“The Michel people were forced to relinquish land because the government was starving them out,” he says. “They wouldn’t allow them to sell anything, they wouldn’t allow them to grow any crops, nothing. So they forced Chief and Council at the time to give up some land just so they could survive. That’s when the grand poobah there, Mr. Oliver, decided to swoop in and take advantage of the situation.”
Oliver made a deal in 1906 to auction off a chunk of the nation’s reserve land in central Alberta, northwest of Edmonton, at nine dollars an acre. The money was never paid, which under Canada’s Indian Act meant the sales legally had to be cancelled. Yet, not only was the land never returned, but some of the deeds were later transferred to Oliver himself.
Meanwhile, Michel First Nation members were not allowed to leave their reserve without Oliver’s signed permission as their Indian Agent. The Michel band eventually relinquished nearly all of its 360,000 acres under pressure from the government, and its members were “enfranchised” in 1958, meaning they got the federal vote but lost their Indian status.
Oliver also successfully lobbied to push the Papaschase First Nation off its reserve land on what is now part of south Edmonton. Both nations are still fighting to be recognized under the Indian Act.
“I’d say [Oliver] was technically the grandfather of the demise of the Papaschase and the Michel,” Beaudin says.
The Oliver Community League launched its renaming process in the summer of 2020, as protests against the police killing of George Floyd swept across the world and statues of once-revered politicians representing racist and colonial values were defaced and removed. An Edmonton plaque bearing Oliver’s face was twice splashed with red paint before the city permanently removed it in June this year.