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The Treaty Makers - David Laird

David Laird

Along with Colonel James Macleod, David Laird acted as a treaty commissioner for the Treaty 7 negotiations in 1877. Of the two commissioners, Laird seems to have been a key person in the negotiations. He was there to outline the terms of the treaty to the First Nations, while Macleod was there because his presence would encourage participation of the Blackfoot First Nations, who respected him for his role in driving out American whiskey traders from Blackfoot traditional lands.

David Laird was born on 12 March 1833 at New Glasgow, Prince Edward Island. He was the son of the Honorable Alexander Laird, a member of the Prince Edward Island Executive Council, and Janet Orr, the daughter of a prominent family of the Island. He was raised in the Presbyterian Christian faith, and had aspirations to become a minister, taking up studies at the Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Truro, Nova Scotia. Instead of pursuing the ministry after the completion of his studies, Laird became involved in journalism and founded the Charlottetown Patriot, of which he also acted as editor and publisher.

Laird became involved in politics and was elected to the House of Commons in 1873. Ironically, though he personally opposed Prince Edward Island joining Confederation, he was selected to negotiate on behalf of Prince Edward Island to ensure the Island joined the Dominion of Canada. Prime Minister Alexander Mackenzie appointed Laird Minister of the Interior in 1873, a role Laird served in until 1876, when he was appointed Lieutenant Governor of the Northwest Territories, a position he held until 1881.

Laird had a large involvement in treaty negotiations with First Nations Peoples throughout his career. In 1874, he negotiated the Qu’Appelle Lakes Treaty with the First Nations of southern Saskatchewan. In 1877, he negotiated Treaty 7 with the First Nations of southern Alberta, and in 1899, he negotiated Treaty 8 with the First Nations of northern Alberta. As with many of the prominent figures in the negotiating of Treaty 7, Laird’s role in the proceedings has generated some controversy. First Nations Elders and some historians claim that Laird was not entirely straightforward with the First Nations Peoples during the negotiations, leaving speculation as to how many of the actual treaty terms were read and translated to the First Nations representatives present at the talks.

Laird’s later years were spent in various capacities. He returned to his newspaper work from 1882 to 1889, served as Indian Commissioner for the Northwest Territories, Manitoba, and Keewatin from 1898 to 1914, and as an advisor to the Department of Indian Affairs in Ottawa after 1909. He died in Ottawa, Ontario on 12 January 1914 and was buried on Prince Edward Island at the Sherwood Cemetery northeast of Charlottetown.

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