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Historical Overview

First Nations in Saskatchewan, 1871. The late nineteenth century saw the signing of a series of treaty agreements between the Aboriginal peoples and the newly formed Government of Canada. Treaties 1 and 2 were signed in 1871, followed by Treaty 3 in 1873, Treaty 4 in 1874, and Treaty 5 in 1875.

Treaty 6, signed in 1876, was — and remains — an agreement signed by the representatives of the Dominion of Canada in the name of Her Majesty Queen Victoria of England and the First Nations of the Saskatchewan River region. Treaty 6 covered a remarkably large piece of land, and involved the most populous area in what was then the Northwest Territories. The Treaty 6 area extends across central portions of present-day Alberta and Saskatchewan, and between the North and South Saskatchewan rivers. The river valley carved an oft-traveled corridor into the flat prairie lands; a passage of prime economic importance, used for the fur trade from Carlton to the fort at Edmonton.

The main peoples involved in the Treaty 6 signings were the Plains Cree, although there were also groups of Woodland Cree, Nakoda (Assiniboine or Stoney), Saulteaux (Plains Ojibwa), and Chipewyan (Dene). There are forty-eight Treaty 6 First Nations: seventeen in what is now Alberta, twenty-nine in what is now Saskatchewan, and two in Manitoba.

Carlton House at Fort Carlton The treaty was first signed at Fort Carlton, north of Saskatoon, and later a second signing took place two hundred miles west at Fort Pitt. The provisions of Treaty 6 were similar to previous treaties, except for several important additions, including the famous “famine and pestilence” clause and the "medicine chest” clause. The latter continues to be of great significance to an important aspect of Aboriginal survival: the critical matter of health care on reserves.

The Treaty 6 negotiations took place during a time when the Aboriginal population faced threats of starvation, smallpox, and the loss of their land to white and Métis settlers. Bison herds were dying off, farms were encroaching upon their lands, and some saw making treaty as a possible way — perhaps the only way — out of their problems. Through demands and negotiations, the Treaty 6 First Nations managed to extend the scope of their treaties to include agricultural, educational, and other rights and benefits. While attempting to retain some control over their territories, they also sought guaranteed assistance should their traditional means of survival be lost.

Treaty 7 website
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            For more on the making of treaty 6, visit Peel’s Prairie Provinces.
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