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The Canadian West was an open landscape with few settlements, but the Canadian government wanted to change that. The Indigenous had occupied the landscape for millennia, shaping it and being shaped by it. Things began to change when fur traders started to arrive in the 1700s and 1800s. Those were followed by epidemics, small groups of settlers, prospectors, whiskey traders and more. For the government, these were not people living on land they had occupied for thousands of years, but road blocks towards the completion of the transcontinental railway. To deal with this, the government would pursue various treaties with the Indigenous beginning in 1871.

The treaties were not just about the railroad, although that did play a part. They were about gaining the land for white settlement, industrial development and to expand the borders of Canada and take the land that was Rupert’s Land and turn it into provinces.

There are 11 treaties in total, signed between 1871 and 1921. Since this podcast deals with the construction of the transcontinental railway, I am going to be looking at the treaties that were along the path of the railroad. These are Treaties 1, 2 that were all signed in 1871, Treaty 3 signed in 1873, Treaty 4 signed in 1874 and Treaty 7 signed in 1877.

I am jumping around with dates a bit considering the syndicate did not exist prior to 1877, and the Sir John A. Macdonald was not in power in 1874 or 1877 but I felt it was important to look at these treaties, which the government would use to bring the railroad through several years later.

In November of 1869, the Hudson’s Bay Company sold its lands in the interior, called Rupert’s Land, to the British Crown, which then transferred the land to Canada in 1870. This transfer of land was done without the consultation of the Indigenous who inhabited the region. From this land, the provinces of Manitoba, Alberta and Saskatchewan would be carved, along with large pieces of Ontario. As part of the transfer of the land, the Canadian government became responsible for addressing all Indigenous claims to the land.

Within a year of obtaining the land, the federal government wanted to assimilate the Indigenous people into Canadian society, and to have a more diplomatic and least-resistant form of taking the land in the west compared to what happened in the United States with the violent confrontations. There was the desire to secure the land to the south of Lake Winnipeg and the Red River Valley, as it had ample resources and was the path the transcontinental railway would take through the country. The Indigenous of the region had been advocating for a treaty with the federal government for 15 years by that point. In 1857, Chief Peguis of the Anishinaabe petitioned the United Kingdom government for a fair and mutually advantageous treaty for his people. When the sale of Rupert’s Land was conducted, Chief Peguis worried that there was no recognizing of the Indigenous and their rights to the land. Around the same time that Chief Peguis and his son Henry Prince published their Indian Manifesto in the newspaper The Nor’Wester, Lt. Governor Adams Archibald of the new province of Manitoba arrived in the area. One of the first things he did was to meet with Henry Prince, promising to open up negotiations the following year. Archibald saw the rich agricultural lands in the Red River Valley as an opportunity for greater settler advancement into the region. He would write Joseph Howe, the Secretary of State for Canada, stating quote:

“We were all of the opinion that it would be desirable to procure the extinction of Indian title, not only to the lands included within the province, but also to so much of the timber grounds east and north of the province, as were required for immediate entry and use and also of a large tract of cultivable ground, west of the Portage.”

In response to the federal takeover of their land, 73 Indigenous leaders met near Portage la Prairie in the spring of 1871 and passed a resolution that stated, quote:

“We never have yet, seen or received anything for the land and the woods that belong to us, and the settlers use to enrich themselves.”

At the church in Portage la Prairie, this statement was posted on the door. At this point, the Indigenous began to fend off settlers who arrived on the land.

Wanting to avoid any conflict, the federal government decided to proceed with treaty negotiations.

Negotiations for Treaty 1 began on July 7 and would continue until Aug. 3. Lt Governor Archibald was on hand with Indian Commissioner Wemyss Simpson.

The Ottawa Citizen would report of the treaty negotiations, quote:

“The Commissioner was dressed in a Colonel’s regimentals and a great ceremony was observed.”

About 1,000 Indigenous individuals, including many chiefs and Henry Prince, came out to Fort Garry to negotiate the treaty. Lt. Governor Archibald told the gathered Indigenous that Queen Victoria wanted to deal fairly with the Indigenous and support their needs, with the hope they would begin to practice agriculture on the land. This treaty would also introduce the idea of reserves to the Canadian Indigenous. Archibald would say that the Indigenous could use the land for their traditional ways of life but added that this would continue only until a future time when the lands were needed for use. Once Archibald gave his speech, the Indigenous left and returned days later with their demands, which included large areas of land for each individual and family.

Archibald would tell Howe on July 29, quote:

“The Indians seem to have false ideas of the meaning of a reserve. They have been led to suppose that large tracts of ground were to be set aside for them as hunting grounds, including timber lands, of which they might sell the wood as if they were proprietors of the soil.”

Around this same time, the Ottawa Citizen would report, quote:

“The Indians near Lake Winnipeg are vexed because the treaty has been delayed, and will not allow the settlers to cut wood or hay in that quarter”

Archibald instead offered 160 acres per family of five. He would then add several statements that proved to not be the case including saying that the Indigenous could still use the land they surrendered to the government for traditional purposes and that whenever reserves were found too small, the government would provide more land elsewhere for the Indigenous. Archibald would add that immigrants were going to come in whether the Indigenous wanted them or not, and it was better to make an arrangement now, rather than later.

The government and the Indigenous would reach an impasse that would last until Aug. 2. By this point, the Indigenous were reassured by the government representatives that the Queen was willing to help the Indigenous in every way, providing schools and that those who wanted to cultivate the land would be provided for on the reserves. Along with 160 acres per family of five, every Indigenous person, including children, received a one-time payment of three dollars, and a yearly payment of $15 per family of five.

On Aug. 3, 1871, Treaty 1 was signed. The treaty was signed by Lt. Governor Archibald, Commissioner Simpson, Major A.G. Irvine and eight witnesses. Six Indigenous chiefs, Red Eagle, Bird Forever, Flying Down Bird, Centre of Bird’s Tail, Flying Round, Whip Poor Will and Yellow Quill, all signed the treaty.

The treaty was then ratified by the Governor General on Sept. 12, 1871. The land ceded to the federal government amounted to most of Southern Manitoba, including the future communities of Winnipeg, Brandon, Portage la Prairie, Selkirk, Steinbach, Grand Beach, Emerson, Winkler and more.

With Treaty 1 out of the way, the government began working on Treaty 2. The aim of this new treaty was the same for the government as with Treaty 1, to open up the land to settlement after a peaceful transfer from the Indigenous. Once again Lt. Governor Archibald and Commissioner Simpson took part in the negotiations, along with representatives from the Hudson’s Bay Company. Things would move much quicker with the same terms as Treaty 1, and it was signed on Aug. 21, 1871, at Manitoba House, a fort on the southwest side of Lake Manitoba. The treaty was signed with the Anishinaabe, and its territory would cover 21 million acres of land including several current National and Provincial Parks, the south basin of Lake Winnipeg, the north basin of Lake Manitoba, and the current cities of Brandon and Dauphin, Manitoba. The territory mostly covers southwestern Manitoba, and a small portion of southeast Saskatchewan.

On Sept. 9, 1871, the Ottawa Citizen, with the headline “Indian Title Extinguished”, stated quote:

“The Governor and Commissioner have succeeded in making a treaty with the Indians west of the province, the effect of which is to extinguish the Indian title over a fine tract of country, three times as large as Manitoba.”

Things moved quickly at this point. By June of 1872, surveyors were already out in the Treaty 2 lands, plotting out townsites for the future influx of settlers.

It would be another two years before another treaty was signed with the Indigenous. Things would be different this time as the federal government put down limitations on the money that the commissioners negotiating the treaty could offer to the Saulteux people, in exchange for land. Whereas the previous treaties had provided $15 per family of five, this treaty would limit that to $12 per family. The negotiators for the government on this treaty would be Wemyss Simpson, Simon Dawson, who was an engineer and overseeing the road-waterway system project that would cut through the Saulteux land, and Hudson’s Bay Company representative Robert Pither. Treaty negotiations began in 1871 with the Saulteaux but the Saulteaux made it clear they were not interested in the deal of ceding land, but instead wanted payments for the right of way through their territory. Treaty negotiations quickly fell apart but both parties agreed to meet again in June of 1872.

When that meeting came around, the commissioners were again unsuccessful in securing a deal. The Saulteaux wanted an increase in annual payments due to the fact that gold and silver were found on their lands, greatly increasing their value. Simpson came to believe that the Saulteaux on the American side of the border were influencing their Canadian counterparts. After the negotiations fell apart, the federal government told Simpson to try again in the fall. They also stated that he could offer chiefs an annual salary of $25, and band leaders $15. When October 1872 came around, the two sides once again met but this time only a few of the Saulteaux showed up. Most had gone home for hunting, and the decision was made to try once again in the summer of 1873.

In June of 1873, the commissioners were ready to meet with the Saulteaux again but this time there was an extra urgency for the government as the Canadian Pacific Railway construction was beginning from Lake Superior to Red River. If the commissioners were unsuccessful, it would have jeopardized the building of the railroad at the time. As such, the commissioners were given approval to offer $14 per person for ceding the territory, along with $6 to $10 in annual payments. The new Lt. Governor of Manitoba, Alexander Morris, was told to attend the meeting as well. Before leaving, the commissioners were told they could offer a maximum of $15 per head if it came to it.

There would be delays in meeting until September 1873, but the Saulteaux then said they wanted more time to discuss the treaty terms, so it was not until Oct. 1 that treaty talks resumed.

Lt. Governor Morris would tell the Saulteaux, quote:

“I give you ten dollars per head of the population and for every other year five dollars a head. To the chief men, not exceeding two to each band, we will give $20 a year forever. I will give each of you this year a present of goods and provisions to take you home and I am sure you will be satisfied.”

The Saulteaux discussed the offer for one day and came back with a counteroffer. They wanted $50 a year for each chief, $20 for each council member and $10 for each band member. They also wanted a one-time $15 payment for each band member, along with farming tools and equipment, household items, farm animals, clothing and fishing.

Chief Ma-We-Do-Pe-Nais stated that all of this was for the use of the land, not its ownership. He would say quote:

“All this is our property where you have come.”

Chief Ma-We-Do-Pe Nais was aware of the two previous treaties, and he did not want to lose out in negotiating with the government. He would state quote:

“I lay before you, our opinions. Our hands are poor, but our heads are rich, and it is riches that we ask so that we may be able to support our families as long as the sun rises, and the water runs.”

Negotiations would stall until several other chiefs stated they would sign the treaty, breaking away from the other chiefs. Knowing there was dissention between the chiefs, Morris used this and encouraged the Saulteaux to get together and consider the offer. He then said if they didn’t, he would go and negotiate with each individual band.

Eventually, the Saulteaux were persuaded to accept the offer, likely thanks to the influence of four Metis who joined them, including James McKay, who was a Member of Parliament. The Commissioners, at the same time, agreed to increase the one-time cash payment from $10 to $12 per family of five. They also decided to provide funding for farming tools.

On Oct. 3, negotiations began again and the Saulteaux found the new terms favorable, but they asked for more goods, which Lt. Governor Morris agreed to. They also obtained exclusion from conscription and permission to hunt and fish, and to allow their relatives who lived in the United States to relocate to Canada within two years. That day, the treaty was signed. The land covered by Treaty 3 was primarily west of Thunder Bay, just past the Manitoba border. The largest current community in that area is Kenora, Ontario.

Next up for the government was securing the lands in what would be southern and east-central Saskatchewan. One year after the Saulteaux signed Treaty 3, the government would begin negotiations with the Cree, Assiniboine and Saulteaux people.

According to a report in the Ottawa Citizen on June 25, 1872, the Cree were anxious to sign a treaty. It stated, likely with some embellishment, quote:

“Mr. Smith will be absent for two weeks. He had an interview on Saturday with the head chief of the Cree Nation of Saskatchewan Valley, who said they were very anxious to make a treaty and were favourably disposed towards the whites settling there, but said that to preserve peace, they thought it policy not to come in too large numbers at first. He returns thoroughly impressed with the idea that it is folly for them to oppose the advance of civilization.”

Things did not get off to a good start for negotiations. The Assiniboine had trouble choosing a main spokesman, which caused problems for agreeing to the treaty. Another issue was that on Sept. 8, less than half of the expected Indigenous nations attended the negotiations. Morris decided to delay the negotiations until Sept. 11. When that day came, the Cree were ready to negotiate but the Saulteaux wanted to meet the commissioners at their camp, rather than the Hudson’s Bay Company post. The Saulteaux said that the company had stolen their land in the past, and they could not speak freely there.

One man named O-ta-ka-o-nan, would say, quote:

“The Company have stolen our land. I heard that at first. I hear it is true. The Queen’s messengers never came here and now I see the soldiers and the settlers and the policemen. I know it is not the Queen’s work, only the Company has come, and they are the head, they are foremost. I do not hold it back. Let this be put to rights, when this is righted, I will answer the other.”

The commissioners, agreed to move the meeting place and negotiations resumed on Sept. 13.

Lt. Governor Morris would say to the gathered Indigenous, quote:

“I have asked you to meet us here today. We have been asking you for many days to meet us and this is the first time you have all met us. If it was not my duty and if the Queen did not wish it, I would not have taken so much trouble to speak to you.”

Morris would then speak regarding how he had come a long way to bring a message, and then would say, quote:

“You are the subjects of the Queen; you are her children, and you are only a little band to all her other children. She has children all over the world and she does right with them all. She cares as much for you as she cares for her white children and the proof of it is that whenever her name is spoken, her people whether they be red or white, love her name and are ready to die for it because she is always just and true.”

He would add, after speaking of what the Queen has done for the Indigenous, stating quote:

“I think I have told you all that the Queen is willing to do for you. It ought to show you that she has thought more about you than you thought about her.”

The Saulteaux did not believe that the federal government had purchased the Hudson’s Bay Company lands and they asked that the government limit the activities of the company. Morris told the Indigenous that the Company had rights that it had been left in possession of and that they could not be interfered with.  Negotiations soon broke down for the day but on Sept. 14, the chiefs came back together ready to negotiation. The Indigenous stated they would agree to the same terms as Treaty 3, but they asked for an annual payment of $15 per person and that their debts to the Hudson’s Bay Company be cleared. The commissioners refused both requests. Despite these refusals, the treaty was signed on Sept. 15, 1874. The area covered by Treaty 4 stretches from the extreme southeast of Alberta, through southern Saskatchewan, into the extreme west-central part of Manitoba. The largest communities in this area are Medicine Hat, Moose Jaw and Regina.

The Montreal Gazette would report, quote:

“No little credit is due to Lt. Governor Morris for the manner at once firm and kindly in which he overcame the obstinate, but not unnatural prejudices of some of the chiefs and other members of the tribes, especially the Salteaux.”

Treaty 5, covering central Manitoba, would be signed in 1875, while an extension would be made to cover the rest of Manitoba in 1908. Treaty 6, covering central Saskatchewan and Alberta would be signed in 1876 and 1878. As these treaties were not in the territory of the transcontinental railway, I am glossing over them and focusing on Treaty 7.

By the time 1877 came around, much had changed on the Canadian Prairies. Work was continuing on bringing the railroad through the prairies, with a greater emphasis on construction beginning within two years. In 1874, the North West Mounted Police had arrived in the area, ending the illegal whiskey trade and bringing a new law and order to the prairies. The North West Mounted Police would play a major role in the signing of Treaty 7, with many Indigenous showing trust in them, especially Colonel James MacLeod.

In the summer of 1875, James McDougall, who was a local Methodist missionary, spoke with Chief Crowfoot of the Blackfoot and told him that the government was looking to sign treaties for the territory of the Blackfoot. A few months later in the fall, the Piikani, Kainai, Siksika and the Blackfoot met to discuss the coming treaty negotiations. A petition was drawn up that outlined their complaints to the government, which included the arrival of Cree and Metis bison hunters in their territory, new settlers, and the new presence of Indian Commissioners.

Negotiations were planned for the fall of 1877, but the Blackfoot were skeptical. They had not had negotiations with the federal government but some of their leaders had signed a treaty with the United States in 1855, most of the promises outlined on that treaty were not fulfilled.

Representing the government this time was David Laird, the new Lt. Governor of the North West Territories, and James MacLeod, the commissioner of the North West Mounted Police.

The Indigenous involved did not see the treaty negotiations as a surrender of land, but a peace treaty, which they would allow settlement, but they would be able to cohabitate on the land in peace.

Negotiations would begin on Sept. 19, 1877, at Blackfoot Crossing. Laird spoke to the Indigenous, outlining the positive aspects of the government, which included ending the whiskey forts. He added that the bison would soon be gone and the Indigenous needed to switch to ranching and agriculture and the government would support them in that. The Indigenous wanted the right to hunt and fish on their traditional lands, as well as payments and other items similar to Treaty 4.

One old chief, who was not identified, stated quote:

“I am very old. I am like a child. All I ask of the Great White Mother is that this place where we are now may remain quiet as it is at present, that no building be raised upon it, but that we may live here at peace.”

Following initial speeches and negotiations, talks ended while the gathered groups waited for the arrival of the Kainai. The federal government group gave out rations of beef and flour to everyone present, but Crowfoot refused to take any, stating he wanted no favours until he had decided what to do regarding the treaty.

Negotiations ended until Sept. 21, when Red Crow, the leader of the Kainai, arrived. After speaking with Crowfoot, Red Crow agreed to the terms.

On Sept. 22, the Indigenous agreed to the terms and the treaty was signed. Every man, woman and child were given $12, and an annual payment of $25 per chief was approved, as was $15 per minor chief and $5 for all others. All the chiefs would receive a Winchester Rifle, while the head chiefs would also receive a medal and flag to commemorate the treaty. Chiefs would also receive a new suit of clothing every three years. The government also agreed to pay the salaries of teachers on reserve and provide $2,000 worth of ammunition each year.

The land agreed to in the treaty covers from Red Deer, down to the US Border, to the Rocky Mountains, and east to Medicine Hat. The largest communities in that territory are Calgary and Lethbridge. In all, a total of 517,997 square kilometres was taken by the Canadian government, which is larger than the country of Spain.

In the coming years, the promises of the treaties would either not be fulfilled, or only partially fulfilled. Several changes would come to the treaties as well due to what were called outside promises, which were items in the first two treaties that were promised beyond the written text of the treaty that had not been provided. These items included clothes for chiefs and councilors, farming supplies and animals for agriculture needs. In 1875, it was decided that the items promised orally in the treaty would be given to the Indigenous. The treaties had also been with both sides believing they meant something else. The government saw the treaties as giving them the land the Indigenous occupied, while the Indigenous saw the treaties as the potential to satisfy the needs of their community and to foster mutual respect. The Indigenous also saw property rights differently than the federal government. The Anishinaabe, who signed Treaty 1, viewed the land as something that could not be possessed, but something that was shared. There were limited funds for education and supplies, and only a minimal allocation of land for the Indigenous reserves. With the signing of the treaties, the federal government obtained control over many aspects of Indigenous life and land including schooling, leading to residential schools, resource extraction that would push Indigenous of their already small allocation of land and the implementation of new laws. The treaties began the process of making the Indigenous wards of the state, and it gave Indian Agents on reserves immense power through the control of food, as well as the sale of seeds and livestock. Despite promises, the treaties were land surrenders on a massive scale. They would allow the government to move the Indigenous out of the way, which brought the railroad through on its way to the Pacific Ocean. While the railroad was finished in 1885, the ramifications of the treaties are being felt to this day.

Information from Canadian Encyclopedia, The Government of Canada, Wikipedia, Canada’s History, Ottawa Citizen, Montreal Gazette,

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