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Reverend John Mckay

Reverend John McKay1 was born in the Northwest Territories and was fluent in the Cree language. As the brother of Treaty Commissioner James McKay, he was thought a good choice to act as an interpreter during the Treaty 6 negotiations in 1876.

However, the more experienced interpreter, Peter Erasmus — who spoke no less than six Aboriginal languages — felt himself better suited to interpret the treaty negotiations. As the negotiations proceeded, the Treaty Commission added Erasmus to their payroll as the chief interpreter, making Peter Ballendine and Reverend McKay assistant interpreters.

Just as the presence of the secretary Dr. A.G. Jackes, a medical doctor, helped to assure the Aboriginal people that the Queen cared about their health and physical wellbeing; having clergymen present at the Treaty 6 negotiations was also important. For both the government and the First Nations representatives, treaty-making was situated in a religious and cultural context (see The Pipe Ceremony and the Importance of Cultural Context). Reverend McKay was a visible symbol of European religion, and he performed religious services at both the Fort Carlton and the Fort Pitt signings.

According to the account of Dr. Jackes, Reverend McKay even held a service in Cree at the request of the Aboriginal people at Fort Carlton, “preaching in their own tongue to a congregation of over two hundred adult Crees.” The creation of a feeling of spiritual brotherhood was something that both sides valued, and certainly may have influenced the outcome of the negotiations.

1 Not to be confused with Archdeacon John Alexander Mackay, an Anglican clergyman of mixed Swampy Cree and white ancestry, who was also present at the Treaty 6 negotiations.
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