Agricultural Rehabilitation and Prairie Colonialism: Intersections between Indigenous Peoples and Canada’s Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration, 193575

Friday, January 4, 2019: 1:50 PM
Salon 6 (Palmer House Hilton)
Shannon Stunden Bower, University of Alberta
The Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration [PFRA] was created in the mid-1930s as a Canadian federal government agency charged with agricultural adjustment on the Canadian prairies, in the context of a period of economic depression and what was seen as extended drought. Until the PFRA was absorbed into the federal Department of Agriculture in 2012, the agency represented the nexus of various projects of environmental transformation with broad social, economic, and political consequences for the region at large.

At inception, the PFRA did not have a mandate to engage with Indigenous peoples, though its early activities did have direct and indirect consequences for groups such as the Métis, the Nēhiyaw, and the Niitsitapi. Indigenous peoples were brought explicitly within the agency’s ambit in the mid-1960s, as the PFRA became a vehicle for state-led programs to, as government officials perceived it, improve Indigenous peoples’ lives. Bearing on both land and water management, these programs intersected with ongoing efforts by some Indigenous peoples to access opportunities and supports that had long been available to non-Indigenous communities. My presentation will span these two periods in the mid-20th century history of the PFRA, shedding light both on the experiences of particular Indigenous communities and on the broader significance of the PFRA in relation to ongoing processes of settler colonialism.

This presentation details one aspect of a larger research project focused on the PFRA. The agency has not yet been subject to scholarly historical analysis extending beyond the crisis years of the 1930s and assessing its activities in broad terms. Considering the robust scholarship focused on comparable American agencies like the Tennessee Valley Authority, study of the PFRA will not just advance understanding of key processes in 20th century Canadian history but also permit new comparative analysis between Canada, the United States, and other relevant nations.