Enthusiasm for Canadian Confederation and the prospect of a country
that stretched from sea to sea shaped many of the political initiatives
that affected the west. European culture and lifestyle had a firm foot on
Canadian soil, and this had to be reconciled with the presence of
Aboriginal people whose predominantly nomadic lifestyles were
incompatible with the expansion of settlement and land cultivation.
The reduction of game animalsprimarily buffalohad increased tension
and violence. By 1870 Aboriginal nations had been decimated and
discouraged by famine, disease and inter-tribal warfare and were now asked
to negotiate treaties and settle on reserves.
Most missionaries were convinced that the opportunities of new
technologies and a western lifestyle offered the only opportunity for
Aboriginal survival. John McDougall observed:
You call this your country, but even now in the dead of winter you
dare not sleep in quiet. . Not until a stronger power friendly to you
comes upon the scene will you really own a bit of land and live at peace
with other men.
Both Catholic and Protestant missionaries helped negotiate treaties.
They explained the language and terms and represented to the best of their
knowledge the interest of the Aboriginal people in defining the terms of
the treaties. They also promoted the principles of a European style church
and government, as they envisioned would serve the country and its current
dilemmas best. The entire process, in retrospect, appears paternalistic
and inadequate. At the time, any treaty seemed better in the eyes of the
missionaries than to continue the desperate slide towards annihilation of
the Aboriginal people.