Mennonite Heritage Village

A Tale of Three Reserves

September 28, 2023

By Gary Dyck

Map of the Province of Manitoba and Part of the District of Kewatin and North West Territory (1876)

This September 30th, Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) will be providing free admission and self-guided tours for the purpose of Truth and Reconciliation. When the Mennonites came to Manitoba in the 1870s they were generously provided the East Reserve (Steinbach and area) and the West Reserve (Winkler and area). During this time the Ojibwe were told to stay on the Roseau River Reserve which wasn’t officially confirmed until 1890.

Below are excerpts from a government document signed by John Lowe, Secretary in the Department of Agriculture, dated 25 July 1873. As you read it notice the generosity and honour each sentence bestows on the Mennonites:

Any person who is head of a family or has obtained the age of 21 years shall be entitled to be entered for 1/4 section… Should the Mennonite Settlement extend beyond the eight townships set aside…other townships will be in the same way reserved to meet the full requirements of Mennonite immigration. If next spring the Mennonite settlers…decide to exchange them(townships) for any other unoccupied eight townships, such an exchange will be allowed…. From the moment of occupation the settler acquires a “homestead right” in the land. The fullest privilege of exercising their religious principles is by law afforded to the Mennonites without any kind of molestation or restriction whatever, and the same privilege extends to the education of their children in schools (emphasis mine).

– John Lowe, Priviligium of 1873, Mennonite Heritage Archives

Do you think the Ojibwe were afforded such privileges, accommodations, and respect? Those that had birthrights had less rights. Those that came to the land millennia later were entitled and could extend beyond in the same way again and again to meet their full establishment needs. They could even change their minds and decide to exchange land. From the moment they arrived they acquired the “homestead right”, the fullest privileges for their faith and traditions, without any kind of interference whatever, and that same privilege extended to other areas. During these foundational years what difference in development would there have been if the Ojibwe were also treated with such prompt care and positive collaboration? If they had not, at nearly every opportunity, had their culture, lands and privileges forcibly removed or chipped away at by the same systems that were so generous to our Mennonite forbearers.

“But while these arrangements were being made for the anticipated arrival of the Mennonites,” writes Rosemary Kuzina in the Mennonite Historian (September 1990), “the Native bands were not faring as well. When Treaty No. 1 was finally concluded on 3 August 1871, the various tribes received next to nothing in exchange for the 12 million acres of land they had to surrender to the Dominion of Canada.” Kuzina then goes on to describe how the census for the Roseau River reserve was misconstrued for their disadvantage and that the new agricultural requirements of the Dominion were not given proper supports for the community to succeed. Meanwhile, Mennonites who were having trouble farming in similar poor soil on the East Reserve were granted rights to move over to the West Reserve which had better land.

A tale of three reserves.

c/o: JORDAN ROSS | THE CARILLON Children from the Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation holding an Honour Walk in 2021.

Upcoming Events:

Last chance to visit the village buildings and Livery Barn Restaurant. On October 2nd the heritage buildings and restaurant will be closed for the season! Until then, the Livery Barn Restaurant is open daily 11am to 3pm, and 11:30am to 3pm on Sunday. There is no buffet this Sunday, but there will be plenty of traditional Mennonite food to order off the menu. This is also a great time of year to check out all the waterfowl activity around the pond.

National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, September 30th, free admission. A Day to reflect on our relationships with our Indigenous friends and neighbours. A self-guided tour will be provided. Admission is free for all!

Volunteer Appreciation Night, October 5th, 7pm. Thank you for all that you do! Our events & festivals, education program, and day to day operations would not be possible without the time and talent you put into volunteering. We appreciate you! – MHV Staff & Management

Christmas Market, November 11, 1-6pm. Our Christmas Market will feature local vendors, children’s crafts, and hot lunch! Admission is a Tin for the Bin, new toys, or a cash donation to Southeast Helping Hands.  

Local Authors Night, November 15, 7pm. Join us for a night of local authors, celebrating the books written in and about Southeast Manitoba. Includes live music and refreshments.