Treaty Six Communities
As a part of Western Expansion following on Confederation in 1867, Treaty Six was signed at Fort Carleton on the 23rd and 28th of August, and near Fort Pitt on the ninth of September of 1876 between the Plains and Wood Cree and the Queen. Representatives of the Crown were commissioners Alexander Morris, who was Lieutenant governor of Manitoba and the North West Territories; James McKay, a long-time resident of the NWT; and William Joseph Christie, who was Chief Factor in charge of the Saskatchewan district at Fort Edmonton.
Chiefs and their headmen from the various bands met with the Commissioners and discussed the terms. Present were such notable chiefs as Mistawasis (Big Child), Ahtukukoop (Starblanket), Beardy, Big Bear, Sweet Grass, Red Pheasant, Pakan, Botail and others. Of all of the Chiefs who attended, only Big Bear refused to sign, saying he would discuss it with his headmen first and give an answer the following year. Although Treaty Six is generally considered to have been made with the Cree, it also included Chief Keenoosayo (The Fish) of Cold Lake of the Dene People, known then as Chipewyan or Montagnais. Although he spoke in Cree, when he spoke, he stated that he could have expressed himself better in his own language.(1)
The area ceded with the Treaty covered parts of what are today Alberta and Saskatchewan:
Commencing at the mouth of the river emptying into the Northwest angle of Cumberland Lake, thence Westerly up the said river to its source; thence on a straight line in a westerly direction to the head of Green Lake; thence northerly to the elbow in the Beaver River: thence down the said river northerly to a point twenty miles from the said elbow: thence in a westerly direction keeping on a line generally parallel with the said Beaver river (above the elbow) and about twenty miles distant therefrom, to the source of the said river: thence northerly to the northeasterly point of the South shore of Red Deer Lake, continuing westerly along the said shore to the western limit thereof: and thence due west to the Athabasca river thence up the said river, against the stream, to the Jasper House in the Rocky Mountains; these on a course Southeasterwardly, following the easterly range of the mountains, to the Source of the main branch of the Red Deer River: thence down the said river, with the stream, to the junction therewith of the outlet of the said river, being the outlet of Buffalo Lake: thence due East twenty miles: thence on a straight line southeastwardly to the mouth of the said Red Deer river on the South Branch of the Saskatchewan river: thence eastwardly and northwardly, following on the boundaries of the tracts conceded by the several treaties numbered four and five, to the place of beginning.(2)
The area covered around 120,000 (193,121 sq kilometres).
The Indigenous Peoples of the Prairies were keen on entering into a treaty with the Crown. The Crees had just recently agreed to a peace treaty with their traditional enemies to the south, the Blackfoot, and they hoped to keep it so. They knew all too well of the treatment their kinsmen were receiving south of the Canadian border, and were intent on keeping the peace with the White men who kept coming westward in greater and greater numbers. They were well aware that there was no way they could stop the flow of immigrants in their territories, although there were no settlers in the area of the Saskatchewan at this time. Starvation was a stark reality because the buffalo was rapidly disappearing as the herds were being hunted down in Canada as well as in the United States. In addition, in 1870, they had just gone through another terrible epidemic, this time smallpox, which had reduced them to half their number. Liquor was another cause of terrible ravages within the Aboriginal community.
The Commissioners were met with considerable ceremony. There were the traditional shooting off of guns to greet the visitors, prayers, speeches, hand shaking and very formal pipe ceremonies. The Treaty was taken very seriously. According to A. Blair Stonechild, the Peace accord with the whites was considered by the members of the First Nations to be the most important part of the Treaty.(3)
They understood the pact to be also with the Creator and Stonechild points out that the spiritual sincerity of the Aboriginals was not really understood by the Commissioners at Treaty or later. He gave as an example, a visit in 1881, by Queen Victoria's son-in-law, the Marquis de Lorne, to Poundmaker who expected to hear war stories from the Chief, but instead was told, in depth, of the spiritual and political ideas of his people.
The text of the Treaty was very similar to that of Treaty Five that had been signed the year before and of the other earlier numbered treaties. The allocations of land were larger than the one for Treaty Five; one square mile of land was to be allowed per family of five, as compared to 160 acres (a quarter section, or quarter of a square mile). There was a one-time signing bonus of $ 12 per person as compared to $ 5 per person in Treaty Five, but the yearly annuities were nearly the same, $25 per year as salary for the Chief, $15 per year salary for headmen (but with a maximum of four instead of the three for Treaty Five) and a $5 per person annuity. Schools on reserves were agreed upon; liquor would be banned, as was wished.
The signatories were eager to settle on land and begin practising agriculture, as the bison were almost gone. They were being asked to settle down and abandon their nomadic lifestyle, and they knew they needed to provide for themselves. Agriculture seemed to be the solution. For this, the terms of the Treaty promised seed grain and potatoes, hand tools, horses, cattle and hogs. Four hoes and two spades were to be given to families who were cultivating, as well as two scythes, two hayforks, two reaping hooks, one whetstone and two axes. Larger tools, such as ploughs and harrows, were to be shared between three families. The chief would receive a carpenter's chest of tools, along with various saws, files, a grindstone and an auger. Each band would receive four oxen, one bull, six cows, one boar, two sows and a hand mill, once the band was raising sufficient grain to warrant one.
The bands made some very strong concessions in return for the territory that they ceded in exchange for reserve land. For example, Chief Red Pheasant agreed to leave the traditional homeland of his people by the Battle River to take up another site in the Eagle Hills(4). In this case, he requested his band be given the time to harvest the potatoes they had planted before moving. The two Elder chiefs, Mistawasis and Ahtukuhoop, were very much in favour of the terms of the Treaty, but not all agreed with the terms. Little is known of the dissenters, other than Poundmaker, the Badger, and another man, referred to as the Chipeway. As Keenoosayo of Cold Lake, a Dene or Chipewyan, was present, we can wonder if this was him. Poundmaker, who was not yet a Chief, complained about the small size of the land allowance given to the families, and protested loudly that the land was theirs and was not to be chopped up like small pieces of pemmican.(5) His comments brought forth considerable hue and cry from his countrymen and, according to Peter Erasmus who was translating, Commissioner Morris was taken aback by this, but he did not answer to it, but instead diverted the question by stating that the Indians had to take reserves as they would be soon flooded by immigrants. There was some dissent, and the Aboriginals made it clear that they were not requesting to be fed, but wished assistance in learning how to farm and build houses.(6)
Because of this strong negotiating, three additional clauses were added to the prepared text.(7) A sum of one thousand dollars was promised to each band who agreed to settle and it would be used to purchase the material needed to "assist them in such cultivation." Instructors to teach the techniques of agriculture were also to be furnished. Help was to be given in times of famine and there was a medicine chest clause, which has been interpreted as health care, but at the time was basic medical assistance at each agency.
Settling on reserves did not solve the immediate problem of hunger. It was years before things improved. Stonechild states this was "The Time of Great Hunger," adding that rations were insufficient and many died. The death rate between 1880 and 1885 on reserves was 10% per year.(8)
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,Toronto, Belfords, Clarke, 1880.
Stonechild, A. Blair. "The Indian View of the 1885 Uprising," Sweet Promises: a reader on Indian-White relations in Canada, edited by J. R. Miller, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, Buffalo, London, 1991.
Taylor, John Leonard. "Two views on the Meaning of Treaties Six and Seven," The Spirit of the Alberta Indian Treaties, edited by Richard T. Price, 3rd edition, University of Alberta Press, 1999.
(1),(2) 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,Toronto, Belfords, Clarke, 1880, p. 192.
(3) Morris, The treaties of Canada, p.352.
(4) A. Blair Stonechild, "The Indian View of the 1885 Uprising", Sweet Promises: a reader on Indian-White relations in Canada, edited by J. R. Miller, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, Buffalo, London, 1991, p. 262.
(6) John Leonard Taylor, "Two views on the Meaning of Treaties Six and Seven", The Spirit of the Alberta Indian Treaties, edited by Richard T. Price, 3rd edition, University of Alberta Press, 1999, p.19.
(7) Morris, The Treaties of Canada, p. 210-211.
(8) Taylor, "Views on the meanings of Treaties Six and Seven", The Spirit, p. 21.
(9) Stonechild, "The Indian View of the 1885 Uprising", Sweet Promises, p. 263.
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,Toronto, Belfords, Clarke, 1880.
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