A legacy for Jean Allard

Jean Allard was, without question, a man of strong beliefs and opinions. And it was those deeply held beliefs that fuelled his 60-years of effort to change what he saw as oppression of Canada’s First People by an omniscient Indian Affairs department. While the modest Indian Affairs department of the 1960s has now expanded to two huge departments (Indigenous Services Canada and Crown-Indigenous Relations Canada), Allard saw that expansion simply as an expansion of oppression. He continued his fight to empower First Nations people right up to his death in Winnipeg on December 2, 2020 at the age of 90. (Read full obituary here.)

Jean Allard, October 2019

(Source Jim Burns)

  • Political beginnings

  • The Louis Riel legacy

  • Big Bear’s Treaty

  • Treaty Annuity Working Group

  • Reconciliation and MAWG

Political beginnings
Jean Allard got his start in Manitoba politics in 1966 in a failed run for the northern Manitoba riding of Rupertsland. But in 1969 at the urging of Dave Courchene, the president of the Manitoba Indian Brotherhood (now the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs), he took another shot.

     [Dave] Courchene was quickly making a name for himself politically. In the spring of 1969, he was approached by Ed Schreyer, the leader of the New Democratic Party in Manitoba, to run in the province’s vast northern riding of Rupertsland. It was the largest riding in the province, sparsely populated, and mostly by Indians. Courchene had bigger and more lucrative fish to fry with the Manitoba Project, so he turned to Métis activist Jean Allard.
    The tall, handsome Allard had the makings of a persuasive politician, motivated by a desire to make a difference. He’d grown up in the French-speaking farming community of St. François Xavier west of Winnipeg, which had once been part of the Selkirk-Peguis land grant. He’d had no trouble finding work in a lumber camp in Manitoba or on a fishing boat in Vancouver. But by the age of 24, he was a widower with a small child.

Jean Allard c1950

(Source Jean Allard)

    “I grew up quicker than I expected,” he said. “I remember vividly that beautiful May morning when I left the hospital in Vancouver. My wife had just died of leukemia. When I closed her eyes before I left, I felt like I would never be afraid of anything again.”
    With a child to raise, he also knew he could no longer rely on a lifestyle based on brawn and not brain, so he decided to put his Jesuit education at St. Boniface College boarding school to good use.
    “I went to university and got a law degree. I didn’t intend to practise law. What I wanted was the small measure of respect that would come with the letters behind my name. I headed back to Manitoba, and instead of working in a lumber camp, I was running pulpwood operations for Indian Affairs.”
    And what he discovered working for Indian Affairs infuriated him.
    “I’d spent time overseeing projects for Indians, clearing hydro-line right-of-ways in the bush, running pulpwood operations. I thought these projects were intended to help Indians, but a successful project attracted the wrong kind of attention. As soon as it started being successful, some [Indian Affairs] bureaucrat changed the rules and a promising project floundered and failed.”
    Allard had gotten his first hard lessons about the frustration and futility of going up against the IA bureaucracy, but he was not about to be bested by intransigent civil servants ensconced in their comfortable offices in Ottawa or Winnipeg.
    “When I realized I could do little to change the bureaucracy that ran economic and employment programs for Indians, I thought I might make a difference if I became a politician. I figured that the bureaucrats would have to listen to me then. I thought I could make some meaningful and substantive changes to the lives of the impoverished Indians on northern reserves if I sat on the provincial government benches.”
    Allard was prepared to use the powerful pulpit of public office to make sure Indian voices were heard in the legislature. He went up to the Fort Alexander Reserve (now the Sagkeeng First Nation) about 120-km north-east of Winnipeg, to see Dave Courchene at his home. Allard told him he was willing to run for the Rupertsland seat.
    “I’d need someone to run my election campaign for me,” Allard said, “and Dave told me to go see the young fellow next door and he would be able to help me. That young fellow was Phil Fontaine, and between the two of them I was elected in 1969 to the Manitoba Legislature with Schreyer as premier.” [1]

But Allard’s political career was short-lived. As a new Member of the Manitoba Legislature and legislative assistant to Premier Schreyer in 1970, he was given the special responsibility in the new NDP government for developing innovative job programs for people in northern Manitoba, about 90 percent of them Indigenous. With the support of the Manitoba Indian Brotherhood, the Manitoba Métis Federation, mining interests and unions, Allard worked hard to pull together a new commuter flight service in the North that would allow Indigenous men to fly in and out of a newly opened mine operation on a two-week cycle so that they could earn good money and still remain in the home communities. But just as the new program was about to be announced, the NDP caucus pulled the plug and decided instead the government would build a brand new town from scratch in the wilderness near the mine.

Jean Allard 1969

      Allard was furious. He had spent two years cajoling and arm-twisting stakeholders and fellow legislators, only to see his plans for developing a regular income stream that would suit the lifestyle of Indigenous people thwarted. Allard was not afraid to push hard for what he wanted to accomplish and use sharp elbows if necessary, but in the process, he exhausted the political good will of the NDP caucus. He abruptly and bitterly quit the NDP in April 1972 and sat as an Independent. [2]

Jean Allard in a 1966 interview with CBC-TV Winnipeg, arguing that Louis Riel deserved to be honoured with a statue on the grounds of the Manitoba Legislature. (Source CBC Archives)

A legacy for Louis Riel
Allard could at least console himself that he had achieved a tangible legacy during his brief tenure as a legislator. He had achieved the long-sought goal of honouring his great-great uncle, Louis Riel, with a sculpture on the grounds of the Manitoba Legislature. The stylized figure of a tall, tortured martyr was, to say the least, controversial. It was not all that dissimilar from Allard himself.

Jean Allard, 1994, chained to the statue of Louis Riel to protest its removal from the grounds of the Manitoba Legislature. (Source Brandon Sun)

      [Jean Allard] had had lots of time to think on the long nights in the summer of 1994 when he chained himself to the statue representing the tortured and troubled Louis Riel on the grounds of the Manitoba Legislature. Other Métis leaders wanted a proper buttoned-up suit-and-bow-tie statue of Riel. Allard disagreed, in part because he was a prime mover in getting the original Riel statue there in the first place, and more than one person had remarked on how much the stylized Riel looked like Allard.
      But it was also about duking it out via statues to see which Métis group would dominate in Manitoba—between Allard, the past president of the Union nationale métisse Saint-Joseph du Manitoba (founded in 1887) and Yvon Dumont, the president of the Manitoba Métis Federation (founded in 1969). After twelve days chained to the statue, Allard gave in when the work crew showed up to move the statue from the Legislature to the grounds of St. Boniface College, where Allard and Riel had both once been students of the Jesuits. The MMF had won.
     It was this ideological battle with the MMF about what it meant to be Métis that got Allard thinking. He figured government funding of the MMF had turned the leaders into beggars, constantly seeking more and more money to deliver what he considered to be “apartheid” programs...
      Allard considered the dependency on government funding of the Métis political organizations, especially after the Métis were officially designated as Aboriginal in the Constitution Act of 1982, as no different from the Indian organizations. It struck him, as he sat chained to Riel’s statue, that the issue was ever and always about the money and who controlled it. The people who had no control were the ordinary Indigenous people. So, what if they did control the money? What would happen then?
     Allard considered an expanded family allowance to put more money into the hands of ordinary Indigenous people, but that seemed complicated and unwieldy. He had been going through documents about his grandparents’ farm in St. François Xavier on the Assiniboine River that showed they had paid one dollar per acre in the 1870s for their land. Five acres of land would have cost five dollars, which was exactly the amount of the annuity being paid to every man, woman and child in bands that signed on to Treaty One. He figured that the same land, in 1999, would be worth a thousand dollars an acre.
If the annuity were increased to $5,000 per person, it would put money directly into the hands of families, and with that money, they could gain some measure of personal power to balance the power of the band government.
     The annuity was the single provision in the Treaties from the1850s onward that provided some measure of individual empowerment within the collective of the band. By government policy, it was paid directly to people—IA officials were literally handing five-dollar bills to eligible recipients—and it never went through the hands of the band council.
      The Treaty annuity would apply only to Treaty Indians, of course, but the more Allard played the idea around in his mind, the more logical and simple it seemed.
      Allard had been shopping the idea of what he called a “modernized treaty annuity” in political circles in 1998, including at a gathering of federal Liberals in Winnipeg. Bill Balan, Regional Executive Director of Canadian Heritage for the Prairies and Northwest Territories, listened to his pitch and suggested Allard write a book about it. He would, said Allard, but he needed funding. Balan just happened to have funding available under Heritage’s Aboriginal programs, and in short order, Allard had $24,000 and a book to write. [4]

Big Bears Treaty cover inroads rev.png

Big Bear’s Treaty
Allard set to work writing Big Bear’s Treaty: The road to freedom, a hard-hitting and blunt assessment of Indigenous politics intended to set the stage for the necessity of a modernized Treaty annuity. And he was lobbying influencers, including Gordon Gibson, a former special assistant to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and member of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia, whom he’d never met but called anyway. Gibson wrote later about the 1998 call:

 [Jean Allard] phoned me out of the blue about work I was doing on aboriginal issues for the Fraser Institute. I have since learned that he does this with many people, and is very effective at it. At the beginning of the conversation I said to myself, “Who is this guy?” and at the end of the call I wanted to meet him.
A year or so later we were talking, sitting on a curb in South Vancouver in front of a house owned by one of his relatives. He made a lot of sense. Because he could give his ideas the credibility that came from personal experience, I expressed hope that he would write a book. He said he had already started…[5]

By 1999, Allard was nearly done but he’d run out of money to finish the manuscript. So he sent out the first draft, typos and all, to selected politicians and other public figures to see what they thought, including Gibson. He liked what he was reading. When the book project seemed stalled, Gibson encouraged Allard to publish a substantial excerpt of Big Bear’s Treaty in the Queen’s University policy journal Inroads. It was published in 2002, with a foreword by Gibson.

Jean Allard’s manuscript has two great strengths. He is a clear and original thinker, and he has personally lived with the people and events that have shaped the past fifty years of Indian policy. A Métis himself, he has been with, but not of, the Indian industry as it has evolved. He has been close enough to know where the bodies are buried, but has avoided personal burial in the stultifying conventional ideas that dominate Indian affairs. [6]

The publication of “Big Bear’s Treaty” in Inroads (Issue No. 11, 2002) was a way to get the idea of modernizing Treaty annuities out into the public domain. It was followed by his writing an op-ed, “The white man’s burden”, for The Globe and Mail in July 2002, where he stated, “The principle is simple. Paying significant treaty money to individual Indians empowers individual Indians. And it honours Canada’s obligations under the treaties.” [7]

Editorialists at the Winnipeg Sun added to the discussion with a July editorial about modernizing annuities called “A legacy for Jean”, but it was meant as a legacy for Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, not Jean Allard. Chrétien had begun his rise in politics in Ottawa with an unprecedented seven-year term as Indian Affairs minister, and had maintained a strong attachment to the Indigenous community. The editorial called for Chrétien to act on Allard’s idea of a modern annuity.

 

“So Allard says if Chrétien is searching for his legacy, he should update the treaty money and put it in the hands of each individual Indian…This is the kind of idea that Chrétien could quickly adopt to bring his career full circle and end the cycle of misery and poverty amongst natives.” [8]

Treaty Annuity Working Group
During the busy summer of 2002, Jean Allard and Wayne Helgason established the Treaty Annuity Working Group (TAWG) as a special committee of the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg, where Helgason was serving as executive director. The non-partisan group of Indigenous and non-Indigenous thinkers and former politicians concluded that a modernized Treaty annuity would have an immediate and profound impact on the grinding poverty, social pathologies, and despair and hopelessness plaguing so many First Nations communities in Canada. Hoping for a receptive hearing in Ottawa from Prime Minister Chrétien, TAWG members were sorely disappointed.Chrétien was, at that point, embroiled in a bitter leadership feud with his Finance Minister Paul Martin, whom he fired from cabinet in 2002. Still, Helgason made the case for modernizing annuities directly to then Indigenous Affairs Minister Bob Nault, but Nault was not persuaded.

Allard worried that the political turmoil in Ottawa was drowning out what he wanted to say. It was therefore, a surprise in May 2003 when Allard and Helgason were invited to a meeting with Kevin Lynch, Deputy Minister of Finance to talk about modernizing annuities. Allard figured Lynch would not have made time for a meeting if he hadn’t seen a value in what TAWG was proposing. And Martin, when he was Finance Minister, was said to be interested in an innovative approach to Indigenous policy. Allard was buoyed by the meeting with the Deputy Minister and a subsequent trip to Ottawa to meet with government bureaucrats.

The TAWG team was optimistic about progress as it hosted a national conference on modernizing Treaty annuities in June 2003, producing the report Modernizing Treaty Annuities: Implications and Consequences. A consensus of conference participants determined that a modernized annuity should be:

     - increased to reflect increased land values (i.e., increased from $5 per year to $5,000);
     - paid to all Status Indians, and not just Treaty people;
     - paid directly to recipients outside the control of Indian Affairs and band councils;
     - revenue neutral.

However, Allard saw his hopes for progress fray when Chrétien suddenly announced his resignation in early December 2003, three months ahead of his planned departure. TAWG scrambled to get an early draft of the Modernizing Treaty Annuities report to Chrétien, hoping it might appeal as a dramatic demonstration of “exiting with voice” for the outgoing Prime Minister.

But when the report finally landed on the desk of the Prime Minister, it was the new PM, Paul Martin, who had plans of his own for Indigenous policy changes. The report went to the newest Indigenous Affairs minister, who bluntly informed Allard and Helgason that “there are no provisions in the treaties for an increase in the amount of the treaties.” [9]

The rejection was a blow to Allard and the Treaty Annuity Working Group, which disbanded in 2005. Allard had no intention of giving up on the idea of modernizing Treaty annuities because he profoundly believed that empowering First Nations people was the key to addressing the destructive effect of powerlessness and poverty. However, the political landscape, especially when Stephen Harper became Prime Minister in 2005, did not look promising.  For Allard, the Harper years offered no hope whatever of advancing empowerment of First Nations people. But change was nonetheless underway.

Reconciliation and MAWG
When Allard started working on his quest to modernize Treaty annuities in 1998, the Canadian media was full of deeply troubling stories about corruption on First Nations communities, with leaders implicated in various abuses. A cynical public had little reason for optimism about resolving the seemingly intractable problems plaguing Indigenous communities. But 20 years later, times had changed. A new generation of educated, capable First Nations leaders had emerged. And the views of the Canadian public had shifted. Perhaps one of the most significant changes came about due to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The TRC Calls for Action in 2015 seemed to resonate with the Canadian public, particularly non-Indigenous people. There was a new willingness for people to learn about Indigenous issues and support reconciliation in a meaningful way.

In this new environment emerged the Modernized Annuity Working Group (MAWG), formed in June 2019, led by co-chairs Sheilla Jones, a 12th-generation Settler, and Sheila North, the former Grand Chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO). Like the Treaty Annuity Working Group, it was a team of Indigenous and non-Indigenous men and women who were building on what TAWG had begun, and included Wayne Helgason and several others from the TAWG team.

Allard served as an honorary member of MAWG, pleased to see a deeper exploration of a modernized annuity. He wanted to be sure that MAWG would stay true to his intent to empower First Nations people and keep his legacy alive. In December 2019, the MAWG co-chairs co-authored “Modern annuity a game-changer for First Nations families”, an op-ed in The Star (Toronto):

The origin of a potentially groundbreaking step toward meaningful reconciliation between Canada’s first people and settlers can be laid at the feet of Métis leader Louis Riel. Literally. In 1994, Métis activist Jean Allard had lots of time to think after chaining himself to the controversial “tortured” statue of Riel…[10]

Jean Allard attended his last MAWG meeting in February 2020, and yes, he was just as opinionated as ever, and just as deeply committed to seeing a modernized annuity become a reality.

Riel statue St B 2017.jpg

The statue of Louis Riel found a new home in 1995 on the grounds of St. Boniface College, where Jean Allard had once been a student at the Jesuit boarding school.

(Source Manitoba Historical Society)

—    By Sheilla Jones, Co-Chair of the Modernized Annuity Working Group. She has been working with Jean Allard on the issue of modernizing Treaty annuities as a researcher and editor since 1998.

ENDNOTES

[1] Jones, Sheilla, 2019, Let the People Speak: Oppression in a Time of Reconciliation, pp 52-53
[2] Ibid. p 106
[3] Ibid. p 122
[4] Ibid. p123
[5] Allard, Jean, Big Bear’s Treaty: The Road to Freedom, Inroads, Issue No. 11, 2002 p 110
[6] Ibid. p 110
[7] Allard, Jean, “The white man’s burden”, The Globe and Mail, July 2002
[8] Editorial, “A legacy for Jean”, Winnipeg Sun, July 24, 2002
[9] Jones, p 146
[10] Jones, Sheilla and Sheila North, “Modern annuity a game-changer for First Nations families”, The Star, December 23, 2019

 

MAWG is working with coalition partner,

the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg,

to explore the implications of a modern annuity.

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