Search just our sites by using our customised site search engine


Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Click here to learn more about MyHeritage and get free genealogy resources

History of Saskatchewan and The Old North West
Chapter XVI - The Surrender of Saskatchewan by the Indians


Importance of Indian Treaties—Precedents—Territory Involved, and General' Provisions—Necessity for the Proposed Treaties— Attitude of the Indian Chiefs Towards Them—Indian Diplomacy—Work of Archibald and His Associates—Services of Morris—Resolutions of North West Council—-Laird's Treaties —Details Regarding Treaty of Qu'Appelle—Misunderstandings in* Connection With Treaties 1 and 2—Agitation for Treaties in Northern Saskatchewan—McDougall's Mission— Ceremonies at Fort Pitt—Details of Conference—Big Bear's Request.

Few episodes in the history of Western Canada are characterized by such interest and pathos as the surrender of the vast, fertile plains by their Indian occupants. This cession was consummated by a series of ten treaties. Of these the first seven were negotiated between 1871 and 1877. The eighth, covering the Athabasca and Peace River countries, was not signed until 1899. Treaty number 9, consummated in 1905, does not enter into western history, as the territory it involved lies in Northern Ontario. The tenth in the series covers that portion of the Province of Saskatchewan, till then unincluded in any surrender. It is dated August, 1906. In the present chapter we will be concerned chiefly with the early treaties, with special reference to those involving territory included in the Province of Saskatchewan.

Other treaties had preceded this notable series, and constituted a kind of precedent. Indeed, in the older East, scores of such formal surrenders had taken place. They had been numerous in the United States, and, in Western British North America, Lord Selkirk had similarly obtained the extinction of the Indian claims over the lands of his settlement along the Red and Assiniboin Rivers, in return for the annual payment to the natives of one hundred pounds of tobacco. This treaty was extinguished in 1871. The Robinson treaties, made in 1850 with the Indians of the Lake Superior and Lake Huron district, also constituted valuable precedents; and in 1862 the Honorable William McDougall, then Superintendent General of Indian Affairs, and. later appointed first Governor of Manitoba, had brought to a successful consummation similar negotiations with the Indians of Manitoulin Island, Ontario.

The seven treaties of 1871 to 1877 were, however, much more momentous in their significance in Canadian History. They involved the surrender of the great fertile belt extending from the height of land west of Lake Superior to the Rocky Mountains.

The terms of the treaties were substantially uniform. Provision was made for reserves, and it was agreed that, except upon occupied lands, hunting privileges were not to be abridged, unless by regulations for the protection of game. Each chief was to receive an annuity of twenty-five dollars, each of his head men fifteen dollars, and each other member of his band five dollars. Provision was also made for the supply of agricultural implements and other necessary tools, and for the establishment of schools upon the reserves. By these and other means, it was hoped by the Indians themselves, and by the Dominion authorities, that the red wards of the government would be gradually introduced to the arts of peace and civilization, and enabled to take their place in the new order of things that was being established in the Great West.

The necessity for these treaties is obvious; and, in most instances, tbe Indians themselves were most anxious to bring them about. In the United States, the contact of the advance guard of white pioneers with the aborigines had been marked everywhere by bloody excesses. Through these terrible lessons Canada learned that she could guarantee security through the West only by treaties well understood and faithfully observed. Under the old regime, the Hudson's Pay Company had been, upon the whole, notably successful in its dealings with the Indian tribes, which, however, bitterly hostile among themselves, generally maintained friendly relations with the great trading corporation representative of white civilization. When, however, the sway of the Hudson's Pay Company was brought to a close, the minds of the aborigines were filled with perplexity as to how their relations with the whites were thenceforth to be guided. This natural perturbation was accentuated by the unfortunate rising of 1870 in the Red River settlement. Moreover, settlers were, for the first time, commencing to enter the West in relatively large numbers. Railways were being built or projected; mysterious telegraph lines, or "speaking wires."' as the Indians called them, were extending into districts hitherto remote from civilization ; surveyors were appearing with extraordinary instruments of magic, and, unfortunately, too often with manners of ostentatious contempt for the traditional rights and natural prejudices of the primitive occupants of the new land. Moreover, along the southern frontier, much trouble was being experienced on account of the lawless violence of American miners and otber such representatives of the typical "Wild West" element of the United States.

As we have already seen, the trade in alcoholic liquors was at all times an unspeakable curse to the Indians. They themselves recognized this fact, and their chiefs made frequent applications to the authorities for the taking of such steps as would put an end to the traffic. It was rightly thought that the consummation of official treaties would assist in this most necessary reform. Moreover, the disappearance of the buffalo, together with the horrible ravages of smallpox, and other contagious and infectious diseases, had reduced most of the Indian tribes to the direst destitution, the wiser among their numbers saw that the only hope of their survival rested in the adaptation of their modes of life to the circumstances of the new era dawning before them.

One cannot but be impressed by the mingling of artlessness, shrewdness and dignity that characterized the Indian Chiefs throughout their negotiations with the Commissioners of the Canadian Government.

They stood firm upon their primary rights as the ancient occupants of the soil. "This is what we think," said Ma-we-do-pe-nais to Governor Morris during the negotiations of the third treaty. "When the Great Spirit planted us on this ground, we were as you were where you came from. We think where we are is our property." They recognized clearly enough, however regretfully, that they must acquiesce in the new order of things. Speaking at Fort Carlton, the following sentiments were uttered bv Chief Wah-wee-kah-nihk-kah-wo-tah-mah-hote ("the Alan you strike in the Back"): "Pity the voice of the Indian. If you grant what we request, song will go through the land upon the way. I speak for the children' that they may be clad. The land is wide; there is plenty of room. My mouth is full of milk: I am only as a sucking child. Have compassion of the manner in which I was brought up. Let our children be clothed; let us stand in the light of day to sec our way on this earth. Long ago it was good when we were first made, and I wish the same were back again. But now the law has come, and in that I wish to walk."

Of the value of the heritage they were surrendering, the Indians spoke frequently with much feeling and eloquence. "My terms I am now going to lay down before you: the decision of our chiefs. . . . The sound of the rustling of the gold is under my feet where I stand. We have a rich country; it is the Great Spirit who gave us this. Where we stand upon is the Indians' property, and belongs to them. If you grant us our requests, you will not go back without making the treaty." This spirited passage is from another speech by Ma-we-do-pe-nais, who has already been quoted above.

All things considered, the chiefs generally showed remarkable self-restraint, but occasionally their sarcasms were very telling. In one instance, the Commissioners having announced that they held in their hands the delegated authority of Queen Victoria, and that she had filled their minds with her thoughts, they subsequently found themselves unable to acquiesce in certain requests without exceeding their powers. Thereupon one of the chiefs remarked, "We understood yesterday that the Queen had given you the power to act upon; that she bad filled your head with her wisdom and your body with her power, and that you had only to throw them round about yon: when it seems that it is is not so, but that you have only half the power she has, and that she has only half filled your heads."

The consummation of the treaties would have been entirely impossible had not the chiefs themselves exercised patient diplomacy in the management of their turbulent followers. Long and discouraging delays frequently occurred, for which the nominal heads of the tribes were in no way responsible. The whole current of recent events in Indian history had tended to weaken the authority exercised by the chiefs,—an authority always precarious enough, and depending chiefly upon the inherent force of character marking him who exercised it. The rejoicing of these hard pressed chieftains when the negotiations were successfully completed, was expressed by many of them in language of great dignity and high emotion. Let us quote a passage from Governor Morris's account of the signing of the North West Angle Treaty (No. 3):

"The business of the treaty having now been completed. Chief Ma-we-do-pe-nais, who, with Pow-hass-an, had with such wonderful dignity carried on the negotiations, stepped up to the Governor and said, .'Now you see me stand before you all. What has been done here to-day, has been done openly, before the Great Spirit and the Nation ; and I hope that I may never hear anyone say that this treaty has been done secretly; and now in closing this council, I take off my glove, and in giving you my hand, I deliver over my birthright and lands; and taking your hand, I hold fast to the promises you have made, and I hope they will last as long as the sun goes round and the water flows, as you have said.' The Governor then took -his hand, and said, 'I accept your hand, and with it the lands, and will keep all my promises in the firm belief that the treaty now to be signed will bind the red men and the white together as friends forever."'

Everyone in the West recognized the necessity of negotiating Indian treaties at the earliest possible moment. Numerous disconcerting delays occurred before the entire series of surrenders was concluded, but they arose chiefly from procrastination at Ottawa and the apparent inability of eastern statesmen to recognize the gravity of the situation.

However, in the fall of 1870 Lieutenant-Governor Archibald promised certain Indians who made application to him that the initial treaty would be made the following year. Accordingly, the Secertary of State, the Honourable Joseph Howe appointed Air. Wemyss Simpson to the office of Indian

Commissioner with instructions to arrange for the session of Indian lands. In July, 1871, he commenced his negotiations. In these he was assisted by the Lieutenant-Governor, Messrs. S. J. Dawson, Robert Pether, and the Honorable James Mackay, to whom special reference has been made in a preceding chapter. To Mr. Mackay's knowledge of Indian languages and mode of thought, and to the confidence which the Indians reposed in him was due a large measure of the success which attended the subsequent negotiations.

A Proclamation was issued by Mr. Simpson summoning' the Indians to meet him, and after some delay more than one thousand chiefs and warriors assembled at Lower Fort Garry in July, 1871. The Comissioners were hampered by instructions from Ottawa unduly limiting their power to meet the just demands of the Indians. Moreover, the redmen slated that there was a cloud before them which made things dark and that they did not wish to commence the proceedings until the cloud was dispersed. The Government ultimately found that this meant that they would do no business until four Swampy Crees, who were in gaol for breaking contract with Hudson's Bay Company, should be released; and Mr. Archibald thought it discreet to exercise his power of executive clemency by the pardon of these offenders. This produced an excellent effect, and Treaty Number One was presently concluded.

It was followed very shortly by Treaty Number Two. These two surrenders covered a very large part of the Province of Manitoba and considerable adjacent territory. Efforts to conclude a treaty with the tribes between Lake Superior and the north west angle of the Lake of the Woods proved unsuccessful until 1873.

Meanwhile Mr. Simpson had been succeeded by Mr. J. A. N. Provencher as Commissioner of Indian affairs, and the Honorable Mr. Archibald had been followed by the Honorable Alexander Morris as Governor of Manitoba and the Territories. Messrs. Morris, Provenchcr, and Dawson in 1873 took up the task of negotiating a treaty with the Ojibways, whom they met at the north west angle of the Lake of the Woods, in September. The negotiations were attended by much difficulty and discouragement, and might have failed hut for the good sense and moral courage displayed by Sak-katch-eway, the chief of the Lac Seul band. Sweeping aside the petty disagreements that threatened to render the efforts of the Commissioners nugatory, he stated that he and his four hundred people earnestly desired a treaty, and wished to learn the knowledge of the white man. His band in the far north country had already begun to till the soil and desired the assistance of the Government that they might become self-supporting. The speech of this chieftain turned the day, and a Great Council of the chiefs was held, attended also by Honorable James Mackay, Charles Nolin, Pierre

Lavaillicr, Air. Provencher, and Air. St. John. In consequence the negotiations were renewed and ultimately proved successful. Fifty-live thousand square miles of territory, and four thousand Indians were involved in this surrender.

Meantime the situation in what is now Saskatchewan and Alberta was month by month becoming more dangerous. Strong representations were continually being made to Ottawa. Among these may be quoted the following resolutions passed by the North West Council on September 8, 1873:

"Resolved:

"That the Council of the North West Territories are of the opinion that, in view of the rapid increase of settlement in the North West Territories, and the present disturbed condition of the Indians and their anxiety as to the future, it is imperatively necessary that a treaty should be concluded with the bands of Indians living between the western boundary of that portion of the territory in which the Indian title has already been extinguished, and Fort Carlton or thereabouts.

"The Council are of opinion that to defer the negotiations of a treaty of this nature beyond the earliest time possible in the year 1874 would be attended with unfortunate results."

On March 11 of the following year the Council entered a respectful but vigorous protest regarding the inaction of the central authorities. Recalling their resolutions of the last session respecting Indian treaties and other matters, the Council placed their sentiments on record in the following terms:

"Council regret that they have not as yet been advised in relation to His Excellency's pleasure concerning these subjects, the urgent importance of which is. day by day, becoming more and more evident. They, therefore, beg most respectfully, but, at the same time, most earnestly, that His Excellency's views in reference to these subjects may be made known to them without delay.

"They feel that the affairs of the North West Territories are growing daily in importance and that any delay in dealing with them may be, and probably will be. attended with unfortunate results.

"The Council are aware that exceptional circumstances may, during the past few months, have prevented that prompt action which they trust will, in the future, characterize the dealings of the Privy Council with North West affairs."

In pursuance of these urgent recommendations which in the interval bad again been reiterated by the Council, a commission was issued to Lieutenant-Governor Morris. Honorable David Laird, Minister of the Interior, and Mr. W. J. Christie, ex-chief factor of the Hudson's Bay Company, authorising them to effect a treaty with the Indians of the Qu'Appelle plains. Successful negotiations here involving the surrender of 100.000 square miles of fertile territory were followed a year later by like conferences on the shores of Lake Winnipeg, when Treaty Number Five was concluded. This was signed in September, 1875, but tbe adhesion of a considerable number of the Indians concerned was not secured till a twelve-month later. Meantime Treaty Number Six was signed at Forts Carlton and Pitt in August and the early part of September, 1876. The seventh treaty,—concluded with the Blackfeet and their neighbors by Mr. Laird, then Lieutenant-Governor, and Colonel McLeod, and dated September 22 and December 4. 1877,—completed the surrender of Indian territories at that date desired for settlement. In 1899, however, the tide of immigration was encroaching upon old Athabasca, and, as will be narrated in due course, Mr. Laird, Mr. James Ross and Mr. James McKenna negotiated the last great Indian surrender, involving the basin of the Athabasca and Peace Rivers. Treaties Seven and Eight belong, however, especially to the History of Alberta, and Treaty Number Nine to that of Ontario. The tenth treaty, as intimated above, completed the surrender of Saskatchewan, involving the region north of that covered by Treaty Number Six.

In its bearing on the History of Saskatchewan, the treaty of Qu'Appelle, number four in the famous series of which we have been speaking, is perhaps the most interesting of all. The tribes concerned were the Crees and Saulteaux, who, by this agreement, surrendered seventy-live thousand square miles of fertile territory, chiefly in south east Saskatchewan. Lieutenant-Governor Morris was assisted by the Honorable David Laird, then Minister of the Interior, and by the Honorable W. J. Christie, a former Hudson's Bay Company chief factor of wide experience with the Indians. The Commissioners left Fort Garry in August, 1874, under an escort of militia commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Osborne Smith, C. M. G., and journeyed to the vicinity of Lake Qu'Appelle. They arrived at the appointed rendezvous on September 8. A large number of Indians were there assembled, and, when the Commissioners summoned them to the marquee tent adjoining the militia encampment, the Crees duly appeared, led by their chief, Loud-Voice. Chief Cote, of the Saulteaux, absented himself, however, though a number of his followers were present. After the Lieutenant-Governor had explained the object of the gathering. Loud-Voice announced that his followers were not yet ready to proceed to business, and a day's delay was agreed to. On the morrow, however, several armed Indians came as ambassadors to ask for a further delay of two days, and after considerable parleying, the morning of the nth was agreed upon as the time of the next conference. That the chiefs were by no means freely exercising their own volition was manifest. Their armed followers kept them under the strictest supervision, and in many ways hampered proceedings by their turbulent conduct. Indeed, on the 11th the Saulteaux kept away altogether, and did all they could to prevent attendance on the part of the Crees. On the 12th business really commenced. The formal Indian ceremony of elaborate hand-shaking marked the opening of the interview, whereupon the Dominion Commissioner outlined the terms they had to offer.

Much difficulty was experienced by the Commissioners in finding out exactly what were the special causes of discontent on the part of the savages with whom they had come to treat. The original place chosen for the meeting had been upon a Hudson's Bay Company reserve, and to this reserve the Indians objected with a great vehemence, as it had been surveyed without consulting them. They considered that the Company was robbing them of their property. "When one Indian takes anything from another, wc call it stealing," said a notable Indian chief, The Gambler. "What did the Company steal from you?" said Lieutenant-Governor Morris. "The earth, trees, grass, stones; all that which I sec with my eyes," replied the Indian. The Commissioners told how the company had become entitled to this reserve, and explained the vested rights for the surrender of which Canada had paid the company the sum of three hundred thousand pounds.

The whole proceedings so far had been of a most unpromising nature, and still further delays occurred. The Crees were indeed ready to enter into a treaty, as were some of the Saulteaux; but those of the latter tribe who lived in the Qu'Appelle district systematically endeavored to coerce and intimidate their brethren. At one stage, with this end in view, they placed six fully armed warriors in the conference tent, a move which was checkmated by the summoning of an equal number of militia men. Ultimately the Crees and the Saulteaux, who were separated bv hereditary feuds and jealousies, determined to treat with the Commissioners independently of each other; and soon thereafter, a treaty in substantially the same terms as that previously consummated at the north west angle of the Lake of the Woods was signed. Even at the last minute, however, difficulties arose. One of the chiefs refused to sign until he had received the promised financial gratuity. The Lieutenant-Governor held out his hand to him, saying, "Take my hand. It holds the money. If you can trust us forever, you can do so for half an hour. Sign the treaty." The chief thereupon took the Commissioner's hand, and touchcd the pen. The other chiefs then proceeded in like manner to ratify the treaty.

The seriousness of the occasion was apparently felt by all. Said Che-e-kuk, the "Worthy One," to the Lieutenant-Governor: "My cars are open to what you say. Just now the Great Spirit is watching over us. It is good. He who has strength and power is overlooking our doings. I want very much to be good in what we arc going to talk about; and our chiefs will lake you by the hand."

A few days later the adhesion of certain Saulteaux at Fort Elliec, who had not been present at Qu'Appelle. was secured. The chiefs of that group rejoiced in the picturesque names of Wa-wa-sc-ca-po, "The VI an Proud of

Standing Upright," and Ola-ma-koo-ewin. "The Man Who Stands on the Earth."

In part, the difficulties of the Commissioners in securing the treaty of Qu'Appelle arose from misunderstandings and heartburnings in connection with Treaties One and Two. When these treaties were signed, certain verbal promises made by the Commissioners were, unfortunately, not included in the text, and consequently were not carried out by the Dominion authorities, who, indeed, seem to have been entirely ignorant of them. Wide spread dissatisfaction resulted, and, upon examination of the original treaties, there was found, attached, a memorandum signed by Commissioners Simpson and St. John, by Governor Archibald and by the Honorable Mr. Mackav, containing their statement of the report of these additional claims, to which verbal approval bad been given. The Privy Council promptly agreed to consider this memorandum as a part of the treaty, and also made certain other concessions with a view to the restoration of good feeling between the Indians and the Dominion authorities. The suspicions of the Indians had been aroused, however, and long and patient negotiation was necessary before the tribes and bands affected by Treaties One and Two declared themselves satisfied that good faith was being shown. Lieutenant-Governor Morris, Lieutenant-Colonel Provencher and the Honorable .Mr. James Mackay visited several of the bands in 1875, and ultimately succeeded in fulfilling their mission as peacemakers in the case of most of them. Some, however, were still recalcitrant, owing to their misunderstanding of the extent of the reserves which had been allotted to them by their treaty. Their demands were most exorbitant, including nearly half of the Province of Manitoba, instead of the thirty-four thousand acres to which they were entitled. Numerous conferences were held before the vexed question of the verbal promises in connection with the Treaties One and Two was finally settled in 1876 to the apparent satisfaction of everybody.

Another treaty affecting the Province of Saskatchewan was the one signed at Eorts Carlton and Pitt, which involved the surrender of about one hundred and twenty thousand square miles of fertile country (Number Six). Agitation for such a treaty had existed for several years and various Indian chiefs had. through Mr. W. J. Christie, the chief factor of the Hudson's Pay Company, at Edmonton House, sent messages to Lieutenant-Governor Archibald in 1871. The reader may be interested in seeing a verbatim copy of these rather curious communications.

"Messages from the Cree chiefs of the Plain. Saskatchewan, to His Excellency, Governor Archibald, our ( .real Mother's representative at Fort Garry. Red River Settlement.

"1. The Chief Sweet Grass, the chief of the country.

"'Great Father: I shake hands with you. and bid you welcome. We were told our lands were sold, and we did not like it; we don't want to sell our lands; it is our property, and no one has a right to sell them.

" 'Our country is getting ruined of fur-hearing animals hitherto our sole support, and now we are poor and want help—we want you to pity us. We want cattle, tools, agricultural implements, and assistance in everything when we come to settle—our country is no longer able to support us.

" 'Make provision for us against years of starvation. We have had great starvation the past winter, and the smallpox took away many of our people, the old, young and children.

" 'We want you to stop the Americans coming to trade on our lands, and giving lire water, ammunition and arms to our enemies, the Blackfeet.

"'We made a peace this winter with the Blackfeet. Our young men are foolish; it may not last long.

" 'We invite you to come and see us and speak with us. If you can't come yourself, send someone in your place.

" 'We send these words by our master, Mr. Christie, in whom we have every confidence. That is all.' "

2. Ki-hc-win. The Eagle.

"'Great Father: Let us be friendly. We have never shed any white man's blood, and have always been friendly with the whites, and want workmen, farmers and carpenters to assist us when we settle. I want all my brother Sweet Grass asks. That is all.' "

3. The Little Hunter.

" 'You, my brother, the Great Chief in Red River, treat me as a brother, that is, as a Great Chief.' "4. Kos-ki-on. or Short Tail.

" 'My brother that is coming close. I look upon you, as if I saw you; I want all to pity me, and I want help to cultivate the ground for myself and my descendants. Come and see us.' "

The North West Council had also preyed upon the Dominion Authorities the necessity of entering into treaty relations with the Indians of these parts: and ultimately Lieutenant-Governor Morris, who. as we have seen, had succeeded the Honorable Mr. Archibald, obtained authority to send an official messenger to convey a personal promise that proper treaties would be negotiated in the nearest possible future. The well known missionary, the Rev. George McDougall. acted as the Governor's nuncio, and performed an invaluable service to his country by quieting the discontent of the turbulent tribes.

Air. McDougall found the natives unanimously determined to prevent the opening up of their country to settlement until a treaty had been signed. The wiser chiefs were already finding it very hard to restrain less responsible leaders from actual violence, and dangerous suspicion was everywhere manifest. To illustrate the inflamed state of public opinion among the Indians. Mr. McDougall quotes the following remarks of Pig Rear: "We want none of the Queen's presents: when we set a fox trap, we stick pieces of meat all around, but when the fox gets into the trap, we knock him on the head. We want no bait. Let your chiefs conic like men and talk to us." Mr. McDougall in his report also recounts a suggestive conversation between a land speculator and one of the Indian chiefs. When the former desired to stake a claim on Battle River, the latter sprang to his feet, and, pointing eastward, cried, "You see that great white man coming?" "No," said the speculator. "I do," said the Indian, "and I hear the tramp of multitudes behind him. When he comes you can drop in behind him, and take up all the land claims you want. But until then I caution you to put no stakes in our country."

At last the Canadian Commissioners made a journey of over six hundred miles from Winnipeg to Fort Carlton, where, on the 23d and 28th of August, 1876, the long desired treaty was effected. Certain of the Willow Crees and Saulteaux indeed conspired to prevent Lieutenant-Governor Morris and his company from crossing the Saskatchewan and entering their country, but this proposition was balked by the Plain Crees. One of the latter, pointing to the river, expressed the views of his nation in the laconic question, "Can you stop the flow of that river?" It was chiefly due to the influence of the Honorable Air. Mackay and of the missionaries that the Willow Crees were prevailed upon to enter into the treaty. Representatives of the Church of England, the Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church and the Catholic Church were present at the consummation of the treaty. The difficulties met were very great, and the satisfactory issue of this affair reflected great credit upon the Commissioners and their assistants.

The ceremonies attendant upon these important proceedings were frequently very picturesque and imposing. Let us endeavor to picture the scenes enacted at Fort Pitt, where the Commissioners arrived on the 5th of September. More than a hundred lodges of Indians were already assembled, but others were arriving constantly, so the formal opening of proceedings was postponed until the seventh. In the meantime, Chief Sweet Grass and about thirty of the principal men called upon the Governor to express their pleasure at his arrival. Upon entering his tent, they embraced-him in their arms, kissing him on both cheeks.

On the seventh, the Commissioners went to the Council Tent, which was pitched upon a high plateau overlooking the beautiful plain. In the distance were tree clad hills, and in the foreground the beautiful meadow, dotted here and there with little copses.

When the Governor and his party had taken their places, the Indians assembled near the tents of their chiefs, amid singing and dancing, the beating of drums and the discharge of arms. Then they advanced in a great semicircle towards the Governor's tent. In the foreground a company of their most expert horsemen galloped about in circles, shouting and singing and performing many feats of horsemanship. When the semi-circle had reached about fifty yards from the Governor's tent it halted and attendants came forward with blankets and robes, which were spread upon the ground for the use of the chiefs. When the latter had taken their places, the stem dance began. One of the chiefs advanced before his brethren, carrying a magnificently decorated Indian pipe, which he solemnly raised towards the heavens, turning it, with due ceremony, towards the four points of the compass. The pipe was then given to a singer, who, intoning a weird chant, performed a ceremonial dance to the accompaniment of drums and the singing of the concourse in the background. This was several times repeated by-other picked braves, after which the horsemen began to gallop in smaller circles, and the whole body advanced with slow dignity to the tent of Her Majesty's representatives. The Commissioners then arose and met the chiefs, receiving from them the pipe, and repeating the ceremonies which had been performed with it by the Indians. Thus the tribes of the North formally offered their friendship to the Commissioners of Canada, and that offer was symbolically accepted. The chiefs and bead men were then introduced to the Commissioners, and, with picturesque dignity, assumed their places immediately in front of the marquee tent to hear the Governor's opening speech.

The following day was Sunday, and no official business was transacted. On Monday the chiefs held a separate Council, and on Tuesday the first business session of the joint conference took place. "Poundmaker" was the orator chosen to open the proceedings. Addressing the Governor, he said, "We have heard the words that you had to say to us as the representative of the Queen. We were glad to hear what you had to say. and have gathered together in Council with the words over amongst us. We were glad to hear you tell us that we might live by our own work. When I commence to settle on the land to make my living for myself and my children I beg of you to assist me in every way possible. When I am at a loss to proceed I want the advice and assistance of the Government. The children yet unborn I want you to treat in like manner as they advance in civilization like the white man. This is all I have to say now. If I have not said anything in a right manner, I want to be excused. This is the voice of the people."

Some misapprehension of the Government's terms having come to light, Commissioner Mackay addressed the Indians in the Cree tongue, "My friends, I wish to make you a clear explanation of what it seems you do not understand. It has been said by your Governor that we do not come here to barter and trade with you for the land. You have made demands on the Governor, and from the way you have put them the white man would understand that you ask for daily provisions, also supplies for your hunts and pleasure excursions. My reasons for explaining to you are

based on my past experience of treaties. For no sooner will the Governor and the Commissioners turn their backs on you than some of you will say that this thing and that thing was promised and the promises not fulfilled: that you cannot rely on the Queen's representative; that even he will not tell you the truth—whilst you \ourselves are the falsifiers. Now, before we rise from here, it must he understood, and it must be in writing, all that you are promised by the Governor and the Commissioners, and I hope you will not leave until you have thoroughly understood the meaning of every word that comes from us. We have not come here to pacify you; we have not come here to rob you; we have not come here to take away- anything that belongs to you; and we are not here to make peace as to hostile Indians; for you are the children of the Great Queen, as we are, and there has never been anything but peace between us. What you do not understand clearly we will do our best to make perfectly clear to you."

Iu this spirit the whole conference was conducted, and the good-will of the Indians was secured in almost every case.

An incident, pathetic in view of subsequent events, occurred when P>ig Bear came to visit the Governor on the morning of the 13th. "My friends." said he, "I heard the Governor was come, and I said. T shall see him. When I see him I will make a request that he will save me from what I most dread—the rope put about my neck!'" The Governor assured him that while he could not promise immunity to the Indians from the enforcement of the laws of the land, no one need fear them who lived at peace with his brethren. Big Bear remained until the other chiefs had withdrawn, and then, taking the Governor's hand, he said, "I am glad to meet you. I am alone, but if I had known the time 1 would have been here with all my people. I am not an undutiful child, and I do not throw back your hand, but. as my people arc not here, I cannot sign. I will tell them what I have heard, and next year I will come."1 This unfortunate Indian subsequently suffered imprisonment and narrowly escaped capital punishment for his share in the mournful tragedies attendant upon the rising of 1885.


Return to our History of Saskatchewan Page

This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus