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The Prairie Provinces
Chapter XII. Early Conditions in the North-West Territories


The Red River Rebellion was no sooner suppressed and peace restored than immigration set in towards the West. As a result of the passing of the Manitoba Act a new order of things was created and a different authority established. This had the effect of making the half-breeds discontented. Many of them left their lands and, going westward, sought new homes and greater freedom in various places in the West and especially along the Saskatchewan. Their place was quickly taken by settlers mainly from Ontario. For the most part these came through the United States by rail as far as possible, and, crossing the border, made their way across the prairies in their canvas-topped wagons, commonly known as “prairie-schooners.” It was not long before many persons of British, German and Scandinavian descent found their way into the country. The stream of immigration quickly flowed beyond the bounds of the new Province of Manitoba, and settlements were soon found in the vast territory lying between Manitoba and the Rocky Mountains.

The district organized in 1870 into the Province of Manitoba was but a small part of the great area known as the North-West. As soon as settlements had been formed therein, it was very necessary that steps should at once be taken to afford protection to the people and to administer the laws. The Federal Government accordingly provided for the temporary government of the unorganized territory by the Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba, who was to be assisted by a council appointed from Ottawa. Laws were made to govern trade and to suppress the liquor traffic with the Indians. A few years later a resident lieutenant governor was appointed and also a council to assist him. Provision was made for the election of additional members. As soon as the number of elected members reached a certain limit, the council was to be replaced by a legislative assembly.

The early governors of Western Canada were brought face to face with many difficulties, and one of the most serious of these was the support of the Indians. The buffalo, their main source of food, was fast disappearing and it was for the Government to take action with a view to improving the condition of the Indians and placing them in a better position to help themselves. The increase in population in Manitoba and the North-West rendered it necessary to make some arrangement with the Indians respecting the surrender of those vast areas of land extending from Lake Superior to the Rocky Mountains. This was accomplished by a series of treaties, seven in all, concluded at intervals between the years 1871 and 1877. The first of these was made with the Ojibiways or Chippewas, at Lower Fort Garry, so called the “Stone-Fort Treaty”; the last with the Black-foot Indians at the foot of the Rockies. In this work Governors Archibald, Morris, and Laird served faithfully the interests of the West, and in fact of all Canada, for their successful dealings with the Indian claims secured the safety of western settlers. The spirit in which the Canadian government has dealt with the natives may be gathered from the following simple words of Lieutenant Governor Archibald’s address, upon the occasion of the “Stone-Fort Treaty”: “Your Great Mother, the Queen,” he said, “wishes to do justice to all her children alike. She will deal fairly with those of the setting sun, just as she would with those of the rising sun. She wishes her red children to be happy and contented.

She would like them to adopt the habits of the whites, to till the land, and raise food, and store it up against the time of want. But the Queen, though she may think it good for you to adopt civilized habits, has no idea of compelling you to do so. This she leaves to your choice, and you need not live like the white man unless you can be persuaded to do so of your own free will. Your Great Mother, therefore, will lay aside for you lots of land, to be used by you and your children for ever. She will not allow the white man to intrude upon these lots. She will make rules to keep them for you, so that as long as the sun shall shine there shall be no Indian who has not a place that he can call his home, where he can go and pitch his camp, if he chooses build his house and till his land. Although the treaties differed in many details, they all possessed the same general features. In every case the Indians gave up all right to their land except those portions, called “reserves,” which were set apart for their own use. In return, they were to enjoy the privilege of hunting and fishing anywhere in the surrendered territory until it was taken over

by the government or placed in possession of individual owners. Every year, five dollars was to be paid each Indian, man, woman, and child, twenty-five to a chief, and fifteen to each of his councillors. Lands were set apart for the sole use of the Indians, one section for each family of five; and these could not be sold without the consent of the owners, and even then only for the benefit of the Indians concerned. The object of this precaution was to prevent the possibility of injustice being done to the natives during the rush of immigration.

Reserves were granted to one or more bands in the districts in which they had been accustomed to dwell, and they are found scattered over the western provinces. They vary considerably in size and in the number of Indians occupying them. Some of the larger of these agencies are the McLeod and Calgary Agencies in Alberta; the Carlton, Battleford and Crooked Lake Agencies in Saskatchewan; and the Birtle Agency in Manitoba. In 1906 the total Indian population on the reserves in Alberta was 6,481, in Saskatchewan 6,380, and in Manitoba 5,768. In some instances where the number of Indians has become reduced to a few, the Dominion Government has taken over the lands, after satisfying the claims of the Indians, and has thrown open the same for settlement. On some of the larger of these reserves agencies have been placed, and these are in charge of officials called Indian Agents, who are appointed by the Federal Government. It is their duty to .see that the Indians arc properly treated and get their just allowances in accordance with the terms of the treaty. Inspectors are also appointed whose duty it is to visit the various agencies and submit reports to the government for its guidance. Every effort has been made to deal fairly and justly with the Indians, and the placing of the reserves long distances apart has tended to weaken the strength of the tribes. It has also proved more satisfactory than the plan adopted in the United States of placing whole tribes of Indians on large reserves.

To give every encouragement to the Indians to interest themselves in farming, the government has supplied them with farming implements, oxen, cattle and seed grain. Generally speaking, they have shown themselves submissive to authority and ready to learn. on some of the reserves the Indians have made creditable progress and are the owners of large bands of horses and cattle. Earnest efforts have been put forth to educate the children, and Industrial Schools have been built at various points in the provinces. The results show that those in attendance make creditable progress, and many of the pupils display special aptitude along the line of the manual arts. It is only through schools that the Indians can be prepared for the great change which the advance of civilization has brought into their lives. In order to give these civilizing influences the best possible chance to work, every precaution is taken to suppress the sale of intoxicating liquors.

When the vast extent of the Territories is taken into consideration, the small and scattered frontier settlements, the previous lack of law and order, the large number of Indians to be controlled, the illegitimate traffic in intoxicants, the task of government was assuredly a difficult one.

In this connection too much praise cannot be given to the valuable services rendered by that body of men whom the early settlers especially regard with a feeling of pride, namely, the North-West Mounted Police. The force was organized by an act of the Dominion Parliament in 1873. In the act power was given to the Governor in Council to establish a police force in and for the North-West Territories, and for the appointment of the necessary officers. The control and the management of the force and of all matters connected therewith were given to the President of the Privy Council, and the Commissioner of Police was required to perform such duties as might be required of him from time to time by the Governor in Council.

According to the act the number of members was not to exceed one thousand, and they were to be selected from persons between eighteen and forty years of age who were mentally and physically capable. Before being admitted to the force they were required to take the oaths of allegiance and of office. The duties of the police were numerous and varied and included in preservation of law and order in the community, the attendance upon judges, the escort of criminals and lunatics, and the searching for, seizing and

destroying of intoxicants. In connection with their work they naturally had many dealings with the Indians, and their fairness and firmness undoubtedly went far towards affording the necessary protection to settlers in the Territories.

With the development of government and of the judicial system the duties of the police have changed in some respects, but they still render important service to the government in connection with almost every branch of departmental administration. Patrolling as they do some eight hundred miles of boundary line, they materially assist the revenue department in the collection of custom duties.

During the late war in South Africa their services on the veldt have gone far to prove that there are no more efficient troops in Canada than the "Royal North-West Mounted Police.


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