The people in what became the Treaty
8 region led a relatively simple life, and were not as eager for treaty as those in
neighbouring areas. Covering most of northern Alberta, northwest Saskatchewan, northeastern British Columbia and a portion of the Northwest Territories, this region consisted of two major language groups: Algonquin (Cree) and Athapaskans
(Dene). Each band in this area had its own specific territory and a different way of life depending on
regional conditions. The Cree tended to aggressively hunt and trap an area until depleted and then move on, while the Dene were somewhat more sedentary,
preferring to stay in one place. Perhaps most surprising to the treaty parties who entered this area in
1899 expecting to see a primitive people living off the land was that many First Nations people wore European
clothing and had adopted a select few European traditions. Characteristic of this area was its lack of a central leader, a chief who could speak for the desires and needs on behalf of the people. Leadership was held at the band level, and not determined by family lines. The scattered nature of the bands made the eventual signing of Treaty
8 quite a drawn-out process.
In the 1880s, Catholic and Anglican missionaries were protesting the government's "no assistance"
policy and began to gain some sympathy in public opinion. Knowledge of the plight of the First Nations people was becoming widespread, and government relief, in the form of financial grants, was once again forthcoming. The First Nations people of the Treaty 8 area, however, were content with their independence.
During the 1890s, it became clear that the northern region held the promise of prosperity. Peace River Country was rich with oil reserves, and the Klondike gold rush was drawing attention to the mass of mineral resources in Yukon Territory. The First Nations people seemed secure in their future, yet the mounting influence of the gold rush and its influx of miners, combined with the valuable mineral resources and agricultural wealth found throughout northern Alberta made treaty more and more desirable for the government. Hopeful discussion started on researching the oil territories and building railways and petroleum pipelines in the Treaty Eight area. Treaty meant the government could stop any native claim to land, while imposing their own law and order on the First Nations people, thus claiming the rich land and all it produced as its own.
Reprinted from Vision Quest: "Oti nekan,"
Treaty 8 Centennial Commemorative Magazine, with permission from Tanner
Young Marketing Ltd.