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Virtual Museum of Canada The Making of Treaty #8 in Canada's Northwest
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Precursor: Focus 1899



Signing Treaty Eight

Treaty OfficialsUnlike their counterparts to the south, the people in the Treaty 8 region did not have an established system of chiefs in place who would speak on behalf of the group. As a result, Treaty 8 Commissioner James Ross arrived at Lesser Slave Lake early, explained that the treaty party would be late, laid out the terms and conditions of the treaty, and tried to convince the people to elect Chiefs and councilors ("headmen"). KeeNooShayoo, a highly regarded community leader was chosen by the Cree people to be Chief. His brother Moostoos, was chosen headman along with WeeCheeWaySis, Felix Giroux, Charles NeeSueTaSis, and an Elder from Sturgeon Lake called The Captain.

Joining the two commissions were Father Albert Lacombe and Bishop Emile Grouard, two Anglican clergymen, as well as 11 Northwest Mounted Police included providing protection and demonstrating authority. All together, the group, which included cooks, packers and interpreters, totaled 26; and together, they set out in covered wagons to make the long journey. The group traveled over 480 kilometres and 21 days later arrived at Willow Point, setting up camp south east of present-day Grouard. At the camp, teepees could be seen from all directions, and there was a festive feeling in the air as more native people, as well as other onlookers, gathered from around the area to witness the event.

The following day, June 20, the official proceedings got under way. A large canvas tent had been erected with a table located at the open end where David Laird and several officials sat flanked by Father Lacombe, Bishop Grouard, the interpreters and the Anglican missionaries. Outside, a crowd of Cree and Métis had gathered to hear the terms of the treaty. Laird rose to address the crowds. "Red Brothers! We have come here today, sent by the Great Mother to treat with you." he began. Laird explained to the native people they were not obligated to accept the treaty offer and tried to allay their concerns about signing. "We understand stories have been told you, that if you make treaty with us you would become servants and slaves; but we wish you to understand that such is not the case; but that you will be just as free after signing a treaty as you are now. If you refuse, there is no harm done; we will not be bad friends on that account," Laird told them. "Indians in other places who took treaty years ago, are better off than they were before. They grow grain and raise cattle like the white people. Their children have learned to read and write." He then went on to outline the terms of the treaty. Each family of five was promised one square mile (640 acres) for "land in common," land that would be owned by the band. Those individuals who did not want to live with a band would receive 160 acres of land (called "land in severalty"). In addition, every person would receive a signing bonus of $12, as well as $5 each year thereafter. Chiefs were to receive $25 each year, along with a silver medal, a flag, and a new suit of clothes every three years. In return, Laird explained, the native people were expected to permit miners and travelers on to their land. Also promised were equipment, supplies, training in farming, medical assistance, police protection and education for the children. For the Métis, the option of scrip - certificates which could be redeemed for land or money1 - would be offered upon signing of the treaty. Some confusion2 arose between choosing scrip or land in severalty, since the conditions outlined in both so closely resembled each other. This confusion, created by the government bringing a Half-Breed Scrip Commission with the Treaty Commission, meant the First Nations people had little idea what they were agreeing to.  In addition, since payment of scrip was dependent on a treaty being signed, those individuals opting for scrip were thought to be sure to support settlement and consequently put pressure on the others to accept the conditions of the treaty.

Laird's speech was then translated by Albert Tate and Sam Cunningham, after which the Indian spokesmen had the opportunity to ask questions. Chief spokesman KeeNooShayoo expressed caution: "You say we are brothers. I cannot understand how we are so. I live differently from you. I can only understand that Indians will benefit in a small degree from your offer," he said. Ross assured him they would lose nothing by signing. "All the rights you now have will not be interfered with, therefore anything you get in addition must be clear gain," Ross said. "The white man is bound to come in and open up your country," he added "we come before him to explain the relations that must exist between you, and thus prevent any trouble." Moostoos, a great orator, went further in convincing the people than all the promises made by Laird and the others: "I accept your offer," said the Captain. "I am old and miserable now.when I was young I was an able man and made my living independently. But now I am old and feeble and not able to do as much." "Are the terms forever?" KeeNooShayoo asked, "as long as the sun shines on us?" Laird assured them the terms of the treaty would last forever, then Father Albert Lacombe spoke to them in Cree, "Your forest and river life will not be changed by the treaty, and you will have your annuities as well, year by year, as long as the sun shine shines and the earth remains," he promised. "Therefore I finish my speaking by saying, Accept!" [continue]

Audio Feature:

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Treaty 8 Part Two: Finding Leaders and Electing Chiefs
Summary: The First Nations people of Northern Alberta did not have chiefs. How then did the government expect to negotiate treaty? Listen to find out!
  mp3 or Windows Media or RealAudio | Read

Treaty 8 Part Three: Early Dissension Among the Natives
Summary: The Treaty was agreed to, but under pressure from the government and an unexpected group. Listen to hear more.
  mp3 or Windows Media or RealAudio | Read

Reprinted from Vision Quest: "Oti nekan," Treaty 8 Centennial Commemorative Magazine, with permission from Tanner Young Marketing Ltd.

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