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Treaty 8 Communities

Treaty 8If it had not been for the 1896 Klondike Gold Rush, Canada's eighth Treaty with the Indigenous Peoples of the Northwest would not have been signed when it was. However, with increasing unrest due to the steady intrusion of outsiders as they crossed the traditional lands of the Cree and Beaver on their way to the gold fields, the Government of Canada was obliged to act. There had been pressure on the part of the Aboriginal inhabitants of the area to the North of the North Saskatchewan River, beyond the boundaries of Treaty Six, for a treaty settlement for some time but nothing had come of it.

After the Caribou gold rush of the 1860s, miners came back through the Athabasca Territory, searching for gold in river bottoms. They also crossed into the North Saskatchewan drainage in their quest, bringing with them all manner of unrest. There were surveys in the area as early as 1872, when Charles Horeztky and John Macoun were sent to verify a potential route for the Canadian Pacific Railway to the Pacific. In 1875, a geological survey was done of the Peace River area by A. R. C. Selwyan who entered from the West.(1) George Dawson's geological survey of 1880 recognized the agricultural potential of the Peace River area. The Geological and Natural History Survey of Canada sent Robert Bell to the Athabasca River basin in 1882-1883, and his report repeatedly mentioned the presence of petroleum and asphalt.(2) The Far North was also being surveyed for minerals and there were known deposits of gold, silver, copper and iron. The North was being spoken of as "Canada's Great Reserve."(3)

As well, in 1882, the Hudson's Bay Company began navigating the Slave and Athabasca Rivers with a steamboat they had built at Fort Chipewyan. A few years later, with the help of the Métis boatmen from Lac la Biche who had been using boats on the Upper Athabasca, they learned to circumvent the river's dangerous rapids. As a result of these activities, the traditional lands of the First Nations became much more easily accessible. At the end of the decade, freight could be carried by rail to Edmonton and by road to Athabasca Landing and downstream to the North Country. All manner of problems came with this progress. Carelessly-tended fires destroyed valuable timber resources along the Athabasca, and the human presence frightened game and interfered with the subsistence lifestyle of the Aboriginal Peoples. After 1896, the steady stream of gold seekers travelling on the overland route from Edmonton to the Yukon brought an increase in horse thefts; poisoning and shooting of dogs; broken traps; and violent and abusive behaviour towards the Aboriginal Peoples. These negative behaviours finally forced the Government of Canada to take action since sending in the North West Mounted Police was not enough.

The area to be dealt with was larger than France and covered 840,000 square kilometres:

Commencing at the source of the main branch of the Red Deer River in Alberta, thence due west to the central range of the Rocky Mountains, thence northwesterly along the said range to the point where it intersects the 60th parallel of north latitude, thence east along said parallel to the point where it intersects Hay River, thence northeasterly down said river to the south shore of Great Slave Lake, thence along the said shore northeasterly (and including such rights to the islands in said lakes as the Indians mentioned in the treaty may possess), and thence easterly and northeasterly along the south shores of Christie's Bay and McLeod's Bay to old Fort Reliance near the mouth of Lockhart's River, thence southeasterly in a straight line to and including Black Lake, thence southwesterly up the stream from Cree Lake, thence including said lake southwesterly along the height of land between the Athabasca and Churchill Rivers to where it intersects the northern boundary of Treaty Six, and along the said boundary easterly, northerly and southwesterly, to the place of commencement.(4)

Treaty 8 covered all of Alberta to the North of the Athabasca River, including a corridor from the headwaters of the Red Deer River to the Athabasca along the Rocky Mountains, and extended to the Northwest to encompass Northeastern British Columbia. To the East from the Clearwater River, it extended to Black Lake, Saskatchewan, then to the Northwest to the Eastward arm of Great Slave Lake, following the Southern shore of the lake Southwesterly back to the 60th parallel over British Columbia.

The Commissioners chosen to conduct the Treaty negotiations were J. H. Ross, J. A. J. McKenna and David Laird. The missionaries and fur traders in the area had been asked to spread the word that the Treaty would take place during the summer of 1899, at the beginning of June, and representative from the Aboriginal community were asked to be present. From the start things, did not work out quite according to plan, as the Hudson's Bay factor at Lesser Slave Lake had misunderstood his instructions to send boatmen to meet the party at Athabasca Landing. The Commission scrambled to find local trackers for one boat and the North-West Mounted Police, who were accompanying the Commission, shouldered the pulling harnesses for the second boat and began the arduous and slow journey upstream hauling the boats on the Athabasca River to Lesser Slave Lake.

Accompanying the party, at the request of the Minister of the Interior, was the aged Oblate missionary Father Albert Lacombe, who was highly respected among the First Nation and Métis communities. The priest had traveled only once to Lesser Slave Lake, some 40 years earlier, and did not know the people of this region well; however, he was known to them by repute and he spoke Cree well. There were several other missionaries present at the various stops and all of them encouraged the Indians to accept the Treaty. At Fond du Lac on Lake Athabasca, Father Gabriel Breynat actually advised the Chipewyans that it was better to take treaty, being it was the lesser of two evils. If they refused, he thought the white men would take the land anyway and the Indians would get nothing.(5) His advice clearly did not take into account the promises of the Royal Proclamation of 1763.

The Treaty 8 Commission held its first meeting at the West end of Lesser Slave Lake, and it was signed on June 21, 1899. Present at this meeting were Chief Kinosayoo (the Twin) and Councillor Moostos (the Buffalo) as well as Felix Giroux from the Lesser Slave Lake area and their bands. Captain from Sturgeon Lake attended as well, but his band was not present and they only signed Treaty the next year. At Lesser Slave Lake, which was the main meeting place, there was much disagreement as to the terms of the Treaty, as they were very similar to those of previous treaties and did not take into account the lifestyle of the residents of the Boreal Forest. According to Jim Cornwall, a local businessman who was present at the proceedings, the Commissioners explained that they did not have the power to modify the Treaty, but would take into account the requests.(6) They would be allowed to pursue their present way of making a living; the aged and destitute would receive assistance from the government; they were guaranteed the right to continue to fish, hunt and trap; and would be protected from white competition in this. It was clearly said that, unless their rights to fish, hunt and trap were protected, they would not sign the Treaty.

After the Lesser Slave Lake meeting, rather than make separate treaties, the Commission decided to take adhesions to the same Treaty.(7) The Commission went to Peace River Landing, where they took the adhesion of the Cree, under the leadership of Malcolm Tastaoosts, then to Fort Dunvegan, where the Beaver Natooses took Treaty for his people. The Commission continued downstream to Fort Vermilion where Ambrose Tête Noire of the Beaver signed the Treaty along with two of his Headmen. Other adhesions were taken at Wabasca, Fort McMurray. The Commission had split up, and one group descended the Athabasca and took the adhesions at Smith's Landing, Fort Chipewyan and Fond du Lac. The terms accepted in all of these cases were the same as had been set out at Lesser Slave Lake. A second round of adhesions was done in 1900 and included Sturgeon Lake, the Beaver of Fort St. John in the Upper Peace River Basin, as well as the Slaveys from the Upper Hay Lake, the Dené (or Dog Rib, Chipewyans and Yellowknives) along Great Slave Lake.(8)

There were many omissions as many of groups were in isolated regions and had not been contacted in time. The Oblate missionaries were still trying to get Indian Affairs to include them and give them their Treaty rights in the 1930s, without great success. The missionaries were providing hospital care and school services, but the financial assistance of Indian Affairs was minimal, leading to very difficult conditions. Bishop Gabriel Breynat launched a nation-wide campaign in an attempt to shame the Canadian government into respecting its obligations to the Aboriginal Peoples.(9)

Many promises were made. In extinguishing the Indians' title to the land, they were promised the right to hunt, trap and fish, as they had done before, and the freedom to move around. They were not to be confined on reserves. The right to take reserves in severalty was also included, that is, individuals could select a specific location, isolated from others.

The region was soon overrun with white trappers.(10) As for the Treaty money, the Aboriginal Peoples did not know how to use it, as they usually just traded for goods with the traders, so the annual Treaty annuities did not do much. Annuities were reduced with time, ostensibly to purchase fishing twine, nets and fish hooks and such. The control of natural resources reverted to the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan in 1930, and the responsibility for the respect of the Treaty 8 promises shifted to the provinces. It has been a long road to travel for the First Nations of Treaty 8 and, for many, the fight to protect their rights is still in the courts.


Daniel, Richard. "The Spirit and Terms of Treaty Eight", The Spirit of the Alberta Indian Treaties, edited by Richard Price, third edition, University of Alberta Press, 1996.

Fumoleau, René. As Long As This Land Shall Last, a History of Treaty 8 and Treaty 11, 1870-1939,McClelland and Stewart limited, 1980.

Leonard, David W., and Victoria L. Lemieux. The Lure of the Peace River Country, Detselig Enterprises Ltd, 1992.

Web Resources:

Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, Treaty No. 8 Made June 21, 1800, and Adhesions, Reports, etc. http://www.ainc-inac.gc.ca/al/hts/tgu/pubs/t8/trty8-eng.asp#chp4

(1) David W. Leonard and Victoria L. Lemieux, The Lure of the Peace River Country, Detselig Enterprises Ltd, 1992, p. 10-11.

(2) René Fumoleau, As Long As This Land Shall Last, a History of Treaty 8 and Treaty 11, 1870-1939,McClelland and Stewart limited, 1980, p. 39-40.

(3) Fumoleau, As Long, p. 40.

(4) http://www.ainc-inac.gc.ca/al/hts/tgu/pubs/t8/trty8-eng.asp#chp4

(5) Fumeoleau, As Long, p. 81.

(6) Fumoleau, As Long, p. 74 -75.

(7) Richard Daniel, "The Spirit and Terms of Treaty Eight", The Spirit of the Alberta Indian Treaties, edited by Richard Price, third edition, University of Alberta Press, 1996, p. 71.

(8) http://www.ainc-inac.gc.ca/al/hts/tgu/pubs/t8/trty8-eng.asp#chp2

(9) As long, p. 275-260 and Appendix XV; also cited in Daniel, "The Spirit and Terms", in The Spirit, p. 83-84.

(10) As long, p. 276.

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Treaty 8

The Making of Treaty 8 in Canada's Northwest
On June 21, 1899, just south of present-day Grouard, Alberta, six leaders of the First Nations of Lesser Slave Lake signed a government-prepared document known as Treaty 8. That treaty forever changed land use and development in northern Alberta. Visit our multimedia website and learn more about the events that led to the signing of the treaty, as well as the many cultures and people who came together for this historic event. Rich in text, audio, video, and historic photographs, this site also presents a wealth of information regarding the culture and lifeways of the First Nations and Métis People.

Alberta: How The West Was Young

Alberta: How The West Was Young
Join in a discovery of the early history of Alberta going back centuries. From the First Peoples, who made their home on the prairie lands more than 11,000 years ago, to the Métis, who bridged the old and new worlds, this site explores Aboriginal history from the pre-contact era through to the fur trade.

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