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The Treaties
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Treaty Six
The Sixth of the Eleven Treaties
  • The Cree, the Assiniboine, Saulteaux, and Chipewyan of central Saskatchewan and Alberta in the beginning of the 1870s saw life changing for them rapidly. Small pox had devastated many of their people, and the looming threat of starvation hung heavily; the buffalo, their main food staple, was in rapid decline.
  • However, they were aware of the treaties agreed upon between other nations and the Crown, and became eager about signing a treaty themselves, hoping it would stave off starvation and bring an income.
  • As the North West mounted police and surveyors moved westward, the Cree became worried about takeover of their land, and became even more insistent about negotiating treaty.
  • The Cree prohibited governmental work on their land until they got a treaty, and after Lieutenant Governor Alexander Morris finally received permission, on July 27, 1876 he left Fort Garry for Fort Carlton to negotiate with the Indians. He was accompanied by fellow commissioner, W.J. Christie, and a secretary, Dr. Jackes, M.D, and the third commissioner James McKay would meet them at Fort Carlton. The North-West Mounted Police were escorts.
  • On August 15, Morris and company were greeted by the two main Chiefs of the Carlton Cree, Mistawasis and Ahtukukoop, who told him that the Indians first needed to meet before treaty negotiations began.
  • During that period about 2,000 Indians met and performed a pipe ceremony, which symbolized the virtue of truth and fair-play during treaty negotiations. The commissioners, perhaps without realizing the symbolism behind the ceremony, partook and smoked from the pipe. During the ceremony, he spoke to the Indians with honour:

    My Indian brothers, Indians of the plains, I have shaken hands with a few of you, I shake hands with all of you in my heart. God has given us a good day, I trust his eye is upon us, and that what we do will be for the benefit of his children. What I say and what you say, and what we do, is done openly before the whole people. You are, like me and my friends who are with me, children of the Queen. We are of the same blood, the same God made us and the same Queen rules over us.

  • During the pipe ceremony Morris stressed the Crown's friendship with natives and also tried to dispel any of the fears, such as starvation and conscription.
  • On August 19, Morris met with the main chiefs to reveal the proposals of the treaty, and asked their opinions. Mistawasis said he needed time. Peter Erasmus, the translator for the Indians hired by the nations, wrote that Poundmaker also intervened at that time. In response to the 640 acres for each band, he replied, 'this is our land, it isn't a piece of pemmican to be cut off and given in little pieces back to us. It is ours and we will take what we want.'
  • After the day, there was a regress for a few days, and the people and chiefs were to talk amongst themselves and then hold council. The chiefs had a great decision to make, as there was much distension over the treaty. The Duck Lake Indians, the Saulteaux, and some of the Cree either flat-out rejected the treaty or wanted more. Poundmaker opposed the treaty, while Chiefs Mistawasis and Ahtukukoop supported it, backed by the majority of chiefs.
  • On August 22, the Chiefs met with Morris, and brought up the concern of starvation, which Morris tried to understand and dispel. On August 23, negotiations continued again, and Erasmus read a list of terms the Indians had created, asking for more agricultural implements, animals, medicine, schools, a missionary, and freedom to change Reserve sights among other things. Liquor was also to be prohibited.
  • Morris decided to add the 'famine and pestilence' clause, which deemed that the Crown would intervene in times of a national famine affecting the whole band. This was the first time this term was offered. He also agreed to implement a medicine chest at each Chief's house, and that they would receive farming implements of the cost of $1000 per annum, for three years maximum. He also explained that conscription would not be mandatory, but that reserves would be permanent. While pleased that they wanted a missionary, he explained that they'd have to look elsewhere.
  • After setting out the terms, Poundmaker and some others objected. However, Morris stressed that these offerings were a gift, and that the government was not obliged. At this, Mistawasis and Ahtukukoop both agreed to sign treaty, bringing the negotiations to a close. After, Peter Erasmus read the treaty to the Indians, and any changes were added.
  • Treaty Six was signed by principal chiefs and the commissioners on August 23, 1876.
  • The Duck Lake Band had been unable to attend treaty negotiations, but Morris wanted them involved, so he sent word to meet with them. On Monday, August 28, the commissioners did just that, and met with Chief Beardy, and the other leaders of the band, who signed the treaty.
  • On September 5th, the commissioners went to Fort Pitt, where the second part of treaty negotiations were to take place. Wood Crees, Chipewyans, some Plains Cree and some transitional peoples met there. However, Big Bear- a Cree Chief- wasn't there, and the majority of other Crees, who were out on the plains. However, Sweet Grass, the principal chief of the Plains Cree was there.
  • There, Morris repeated the terms from Fort Carlton. Sweet Grass was the first to speak after hearing the terms, and accepted them, denoting fear of hunger and starvation as a main reason for signing. The audience of Indians behind him reverberated in support; they had heard that Mistawasis and Ahtukukoop had already signed, perhaps that support eased the latter's decision.
  • Big Bear arrived after the treaty signings, and seemed accepting of the terms. However he said that he needed to inform his band before signing on behalf of them, and would return the year after. However, the Buffalo declined so rapidly that any band who held out signing the treaty were eventually forced to out of desperation.
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