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The Métis in Western Canada: O-Tee-Paym-Soo-Wuk

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The BeginningsThe People and Their CommunitiesCulture and Lifeways
Indian Treaties

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The Canadian government had promised, on behalf of the imperial government, to negotiate with the First Peoples for extinguishing their aboriginal title and setting aside reserves for their exclusive use. The government plan for preparing the new territory for immigration included a specific strategy for peacefully extinguishing Aboriginal title over the whole area by making treaties with the First Nations in which they relinquished their claim to the land in return for a protected territory and certain gifts and services from the government in perpetuity.

The numbered treaties across the west had been preceded by treaties for land in Ontario and the first treaties for peace and friendship in the Maritimes. At that time, Europeans (including Euro-Americans and Canadians) did not believe that the First Nations possessed the land as nations or as owners but simply used the land for hunting and fishing. This belief was the foundation of the numbered treaties. In the Government view, the treaties granted privileges to be enjoyed at the pleasure of the Crown. In the First Nations view, the treaties safeguarded rights. These treaties began with Treaty One in 1871, and ended with Treaty Eleven in 1921.

The first Indian Commissioner Mr. Wemyss McKenzie Simpson, was appointed in 1870. He arranged Treaties One and Two with the Ojibwa and Swampy Cree Nations living in lower Manitoba in 1871. He was accompanied by Adams G. Archibald, Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba and the North West Territories and the Honourable James McKay. The same individuals were in place to arrange Treaty Three but after having met with the First Nations in 1872 at Fort Frances, found them not prepared to accept treaty. They put it off for a year, and the next year sent the new Indian Commissioner, Lieutenant Colonel Provencher and the new Lieutenant Governor, the Honourable Alexander Morris. They were accompanied by the Honourable James McKay. They met with the First Nations at the north-east angle of the Lake of the Woods, at the end of September, 1873, and after what Morris called "protracted and difficult negotiations" succeeded in arranging a treaty with them. This treaty became the model for Treaties Four through Seven, as the other First Nations became familiar with the concessions granted in it.

These treaties generally included:

  • Reserves based on 640 acres (259 hectares) for a family of five
  • A gratuity of $12
  • Annuities of $5 per person per year
  • For the Chiefs, a suit of clothing every three years, $25 a year, with subordinate officer receiving $15
  • For each chief also a flag and a medal
  • The continuation of hunting and fishing rights
  • $1500 annually for ammunition and twine for fishing nets
  • A kit of basic agricultural equipment and supplies
  • Schools to be provided
  • Sale of alcohol prohibited on reserve

One element that was different about this treaty was the inclusion of certain Metis who formed part of the First Nations community. The First Nations involved in Treaties Four and Six also requested that certain of their "cousins" be included. Ottawa responded by amending the Indian Act in 1880 to exclude "halfbreeds" from the provisions of the Act as well as from treaties.

The records of the treaty negotiations reveal that in their meetings, the Commissioners were following the same protocol as was followed in trading ceremonies. The trading ceremonies were based on First Nations ceremonials. For instance, to smoke the "Peace Pipe" as was usual in treaty ceremonies was to make a sacred promise before the Creator.

Another element in the treaty negotiations that was adapted from the fur trade was the use of trusted Métis people as interpreters and witnesses. Treaty Four included HBC Chief Factor William Christie in place of honour, just below the Commissioners. That Treaty had been interpreted by Charles Pratt who also signed as one of the witnesses, as did the following members: Pascal Breland, Edward McKay, Charles Pratt, Pierre Poitras, Baptiste Davis, Pierre DeNomme, Joseph McKay, and Donald McDonald. Treaty Five was again interpreted by the Honourable James McKay, assisting Alexander Morris, in arranging a treaty with the people of northern Manitoba.

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Liens Rapides

Peter Erasmus



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