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The Peoples, Their Places

Through the Mackenzie Basin: The treaty Commission

Through The Mackenzie Basin Original Edition
Cree Woman"The moose, the beaver and the bear had for years been decreasing, and other fur-bearing animals were slowly but surely lessening with them. The natives, aware of this, were now alive, as well, to concurrent changes foreign to their experience. Recent events had awakened them to a place upon their country as a great storehouse of mineral and other wealth, enlivened otherwise by the sensible decrease of their once unfailing resources. These events were, of course, the Government borings for petroleum, the formation of parties to prospect, with a view to developing, the minerals of Great Slave Lake, but above all, the inroad of gold seekers by way of Edmonton. The latter was viewed with great mistrust by the Indians, the outrages referred to showing, like straws in the wind, the inevitable drift of things had the treaties been delayed. For, as a matter of fact, those now peaceable tribes, soured by lawless aggression, and sheltered by their vast forests, might easily have taken an Indian revenge, and hampered, if not hindered, the safe settlement of the country for years to come. The Government, therefore, decided to treaty with them at once on equitable terms, and to satisfy their congeners, the half-breeds, as well, by an issue of scrip certificates such as their fellows had already received in Manitoba and the organized Territories. To this end adjustments were made by the Hon. Clifford Sifton, then Minister of the Interior and Superintendent-General of Indian Affairs, during the winter of 1898-9, and a plan of procedure and basis of treatment adopted, the carrying out of which was placed in the hands of a double Commission, one to frame and effect the treaty, and secure adhesion of the various tribes, and the other toDavid Laird investigate and extinguish the half-breed title. At the head of the former was placed the Hon. David Laird, a gentleman of wide experience in the early days in the North-West Territories, whose successful treaty with the refractory Blackfeet and their allies is but one of many evidences of his tact and sagacity.

Treaty CommissionersThe other treaty Commissioners were the Hon. James Ross, Minister of Public Works in the Territorial Government, and Mr. J.A. McKenna, then private secretary to the Superintendent- General of Indian Affairs, and who had been for some years a valued officer of the Indian Department. With them was associated, in an advisory capacity, the Rev. Father Lacombe, O.M.I., Vicar-General of St. Albert, Alberta, whose history had been identified for fifty years with the Canadian North-West, and whose career had touched the currents of primitive life at all points. Not associated with the Commission, but traveling with it as a guest was the Right Rev. E. Grouard, O.M.I., the Roman Catholic Bishop of the Athabasca and Mackenzie rivers, who was returning, after a visit to the East, to his headquarters at Fort Chipewyan, where his influence and knowledge of the language, it was believed, would be of great service when the treaty came under consideration there. The secretaries of the Commission were Mr. Harrison Young, a son-in-law of the Reverend George McDougall, the distinguished missionary who perished so unaccountably on the plains in the winter of 1876, and Mr. J.W. Martin, and agreeable young gentleman from Goderich, Ontario. Connected with the party in an advisory capacity, like Father Treaty Commissioners Lacombe, and as interpreter, was Mr. Pierre d'Eschambault, who had been for over thirty years an officer in the Hudson's Bay Company's service. The camp manager was Mr. Henry McKay of an old and highly esteemed North-West family. Such was the personnel, official and informal, of the treaty Commission, to which was also attached Mr. H.A. Conroy, as accountant, robust and genial, and well fitted for the work."

Reprinted from Through the Mackenzie Basin: An Account of the Signing of Treaty No. 8 and the Scrip Commission, 1899 by Charles Mair.