Aboriginal and colonial geographies of the File Hills farm colony

C. Drew Bednasek
Department of Geography, Queen's University
July, 2009
Full text (external site)


Canadian government archives have primarily shaped scholars' analysis of the File Hills farm colony on the Peepeekisis Reserve in south eastern Saskatchewan. While these colonial archives are valuable for research, they emphasise particular points in the government's telling of the colony story. They focus on the construction, management, and intentions of the colony, but neglect the experiences and perspectives of Peepeekisis community members affected by the colony scheme. My thesis makes use of government archives, and is also based on Aboriginal oral histories about the colony and its long-term consequences. My central argument is that a more critical interpretation of archives and oral histories will enrich the historical and geographical record about the colony. I demonstrate how oral histories and archive documents can converge and diverge, but combining the two is particularly important to nuance the colony narrative. A critical viewing of texts and oral histories from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries also reveals that colonialism in the prairie west was highly spatalised and grounded in "betterment" sciences that sought to control and discipline Aboriginal peoples through the manipulation of space, heredity, and environments. Betterment sciences shaped Indian Affairs policy and the farm colony is a remarkable example of how betterment was applied on the ground. Finally, oral histories offer powerful insight into Aboriginal identities that survive in spite of colonial constructs and strategies. Oral histories of Peepeekisis community members are particularly important for highlighting peoples' everyday geographies and lives only hinted at in colonial archive documents. Part of what makes this thesis original is that it is based on collaborative research. I sought Peepeekisis band permission to conduct this project, and Peepeekisis community members' oral histories form an important part of this thesis and they have provided guidance on the documenting of their oral histories in this thesis.