August Global Showcase Auction Offers Métis Scrip from Canada with Dark History

While cataloging the upcoming world paper money section in the Stack’s Bowers Galleries August Global Showcase auction I came across an interesting item with which I was unfamiliar. It is a Dominion Land Bond from Canada dated June 13, 1876, issued by the Dominion Lands Branch of the Department of the Interior. Printed by the British American Bank Note Co. in Montreal, the bond – for 20 dollars payable to bearer – is graded About Uncirculated 53 by PMG and has been cancelled. It is hand-signed by the Surveyor General and the Minister of the Interior. Unfamiliar with this type of bond, I soon found it played a role in a dark chapter of Canadian history.

It is a piece of scrip known as “Métis Scrip,” and played an important role in what has been called “North America’s largest land swindle.” These scrip notes were given to the Métis, who called Canada’s prairie provinces home for thousands of years. Like other First Nations, they were heavily impacted by white settlement, especially toward the end of the 19th century, when expansion westward impacted their traditional homelands. The Dominion Lands Act of 1870 awarded large parts of the west to individuals and companies, ignoring the native claims of tribes such as the Métis. While other First Nations had individual treaties signed to take away their land, the Métis were dealt with differently. The government came up with this scrip system, giving out scrip in either dollars or acres which could be redeemed for land elsewhere. However, the process of acquiring land was convoluted, complicated and susceptible to fraud. One had to first travel to the Dominion Lands Office to redeem the scrip, and then move to the land received; locations that were often hundreds of miles apart. This meant that to take possession people had to leave their families and travel to unfamiliar parts of Canada to settle there, a choice too difficult for many families to make. As a result, most Métis never received land and were swindled out of the scrip getting a fraction of the value. In many cases, the scrip ended up in the hands of white speculators who then sold the land for a profit to white settlers.

In the past few decades, the Canadian government has taken steps to rectify the situation caused by the Métis Scrip. The Supreme Court of Canada in 2003 called it a “sorry chapter in our nation’s history,” and in 2013 the court ruled the government had failed to keep its promise to the Métis people when the scrip was implemented. The $20 bond offered in our August auction is a sad reminder of this part of history, but one that should be told. While recently this scrip and its story has gained attention in the media, many Canadians are still unfamiliar with this story.

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