hide You are viewing an archived web page collected at the request of University of Alberta using Archive-It. This page was captured on 16:35:11 Dec 08, 2010, and is part of the HCF Alberta Online Encyclopedia collection. The information on this web page may be out of date. See All versions of this archived page. Loading media information
Heritage Community Foundation Presents
Alberta Online Encyclopedia

Perspectives: The Treaty Commission

“Indians of the plains, Crees, Chippewayans, Assiniboines, and Chippewas, my message is to all. I am here to-day as your Governor under the Queen.… The instructions of the Queen are to treat the Indians as brothers, and so we ought to be.… The Great Spirit made this earth we are on. He planted the trees and made the rivers flow for the good of all his people, white and red; the country is very wide and there is room for all. I see the Queen’s Councillors taking the Indian by the hand saying, we are brothers, we will lift you up, we will teach you if you will learn, the cunning of the white man.”
— Lieutenant-Governor Alexander Morris, September 7, 1876.1

As early as 1871, the government had been made aware that the First Nations of present-day central Saskatchewan and Alberta were seeking a treaty. In an 1871 letter to the Secretary of State, the Indian Commissioner at the time, Wemyss Simpson, wrote: “a treaty with the Indians of that country, or at least an assurance during the coming year that treaty will shortly be made, is essential to the peace, if not the actual retention, of the country.” 2

Alexander Morris Alexander Morris assumed his title as Lieutenant-Governor of Manitoba and the Northwest Territories in December of 1872. Morris had long been intent on the idea of a peaceful, united Dominion. After assuming his new title and in order to achieve a united Dominion, he continued to urge the government to settle treaties with the First Nations. Morris was well aware of the growing anxiety amongst the First Nations leaders and communities of central Alberta and Saskatchewan. They had already experienced a devastating smallpox epidemic and now faced starvation as a result of the rapidly diminishing bison populations. By 1875, treaties had been signed across what is now Manitoba and the southern portion of Saskatchewan, but no negotiations had begun on the land to the south and the west.

In 1875, frustrated and anxious at the lack of government co-operation, the First Nations halted a party of land surveyors on the elbow of the North Saskatchewan River, and later on, prohibited the building of a telegraph line through the land. As recalled by the Honourable David Mills, then Minister of the Interior, in his Report for 1876:

‘Official reports received last year from His Honour Governor Morris and Colonel French, the officer then in command of the Mounted Police Force, and from other parties, showed that a feeling of discontent and uneasiness prevailed very generally amongst the Assiniboines and Crees lying in the unceded territory between the Saskatchewan and the Rocky Mountains. This state of feeling, which had prevailed amongst these Indians for some years past, had been increased by the presence, last summer in their territory of the parties engaged in the construction of the telegraph line, and in the survey of the Pacific Railway line, and also of a party belonging to the Geological survey. To allay this state of feeling, and to prevent the threatened hostility of the Indian tribes to the parties then employed by the government, His Honour Governor Morris requested and obtained authority to despatch a messenger to convey to these Indians the assurance that Commissioners would be sent this summer, to negotiate a treaty with them, as had already been done with their brethren further east.’ 3

Morris, who had served as Treaty Commissioner for Treaties 3, 4, and 5, would again assume the role for Treaty 6. With the help of missionary George McDougall, Alexander Morris spread the news amongst the First Nations that a treaty was to be negotiated the following summer. Finally, in July of 1876, Morris set out from Winnipeg for Fort Carlton. He was joined by two other commissioners: W.J. Christie and James McKay; secretary A.G. Jackes; and Peter Ballendine and Reverend John McKay, who were to serve as interpreters.

David Laird, the Minister of the Interior at the time, had left Morris with no directions for the treaty-making process, though Morris was well aware that he had to keep within reasonable boundaries when negotiating its signing. The First Nations had been growing increasingly uneasy about their futures, and they had many requests for provisions. The question of food and the problem of starvation were of great concern to the First Nations during the treaty negotiations; but Morris maintained that the government could not provide the First Nations with a constant supply of food. Instead, he offered to support them as they began a new agricultural lifestyle, and promised the Crown’s assistance, should famine occur.

Morris’ approach to the First Nations was sympathetic; but, following the mandate of the government as well as the general perception of the Aboriginal peoples at the time, Morris believed that the First Nations would be better off if they slowly assimilated into Euro-Canadian culture. To ease tensions and to enhance the appeal of the treaty, Morris made no real mention of land surrender, which is so prominent in the written text of the treaty. “I accordingly shaped my address, so as to give them confidence in the intentions of the Government, and to quiet their apprehensions. I impressed strongly on them the necessity of changing their present mode of life, and commencing to make homes and gardens for themselves, so as to be prepared for the diminution of the buffalo and other large animals, which is going on so rapidly,” he later recalled.4

In his 1876 report, the Honourable David Mills wrote that the Commissioners “needed all the temper, tact, judgment, and discretion, of which [they] were possessed, to bring the negotiations to a satisfactory issue.”5 Undoubtedly the First Nations leaders present for the Treaty 6 negotiations also hoped that the Commissioners would approach the treaty with sympathy and sound judgment.

1 Alexander Morris, The Treaties of Canada with the Indians of Manitoba and the North-West Territories, including the Negotiations on which they were based, and other Information relating thereto, 1991, Fifth House Publishers, Saskatoon, (Originally published 1880), 231
2 Ibid., 168.
3 Ibid., 171.
4 Ibid., 183.
5 Ibid., 176

Morris, Alexander. The Treaties of Canada with the Indians of Manitoba and the North-West Territories, including the Negotiations on which they were based, and other Information relating thereto (1880). Saskatoon: Fifth House Publishers, 1991.

Albertasource.ca | Contact Us | Partnerships
            For more on the making of treaty 6, visit Peel’s Prairie Provinces.
Copyright © Heritage Community Foundation All Rights Reserved