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The Treaty Commission

“No better men could have been chosen to carry out the work than these able councillors of the North-West.”
— Samuel B. Steele, colonel-major of the North West Mounted Police

The Honorable Alexander Morris When the Minister of the Interior, David Laird, commissioned Lieutenant-Governor Alexander Morris to initiate treaty-making with the First Nations, he did not impart Morris with any detailed instructions about its terms. Laird merely told him that "Your large experience and past success in conducting Indian negotiations relieves me from the necessity of giving you any detailed instructions in reference to your present mission." Several years later, Morris wrote that he and his fellow commissioners had been left "absolutely without instructions, left to our own judgement."

On July 27, 1876, Morris set out on a long trek north to negotiate with the First Nations peoples of the Saskatchewan River area. It took nearly three weeks to cover the five hundred miles from Winnipeg to Fort Carlton. Morris was accompanied by Dr. A. G. Jackes, a doctor from Winnipeg who acted as his secretary and recorder. Commissioner W.J. Christie brought with him his experience on the plains in the service of the Hudson's Bay Company. The third commissioner, James McKay, camped near the Indian encampment during the negotiations, using his skill in Aboriginal languages to speak with the people and learn their views on the treaty. Peter Ballendine and Reverend John McKay were the two interpreters accompanying the government party. The Cree brought their own interpreter, Peter Erasmus, a Métis man of Danish-Cree parentage, who was such an excellent interpreter that midway through the negotiations the Canadian government hired him as well.

For the first time at a treaty negotiation, the newly-formed North West Mounted Police provided an escort for the treaty commissioners. They had, by this time, established themselves at various points in the northwest, and took the place of the militia at the Treaty 6 signings. The Mounted Police joined the Treaty Commission near Duck Lake and rode into Fort Carlton numbering nearly one hundred. Religious figures from the Methodist, Anglican, and Catholic Churches were present at the Fort Pitt negotiations. As well, many of the traders who had been at Fort Carlton had followed the commissioners' train to Fort Pitt in hopes of speedy profits.

Alexander Morris later credited the Métis population, both French and English-speaking, for using their relationship with the First Nations to help conclude the treaty.

Along with the First Nations and the Treaty Commission, all of these groups — the Métis, the Mounted Police, the Hudson's Bay Company officials, and the clergy — played important roles in the story of Treaty 6.

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