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The Signing

“…they were very apprehensive of their future, and thankful, as one of them put it, 'a new life was dawning upon them.'”
- Alexander Morris, Treaty Commissioner

In signing Treaty 6, the First Nations who had occupied lands in what is now Alberta and Saskatchewan officially relinquished their title to the land; and surrendered those rights to the interests of the British Crown and the expanding Dominion of Canada. To this day, the events surrounding the signings of Treaty 6 generate a great deal of debate and controversy.

Prior to arriving at Fort Carlton, Alexander Morris and the Treaty Commission met with Chief Beardy (Kamdyistowesit) of the Willow Cree. Beardy told Morris that in accordance with a vision he had recently had, he wished to meet Morris at Duck Lake to negotiate the treaty. Morris insisted that he must first meet all the bands at Fort Carlton, the appointed meeting place. When Beardy and the Willow Cree asked for provisions, Morris denied them, stating that provisions would only be given to those in the large encampment at Carlton.

The absence of Beardy and the Willow Cree during the Treaty 6 negotiations at Fort Carlton aggravated Morris. He wanted to have everyone affected by the Treaty present at its negotiation, but was unable to accommodate everyone’s demands. Beardy, who would not come to Carlton, sent a request wanting to know the terms of the treaty. Morris replied that he did not wish to tell them in advance, and could only tell them, “we did not wish to interfere with their present mode of living, but would assign them reserves and assist them as was being done elsewhere, in commencing to farm.”

Groups and individuals such as Beardy and the Willow Cree, Poundmaker (Pitikwahanapiwiyin), and Big Bear (Mistahimaskwa) were either against the treaty or hoping to change some of its terms — making what Morris termed "extravagant demands." The objection to land surrender motivated the Willow Cree’s decision not to attend the treaty negotiations, according to Morris, who wrote, “It was partly, also, owing to hostility to the treaty, as [the Willow Cree] endeavoured to induce the Carlton Indians to make no treaty, and urged them not to sell the land, but to lend it for four years.”

It is unclear whether the subject of land cession was ever mentioned at the negotiations by Alexander Morris. Rather, much of the discussions concerned the benevolence of the Queen, the “Great White Mother” or “Chief Woman,” and the future prosperity of the Aboriginal peoples as her subjects. The government's belief that a treaty would abolish Aboriginal title to the land was never raised. As far as Morris was concerned, the First Nations peoples connected a treaty with the use of their land by others. This unresolved issue of what exactly cessation meant is one that underlies the entire history of the treaty signing.

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