sites. Near the end of his tenure Sproat felt powerless in his position and tried to work quickly to complete the MOD and field minutes before his departure in March of 1880 . The last of Sproats MOD and correspondence appear in volume five along with correspondence dated to August 1880.

Volumes six to twelve consist of the MOD and correspondence during the tenure of Peter O’Reilly as reserve commissioner. O’Reilly was the longest serving commissioner and the Provincial collection holds materials for the period of March 1881- December 1898. O’Reilly’s correspondence and MOD differ from Sproat’s in that he did not include as much detail in his reports and in some cases provided no field notes to accompany the MOD; there is some contextual information provided in sketches. It is evident that O’Reilly did not share the same concerns as Sproat and his approach was to work quickly so that reserves were allotted and it was clear which lands were available for settlers. No work was completed on the commission from November 1882-January 1884 and volume eight begins in February of 1884. Of note in this volume is the absence of allocations of fishing rights or exclusive fisheries as previously granted by O’Reilly. The worsening condition of the relationship between the Provincial and Federal governments is evident in volume eight in correspondence regarding the Province’s displeasure with B.C Indian Superintendent I.W. Powell and Powell’s complaints to the Chief Commissioner of Lands and Works regarding the Province’s sale of reserve lands near Osoyoos.

Volume ten includes correspondence regarding the continues alienation of Aboriginal lands and includes the departure of Powell and replacement by A.W. Vowell. Volumes ten and eleven are the last of O’Relly’s tenure as commissioner and both include correspondence regarding settler incursion on Aboriginal lands. Volume eleven correspondence is one sided as it does not include responses from the Chief Commissioner of Lands and Works. The volume index for volume twelve notes missing documents and discrepancies in the dates of MOD.

The final volume of the Provincial collection is dated January 1899 to February 1907. This collection contains only Vowell’s correspondence and MOD. Although Vowell held his position until 1910 the Provincial collection only holds records up to 1907 as the province refused to approve reserve allotments from 1907 until the establishment of the McKenna McBride commission in 1911/12. Vowell submitted MOD and field notes with sketches in a similar manner to O’Reilly however his cover letters, in the provincial collection, do not contain the same level of detail as O’Reilly’s. Correspondence between Vowell and the Department of Lands and works reveals the province’s increasing unwillingness to set aside Crown lands for reserves.

Federal Collection

The Federal Collection consists of twenty-two volumes of hardcopy documents. There are numerous MOD that appear in both the Federal and Provincial collections and this is stated in the volume indices when cross referencing has confirmed the duplication. The Federal collection is not organized in a strictly chronological format as much of the correspondence was originally in the form of letterbooks or topics collected as one collection. The index for each volume must be viewed to discern the dates covered, topics of correspondence, and description of MOD.

The first two volumes of the collection are letterbooks, notebooks containing copies of intended correspondence and notes. The first volume contain entries by Sproat and surveyor E. Mohun and includes correspondence and several MOD and the second volume is Sproat’s letterbook as sole commissioner and includes the topics of surveying, disputes with provincial government, agreements with Aboriginal people, Sproat’s policy interpretations and reserve allotment method, and Sproat’s interactions with settlers and Aboriginal people. Volume three is an original book that consists of extracts from numerous files containing material related to the JIRC and some MOD that have been cross references with the Provincial collection. Volume four to six cover the time periods of May 1878-June 1880 and contain Sproat’s field minutes, MOD, pre-emption records, maps and sketches and a report from Mohun included in the volume six. Volumes seven through fourteen cover O’Reilly’s tenure as commissioner. These volumes consist mostly of MOD, sketches and correspondence. There is some correspondence from settlers and missionaries in volume seven most of the correspondence is between O’Reilly and either Powell or Vowell. The format of his MOD become more consistent in volume 10 with sketches accompanying MOD and field minutes which provide more information on the groups he met with, prominent people/chiefs, population, employment and other issues. Any duplication, gaps in correspondence, or missing records are noted in the indices for these volumes.

Volume fifteen is devoted to Vowell’s tenure as Indian Superintendent and Reserve Commissioner. The volume contains MOD, field notes and sketches. Vowell’s practice of submitting field notes before MOD differed from O’Reilly and the correspondence is more inter-related than other volumes. Volumes sixteen through nineteen are complete collections of certain topics. Volume sixteen is copies of the 1877 JIRC MOD made for use in the field by the surveyor E. Mohun and contains sketches. Volumes seventeen and eighteen contain “True Copy” of Sproat’s workbooks and his MOD some of which are not located in other Federal volumes. Volumes nineteen and twenty are the “True Copy” of all of O’Reilly’s MOD from May 1881to October 1886 and the “True Copy” of MOD for O’Reilly and Vowell from May 1887 to October 1908. The final two volumes of the collection are not directly related to the IRC. Volume twenty contains records from various dates on a variety of topics including, 1863 reserve leases, lists of reserves in the railway belt, files related to the McKenna-McBride Commission, copies of papers related to BC Land case 1 & 2, Historic sketches on BC Indian Affairs by G.M. Matheson, Registrar of Department of Indian Affairs 1934-34. The final volume is the minutes of the conference of Duncan C Scott Deputy Superintendent General of Indian Affairs, Chief Inspector of Indian Agents W.E. Ditchburn, and the Executive Committee of the Allied Indian Tribes of British Columbia to discuss aboriginal title.

Federal and Provincial Collection Summary

Certain differences may be noted from reviewing the collection descriptions above. The federal collections contains more records and there is more duplication of MOD within the Federal collection. It also contains more of the field notes of the commissioners especially those of Sproat. A marked difference between the two collection may be found in the content of the correspondence. For example O’Reilly is found to have written for his audience in that the content of his correspondence on a certain matter would differ depending on if he was writing to the Provincial or Federal offices. In the first volume of the Provincial collection is it found that O’Reilly’s federal and provincial covering letters attached to the MOD differ greatly. Those sent to the province contain issues considered most important to the province, such as abandonment of a pre-emption, but this information was not included in the correspondence to the federal government. O’Reilly altered his covering letters depending on the recipient.

As stated any missing documents or duplicates are stated in the indices for each volume in each collection. There is also an extensive guide for each collection cataloguing the MOD, sketches and correspondence by location and Band name. Where cross referencing has occurred similarities and dissimilarities are stated. In addition is is of note to mention additional differences between the two collections. For general information on each volumes content please see the chart titled “Indian Reserve Commission Provincial and Federal Collections Summary.”

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