The Turtle and the Serpent

Site Explorations

Turtle Mountain Dakota Reserve No. 60

Map: Official Dominion Land Survey of Reserve No. 60 by D. Ponton.

Turtle Mountain Indian Reserve No. 60 was pressured into closing in 1910 after a difficult history. The reserve was created from one of the few Dakota communities permanently located north of the 49th parallel prior to Canadian Confederation. Despite this, the Government of Canada refused to recognize the Dakota as “Canadian” and regarded the reserve as a temporary measure. In 1882, after more than twenty years of lobbying, Canada reluctantly recognized the reserve by an order-in-council. The reserve was surveyed into 80 acre family plots in an effort to encourage sell-offs, but the band resisted this dissolution.

In 1909, preparatory to the planned dissolution, Indian Affairs asked D. Ponton of the Dominion Land Survey to produce an accurate and up-to-date map of the reserve. Ponton, known for his cooperation with Native bands, exceeded his orders by surveying every “garden plot” as laid out by the Natives themselves, in addition to the mandated 80 acre lots. The apparent random distribution of the stone-lined garden plots was sometimes cited by Indian Affairs officials as an example of the inefficient use of the land.

After the official closure of the reserve in 1910-11, local Whites continued to allow Natives to use the southeast quarter for ceremonial purposes up until the last ceremonies in 1944. Sitting Eagle, the last shaman, lived northwest of the circular area in the middle of the map, until his death in 1944.

Diagram: imaginary extension of garden plots survey by D. Ponton, overlayed on the Dominion Land Survey map.

The Turtle Mountain Dakota were described as being the most self-sufficient, independent and traditional of all of the Sioux bands living in Manitoba during the late 1800’s. Of all Canadian Dakota bands, they made the easiest transition to agriculture. It was on this site that the Council of Seven Stones met, an international forum for diplomacy which included among its traditional membership: Mandan, Hidatsa, Cree, Ojibway, Assiniboine and the Turtle Mountain Dakota and Chippewa.

The diagram above shows an imaginary extension of the ”garden plot“ lines shown in the 1909 survey of Turtle Mountain Indian Reserve No. 60. Green frames outline the stone rectangles and oblongs as they appeared in the original survey. Black lines show imaginary extensions to the limits of the reserve (one square mile.) Blue lines at centre, which are based on Chief Hadamanie's plot, align with the summer solstice sunrise (and incidentally the winter solstice sunset.) Red lines superimpose Dr. Eddy's grid on the design.

After 1911 the four quarters were auctioned off for farmland, but owners continued to allow a few individuals to live on the property. In the case of the Ferguson farm on the southeast quarter, ceremonies were continued up until 1944. In fact, some stone lines were relaid on the southeast eighth-section to reproduce a smaller version of the petroform complex within the increasingly limited space.

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