Documentary explores history of forced farming in Peepeekisis Cree Nation

Documentary I have plowed the sacred ground tells the story of the File Hills agricultural settlement on the Peepeekisis Cree Nation, located more than 100 kilometers east of Regina.

Group member Mark Dieter, who is a writer and director, began researching the File Hills Farm Colony experience in 2019.

“It was important to me because it finally gave me the opportunity to learn more about the history of my community,” Dieter said.

“Growing up on my reserve until 1988 when I first moved, I knew nothing of the history of the community…that was until I returned to the reserve during over the last 15 years that I started to sort of rediscover the history of my community because the impacts of what the colony had done to my community were so widespread. People still talk about it today.

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The File Hills agricultural colony experiment began in 1898 and was administered by the local agent of what was then the Department of Indian Affairs, William Morris Graham. His goal was to fully introduce agriculture to indigenous communities.

In doing so, students from nearby boarding schools were handpicked for this experiment. They were forced to move to the Peepeekisis Cree Nation to learn a new way of life.

“There were a lot of forced arranged marriages… who then got the right to some of these plots of land (to) farm,” he said. “Many of these young people…came from other First Nations communities. So that created a lot of animosity and division in the beginning.

The documentary explores different accounts from direct descendants of those who were part of the File Hills agricultural colony experience.

In the documentary, Peepeekisis Chief Francis Dieter said the File Hills Farm Colony experience wanted to show the world that indigenous people can become farmers, including his great-grandfather, Fred Dieter.

“It was a good thing, but what I didn’t like was (my grandfather) Fred Dieter thought he was going home,” Chief Dieter said.

“The Indian agent told him, ‘You’re going to come here and farm.’ Before you do that, you will first get married”… he didn’t even have time to know her… it was a forced marriage. He was forced to build a house and take up farming.

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Dieter collaborated with Don List of Birdsong Communications Ltd. to tell this story and they had their first public screening in Regina on November 17 and will have another on November 24 at the University of Regina.

“What I want viewers to take away from this film is that every community has a story,” Dieter said. “It’s important to understand the stories and history of your communities, because it can answer a lot of questions about a lot of things that exist in communities today… Experiences like this and other things that have happened to First Nations communities thanks to government policies and the presence of union agents are everywhere.

In September 2022, then-Indigenous Minister Marc Miller issued a formal apology to the Peepeekisis Cree Nation community for the government’s role in allowing the experiment to take place on the File Hills agricultural colony.

Agricultural experimentation continued until the early 1940s.

&copy 2023 PKBNEWS, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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