SIR, - I have the honour to submit my annual report, together with tabular statement for the year 1896.
Vital Statistics. - There are twelve reserves in this agency, with a population of two thousand one hundred and thirty-eight Indians, divided as follows, viz.: - Black River Reserve, sixty-three; Hollow-water River, one hundred and thirteen; Loon Straits, fourteen; Blood-vein River, ninety; Fisher River, three hundred and thirty-seven; Jack-head River, eighty; Berens River, two hundred and sixty; Peekangekum, seventy-one; Grand Rapids (Berens River), one hundred and sixty-eight; Poplar River, one hundred and forty-seven; Norway House, five hundred and sixty-one; Cross Lake, two hundred and thirty-four.
Education. - There are nine day-schools in operation, out of which one or two are making noticeable progress this year, some are barely holding their own, while others are perceptibly losing ground. I must, however, state that the department is not to blame for the backward condition of these schools. In some cases the missionaries themselves take no interest nor the least trouble to induce the children to attend, or to influence the parents to send them to the day-schools, and they even interfere with the children being sent to industrial-schools. With one exception, the schoolhouses are inferior with common class furniture. With time no doubt, these disadvantages will be overcome.
Dwellings. - On some of the reserves a better class of houses are being built, but the Indians who still follow the chase make but little improvement in building.
Gardens. - The rocky, marshy and bushy nature of the country along the eastern and northern borders of Lake Winnipeg is not suitable for farming purposes. Vegetables, however, when properly planted and well attended to, grow to perfection on most of the reserves, but of late, especially since the department has wisely given up supplying seed yearly, the Indians have not made any progress in gardening. They do not seem to make an effort to procure seed for themselves, consequently very little is planted.
Hunt. - The fur-hunt during the past year was good, but prices paid by traders for some classes of skins was lower than that of last season. Moose and caribou were fairly plentiful, and rabbits very numerous. Fishing in the vicinity of the reserves was generally good from the agency northward the Indians are self-sustaining in this agency, and do not cost the Government anything in that respect, and do not suffer for want of food.
Health. - La grippe and a severe form of influenza has been prevalent throughout the agency during the past fall, winter and spring. Scrofula and consumption, the most potent and fell diseases among the Indians, have also been the cause of considerable loss of life. The annual visits through this agency of Dr. G.T. Orton, medical superintendent of this district, has, however, ameliorated to a very great extent the sufferings of many of the Indians who have been troubled by these and other diseases.
Occupation. - The Indians on reserves north of Berens River get little, if any, employment whatever, excepting in the capacity of voyageurs for the Hudson's Bay Company and other traders, while transporting their merchandise from one place to another, purchasing furs, & c., from outlying districts; but south of this they are able to command fair wages at lumber camps, mills, fisheries, farm work, & c.