Museum Musings: Treaty 6

The front page of the Aug. 13, 1936 edition of the Prince Albert Daily Herald shows residents celebrating the 60th anniversary of the signing of Treaty Six.

by Fred Payton
Prince Albert Historical Society

Many local groups and organizations have adopted the tradition of prefacing their agendas, minutes, and meetings by making reference to the fact that we are resident on Treaty 6 land. This is a way for them to honour the Indigenous peoples who have lived here since time immemorial.

Although I grew up in Prince Albert, and have travelled and visited extensively throughout the northern part of our province, I was never really educated with respect to Treaty 6. As many of you have, I have gathered some understanding of the contents of the Treaty through discussions with First Nations friends and acquaintances and by following media reports. My knowledge and understanding were basically, well, very basic.

On a trip to Ottawa last October, I visited a second-hand bookstore where I found a three volume publication containing all the treaties (and adhesions) negotiated between the Crown and the First Nations between 1680 and 1902. Included in the seconded volume is a copy of Treaty 6. Much of what I thought that I knew of the Treaty was reinforced, but there were a few surprises along the way.

I had always thought that Treaty 6 had been signed at Fort Carlton, with representatives of the Crown and the chiefs of the various First Nations gathered around a camp fire, smoking a pipe, and exchanging gifts prior to settling on the terms of the treaty. It therefore came as a surprise to find out that two separate gatherings occurred, the first at and near Fort Carlton between August 23rd and August 28th 1876, and the second near Fort Pitt on September 9th 1876. These meetings laid out the basics of the treaty, while further signings occurred on August 9th 1877 at Fort Pitt, at Edmonton on August 21st 1877, on September 25th 1877 at Blackfoot Crossing on the Bow River, and August 29th 1878 at Battleford. Additional signings occurred on September 3rd 1878 at Fort Carlton, at an unknown location on September 18th 1878, and finally at Fort Walsh on July 2nd 1879.

I was intrigued to see who had participated in each of these signings. The initial signing at Fort Carlton was led by Alexander Morris, the Lieutenant-Governor of the North West Territories, accompanied by W.J. Christie, a Metis who had served as a commissioner at the Treaty 4 negotiations at Fort Qu’Appelle, and James McKay, a lawyer and member of the prominent Prince Albert Metis family. Seventeen additional witnesses to this event included such notable individuals as Isadore Dumond (Dumont) and Peter Hourie. Amongst the chiefs negotiating were chiefs Mis-ti-wa-sis, Ah-tuk-uk-koop, John Smith, and James Smith. They were supported by councillors including Sah-sah-koo-moos, Benjamin, Pee-ay-chew, William and John Badger, James Bear, and Bernard Constant. In total, there were 36 councillors present.

A secondary signing occurring near Fort Carlton included the Willow chiefs and headmen. The document was first read and explained to them by James McKay and Peter Erasmus, and then signed by Chiefs Meh-cha-aw-asis, See-see-quan-ish, and Wee-tee-koo-wee-kah-maw-oo who were supported by nine of their councillors.

Alexander Morris and James McKay also attended the first Fort Pitt signing, with sixteen witnesses including Bishop J. Vital, Peter Pambrun, and Peter Erasmus. Eleven chiefs signed the Treaty on this occasion, with 18 councillors supporting them. The chiefs included James Seenum, See-kahs-kootch, Kee-ye-win, and Kin-oosay-oo.

Subsequent signings were read and explained to the chiefs and their councillors by either Peter Erasmus or Peter Ballendine, with the exception of the final signing which was read to them by Edgar Dewdney, who was the Indian commissioner.

Treaty 6 was negotiated primarily as a result of the Dominion Government’s desire to open up to settlement the lands occupied by the First Nations peoples. The intention was that “there may be peace and good will” between the First Nations and the settlers, and that the First Nations “could be assured of what allowance they are to count upon and receive from Her Majesty’s bounty and benevolence.”

“The Plains and Wood Cree tribes” and all others inhabiting the district described would “hereby cede, release, surrender and yield up to the Government of the Dominion of Canada for Her Majesty the Queen and Her successors forever, all their rights, titles and privileges, whatsoever, to the lands included…”

The lands are clearly defined and delineated in the treaty, and rather than include the detail at this time I would encourage those interested to review the treaty. Suffice to say, it runs west in Saskatchewan from Cumberland Lake to the Beaver River, and then into Alberta to Red Deer Lake and to Jaspar House and the main source of the Red Deer River and on to the south branch of the Saskatchewan River. Its southern boundary is the northern boundary of the lands identified in Treaties 4 and 5. All rights, titles, and privileges situated in the North-West Territories, or in any other Province or portion of Her Majesty’s Dominions situated within the Dominion of Canada were also included. The total area comprised within Treaty 6 territory amounted to approximately 121,000 square miles (or roughly 313,400 square metres).

In return, the First Nations peoples were to receive reserves for farming lands, with due respect being given to such lands which were currently cultivated, and other lands for their benefit which would be administered and dealt with by Her Majesty’s Government of the Dominion of Canada. This land was not to exceed one square mile per family of five, proportionately provided for larger or smaller families. The location of these lands was to be determined in consultation with the First Nations so as to ensure its suitability. A provision was included, however, to allow Her Majesty’s representatives to deal with any settlers within the bounds of reserve lands as deemed appropriate, and that they may sell or otherwise dispose of such land for the benefit of the First Nations after consultation with them.

As they located to the lands reserved for them, each man, woman and child was to receive a payment of $12. As well, schools for instruction were to be maintained on the reserves of land if desired by its members.

No liquor was to be allowed within the confines of the reserves, and all laws currently in force, or thereafter enacted to protect the residents from “the evil influences of intoxicating liquors” were to be strictly enforced.

Rights to pursue the First Nations’ avocation of hunting and fishing throughout the surrendered tract were to be protected, although this was subject to such regulations as may be promulgated by the Dominion Government, or on such tracts of land as may be taken up for settlement, mining, lumbering or other purposes duly authorized by the Dominion Government.