The Canadian Prairie Province – Indians

WHEN the famous bargain was made, in 1870, between the Imperial and Canadian Governments and the Hudson Bay Company, which, in so far as that corporation’s questionable title was concerned, added three millions of square miles to the area of the Dominion, it was not an estate without incumbrance that we got.

The Company still retained their forts, trading posts, and certain important reserves ; and as to the twentieth part of each township, we had to settle the claims of the Indian owners, survey, and then hand it over in fee to the Company. The rights of old settlers under agreements with the Company were also respected and confirmed, and, indeed, in many cases much enlarged. These were mainly in regard to farms facing the Red and Assiniboine rivers. The people of mixed blood then raised further claims. Their half-brothers, the Indians had also a paramount title which none disputed. The efforts of the Government have been unceasing in examining and disposing of all these claims, and, thus far, marked with eminent success. Let us first refer to the Indians. The first treaty made with them since Lord Selkirk induced the Crees and Chippewas to cede the ” Old Settlers’ Belt,” in 1817, was effected by Governor Archibald in 1871, and included all the Province of Manitoba. The Indians dealt with were 3,374 of the last-named tribes. Next, a great tract lying north and west of the Province, and inhabited by less than 1,000 Chippewas, was ceded. On the 3rd of October, 1873, a third treaty was made at the north-west angle of the Lake of the Woods with the Saulteaux tribe of Ojibways, inhabiting the country between Manitoba and Ontario, said to number 3,000. By this treaty 55,000 square miles, now forming the Kewatin District, were secured for settlement, railway and lumbering purposes. This was most important, as the railway to connect Thunder Bay and Red River will pass through this region; so does also the Dawson route. It has most valuable timber and mineral deposits, which are thus opened to enterprise. On the 15th of September, 1874, a fourth treaty was made at Qu’Appelle Lakes, by which 75,000 square miles were ceded. The Indians concerned were about 3,000 Crees, Saulteaux and mixed breeds. The lands in this treaty extend from those in the second treaty to the South Saskatchewan River and Cypress Hills on the west, the Red Deer River on the north, and the United States boundary on the south.

By a fifth treaty, made in the fall of 1875, the Indian title to the territory east of Lake Winnipegosis, and on either side of Lake Winnipeg, has been extinguished. The Governor and party making this treaty went from the Stone Fort through Lake Winnipeg in October. We take the following from his Report :—” The journey is of interest, as having been the first occasion on which a steam vessel entered the waters of ` Berens River’ and of the ` Nelson River,’ the waters of which river fall into the Hudson Bay, and as having demonstrated the practicability of direct steam navigation through a distance of 360 miles from the City of Winnipeg to ` Norway House.’ I may mention here that the prevalence of timber suitable for fuel and building purposes, of lime and sandstone, of much good soil, and natural hay lands on the west shore of the Lake, together with the great abundance of white fish, sturgeon and other fish in the Lake, will ensure, ere long, a large settlement.” As the lands lying between those in the third treaty and the Province of Ontario were granted previously, it will be seen that in the immense tract of the North-West, from Thunder Bay to Cypress Hills, with Manitoba in the centre, the Indians have been peace-ably dealt with, and little or no cause of uneasiness need be feared from them. On the contrary, they will be found, whether hunting, acting as guides, wandering over the plains, or on their reserves learning the arts of civilization, while fairly dealt with, and paid their annual allowances honestly, the friends of the white population. It is certainly matter for congratulation that this great and valuable territory, more extensive in area than many European States, has been thus happily incorporated with the older provinces of the Dominion.*

In negotiating treaties, the Lieutenant-Governor is the chief commissioner. He is generally accompanied by Hon. Mr. Christie, Mr. S. J. Dawson, or Col. J. A. N. Provencher, Indian Commissioner in Manitoba, instructed direct from Ottawa, and by some half-breed gentlemen, such as Hon. James McKay, Mr. Charles Nolin, and Mr. Pierre Levailler, who can speak the languages, and have had frequent dealings with the aborigines. A company of troops from Fort Osborne, at Winnipeg, go as escort. The red man takes a long time to talk, retire, hold council, and pow-wow before he can be brought to terms. The items of former treaties are known and discussed all over the territory. Debates in Parliament, and controversies as to them in the leading papers, are carried to the chiefs by their educated half-breed friends, and the orators of the aborigines come prepared with data to support argument.

The terms of the treaty being agreed on, are reduced to writing, explained to the recognised chiefs of bands by interpreters, and signed by all concerned. That made at the North-West Angle is so signed by Kee-ta-kay-pi-nais and twenty-three brother chiefs, all making their marks. The Indians sometimes evince a brotherly regard for their

Since the first four treaties were made, it has been discovered that the tribes dealt with were larger than then supposed, and an addition of one-fifth may be made to the numbers stated half-breed relations, and stipulate that hunting ground privileges be secured by treaty to them. At the Qu’Appelle negotiations, these Cree and Saulteaux children of the plains showed that they had been considering the Hudson Bay Company’s affairs, and found as much difficulty to understand why they got the £300,000 from Canada as many of our readers have experienced. It was, in fact, their national grievance. ” They claimed,” says Governor Morris, ” that the sum paid to the Company should be paid to them.” He adds that he explained the nature of the arrangement with the Company, and their further demand, also objected to, for a valuable reserve in the territory of these tribes. It appears that the pow-wow was then adjourned, and that it took three days after his Honour’s explanations were given for these simple folk to discuss and understand British justice. We can imagine the earnest bands collecting by their tent fires at the Calling Waters, harangued by the Cree chief, ” Loud Voice,” and the Saulteaux Mee-may, on the same theme as had been discussed by our statesmen at Westminster and Ottawa ten years ago. The Crees for a time refused to treat, but the Saulteaux were more good-natured and came to terms.

The commissioners congratulated themselves that they had a good escort under Colonel Osborne Smith. They were far from home, surrounded by many hundred barbarians in their native wilds, each tribe jealous of the other. The Crees were very cross, and showed knives and pistols ; but at last, influenced by example, and by half-breeds favourable to the Company, they also by their chiefs joined in the indenture.

In an interesting narrative by an eye-witness of these proceedings, we gather the following as to the main point discussed ; the Indians said, ” A year ago these people (the Company) drew lines and measured and marked the land as their own why was this ? We own the land, the Manitou gave it to us. There was no bargain ; they stole from us and now they steal from you. When they were small the Indians treated them with love and kindness ; now there is no withstanding them, they are first in everything.” Governor Morris asked, ” Who made all men the Manitou. It is not stealing to make use of His gifts.’

The Indian Pah-tah-kay-we-nin, replied thus beautifully, ” True, even I, a child, know that God gives us land in different places, and when we meet together as friends, we ask from each other and do not quarrel as we do so.” Says the narrator, ” State policy not philanthrophy, and that briefly, will effect philanthrophy’s noblest work the teeming and hardly used peoples of the Old World will here find a home, their moiety and fee even as their life so plain that in the beautiful words of Pah-tah-kaywe-nin, ‘ Even I who am a little child know that.’ It was done, a little crowding the low-toned voices and laughter of the Indians, a touch of the pen and an empire changed hands ! ”

The Saulteaux and Ojibways or Chippewas take their names from the skill with which they guide canoes making them leap over the rapids.

The scene, when treaty-making is going on, is often highly picturesque and the speeches abound in imagery. We can give space for but one other example. At the conclusion of the treaty at the North-West Angle referred to as related by Governor Morris, Ma-we-do-pi-nias came forward, drew off his glove and spoke as follows :

” Now you see me stand before you all, what has been done here to-day has been done openly before the Great Spirit, and before the nation, and I hope that I may never hear any one say that this treaty has been done secretly, and now, in closing this Council, I take off my glove, and in giving you my hand, I deliver over my birth-right and lands, and in taking your hand, I hold fast all the promises you have made, and I hope they will last as long as the sun goes round and the water flows.” To which the Governor replied, ” I accept your hand, and with it the lands, and will keep all my promises in the firm belief that the treaty now to be signed will bind the red man and the white man together as friends forever.”

Each treaty provides that one or more reserves, generally of sufficient area to allow a square mile to each family of five, shall be set apart for the tribe ; each chief gets a pre-sent of some coveted articles, and about $25 or so per annum. Each head man receives about $15 and every other man, woman and child a less sum also clothing, powder and shot to each band. Each chief receives a flag, and a medal which must not be of base metal or it will be refused with disdain. Medals so given have descended as heirlooms from father to son for several generations one such is now said to be held by Pahtahquahong Chase, an hereditary Chief of the Ojibway Nation, and President of the Grand Council of Indians of Ontario, who is a clergyman, and, on a recent visit to Paris, preached in the English chapel. His grandfather received from George III. a silver medal, which has now descended to his grandson. When the Prince of Wales visited Canada, this Chief read to him the address prepared by the Indians. Those who work on their reserves are also given farming implements, seed, and cattle sufficient to start them in husbandry. It is also provided that a school be established in each reserve as soon as it can be practically sustained and attended. The introduction and sale of intoxicating liquors is strictly prohibited.

Some bands, says Colonel Provencher, have made astonishing progress, particularly if we consider the means at their command. One half, at least, of the bands at St. Peter and Pembina, near the Red River, Fort Alexander, on Lake Winnipeg, and Fairford, above the ” Narrows ” of Lake Manitoba, are at present addicted to agriculture, and are sufficiently civilized to warrant us in believing that in fifteen or twenty years they will be able to do without assistance from Government—(Report of Department of Interior for 1874, page 56). The importance of this work to Manitoba and to the cause of humanity makes it proper to consider Colonel Provencher’s interesting report for the year 1875 as to two of the bands.

He refers thus to that settled near the mouth of the Red River :

” The band at St. Peters is the most numerous, the best settled, and most progressive of all the bands which have been party to Treaty No. 1. It numbers 1,943 souls, and their reserve is of 15,200 acres in area. More than half of the band consists of half-breeds, for many years settled on the banks of the Red River, who compose the Parish of St. Peters. There are in that parish 130 proprietors of 15,000 acres of land, of which about 2,000 are under cultivation ; 120 houses, valued at $30,000, and 190 other buildings, having an approximate value of $28,500. Moreover, 55 families are settled outside of the reserve, where they have their farms, houses, &c. The balance of the band, to the amount of 160 families, make a living from hunting, fishing and voyaging. The first of these occupations has the least to do with the resources of those Indians. Fishing, though not the element of a large trade, con-tributes, nevertheless, to the support of a great many families at a time of the year when they would lack all other means to procure the necessaries of life.”

As to the Fort Alexander band, he states :

This band numbers 506 persons, settled at the mouth of the Winnipeg River. Their reserve, surveyed during the Fall of 1873, embraces 7,500 acres, on both sides of the river. They have made remarkable progress, if consideration is taken of their isolated position, and of the want of communications with the settlements of the Province, who could have set them an example. These Indians have no less than 45 houses, well and strongly built, of the value of $12,000, and farm about 1,000 acres of land. They have not as yet suffered from that ruinous plague, the grasshoppers. For many years they have had a school, originally supported by the Missionary Society of the Church of England, and at present by the Indian Department. This one school not being sufficient for the requirements of teaching, principally on account of the extent of the reserve, they have built another school-house in the hope that the Government would assist them as well in the finishing of the building as in the payment of the teacher’s salary. From last accounts, about 36 children attended the school already established, and 30 more are of age to attend the other school when built.”

The estimated expense of the Indian Department of Manitoba and the North-West for the financial year ending with June, 1876, is $180,000. For the following year it is calculated by the Department that $249,000 will be required, which will include $80,000 for expenses in connection with proposed new treaties-$5,000 to procure farming implements for the Sioux, and a small sum to aid in publishing a Chippewa grammar or dictionary. When we consider the extent of the valuable territory peaceably secured and opened to the immigrant, it will be admitted that the sum payable, and all pains that can be employed in civilizing and Christianizing these aborigines will form but a trifle compared with the value to accrue to our own and future generations. The Government has now agents in the farther West, sounding the Peigans, Blackfeet, Crees, Stonies and other tribes, and preparing the way for treaty and civilization. One of these, a well-known missionary of the Wesleyan Church, writing, in October, 1875, from Bow River, near the Rocky Mountains, stated that he had been travelling on the prairie for three months, had visited 497 tents, including nearly 4,000 natives, all of whom, with one exception, received the Governor’s message with gratitude, and will anxiously await the coming of the Commissioners. This gentleman, the Rev. George McDougall, refered, in his letters, in the highest terms to the behaviour and utility of the mounted police ; also glowingly described the rich valley of the Bow River, and its attraction to American traders who are reaping rich harvests from its furs.

As the letter referred to is in many respects important and interesting, we will make some extracts from it, thus :

” Near the confluence of the Red Deer and Bow Rivers, I found the Plain Assiniboine camp, numbering seventy tents, a people speaking the same language as our Mountain Stonies. They appeared greatly delighted with our visit, and expressed astonishment when I told them that I had a son living among their kinsmen of the mountains, and that numbers of them could read the Great Spirit’s Book.

” I found that on several points the Indians were quite united. 1st. That they would receive no presents from the Government until a time for treaty was appointed. 2nd. Although they all seemed anxious to avoid collision with the white man, yet they expressed a firm resolve to oppose the introduction of telegraph lines and the making of roads ; and such was the state of the native mind that a rash act on the part of a white man, or some slight depredation committed by an Indian, would have involved the whole country in an Indian war. But to the credit of the poor red men let it be written, that no sooner was the Queen’s message read and explained to them than they said : ” That is all we wanted.” If the intelligent public only knew the false reports that have been invented and circulated by interested white men, who, reckless of all consequencos, would delight in involving the Government in a war between races, they would not be surprised at the vitiated state of the Indians.

“A great change has come over the scene in the last fifteen months. Men of business had found it to their interest to establish themselves on the banks of our beautiful river. A stock raiser from across the mountains had arrived with several hundred head of cattle. And now on the very hills, where two years ago I saw herds of buffalo, the domestic cattle gently graze, requiring neither shelter nor fodder from their master all the year round.”

It is with unfeigned sorrow that we have learned, since penning the above, of the sad end of this worthy servant of the church and state. About the 25th of January, 1876, his horse came riderless to the camp; but the missionary had perished in the severe cold of a snow storm. Mr. McDougall was universally esteemed, and had great knowledge of the West and influence with the native tribes. He was a Scotchman, and at his death about fifty-five years of age, during early life he was in mercantile business. His ministerial career began in 180, at Rice Lake Indian Mission, near Cobourg, Ontario. He was afterwards at Garden River and Rama Settlements, In 1860 he went to Rossville Mission, at the North end of Lake Winnipeg, and remained in the North-West till his death. As the Indians retreated with the buffalo, he followed, going to the Saskatchewan in 1864 and opening new fields for missionary enterprise. He had great faculty for learning the different Indian dialects, and had all the attributes of a hunter and pioneer. He was at home in the saddle or the smoky tent, among the red men, who had confidence and regard, amounting to love for him. This he fully returned. When the small-pox decimated whole tribes, in the terrible manner described by Butler and other travellers, he and his family did not shrink from their duty. Three of his own house-hold were cut off and he himself bore the marks of the disease till his death. The tale of this part of the devoted missionary’s career is full of touching incidents, such as would move the most hard-hearted to sympathy. His name will, in the future history of missionary zeal, be coupled with that of Livingstone. His career in the North-West gained the commendation of Lieutenant-Governor Morris and of the Minister of the Interior and the Premier, who have all referred to it in late reports and addresses. Mr. McDougall intended, it is said, on the close of his important pioneer work, to return to Ontario, to which a host of friends, of all denominations, would have welcomed him ; but his familiar face will not again be met in our streets. At the Council Chambers in the West, his clear and unbiassed judgment will be missed, and those who used to call for it will sigh as they say,

” His voice is silent in your Council Hall For ever.”

From the report of the Minister of the Interior, laid before Parliament in February, 1876, we find that the number of British Indians in Manitoba, the North-West, and Kewatin, now under treaty, is 13,944. Those not yet treated with are : in Rupert’s Land, 5,170 ; from Peace River to the United States, 10,000. There are also 1,450 Sioux, who are part of that once great nation, and in 1863 fled to our territory from Minnesota, and will be referred to again in chapter XIV. They have caused uneasiness at Portage La Prairie. A reserve was assigned to them on the Little Saskatchewan and inducements offered to them to settle there, but they in 1875 and the previous year complained that the locusts had destroyed their little crops and came to the region near Lake Manitoba, to fish and gain subsistence by occasionally working, begging, or worse resorts, among the settlers. It will probably be necessary to induce them to remove from the settlement in order to quiet the uneasiness of the whites. They are feared as much for the havoc which they and their confederates have wrought in the quiet villages of Minnesota, as for the pilfering habits that are now their chief cause of annoyance. They are, however, regarded as in physique and intelligence the best specimens of the race to be met with. There are other Sioux farther west in our territory who are on as friendly terms with the Government as could be desired. The love for intoxicants is deep and prevalent in this unfortunate race. They eagerly swallow the vilest decoctions, and barter all they have for rum. Next to this is their passion for gambling. Thus occupied, they become greatly excited, and pass hour after hour till every article possessed, the last blanket, hatchet, knife, or mocassin, is gone. A striking picture by Mr. F. A. Verner, of Toronto, which our readers may see at the ‘ Centennial,’ thus represents a party of Ojibway Indians engaged. The scene is laid near Fort Frances, in the Kewatin district. The players have no cards. A few balls in the closed hand are used instead, and the game is ” guess how many.”


The Act of 1870, which constituted the government of Manitoba, reserved lands to the extent of 1,400,000 acres for the benefit of the families of the half-breed residents. It was also provided that each head of a family of this class should have 160 acres, and each child then born 190 acres of land granted to him or her. As surveys were proceeded with, provision was made for this demand but no grants have yet been actually made.

Various difficulties arose ; some half breeds were found to be living with Indians, having the same habits, and claiming pensions and other government .aid as members of tribes, which was inconsistent with their claims as half breeds. Wearied with the delay and too often improvident, many of the half-breeds have signed agreements now held in hundreds by Winnipeg merchants and speculators there and elsewhere, purporting to barter away this their birthright. The price given was generally small, seldom more than S40 and that in truck or barter. Government has decided to grant the lands direct, to those entitled under the Act, leaving them to settle the matter as they may with the holders of the assignments. The Provincial Legislature also enacted that such assignments are to be of validity only as giving liens on the land when granted for the amount paid and interest. Last summer two gentlemen were appointed commissioners to make personal investigation and report the names of all half-breeds en-titled to grants. As soon as these lands have been conveyed, their sale and purchase will be extensively and legitimately carried on. An unlimited choice of the finest land at low price and with only such burden in respect of settlement duties as the Government may see fit to impose for the protection of the country from too excessive speculation, will be offered’. These commissioners, Messrs. Matthew Ryan and J. M. Machar made their report in the autumn of 1875, and patents will no doubt soon be issued to all entitled, who are of sufficiently mature age, and proper provision will be made as to minors. Mr. Machar favours me with some interesting data, the result of his observation and enquiry as follows.

The total number of the Manitoba Metis, of all extractions, is about 10,000 ; of French origin somewhat over half ; of the rest, the Scotch number about five-sixths ; English, Irish and others, one sixth. The Scotch were principally from Orkney, some from Caithness and Sutherland. About two-thirds of the race are engaged in farm-mg of a rude and unskilful kind, on the banks of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers. Nearly one thousand of the Manitoba half-breeds have already moved Westward and may be found near Carlton, Qu’Appelle, St. Laurent, Edmonton and Prince Albert ; so that their number in the Province is, after making allowance for natural in-crease, certainly no greater than in 1870. As to Religion they were then classed thus—

Roman Catholics 5,000

Church of England 4,300

Presbyterians 700

About one-third are trappers, boaters, coureurs des bois’ voyageurs and Hudson Bay employees. Five per cent. of the whole live like Indians the rest ” like Christians.” The Indian physique generally preponderates, but this is less marked in those of Scotch and English parentage. Mr. Machar thinks that in longevity they are on as high a level as whites, and that the amount of lunacy, idiocy, illegitimacy and crime among them is less in proportion than in most civilized countries. There seems little more absorption or amalgamation of blood now among them. They are so large a community that there is ample opportunity for intermarriage among themselves, and marriages of whites and Indians are at present of rai e occurrence.

The Metis present a strange mixture of complexions, from the fair skin and soft curling locks of a Northern European origin, to the dingy hue and straight black hair of the Indians. Their language is as various as their origin, a curious medley of Chippewa, Cree, French, Gaelic and English. They move across the plains in long pro-cessions with ox and pony carts, the creaking of whose unoiled wooden axles is heard a mile off, with the discipline of a caravan, and in garbs which show the Indian and European taste commingled. When the buffalo sea-sons arrive captains of parties are chosen, and all go together in strict discipline, having rules which are carefully enforced to avoid surprise from treacherous Indians, and to combine all means in the hunt of the great bison. The usual place of rendezvous was White Horse Post, near the south end of Lake Manitoba, whence the gay cavalcade of men, women and children, with carts and innumerable dogs, would start out. An interesting writer says of this race :—” Nomadic as to one half of his origin, pastoral and agricultural as to the other, a hunter by his Indian blood, a citizen from his European instincts, thrifty, indolent, staid, mercurial, as father or mother predominates in his nature, the Red River half-breed has a story as curious as any which while away the winter nights in the chimney corner of his ancestral Highland home.” Back from the hunt, none so happy as he, the robes are sold, the pemmican stored away, and then comes the gay season, with its music and merry dance and song. The half-breeds live generally on amicable terms with the Indians, are social and hospitable, and are to a considerable extent educated. As the carrying facilities of the country are developed, and a steady market for grain and other farm produce is created, they will no doubt settle down to a much greater extent as agriculturists and graziers than they have ever yet had inducements to do, as have al-ready Mr. Pierre Delorme and many other intelligent men of his class, the names of some of whom are mentioned as farmers on the banks of the Assiniboine. Heretofore the chase has been to them a necessity as well as a pas-time, which they pursued with wonderful success. They have now, to secure the buffalo, to go to a distance of from three to five hundred miles west of Red River, and in a few years, so great is the wanton destruction of that animal, that unless some decisive means for preservation be adopted, it will be practically out of reach of those who desire to adhere to homes and attachments in Manitoba. It is estimated that fully 160,000 buffalo have annually been killed for some years past. None have been seen east of Red River since about 1865. It should not be forgotten that the mixture of Indian blood is by no means confined to the Nor’-West. Factors, partners, commanders and other officers of the great companies, who took native wives, have for ages, on retiring from active life, settled in our older provinces, where they and their descendants are often met with in the circles of wealth, influence and respectability, the offspring showing the maternal origin in their bois-brulé complexion, dark eyes and straight falling hair. We find, too, that miscegenation has gradually but certainly taken place among all the tribes, settled on reserves near centres of civilization. Many of the Iroquois at Caughnawaga, opposite Lachine, and elsewhere on the St. Lawrence, have as much the appearance of French Canadians as of Indians.