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Negotiating a Better Future: The Revised Treaty Terms

“…the cry of the Indian for help is a clamant one.”
- Alexander Morris, Treaty Commissioner

On the last day of the Treaty 6 negotiations at Fort Carlton, the Métis interpreter, Peter Erasmus, read out the amendments the Aboriginal people requested. They asked for double the amount of money offered to each family, medicines free of cost, a schoolteacher for each band, and “provisions for the poor, unfortunate, blind and lame.” They also asked for assurance that they would be exempt from military service, that liquor would be banned, and that missionaries would be available to them. Notably, they demanded “a further increase in agricultural implements as the band advanced in civilization,” foreseeing further future changes to their lifestyles.

Treaty Commissioner Alexander Morris assured them that they would not be made to go to war. Morris told them that schoolteachers and a liquor ban were already guaranteed in the treaty, further explaining that missionary activity was under the control of the various churches and not the government. Considering their new demands, Morris answered that the bands must care for their own poor, and "that only in a national famine [would] the Crown ever intervene." He did, however, add what became known as the "famine and pestilence clause”:

“That in the event hereafter of the Indians comprised within this treaty being overtaken by any pestilence, or by a general famine, the Queen, on being satisfied and certified thereof by her Indian Agent or Agents, will grant to the Indians assistance of such character and to such extent as her Chief Superintendent of Indian Affairs shall deem necessary and sufficient to relieve the Indians from the calamity that shall have befallen them...”

Morris decided that the bands were to receive an annual one thousand pounds worth of provisions to aid them in farming "but for three years only, as after that time they should be able to support themselves." Moreover, Morris agreed that a medicine chest, the best medical care available, would be available at the house of each Indian agent. These terms were entirely new and unique to Treaty 6. Morris agreed to increase the number of cattle and implements from that granted in other treaties "as we felt it would be desirable to encourage their desire to settle."

Morris knew he was going well beyond the terms the government expected him to set. "I do this because you seem anxious to make a living for yourselves, it is more than has been done anywhere else; I must do it on my own responsibility, and trust to the other Queen's councillors to ratify it," he said. Indeed, Morris was heavily criticized by the new Minister of the Interior, David Mills, who thought that the additional provisions would “predispose the Indians to idleness.” Morris defended his actions, maintaining his belief that without the additional terms, they would not have been able to make treaty.

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