Promises made, not every one kept — Treaty 1 negotiations dragged on for several days

by Bruce Cherney (part 2 of 2)

Simon J. Dawson, a government surveyor with experience in the West, according to the Sessional Papers of Parliament, warned not to mistake “Indians as children” when negotiating a treaty with them. 

“In their manner of expressing themselves ... may at times appear childish enough, but, in their actual dealings, they are shrewd and sufficiently aware of their own interests ...”

Dawson, who is noted in Canadian history for the corduroy road bearing his name — built in the late 1860s and tenuously linking Eastern Canada with the West — was involved in the Treaty 3 negotiations. The commission for this treaty was appointed by the government through an order-in-council in April 1871, though the treaty would not be negotiated and signed until 1874.

Despite their lack of writing, Dawson also prophetically cautioned the government that there would be natives present during the negotiations charged to remember verbatim every word said. Dawson related his surprise when he was once given an exact word-for-word account by the natives at Fort Francis of what he had said two years earlier.

In 1871, government officials did not completely heed Dawson’s advice, though they apparently believed they were dealing in good faith and in the best interests of Manitoba’s native people. 

The native leaders had to be tough, knowing that when they signed the treaty, they were surrendering vast expanses of land and had to show their people they were receiving something of significant value in return. 

What should also be acknowledged is that native leaders had wanted the government to create a treaty system, realizing that the looming influx of settlers threatened to displace them from their land if they didn’t possess some form of official protection.

The first treaty negotiation in the  West by the Canadian government was to have commenced on July 25, 1871, at the Stone Fort (Lower Fort Garry), which is located near Selkirk and just off Hwy. 9. 

On that date, the lieutenant-governor of Manitoba and the North-West Territories, Adams Archibald, multilingual James McKay of the Manitoba legislature executive council, a businessman and the first Speaker of the House, and Indian Commission Wemyss M. Simpson, the federal  government representative, acting on behalf of federal Indian Affairs Minister Joseph Howe, arrived at the Stone Fort to meet with the native leaders.

Rev. Henry Cochrane (Anglican cleric of St. Peter’s) was the interpreter for the treaty commission, while Henry McCorrister interpreted on behalf of the aboriginals. McKay did occasionally use his linguistic prowess to explain the government’s position.

Archibald said the “Great Mother’ (Queen Victoria) could not be present to talk to the native leaders herself, but sent Simpson “who has her confidence.”  

Simpson said in a Weekly Manitoban: and Herald of Ruperts Land and the North-Western Territory account, reported on August 5, 1871, that he had tried to impress upon the “Government of the Queen the great necessity that existed for her to treat with all her Red subjects, and make some kind of arrangement by which they would understand exactly the position they held in this Territory for the future.”

The only leader present on the first day was Henry Prince, the  chief of the Ojibway of St. Peters, also referred to as the Indian Reserve, so the meeting was delayed for another two days. 

Once the others arrived, the numbers in the fort swelled to about 1,000, which also included curious settlers and Metis, who had their own land claims to consider under the terms of the 1870 Manitoba Act. 

In the official Treaty 1 document, the representatives and eventual signers — called “chiefs and headmen” of the “Chippawa (Ojibway) and Swampy Cree tribes” — were Mis-koo-kenew or Red Eagle (Henry Prince) of St. Peter’s; Ka-ke-ka-penais or Bird For Ever (William Pennefather) of Fort Alexander on the Winnipeg River where it enters Lake Winnipeg; Na-sha-ke-penais or Flying Down Bird, a chief on the Roseau River who was also known as Grand Oreilles; Na-na-wa-nanaw or Centre of Bird’s Tail, a chief on the Roseau River; Kewe-tayash or Flyinground; Wa-ko-wush or Whip-poor-will, a chief on the Roseau River; and Oo-za-we-kwun or Yellow Quill, a chief on the Assiniboine River near Portage la Prairie.

(It should be noted that there are slight variations in name spellings and translations between the newspaper account and the official document.) 

“Your Great Mother (Queen Victoria) wishes the good of all races under her sway,” said Archibald, according to an account of the proceedings by Alexander Morris, who followed Archibald as Manitoba’s lieutenant-governor. “She wishes her red children to be happy and contented ... She would like them to adopt the ways of the whites, to till land and raise food and store it up against a time of want. She thinks this would be the best thing for her red children to do, that it would make them safer from famine and distress, and  make their homes more comfortable.” 

Archibald then went on to say that the Great Mother wouldn’t compel them to become farmers, leaving them “free to hunt over much of the land” (Crown land and land not used by settlers) included in the treaty, but they would have to quit hunting on these lands when they were required “to be tilled or occupied.” 

He said the Great Mother promised “to make rules to keep them (plots of land) for you, so that as long as the sun shall shine, there shall be no Indian who has not a place that he can call his home, where he can go and pitch his camp, or if he chooses, build his house and till his land.”

Simpson, according to the Weekly Manitoban, promised that the Canadian government would “give to the Indians reserves amply sufficient ... for their use in adopting the habits of the white man, should they choose to do so.”

The preliminaries over, the negotiations were set to begin but the native leaders said they were unable to commence because four Ojibway had been imprisoned for failing to fulfill a contract with the HBC as boatmen. The four men had been unable to raise the cost of the fine so found themselves cast into jail. 

The leaders called this imprisonment a “cloud before them that makes things dark.” 

Ay-ee-ta-pe-pe-tung, described in the Weekly Manitoban as “a tall old brave, who was naked all but the breech-cloth” with his body smeared in white earth and waving an eagle feather, said the there would be no negotiations until the men were freed.

“We are going to make a treaty with the Queen,” he said, “and want to clean everything away ... I am not defying the law, but would wish to have the Saulteaux (Ojibway) at present in jail liberated.”

Archibald ordered the release of the four men. “Next day the Indians met again and declared that they would never again raise their voice against the enforcement of the law.”  

In a July 30 letter to Howe, Archibald said, “The discharge of the prisoners had an excellent effect.” 

Archibald told the elected leaders that  they would have to face the reality that immigration to the province could not be stopped, “and that now was the time for them to come to an arrangement that would secure homes and annuities for themselves and their children.” 

Simpson became slightly frustrated by the negotiation process that would drag on for days. “Every band had its spokesman, in addition to its Chief, and each seemed to vie with another in the dimensions of their requirements ... in the matter of reserves, the quantity of land demanded ... included the greater part of the settled portions of the Province,” Morris reported. 

The Weekly Manitoban sarcastically reported that several chiefs and warriors spoke “with a great deal of flourish and vehemence without uttering anything worth noting — pretty much as Members of Parliament sometimes do.”

Initially, the chiefs had demanded at least two-thirds of the land in Manitoba as a reserve. 

Archibald said the chiefs misunderstood the views of the government and didn’t comprehend “the meaning of a reserve,” according to Morris’ report. “They have been led to suppose that large tracts of ground were to be set aside for them as hunting grounds, including timber lands, of which they might sell the wood as if they were proprietors of the soil. 

“I wished to correct this idea at the outset,” Archibald added. 

Ay-ee-pe-pe-tung, who had been described by the newspaper as smeared with white clay, said that he understood land was going to bought from him. “Well, God made me out of this very clay that is besmeared on my body. This is what you say you are going to buy from me.”

 Simpson stood firm on an offer of 160 acres for every family of five, saying that with the coming flood of settlers, the Cree and Ojibway would find themselves without any land if they didn’t accept this provision. 

“We are, in fact,” said Simpson, “offering here better terms than are offered to Canadian (Eastern) Indians, and to those of the United States ...”

When questioned about what would happen when families increased in  size, Archibald replied that they will be provided with more land to the West. “Whenever the reserves are found too small the government will sell the land, and give the Indians land elsewhere.”

These words set the stage for future land surrenders, such as happened at St. Peter’s. His words implied that the terms of treaties were not necessarily final. When claiming that lands further to the west could be used, Archibald also failed to ask the opinion of natives then living in the region. 

“The land cannot speak for itself,” Prince said, as reported in the Weekly Manitoban. “We have to speak for it; and want to know fully how you are going to treat our children in the Indian Settlement.

“It is said the Queen wishes Indians to cultivate the ground. They cannot scratch it — work it with their fingers. What assistance will they get if they settle down?” 

Prince firmly believed natives had to have their economic future secured. They may lose most of their lands, but they had to have the means to gain a livelihood. 

At the community of St. Peter’s, near present-day Selkirk, the Ojibway had developed a thriving community which had a mixed agriculture, hunting, fishing and trapping economy. 

The day before he came to the Stone Fort, Archibald, as reported in the Weekly Manitoban, said he had seen in St. Peter’s “many well-built houses, and many fields well tilled ... The people who till these fields and live in these houses, are men of your own race, and they show that you can live, and prosper, and provide like the white man.”

These gains were what Prince wanted to protect. 

(A controversial episode in Manitoba’s history is that the St. Peter’s land, made fertile by the band members, were taken from them through a rigged “surrender” vote in 1907. The land was then sold to covetous white settlers and speculators, despite the assure from Archibald that the land would be laid aside “to be used by you and your children forever,” and the Great Mother “will not allow the white man to intrude upon these lots.” In return, the band was given scrub land further north in the Interlake that became the Peguis reserve.) 

Eventually, Simpson agreed verbally — a promise not contained in the treaty — that each individual wanting to cultivate land would receive a harrow and a plow. 

Simpson also said each chief was to receive a sow and “a cow and a male and female of each kind of animal raised by a farmer.” A bull was also to be received for the general use of each reserve in lieu of a yoke of oxen.

This was a turning point. With Prince on side, the negotiations were beginning to turn in the government’s favour, though other details needed to be worked out.

Wa-sus-koo-koon (Rat Liver), “a spokesman fo the Indians between Pembina and (Upper) Fort Garry,” supported by Prince and George Kasias, who represnted Chief Na-sha-ke-penais, said they wanted every child to be clothed in fine clothes each spring and in the fall with warm clothing from head to foot. And, each man was to be supplied with whatever was needed for hunting and other requirement, as were women.

“Whenever an Indian wants to settle, a house is to be put up for him fully furnished, and a plough, with all its accompaniments of cattle,” he added.

He further demanded that each chief, counsellor and brave receive buggies “to show their dignity.” 

The chief also stressed that there were to be no taxes collected by the government from reserves.

It was verbally agreed that each chief received a “dress” (garments), flag and a medal “as marks of distinction,” and “a buggy.” 

Two councillors and two braves of each band were to receive “a dress, somewhat inferior to that provided for the chiefs, and the braves and councillors of the Portage band excepted, were to receive a buggy,” Simpson wrote to Howe. 

The Weekly Manitoban reported that the first monetary offer made by the government officials was just 10 shillings, described by one aboriginal as not enough to cover his hand. Simpson relented to the pressure from the chiefs and increased the annual payment.

Each native man, woman and child was to receive $3, when the terms were agreed upon, as a “present,” and “shall in every year ensuring the date hereof, at some period during the month of July each year to be duly notified to the Indians and at or near their respective reserves, pay each Indian family of five persons the sum of fifteen dollars Canadian currency ...”

The treaty also said there was the option to receive “payment ... in such articles as the Indians shall require of blankets, clothing, prints (assorted colours), twine or traps, at the current coat price in Montreal, or ... in cash.”

Simpson had actually exceeded his authority, since Ottawa had only authorized $12 per family of five.

Simpson said this system was different than treaty payments in the United States where annuities only lasted for a  specific number of years (usually 20 years). He added that the Canadian government’s agent would come each year “with goods or money and payment is made to every individual Indian — not to the chiefs alone,” reported the Weekly Manitoban.

The treaty further prohibited liquor on reserves, which, along with the school provision, was unique in Canadian treaties to date.

Though promised, hunting privileges were omitted as were specific mention of agricultural equipment, livestock, clothing, taxes and rewards for chiefs and headmen, although many of these promises would be later honoured. For example, taxes on reserves cannot be levied by any outside level of government.

On August 3, 1871, Treaty 1 was signed with the Cree and Ojibway. It was ratified by the Canadian government in September of that year. 

Note: The signing of Treaty 1 is celebrated by First Nations people at Lower Fort Garry every August 3. 

Treaty 2 quickly followed and was signed at Manitoba Post, a post along Lake Manitoba operated by the HBC, on August 21. The natives of the region had heard about the terms of Treaty No. 1 and wanted to be dealt with in the same way. “The negotiations with these bands therefore occupied little time,” Simpson wrote. 

By the end of the signing of the two treaties, the chiefs had their title to lands three times the size of the “postage stamp” province of Manitoba extinguished. 

“Their desire is to live in peace with the white man,” wrote Simpson to Howe of the natives’ motivation to sign, “... and I believe that nothing but gross injustice or oppression will induce them ether to forget the allegiance which they now claim with pride, or molest the white subjects of the sovereign ...”

But, a few months after the treaty had been signed, and confronted by angry natives, Archibald was warning his superiors in Ottawa that they had to honour the promises, because the native people “recollect with astonishing accuracy every stipulation made ... and if we expect our relations with them to be of the kind which it is desirable to maintain we must fulfill our obligations with scrupulous fidelity.”

Dr. John Christian Schultz, a Winnipeg businessman, MP and future lieutenant-governor of Manitoba, took up the native cause, saying the government had indeed made additional promises. 

A March 31, 1873, speech in the House of Commons revealed he also didn’t want a duplication of the state of affairs in  the U.S., where the government and settlers were in near-constant battle with Indians. Treat them fairly and they will remain at peace, Schultz added.

Schultz seems to have been sincere in his sympathy for aboriginal people, though it was tainted with a measure of self-interest: “I would remark that the Indian has had few friends; history has done little else for him than record the deeds which he has done in anger and when smarting under a sense of injustice ... As political economists we are bound to endeavour to prevent his either becoming a scrouge or a pauper ...”

His sympathy also came with the provision that natives accept the inevitable and abandon their hunting-and-gathering lifesytle to become like the white farmers in their midst.

It was not until treaties 1 and 2 were revised in 1875 to be in line with Treaty 3, that many of the promises made were honoured, as outlined by a memorandum signed by Archibald, Simpson, McKay and Indian Agent Molyneux St. John, who was also present during the initial negotiations, acknowledged their verbal commitments made in 1871 for such items as agricultural equipment, livestock and gifts to chiefs and counsellors. 

According to St. John, Simpson “has always expressed his regret at having allowed the signing of the first treaty to be rushed as it was, when subsequent event has shown it was so necessary to have a perfect understanding.”

The difficulties encountered in the four years after the signing of Treaties 1 and 2, made each side realize the absolute need to make sure all terms agreed upon were written into future  treaties. 

It was also at this time that the annuity was raised to $5 for each man, woman and child in keeping with Treaty 3. The government believed acceptance of the new annuity by each band member was an acceptance that the promises of 1871 had been met. 

It wasn’t until 1994 that the Canadian government acknowledged that it had not entirely met its treaty land obligations. It started the Treaty Land Entitlement process, granting First Nations signing the agreements more unoccupied Crown land as well as funds to purchase private land. Besides Ottawa, the Manitoba government also signed TLE agreements with local First Nations because Crown land falls within its jurisdiction.