Canada 150: John Tootoosis helped unify Saskatchewan’s indigenous peoples
John Baptiste Tootoosis chose to be politically active even if it meant getting arrested.
Tootoosis would travel to communities to meet with aboriginal leaders during the 1930s. At that time, the Indian Act forbade gathering for political purposes. Tootoosis was once arrested on Cowessess First Nation by Indian Affairs officials, and was was put on a train back home.
Throughout his life, Tootoosis was adamant that aboriginal people never gave up their right to nationhood. He would go on to become the first chief of the Union of Saskatchewan Indians, which became the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) in 1958, and now represents most of Saskatchewan’s 75 First Nations.
Tootoosis began to be politically active at a young age. Too young in fact by Indian Act regulations at the time. When Poundmaker’s band council had to elect a new chief in 1920, a 21-year-old Tootoosis was their first choice. However, he couldn’t take on the role because the Indian Act required chiefs to be at least 25.
After decades of seeing broken treaty promises, Tootoosis and his colleagues realized their people needed to unite. At a meeting at the Barry Hotel in Saskatoon in 1946, Tootoosis, Henry John and Joe Dreaver held a meeting that would lead to the formation of the Union of Saskatchewan Indians.
-Mark Melnychuk, Regina Leader-Post