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Fort Carlton

“What I trust and hope we will do is not for to-day and to-morrow only; what I will promise, and what I believe and hope you will take, is to last as long as that sun shines and yonder river flows.”
- Alexander Morris, Treaty Commissioner

“I for one think that the Great White Queen Mother has offered us a way of life when the buffalo are no more. Gone they will be before many snows have come to cover our heads or graves...”
- Big Child, Plains Cree Chief

The majority of the Saskatchewan River First Nations met at Fort Carlton for six days of treaty negotiations in August of 1876. There were approximately two hundred and fifty lodges, containing roughly two thousand people.

Fort Carlton Provincial Historic Park On arrival at Fort Carlton, Alexander Morris met with Big Child and Star Blanket, the head chiefs of the Carlton Cree. A pipe ceremony took place prior to the negotiations which Morris referred to as "the Dance of the Stem" (see The Pipe Ceremony and the Importance of Cultural Context). Through interpreter Peter Erasmus, Morris explained his government's position, emphasizing the friendship that had always existed between the British and the Aboriginal peoples. The Queen's Councillors saw that traditional means of subsistence were coming to an end for the First Nations, he said. Consequently, men had been sent to educate them and teach them to farm.

The Aboriginal people had been led to believe that they would be forced to abandon hunting and live only on their reserve land. They also believed that in wartime they would be conscripted and placed on the front lines. Morris did his utmost to allay their fears. He stressed the need to alter their way of life — to make homes and gardens for themselves — as the buffalo were rapidly disappearing. "And why is all this done?" Morris asked rhetorically. "I will tell you, it is because you are the subjects of the Queen as I am. She cares as much for one of you as she does for one of her white subjects."

The following day, the Cree requested two day for discussion amongst themselves. They wanted to make it very clear to the Queen’s representatives that they did not come as supplicants, and could dictate the pace of the negotiations as they wished. In Morris' account, Big Child asked for time to deliberate and Morris agreed to adjourn for a short time. But according to Peter Erasmus, Morris’ statement implied he could not change much with respect to the treaty terms. Erasmus wrote:

Pound Maker who was not a chief at that time, just a brave spoke up and said, 'The Government mentions how much land is to be given us. He says 640 acres one mile square for each band. He will give us, he says,' and in a loud voice, he shouted '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.' A strong wave of approval came back from the seated Indians at his statement. Some braves in the last rows rose to their feet, waved their hands and arms, shouting Yes! Yes! in Cree. Apparently these were Poundmaker's followers. It was sometime before the main Chief's [sic] could restore order.”

Erasmus claimed that Morris was noticeably shaken by this episode, signaling potential difficulty ahead for the unanimous acceptance of the treaty.

Poundmaker (Pitikwahanapiwiyin)'s statement did not receive much support. Similarly, the opposition of Beardy and the Willow Cree left them isolated from the negotiations. In spite of the differences that had previously surfaced between supporters and opponents of the proposed treaty, it was ultimately the views of the two Cree chiefs, Big Child and Star Blanket, which prevailed in council. The majority were prepared to give their assent after making every possible effort to negotiate better terms.

And so the Cree returned from their retreat, ready to resume the negotiations and demand better treaty terms (See Negotiating a Better Future: The Revised Treaty Terms). According to Morris’ report, after he had given consent to the revisions, Star Blanket called on the people for their agreement and they gave it by shouting and holding up their hands.

However, Poundmaker continued to protest that the terms did not go far enough. “From what I can see and hear now,” he said, “I cannot understand that I shall be able to clothe my children and feed them as long as the sun shines and water runs.” Morris replied that what was offered was a gift; that they would continue their old way of life. Although Morris’ statement would seem to negate his supposed understanding of their fears, Big Child and Star Blanket nonetheless accepted the revised terms.

The other Carlton chiefs — including Poundmaker, who was obliged to follow the wishes of his people — signed Treaty 6 on August 23, 1876. The signing of Treaty 6 at Fort Carlton concluded with the dispensation of treaty payments and closing ceremonies.

Morris later arranged a meeting with the Willow Cree, as he did not want such a large number excluded from the treaty. Like Poundmaker, Beardy worried that the Treaty 6 terms were insufficient, but Morris reiterated his previous statement — the government could only help them to cultivate the soil, not support or feed them. If a general famine ensued, repeated Morris, the government would come to their aid. Meanwhile, he added, the Governor-General and the Council of the Northwest Territories would examine the possibility of a law to help preserve the bison. Having received these assurances, the Willow Cree chiefs Beardy, One Arrow and Cut Nose (Saswaypew) signed the treaty.


Sources:
www.ainc-inac.gc.ca
www.otc.ca
www.mhs.mb.ca
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            For more on the making of treaty 6, visit Peel’s Prairie Provinces.
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