Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
January 2005

L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


Canadian Treaties With Indians



[This text was written in 1898. For the full citation, see the end of the document.]


There have been about 1540 Treaties with the Indians under which lands have been transferred to the Crown in the several provinces of the present Dominion. It has been pointed out by the Dominion Statistician that some of these treaties and surrenders of territory are very old. Thus, No. 239 has articles of submission and agreement made at Boston , in New England ; bears date 15th December, 1725 ; and contains the acknowledgement of the submission of the Indians of Nova Scotia, or Acadia, and New England to King George II., in connection with the Treaty of Utrecht, 1713. "Signed, sealed and delivered in the presence of the Great and General Court or Assembly of the province of Massachusetts Bay and ratified at the Fort of Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia," it bears traces of the fine work of Paul Mascarene, the well-known Governor of Nova Scotia.


Another is the Treaty of 1727. This was an alliance, offensive and defensive, between the English and the Indians, done at the Conference of Casco Bay, and signed on behalf of King George by William Dummer, Lieut.-Governor of Massachusetts Bay; J. Wentworth, Lieut-Governor of New Hampshire; and P. Mascarene, Commissioner for the Government of Nova Scotia.


A third is the renunciation by the Chippewas, through their representatives and chiefs, to King George III., of the Island of Michilimackinac, called by the French Canadians "La Grosse Isle," the consideration money being "£5,000, New York currency," the Indians promising to preserve in the village a belt of wampum seven feet in length "to perpetuate, secure and be a lasting memorial of the said transactions to our nation for ever hereafter." The date is the 12th of May, 1781 .


A fourth, dated 1790, conveys the area out of which have been cut the counties of Essex and Kent and portions of Elgin, Middlesex, and Lambton. The grantors are the principal village and war chiefs of the Ottawa, Chippewa, Pottawatomie and Huron nations around Detroit. The conveyance is to King George III., the payment of the consideration money, £1,200 Halifax currency, in valuable wares and merchandise, being made by Alexander McKee, Deputy Agent of Indian Affairs. Among the valuable wares and merchandise then given to the Indians were 840 pairs of blankets, ranging in price from 4/9 a pair to 12/- ; 35 pieces of shrouds at 67/- ; 140 yards of scarlet cloth at 8/- ; 12 pieces of cadies, 420 yards, at 2/6; 26 pieces Embolton linen, 96 yards, at I5/- ; 50 gross ribbons at 10/6 ; 100 pounds vermilion at 4/- ; 1 dozen black silk handkerchiefs; 60 guns at 20/6; 20 rifles at 50/-; 1,000 pounds ball and shot at 21/- per 100 pounds; 2,000 flints at 10/- per 1000 ; 30 dozen looking-glasses at 3/- per dozen; 10 pairs callemaneon at 21/-; 1,000 fish hooks at 22/6 ; 39 gallons rum at 3/9 ; 400 pounds tobacco at 1/3 ; 24 laced hats at 20/-; 11 gross pipes at 1/6 ; 600 pounds brass kettles at 1/3 per pound, etc.


Among these early documents is one from Louis XIV., dated 29th May, 1680, granting the land called Le Sault, near the St. Louis rapids, to the Jesuits for the use of the Iroquois settled there. The grant "most expressly prohibits and forbids the French, who may live with, or go among, the said Iroquois and other Indian nations who may settle on the said land called Le Sault, from having and keeping any cattle, and all persons from keeping any public-houses among the dwellings of the said Iroquois, which may be built on the said land."


The details of Canadian Treaties with the Indians are important and have been dealt with at length by the late Lieut.-Governor Morris, the late William Leggo, of Winnipeg, and Mr, George Johnson, of Ottawa. From these authorities the following additional facts may be given:


Valuable minerals having been discovered on the northern shores of Lake Superior and Huron, the Government of the Province of Canada commissioned the late Hon. W. B. Robinson to negotiate with the Indians holding these lands, and that gentleman in 1850 made two treaties, which form the models upon which all subsequent treaties with the Indians of the North-West have been framed; their main features being annuities, reserves and liberty to hunt and fish on the lands until sold by the Crown. In 1862 the Government of the old Province of Canada obtained the surrender of the Indian title to the Great Manitoulin Island. In 1871 the Dominion Government set seriously to work to quiet the western Indians, who were then very restless, by arranging with them solemn treaties.


It was considered desirable to begin with the Ojibiways or Chippewas found between Thunder Bay and the north-west angle of the Lake of the Woods. Mr. Wemyss McKenzie Simpson was appointed Indian Commissioner for the purpose. Having issued a proclamation inviting the Indians to meet him at Lower Fort Garry, or the Stone Fort, on 25th July, 1871, and at Manitoba Post, a Hudson's Bay Fort at the north end of Lake Manitoba, on the 17th August following, Mr. Simpson, accompanied by the Hon. A. G. Archibald, then Lieutenant-Governor of Manitoba and the North-West Territories, the Hon. James McKay, and Mr. Molyneux St. John, attended at these points, and, after much negotiation, succeeded in completing two treaties, known as Nos. One and Two. The principal features of these treaties, for they were identical, were the absolute relinquishment to Her Majesty of the Indian title to the tracts described; the reservation of tracts sufficient to furnish 160 acres to each Indian family of five; provisions for the maintenance of schools ; the prohibition of the sale of intoxicating liquors on the Reserves; a present of three dollars to each Indian, and the payment of three dollars per head yearly for ever. Roughly, these treaties secured the title to a tract of country extending from the present easterly boundary of Manitoba, westerly along the boundary line between Canada and the United States - the 49th parallel - about 300 miles, and running north about 250 miles, including the present Province of Manitoba, and forming an area of about 60,000 square miles of admirable land.


In the same year (1871), it was found necessary to obtain the title to the area from the watershed of Lake Superior to the north-west angle of the Lake of the Woods , and from the American boundary to the height of land from which the streams flow towards Hudson 's Bay. This step had become necessary in order to render the route, known as the "Dawson route," secure for the passage of the immigrants, and to enable the Government to throw the land open for settlement. Messrs. W. M. Simpson, S. J. Dawson, and W. J. Pether were appointed Commissioners, and, in July, 1871, they met the Indians at Fort Francis. Difficulties arose, and no treaty was affected [sic]. The matter was adjourned, and the Indians were asked to consider the proposals and meet again during the following summer. But they were not ready then, and the negotiations were indefinitely postponed. In 1873, it was determined to make another effort, and a commission was issued to Mr. Morris, then Lieutenant-Governor; Lieut.-Colonel Provencher, who had in the meantime been appointed Commissioner of Indian Affairs in the place of Mr. Simpson, who had resigned ; and Mr. Lindsay Russell - but the latter gentleman being unable to act, Mr. Dawson, afterwards M.P. for Algoma, was appointed in his stead. The Commission, thus organized, met the Indians at the north-west angle late in September, 1873, and after protracted and difficult negotiations succeeded in completing the Treaty Number Three.


This Treaty was of great importance. It released that portion of the North-West between the westerly boundary of Ontario and the Province of Manitoba, and extending north about 250 miles. Its width is about the same, and a territory of about 55,000 square miles was released from the Indian title. It was of the utmost consequence that these lands should be speedily secured because the Dawson road ran over them: the Canadian Pacific Railway in its progress from Fort William to Selkirk on the Red river passed through them, and they were believed to be rich in minerals. The sharpness of the Indian, and his acutness in bargaining, were for once conspicuously exhibited. Mr. Morris conducted the "palaver." The demands of the Indians, however, were somewhat unreasonable and the negotiations were several times on the point of being broken off. Nothing but the fortunate combination of skill, patience, firmness and good temper on the part of the Lieutenant-Governor could have enabled him to achieve the ultimate diplomatic triumph which was of the greater value since it struck the keynote of all the subsequent treaties, and taught the Indians that though the Government might be generous, it would none the less firmly resist imposition. Several days were consumed in fruitless talk; the Indians demanded a payment down of $15 for every head then present; $15 for each child thereafter to be born forever; $50 each year for every chief; and other payments amounting to an additional $125,000 yearly, and that in addition to their reserves of land and the right to hunt and fish. They had a very high and just estimate of the value of the territory. They evidently supposed it contained the precious metals, as during the council a speaker in the poetic style peculiar to the Indians, exclaimed: "The sound of the rustling of gold is under my foot where I stand : we have a rich country: it is the Great Spirit who gave us this; where we stand upon is the Indians' property, and belongs to them."


The next treaty was the Qu'Appelle (Who calls) treaty, or No. Four, and is named from the Qu'Appelle Lakes, where it was made. The Indians treated with were the Cree and Saulteaux tribes, and by it 75,000 square miles of most valuable territory were secured. It included a portion of the far-famed "fertile belt," and was the first step taken to bring the Indians of that splendid terrritory into close relations with the Government. It extends from the westerly limits of No. Two, westerly along the American boundary about 350 miles, and runs in a north-east direction to the head of Lake Winnipegosis, about 300 miles north of the international boundary. In his report for 1875, the Hon. Mr. Laird, then Minister of the Interior, pays a high compliment to Mr. Morris, for he states "that it is due to the council to record the fact that the legislation and valuable suggestions submitted to Your Excellency from time to time, through their official head, Governor Morris, aided the Government not a little in the good work of laying the foundations of law and order in the North-West, in securing the good will of the Indian tribes, and in establishing the prestige of the Dominion. Government throughout that vast country."


A commission was next issued to Mr. Morris, Mr. Laird and Mr. Christie, a retired factor of the Hudson's Bay Company and a gentleman of large experience among the Indian tribes. These gentlemen met the Indians in September, 1874, at Lake Qu'Appelle , three hundred and fifty miles. nearly due west from Winnipeg, accompanied by an escort of militia under Col. Osborne Smith,. C.M.G. The Commissioners were met again by somewhat excessive demands, and their difficulties were intensified by the jealousies existing between the Crees and the Chippewas ; but through firmness, gentleness and tact they eventually succeeded in securing a treaty similar in terms to No. Three. The conference opened on the 8th September, and the first three days were entirely fruitless; the Indians seemed unwilling to begin serious work, for they were undecided among themselves and could not make up their minds. to put forward their speakers. On the fourth day, Mr. Morris addressed them for the fourth time, and his speech, as given in his volume upon the subject, shows the style of thought and language which was found effectual with these children of the forest. Mr. Morris subsequently made a similar treaty at Fort Ellice with a few Indians who could not attend at Qu'Appelle, and he also in July, 1876, settled troublesome difficulties which had arisen out of Treaties One and Two.


In September, 1875, the Winnipeg or No. Five treaty was concluded. This covers an area of about 100,000 square miles. The territory lies north of that covered by Nos. Two and Three. Its extreme northerly point is at Split Lake, about 450 miles north of Winnipeg , and its width is about 350 miles. The region is inhabited by Chippewas and Swampy Crees. A treaty had become urgently necessary. It includes a great part of Lake Winnipeg, a sheet of water three hundred miles in length, having a width of seventy miles. Red River empties into it, and Nelson River flows from it to Hudson's Bay. Steam navigation had been established on it before the treaty. A tramway of five miles was in course of construction to avoid the Grand Rapids, and connect that navigation with steam­ers on the River Saskatchewan. The Icelandic settlement, visited by Lord Dufferin, where he made one of his best speeches, was on the west side of the lake; and until the Pacific Railway supplied the want, this lake, with the Saskatchewan, was the thoroughfare between Manitoba and the more distant regions of the West. For these and other reasons the Minister of the In­terior reported that "it was essential that the Indian title to all the territory in the vicinity of the lake should be extinguished so that settlers and traders might have undisturbed access to its waters, shores, islands, inlets and tributary streams. Mr. Morris and the Hon. James Mc­Kay were thereupon appointed Commissioners to treat with the Indians. They performed the work partly in 1875, and it was concluded in 1876 by the Hon. Thos. Howard and Mr. J. L. Reid, under instructions from Mr. Morris. The treaty was made at Norway House, at the foot of the lake, and its terms were identical with those of Nos. Three and Four, except that the quantity of land given to the families was smaller, and the gratuity was reduced from twelve to five dollars per head.


The Treaties Nos. One, Two, Three, Four and Five comprised an area of about 290,000 miles; but there was still an immense unsurrendered tract lying east of the Rocky Mountains, between the American boundary and the 55th parallel, containing about 170,000 square miles, which it was essential should be immediately freed from the Indian title. This was effected by Treaties Nos. Six and Seven. No. Six was made at Forts Carleton and Pitt. The great region covered by it - or   rather by the two, forming together what is officially known as No. Six - embraces an area of about 120,000 square miles, and contains a vast extent of the most fertile lands of the North-West. The Crees were the owners of this magnificent territory. They had, ever since 1871, been uneasy about their lands, and had frequently expressed their desire to treat with the Government. The Hon. Mr. Mills, Minister of the Interior, in his Report for 1876, thus alludes to the matter:


"Official reports received last year from His Honour Governor Morris and Col. French, the officer then in command of the Mounted Police Force, and from other parties, showed that a feeling of discontent and uneasiness prevailed very generally amongst the Assiniboines and Crees lying in the unceded territory between Saskatchewan and the Rocky Mountains. This state of feeling, which had prevailed amongst these Indians for some time past, had been increased by the presence, last summer, in their territories, of the parties engaged in the construction of the tele­graph line, and also of a party belonging to the Geological Survey. To allay this state of feeling and to prevent the threatened hostility of the Indian tribes to the parties then employed by the Government, His Honour Governor Morris requested and obtained authority to despatch a messenger to convey to these Indians the assurance that Commissioners would be sent this sum­mer to negotiate a treaty with them, as had already been done with their brethren further east."


A commission was accordingly issued to Mr. Morris, the Hon. Mr. McKay and Mr. Christie. These gentlemen first met the Indians near Fort Carleton, on the Saskatchewan, in August, 1876, and succeeded in effecting a Treaty with the Plain and Wood Crees on the 23rd of that month and with the Willow Crees on the 27th. The negotiations were exceedingly difficult and protracted, and the temper, discretion and firmness of the Commissioners were put to the severest test. On the conclusion of the Treaty at Fort Carleton, the Commissioners proceeded to Fort Pitt, where they met with no further difficulty, and the Treaty was soon concluded. The Commissioners discovered amongst these Indians a strong desire for instruction in farming, and for missionary and educational aid.


Treaty No. Six extends from the westerly boundary of No. Five to the Rocky Mountains, a distance of about 600 miles, and from the north­ern boundaries of Nos. Seven and Four to the 55th parallel, the greatest width being about 300 miles. The projected route of the Canadian Pacific Railway passed through nearly its entire length. This was the last Treaty in which Mr. Morris took a part. His term of office expiring in 1878, he left Manitoba and returned to Ontario. A comparatively small territory, however, lying between the Rocky Mountains and Nos. Four and Six, was still unceded, and as it was important to obtain the Indian title as soon as possible, a commission was issued in 1877 for the purpose to the Hon. David Laird, then Lieutenant-Governor of the North-West Territories, and Lieut.-Col. McLeod of the Mounted Police Force. This region was occupied by the Blackfeet. They met the Commissioners at the Blackfoot crossing on the Bow River on the 17th September, 1877, and after five days of tedious pow-wowing, the Treaty No. Seven was concluded. The terms were substantially the same as those of Nos. Three and Four, except that, as some of the bands desired to engage in pastoral instead of agricultural pursuits, they were given cattle instead of farming implements. The Minister of the Interior well observed in his ensuing Report that "the conclusion of this Treaty with these warlike and intractable tribes, at a time when the Indians, immediately across the border, were engaged in open hostilities with the United States troops, is certainly a conclusive proof of the just policy of the Government of Canada towards the aboriginal population." To this Mr. Morris adds these significant words in his record of the work thus done : "And of the confidence of the Indians in the promises and just dealing of the servants of the British Crown in Canada - a confidence that can only be kept up by the strictest observance of the stipulations of the treaties."


One of the first Canadian Treaties of importance with the Indians was arranged in 1836 by Sir Francis Bond Head, then Lieut.-Governor of Upper Canada. By this arrangement a large number of the aborigines were located upon Manitoulin Island after having first renounced their territorial claims upon the mainland in favour of the Crown. The Treaty aroused much strong opposition at the time from missionaries and others, who claimed that justice had not been done to the red man, and that mission rights had been seriously interfered with. The views of the Lieut-Governor may be seen from the terms of the following despatch to Lord Glenelg, then Colonial Secretary:


" Toronto , 20th August, 1836.
Your Lordship is aware that my predecessor, Sir John Colborne, with a view to civilize and Christianize the Indians who inhabit the country north of Lake Huron, made arrangements for erecting certain buildings on the Great Manitoulin Island, and for delivering on this spot, to the visiting Indians, their presents for the present year. The instructions which I received from Your Lordship to counteract or defer these arrangements reached me too late to be acted upon; and it being impracticable to promulgate to the Indians that they were not to assemble there, I determined to proceed to the Island and attend the meeting.
I was five days going there in a canoe, and during that period, as well as during my return, had an opportunity of meandering through and living upon the islands which are on the north shore of Lake Huron, and which exceed in number 23,000. Although formed of granite, they are covered with various trees growing in the interstices of the rock, and with several descriptions of berries, upon which Indians feed ; the surrounding waters abound in fish. On arriving at the Great Manitoulin Island, where I was received by 1,500 Indians who had assembled for their presents, I found that this Island, as well as those I had mentioned, belong (under the Crown) to the Chippewa and Ottawa Indians, and that it would therefore be necessary to obtain their permission before we could avail ourselves of them for the benefit of other tribes.
Although I did not approve of the responsibility as well as the expense of attracting, as had been proposed, the wild Indians from the country north of Lake Huron to Manitoulin; yet it was evident to me that we should reap a very great benefit, if we could persuade those Indians who are now impeding the progress of civilization in Upper Canada to resort to a place possessing the double advantage of being admirably adapted to them (inasmuch as it affords fishing, hunting, bird-shooting and fruit), and yet in no way adapted to the white population. Many Indians have long been in the habit of living in their canoes among these islands, and from them, from every inquiry I could make, and from my own observations, I felt convinced that a vast benefit would be conferred both upon the Indians arid the Province by prevailing upon them to migrate to this place.
I accordingly explained my views in private interviews which I had with the Chiefs, and I then appointed a Grand Council, at which they should all assemble to discuss the subject, and deliberately to declare their opinions. When the day arrived, I addressed them at some length, and explained to them, as clearly as I was able, their real interests, to which I found them very sensibly alive. The Indians had previously assembled to deliberate upon the subject and had appointed one of their greatest orators to reply to me. The individual selected was Sigonah (the Blackbird), celebrated among them for having on many public occasions spoken without once stopping from sunrise till sunset.
Nothing could be more satisfactory than the calm, deliberate manner in which the Chief gave, in the name of the great Ottawa tribe, his entire approval of my projects; and as the Chippewas and Ottawas thus consented to give up the twenty-three thousand Islands, and as the Saugeens also consented to give up a million and a half of acres, adjoining the lands of the Canada Company, I thought it advisable that a short, plain memorandum should be drawn up, explanatory of the foregoing arrangements, to be signed by the Chiefs while in council, and witnessed by the Church of England, Catholic and Methodist clergymen who were present, as well as by the several officers of His Majesty's Government.
I enclose to Your Lordship a copy of this most important document, which, with a wampum attached to it, was executed in duplicate ; one copy remaining with me, the other being deposited with a Chief selected by the various tribes for that purpose. Your Lordship will at once perceive that the document is not in legal form but our dealings with the Indians have been only in equity, and I was therefore anxious to show that the transaction had been equitably explained to them. The surrender of the Saugeen territory has long been a desideratum in the Province, and it is now especially important, as it will appear to be the first fruits of the political tranquility which has been attained. I feel confident that the Indians, when settled by us in the manner I have detailed, will be better off than they were ; that the position they will occupy can bona fide be fortified against the encroachments of the whites; while, on the other hand, there can be no doubt that the acquisition of their vast and fertile territory will be hailed with joy by the whole Province.
I have etc.,
(Signed) F. B. HEAD."


The system of annual presents to the Indians was maintained as a sort of distribution of bounty from the British Sovereign during a prolonged period beginning with the events of the American Revolution. It was not entirely discontinued until Confederation, in 1867, and must have involved a very heavy total expenditure. It was, until about 1841, entirely an Imperial affair, but after that time the presents were given mainly from the income of Crown Lands received from, or held in trust for, the Indians. In 1836 the cost of these gifts was £8,500 in Upper Canada and £4,000 in Lower Canada . They consisted usually of blankets, clothing, guns and trinkets, and were looked forward to by the Indians with great anticipation not only as a source of comfort but as a reward for their services in war and a pledge of continued British friendship. In 1837 a Committee of the Executive Council of Lower Canada, composed of the Hon. Messrs. Smith, De Lacy, Stewart, and Cochran, was appointed to examine into the workings of the Indian Department, and reported to the Governor - Lord Gosford - upon this particular point as follows:


"The Committee, therefore, deem it their duty to express in the strongest manner their conviction that good faith, justice and humanity alike forbid the discontinuance of the presents until the Indians shall be raised to a capacity of maintaining themselves on an equality with the rest of the population of the Province. Although the Indians have no express agreement with the king's Government, to refer to which entitles them to a continuance of this kind and extent of support, the whole tenor of the conduct observed towards them since the year 1759 has led them to such an expectation ; nor were there wanting public acts to confirm it, for besides their having been at all times treated by the British Government as allies or dependents in the continental wars since that period, by the Royal Proclamation of 1763 the lands held or claimed by them within the Province of Quebec were in a special manner taken under the administration of the Crown for their benefit, and such particular precautions were enjoined with respect to the disposal of them as showed that the Crown felt itself bound to secure to the Indians their ordinary means of subsistence."


Writing to Lord Glenelg on July 13th, 1837 , the Earl of Gosford thus referred to the Report just quoted :

"The Committee, in advising against the discontinuance of the presents at any early period, do not so much advert to their actual value to the Indians, though to them that value is not inconsiderable, as to the moral effect of the system on their character and habits ; and they are firmly impressed with the belief that no extensive change of those habits can be counted upon in that part of the present generation of Indians who have grown up to manhood, and from these the presents ought not to be withdrawn, unless in those rare individual cases where Indians may have applied themselves to industry, and have become independent of such aid."


On August 22nd, 1838 , Lord Glenelg, Colonial Secretary, in a letter to the Earl of Durham, summed up his views regarding the necessity of Imperial control over the aborigines:


" I. It should be regarded as a fixed principle in any arrangements that may be made regarding the Indians, that their concerns must be continued under the exclusive care and superintendence of the Crown. My meaning cannot be better expressed than in the words of the Committee: 'They think it right to observe, in general, that in the recommendations which they have offered they assume tha the Indians must continue to be, as they have hitherto been, under the peculiar care and management of the Crown, to which, whether under French or English dominion, they have been taught exclusively to look for paternal protection in compensation for the rights and independence which they have lost. Until circumstances make it expedient that they should be turned over by the Crown to the Provincial Legislature and receive Legislative provision and care, the Committee conceive that all arrangements with respect to them must be made under the immediate direction of Her Majesty's Government, and carried into effect under the supervision of officers appointed by it.'
2. It is to be regretted that in the proposals made to the Assemblies of the different Provinces respecting the cession of the Crown revenues, in return for a fixed civil list, some stipulation was not introduced securing a portion of the annual revenues for the social and religious improvement of the Indians. In those cases, as in Upper and Lower Canada , where the negotiations will have to begin de novo , it may be right to insert some provision to that effect ; for in such cases it is clearly open to the Crown to vary or add to the terms of the proposal. But even where it is too late to take this step, I have no doubt that an appeal to the justice and liberality of the Local Legislature in behalf of the Indians would meet with a cordial and efficient return.
3. I would in the same spirit deal with the question of lands for the Indians. However rigidly the rules respecting the disposal of lands may be observed in general, and it is necessary to observe them with the utmost strictness, yet if in any case it be for the clear advantage of the Indians to depart from those rules, the departure ought without hesitation to be sanctioned."

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Source : J. Castell HOPKINS, Canada. An Encyclopaedia of the Country, Vol. 1, Toronto, The Linscott Publishing Company, 1898, 540p., pp. 272-278.

© 2005 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College