Report of Commissioners for Treaty No. 8
WINNIPEG, MANITOBA, 22nd September, 1899.
Superintendent General of Indian Affairs, Ottawa.
SIR, — We have the honour to transmit herewith the treaty which, under the Commission issued to us on the 5th day of April last, we have made with the Indians of the provisional district of Athabasca and parts of the country adjacent thereto, as described in the treaty and shown on the map attached.
…We met the Indians on the 20th, and on the 21st the treaty was signed.
As the discussions at the different points followed on much the same lines, we shall confine ourselves to a general statement of their import. There was a marked absence of the old Indian style of oratory. Only among the Wood Crees were any formal speeches made, and these were brief.
The Beaver Indians are taciturn. The Chipewyans confined themselves to asking questions and making brief arguments. They appeared to be more adept at cross-examination than at speech-making, and the Chief at Fort Chipewyan displayed considerable keenness of intellect and much practical sense in pressing the claims of his band.
…There was expressed at every point the fear that the making of the treaty would be followed by the curtailment of the hunting and fishing privileges, and many were impressed with the notion that the treaty would lead to taxation and enforced military service. They seemed desirous of securing educational advantages for their children, but stipulated that in the matter of schools there should be no interference with their religious beliefs.
We pointed out that the Government could not undertake to maintain Indians in idleness; that the same means of earning a livelihood would continue after the treaty as existed before it, and that the Indians would be expected to make use of them.
…Our chief difficulty was the apprehension that the hunting and fishing privileges were to be curtailed. The provision in the treaty under which ammunition and twine is to be furnished went far in the direction of quieting the fears of the Indians, for they admitted that it would be unreasonable to furnish the means of hunting and fishing if laws were to be enacted which would make hunting and fishing so restricted as to render it impossible to make a livelihood by such pursuits.
But over and above the provision, we had to solemnly assure them that only such laws as to hunting and fishing as were in the interest of the Indians and were found necessary in order to protect the fish and fur-bearing animals would be made, and that they would be as free to hunt and fish after the treaty as they would be if they never entered into it. [emphasis added]
We assured them that the treaty would not lead to any forced interference with their mode of life, that it did not open the way to the imposition of any tax, and that there was no fear of enforced military service…
As to education the Indians were assured that there was no need of any special stipulation, as it was the policy of the Government to provide in every part of the country, as far as circumstances would permit, for the education of Indian children, and that the law, which was as strong as a treaty, provided for non-interference with the religion of the Indians in schools maintained or assisted by the Government.
… the great majority of the Indians will continue to hunt and fish for a livelihood. It does not appear likely that the conditions of the country on either side of the Athabasca and Slave Rivers or about Athabasca Lake will be so changed as to affect hunting or trapping, and it is safe to say that so long as the fur-bearing animals remain, the great bulk of the Indians will continue to hunt and to trap.
…Mr. Ross and Mr. McKenna accordingly set out for Fort St. John on the 22nd of June. The date appointed for meeting the Indians there was the 21st. When the decision to divide was come to, a special messenger was despatched to the Fort with a message to the Indians explaining the delay, advising them that Commissioners were travelling to meet them, and requesting them to wait at the Fort.
Unfortunately the Indians had dispersed and gone to their hunting grounds before the messenger arrived and weeks before the date originally fixed for the meeting, and when the Commissioners got within some miles of St. John the messenger met them with a letter from the Hudson’s Bay Company’s officer there advising them that the Indians after consuming all their provisions, set off on the 1st June in four different bands and in as many different directions for the regular hunt; that there was not a man at St. John who knew the country and could carry word of the Commissioners’ coming, and even if there were it would take three weeks or a month to get the Indians in. Of course there was nothing to do but return.
It may be stated, however, that what happened was not altogether unforeseen. We had grave doubts of being able to get to St. John in time to meet the Indians, but as they were reported to be rather disturbed and ill-disposed on account of the actions of miners passing through their country, it was thought that it would be well to show them that the Commissioners were prepared to go into their country, and that they had put forth every possible effort to keep the engagement made by the Government.
…The Indians with whom we treated differ in may respects from the Indians of the organized territories. …The tribes have no very distinctive characteristics, and as far as we could learn no traditions of any import…
Our journey from point to point was so hurried that we are not in a position to give any description of the country ceded which would be of value. But we may say that about Lesser Slave Lake there are stretches of country which appear well suited for ranching and mixed farming; that on both sides of the Peace River there are extensive prairies and some well wooded country; that at Vermilion, on the Peace, two settlers have successfully carried on mixed farming on a pretty extensive scale for several years, and that the appearance of the cultivated fields of the Mission there in July showed that cereals and roots were as well advanced as in any portion of the organized territories.
…We desire to express our high appreciation of the valuable and most willing service rendered by Inspector Snyder and the corps of police under him, and at the same time to testify to the efficient manner in which the members of our staff performed their several duties. The presence of a medical man was much appreciated by the Indians, and Dr. West, the physician to the Commission, was most assiduous in attending to the great number of Indians who sought his services. We would add that the Very Reverend Father Lacombe, who was attached to the Commission, zealously assisted us in treating with the Crees.
The actual number of Indians paid was:
- 7 Chiefs at $32: $ 224.00 [About $800 each in 2018 dollars]
- 23 Headmen at $22: $506.00 [About $550 each in 2018 dollars]
- 2,187 Indians at $12: $26,244.00 [About $300 each in 2018 dollars]
- Total: $26,974.00
A detailed statement of the Indians treated with and of the money paid is appended.
We have the honour to be, sir,
Your obedient servants,
J. H. ROSS,
J. A. J. McKENNA
Indian Treaty Commissioners
That was then; this is now.