Global Context To The Military Exemption Assurance In Treaty 8

By Wendy Aasen



As attested to by the many papers presented at this conference, a large part of treaty research is practical research which focuses on historical documents, linking them to the resolution of the practical problems that are significant today. The bulk of my own research has been directed by First Nations communities and organizations, many in the Treaty 8 region, to address issues of current importance.

This paper, Global Context to the Military Exemption Assurance in Treaty 8, is the first research which I have conducted on Treaty 8 that, thankfully, has no current practical application whatsoever. I say thankfully, because military exemption has not been an issue in Canada for 55 years, and this, perhaps, accounts for both the lack of interest in, and information on, this issue.

The paper is divided into four main sections. The first contains a general discussion of the global context relevant to understanding why Dene and Cree Indians may have demanded military exemption in 1899. Section two, ties this context to the requests of treaty negotiators for military exemption in the Treaty 8 region. The third section examines access to information to show that information of global importance was available to the communities in the treaty area. It also shows that Indian people would be interested in global information and were actively seeking information in 1899. The fourth section examines some of the questions and implications arising from the use of a larger approach to treaty research.


Global Context Prior To The Negotiation Of Treaty 8

What was happening in the world, prior to treaty, that may have affected the treaty negotiations?

At the time, and for seventy-five years before, Great Britain ruled the seas, with a fleet capable of blocking every major port in the world. Tuchman (1985:64-65) uses Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee to illustrate British imperialism at its peak:

Not since Rome had the imperial dominion been flung as wide as Britain’s now. It extended over a quarter of the land surface of the world, and on June 22,1897, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, it’s living evidence marched in splendid ranks to the Thanksgiving service at St. Paul’s. The occasion being designed to celebrate the imperial family under the British Crown, none of the foreign kings who had assisted at the Golden Jubilee in 1887 were this time invited. In their place, carriages of state carried the eleven colonial premiers of Canada, New Zealand, the Cape Colony, Natal, Newfoundland and the six states of Australia. In the parade rode cavalry from every quarter of the globe: the Cape Mounted Rifles, the Canadian Hussars, the New South Wales Lancers, the Trinidad Light Horse, the magnificent turbaned and bearded Lancers of Khapurthala, Badnagar and other Indian states, the Zaptichs of Cyprus in tasseled fezzes on black-maned ponies. Dark-skinned infantry regiments, “terrible and beautiful to behold,” in a fantasy of variegated uniforms: the Borneo Dyak Police, the Jamaica Artillery, the Royal Nigerian Constabulary, giant Sikhs from India, Houssas from the Gold Coast, Chinese from Hong Kong, Malays from Singapore, Negroes from the West Indies, British Guiana and Sierra Leone; company after company passed before a dazzled people, awestruck at the testimony of their own might. At the end of the procession in an open state landau drawn by eight cream horses came the day’s central figure, a tiny person in black with cream-colored feathers nodding from her bonnet. The sun shone, bright banners rippled in the breeze, lampposts were decked in flowers and along six miles of streets millions of happy people cheered and waved in an ecstasy of love and pride.

Euphoric nationalism, Jingoism(1), prevailed among all western world powers and was the theme of Kipling’s poem Recessional, inspired by, and published widely following, the jubilee as a warning to the world.(2)

Kipling, the poet of the Empire, was a loud proponent of British imperialism. He captured the spirit of the times in his poem The White Man’s Burden reminding the United States of her obligation to improve and civilize Indigenous people of the Philippines following U.S. conquest there.(3)

Social Darwinism and Manifest Destiny were prominent ideologies in the 1890s (see Kiernan 1982:1650, Penlington 1965:870). Tuchman (1985:xv-xvi) writes of the period 1890-1914:

The period was not a Golden Age. . . . It was not a time of confidence, innocence, comfort, stability, security and peace. . . . A phenomenon of such malignance as the Great War does not come out of a Golden Age.

Tuchman (1985:xvi-xvii) describes the period of her work as one of accelerated industrialism, “bursting with new tensions and accumulated energies” as the result of dramatic change in the areas of “transportation, communications, production, manufacture and weaponry multiplied a thousandfold by the energy of machine.” Industrialization resulted in new tensions including over-crowding in cities, a rise in relative poverty and class antagonisms. The world at the turn of the century (which had experienced relative peace for approximately 40 years) was becoming increasingly unstable. This instability was accompanied by uprisings in the colonies and in rising tensions between world powers.(4)

In the period 1898-1899, Britain was again attempting to quash uprisings in the Sudan.(5) War was imminent in South Africa as the Boers and Uitlanders competed first for gold and later for diamonds.(6)

The period 1898-1899 saw the Spanish American War; and a euphoric mood in the United States, after breaking with isolationism.(7) Linked to U.S. expansion in the Philippines, were disputes involving the U.S., Great Britain, and Germany over Samoa. Great Britain and France were in a near state of war over colonization of Africa (Fashoda), and Germans, Belgians and Italians were also competing to maintain, or increase, control in Africa. France was on the brink of revolution over revision in the Dreyfuss affair; and 1899 saw a serious coup attempt. In China, every world power was competing for territorial and economic occupation rights, leading shortly after the signing of Treaty 8 to the Boxer Rebellion.(8) The United States was involved with the “Venezuela Incident,” a border dispute with Britain. Britain was concerned about the defense of Canada in the event of an Anglo-American war (Preston 1967:246) and Canada and the U.S. were involved in a border dispute resulting from the influx of American miners to the Yukon (Preston 1967:244, Penlington 1965:81-98).

Germany, with a very large army, made clear its intention to challenge British commercial superiority and mastery of the seas, and started building ships in order to safeguard its food supply and to challenge Great Britain for world domination (Taylor 1957:372). This sparked an arms race between Britain, France, the United States, Russia, Japan, and Germany. The world was becoming armed to the teeth, and the armies of Europe were “swollen by conscription” (Preston 1967:204) which had spread to all continental European countries in the 19th century after the Napoleonic Wars.(9)

Immigrants were leaving Europe in relatively large numbers, and 1897 showed an unprecedented increase in Galician immigration to Canada, because of political, social, and religious oppression and economic depression (Kaye 1964:102).(10) While Russia had been a haven for conscientious objectors to warfare, mandatory military service was reintroduced and applied to conscientious objectors who were imprisoned for not complying.(11) In 1899, 6,000 Doukhobors came to Canada and formed three colonies with 47 villages (Epp 1974:315). Doukhobor settlement was allowed without taking the oath normally required by the Homestead Act and their pacifism was recognized by order-in-council in 1899.(12)

Mennonites came to Canada and settled in Manitoba and the Northwest Territories after 1891. After 1898 they came in increased numbers to what is now Alberta. Special concessions were granted by Canada to allow for separate schools under church supervision. Hutterites, left the United States as the result of the Spanish American War, and settled for a brief period of time in Manitoba. They sought and obtained from Canada the right to establish colonies and to be exempt from military duty (Epp 1974:316).

The first Hague Peace Conference, initiated by the Czar of Russia, met in May 1899 with 100 delegates, from countries all over the world including the United States, Mexico, China, Japan, Persia and Siam. Twenty-one European powers were represented. Tuchman (1985:293) points out that a number of animosities existed before the beginning of the conference:

China and Japan, Turkey and Greece, Spain and the United States had just finished wars; Britain and the Transvaal were warming up to one which threatened to break out at any moment. As host nation and ardent supporters of the Boers, the Dutch almost strangled the Conference before it could be born by demanding invitations for the Transvaal and the Orange Free State. Turkey objected to the inclusion of Bulgaria, and Italy threatened to bolt if inclusion of the Vatican implied its recognition as a temporal power. Seeing “very sinister import” in this Germany immediately suspected Italy of planning to secede from the Triple Alliance and herself threatened to withdraw from the Conference if any other major power did.

While the pacifist movement was seeking world peace at the conference, the outcome of the conference was the establishment of the rules of naval and land-based warfare and the humane use of weapons. The major powers would not agree to any form of disarmament or to restrictions on military budgets.(13)

In addition to pacifist movements, there were rising movements that called for revolution – the socialist and anarchist movements. They also had conferences.(14)

Perhaps the most important set of conferences pertinent to this paper was the series of conferences and meetings that occurred after 1887 between Britain and the colonies on the subject of the latter’s contribution to provide soldiers for Her Majesty’s army. While in 1887 the discussions concerned the navy and the need to maintain armies to suppress small scale skirmishes or uprisings, the nature of the conferences changed after Walter James of the Royal Engineers, back by Lord Wolseley in 1896, crunched the numbers and pointed out that the British Army was inadequate to meet the demands of a major European land war.(15) By 1897 the empire was forwarding proposals that the colonies provide forces to Her Majesty “in any wars in which she might be engaged” (Preston 1967:232).


Global Knowledge And Its Relevance To Treaty Negotiation

Only two written documents, the Commissioners’ report and Grouard’s account, discuss the military exemption promise made at the time of the signing of Treaty 8. We know from the Commissioners’ report that:

There was expressed at every point, the fear that the making of the treaty would be followed by the curtailment of hunting and fishing privileges, and many were impressed with the notion that the treaty would lead to taxation and enforced military service….

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 (Dominion of Canada 1900:xxxv-xxxvi).

On the surface, this report indicates a general fear that, after signing the treaty, the Indians would be subject to conscription in the case of a domestic war, a concern similar to the one expressed at the negotiation of Treaty 6.(16) A translation of Grouard provides specifics about the concerns at Peace River Crossing:

Nothing in particular happened at this meeting, except that the Indians had convinced themselves that by accepting the treaty, they would be subject to enrollment in the English army, that one would take them from their families to send them to the end of the world to fight against the enemies of Her British Majesty. We had a difficult time to render it comprehensible to them that the Queen had enough soldiers without them, and they ended up signing treaty (Grouard 1923:372-373).(17)

Clearly, the concern at the negotiation of Treaty 8 was not a war on Canadian soil. In the global context of the times, the concerns of the leadership at Peace River Crossing (and elsewhere) were warranted given that: 1) the world was full of colonial uprisings; 2) some European countries were internally unstable; 3) Europe was tumbling towards the Great War; 4) conscription was increasing in Europe, and a cause for immigration to Canada; 5) Britain recognized the shortfall in the size of Imperial land forces and was looking to Canada to provide more soldiers; and 6) colonized peoples were used in Her Majesty’s service elsewhere and their role in war was a topic of discussion.(18)

All of the above leads me to conclude that the Indian negotiators in the Treaty 8 area were aware of global issues and colonial relationships and that they used their knowledge as a basis for points of Treaty negotiation. This conclusion is partially supported by oral history. For example, the negotiator and signatory from Fort Chipewyan, is said to had predicted many things, including the war overseas, before it occurred.


Access To Information And Interest In Global Information At Lesser Slave Lake

If my proposition that Dene and Cree negotiators knew about international affairs is to have any credibility, I must show that people in the treaty area had access to information about world news, and that had an interest in learning about the news. I used the Edmonton Bulletin for the period June 1898 to September 1899 to support both propositions.(19)

I found that the Bulletin corresponded very closely to the secondary sources I consulted in order to explore 19th century warfare and attitudes. I discovered that all the global issues of the day were included in a telegraphic dispatch section at the front of each issue.(20) The news during this year was littered with reports of war, imperial expansion, colonial rebellion, and treaties between nations.(21) I also found evidence of global posturing, the arms race, and socialist and anarchist activities including conferences, bombings and assassination attempts.(22) The Czar’s peace conference made the Edmonton news on several occasions.(23) The Edmonton Bulletin traced Galician, Doukhobor, and Mennonite immigration to Northwestern Canada. It also detailed their belief systems and concessions made by Canada to allow for settlement.(24)

Kipling’s every move was reported including: his illness, his daughters death, his law suit with his brother-in-law, and the honorary degree he received from McGill.(25) The colonial military conferences were mentioned in the July 21, 1898 issue.(26) Although this information is not detailed, we know that the editors of the Edmonton Bulletin were reading and commenting on Eastern newspapers (February 23, 1899:3), including the Toronto Globe and the Montreal Gazette, which reported the entire debate over Canada’s role in the Empire.(27) The upcoming treaty, Treaty 8, made the paper on several occasions.(28)

The big news in the Bulletin was the Klondike gold rush, which saw an influx of people from all over the world, particularly from the US and eastern Canada. Willow Point was an important stop for prospectors, and news travelled both ways between Edmonton and the Yukon via Willow Point.

A “Lesser Slave Lake” column was featured in many editions of the Bulletin. The column featured items from the Lesser Slave Lake local social scene; the arrival of travelers, mail and cargo including newspaper. It also reported the conditions of roads and waterways.

Main themes of the editorials were construction and funding of infrastructure (especially roads and railroads) and the Bulletin reported on the land-cart road to Lesser Slave Lake that was completed in January 1899, making commerce and regular information exchange between Edmonton and Lesser Slave Lake less dependent on weather and river conditions. The travel times between Edmonton and Lesser Slave Lake averaged two weeks (Edmonton Bulletin January 5,1899:3).(29)

Mail was traveling to communities with the Hudson’s Bay Company. The numbers and tonnage of cargo from Edmonton to northern communities was reported regularly in the newspaper. For example, the Edmonton Bulletin reported that 4,000 letters and 16-50 pound sacks of papers were destined for Fort Chipewyan.(30) Other means were devised for clearing-out back logged mail matter.(31)

I found that access to information on world events was not lacking in northern communities. It was just slow by today’s standards.(32) The following excerpt from the Bulletin from the Lesser Slave Lake correspondent: 1) reveals that locals eagerly awaited the arrival of freight that had enough room to carry bundles of newspapers; 2) demonstrates the time delay in the arrival of news to Lesser Slave Lake; 3) shows that people at Lesser Slave Lake had knowledge of global events including peace treaties like the one following the Spanish American War; and 4) that this news was talked about with great interest.

Within the week 36 teams have arrived in from Edmonton, in consequence we are in possession of papers dated January and February, an unusual luxury. We, at least those of us who can read, were deeply interested in the treaty made between Spain and the United States (Edmonton Bulletin, April 13, 1899).

War and international news would have been important to northern communities. The Spanish American War, for example, was cited as a major contributing factor to the tremendous rise in fine fur prices which increased, in one year, 40-80%, depending on the fur. The upcoming World Exposition in Paris (1900) was also cited as the reason for the increase (Edmonton Bulletin, March 20, 1899:3).(33) We also know from the Bulletin that earlier there was talk of cancelling the Paris exposition due to instability (December 12, 1898:1).

So far, I have shown that world and local news travelled to Lesser Slave Lake and other communities in the treaty area, and that people in the North were reading and talking about international affairs. Analysis of the contributions to the Edmonton Bulletin by the Lesser Slave Lake correspondent, reveals that Native and non-Native peoples formed a fairly well integrated community there. An article by the Lesser Slave Lake correspondent reported on the wedding between Miss Augusta Callao (formerly from Lac Ste. Anne) and St. Pierre Ferguson of Willow Point. This article illustrates the degree of interaction at Lesser Slave Lake in 1898:

[After the wedding everyone] interested kissed every other person interested, or otherwise, and the eating started. . . . According as the table was emptied of one outfit they adjourned to the large, commodious front room of Mr. Boseau’s house and tripped the merry “Red River jig” and every other dance known to science. This eating and dancing lasted 36 hours by the watch, and I never saw so many laughing, good natured faces in the same space of time in Canada’s largest town.

Some things I learnt at the dance and feed were: Every person, without distinction of color or creed, was invited to come and have a big time. Up to the time of writing I haven’t heard of anyone who didn’t go. No person stayed away because so-and-so was going. Or because they hadn’t a new dress and did’nt [sic] want to go in the old one dyed over.

The writer counted 465 husky dogs in and around the premises where the “wedding breakfast” was held.

The only place in America [Lesser Slave Lake] where one man is as good as another. And where women do not say, “There’s Miss so-and-so with her mother’s made over skirt on.”

Among other things consumed were: Three head of steers, 20 bushels of potatoes and 15 fiddle strings.

The only paper in the world that had a representative there was the Edmonton Bulletin (Edmonton Bulletin, October 27, 1898:7-8).

Directly below the description of the wedding party, the correspondent wrote about local discussion of the upcoming treaty:

Treaty is all you hear of now a days; and no two natives tell the same story and no two seem to understand what treaty means. The different traders here try to enlighten them, but it is not in their line exactly. They do not succeed any too well. I don’t know much about this treaty business myself, but my own opinion is that the Indian department might send up a good man at treaty time to explain the matter, and they would profit by it (Edmonton Bulletin, October 27, 1898:8).

In a 1899 edition, the Lesser Slave Lake correspondent reported that the treaty was again the subject of discussion and that Native people were seeking information on treaty from non-Native people.

All the traders are making preparations for the treaty. Without any exceptions they are having some repairs done or outbuildings put up. . . .

As the treaty time slowly draws nearer, a little more talk is being indulged in on that subject. Some wide differences of opinion are expressed by the different leaders among the natives here. In but few cases do they talk rationally on the subject. Such statements as, “We can’t fish when we like”; “They won’t let us get any more wood”; “Perhaps they won’t let us trap,” and such like. Argument is turned against them of course by the few men here who really do understand about the treaty; but like every other advancement there are others who endeavor to kill by false statements and prejudiced argument the good work of these who do honestly try to explain away wrong notions in the minds of the people. I heard a man get off a statement the other day that is a fair sample. He told a man who was explaining to a native that he was mistaken in his ideas: “That he had better dry up. The government would send up men to make promises that cut no more figure than just for the time being.” He was immediately closed up of course. Still these men get in their work on the q.t. The natives are very quiet and orderly folks, having a very praiseworthy respect for the law. The police are in a great measure the cause of that. The detachment here is a very able one, both Constable Philips in charge, and Constable Fields, speak Cree very well and are popular (Edmonton Bulletin, January 5, 1899:2-3).

Later in this same column we learn about the social events at Lesser Slave Lake:

Everything is at fever heat, if it is 10 below; a paradox you’ll say. But Xmas and New Year in a Half-breed settlement is no small matter. Such preparations for the week’s doings! parties and dances galore! It’s hard to tell which to take in, so as not to give offence. The traders have a cayuse and jumper hitched up, and when two or three events happen on the same eve, they take them all in for a half an hour or two each. . . .

I just forgot whether I wrote to you that a locale belle was going to give a five o’clock tea. . . The five o’clock tea is going to be a tea dance, a very delightful time killer. . . . Some of the first families in this district will be represented there, . . . and as the affair is held in a brush teepee [sic] down the shore where the cool breezes of Lesser Slave lake get in their fine work, “a hot time” is not expected (Edmonton Bulletin, January 5, 1899:3-4).

A Lesser Slave Lake column dated January 4, 1899 provides another example of what was happening at Willow Point:

It started over at the English mission on the 26th of December, when the Rev. M. Holmes … and Mr. White the instructor gave, not only the children being looked after by the mission one of the best times in their lives, but every person else who cared to come. Invitations were extended to all. That is is [sic] all that is necessary to gather a crowd out in this section. A very enjoyable concert was pulled off in the afternoon.

Tea was served in the parsonage . . . and a very enjoyable time was terminated by Rev. Mr. Holmes turning up the stereopticon lamp. An hour of solid pleasure followed. We were transported (in our minds) from this land of zero to sunny Italy; out among the “Chings … old London’s principal scenes; up among the Scots; Ireland’s famous Killarney; and others too numerous to mention….

Every evening of Christmas week was occupied by tea dances, given by the different natives … Every person seems to enjoy it, if you can judge by appearances, and none are more enthusiastic than the whites.

And later in the same column:

New Year’s day dawned clear and cold . . . and as is customary in this country every person called on every person; shook hands, kissed all the females, [ate], and started for the next shack and repeated the performance. This kind of thing lasted all day, and well on into the night …. The Monday evening following New Year’s day, an entertainment at the Catholic Mission wound up the gaiety. [After the children of the mission sang the bishop spoke in French and Father Falher spoke in Cree.] Messers McDermott, and Gray, local traders, with an interest in church work, addressed the children urging them to obedience to their teachers and perseverence [sic] in their studies….

The column ends with this statement:

The sleighing is grand and is well patronized. Fur is plentiful and trade is brisk. Prospects for the coming year, from the present outlook, with the treaty a possibility, are indeed rosy (Edmonton Bulletin, February 5, 1899:3).

I think I have shown that information of global importance was available in the Treaty region, and that both Native and non-Native people interacted at Lesser Slave Lake, were interested in the treaty, and were discussing events and information relevant to the treaty.


Implications Of The Use Of A Larger Perspective In Treaty Research

Recent research efforts have focused on Indigenous treaty making traditions (Malloch 1984, Venne 1997). International work has focused on European treaties with Indigenous peoples and the recognition of the international stature of these instruments (Martinez 1992). To my knowledge, no one has examined Treaty 8 in a global context within a framework that grants negotiators an awareness of world events. The Commissioners’ speech at Lesser Slave Lake (Mair 1908:56), the Commissioners’ report and the text of Treaty 8 (Dominion of Canada 1900:xxxv), and Dene and Cree oral history all agree that Treaty 8 was a treaty signed with Queen Victoria about “peace and friendship.” Yet no one has examined the treaty in light of war, or within the context of the colonial uprisings, alliances, peace treaties, and peace conferences of late Victorian times.

That this larger context has been overlooked I attribute to:

  • The nature of anthropology, which until recently, has tended to focus on Dene and Cree people as if they are isolated from the larger world – not integrated with it economically or socially. Anthropology, with its interest in “cultural differences” between groups of people, has made it easy to miss “integration” which places people in their historical times within a geographical context which links them to the world.(34)
  • A tendency to assume that transmission of information is “hit or miss,” not routinized and constant. Too often, we attempt to tie Indian knowledge of issues to a particular event or source when the knowledge is likely to have come from many sources, and to have been integrated as part of life in the context of the times. As researchers, we have attempted to make links between the Indian understanding of treaties and Canadian events which could have been passed on through oral history. We have done this at the expense of current global and local events that were reported in the local newspaper, a source which we have used ourselves, when attempting to illuminate treaty events.

Perhaps the greatest problem in our research is that we work with documents that are also of the period, and some of the sentiments of those documents, colonial and ethnocentric assumptions prevalent throughout the British Empire, persist in our research questions and results. Accounts of the treaty negotiations by the Edmonton Bulletin reporter (1899), Mair (1908), and Grouard (1923) report what, I believe, are serious, integrated, well thought-out requests as fragmented, isolated, quaint incidents. We, as researchers, follow suit using non-integrated approaches which assume that Indians were “blank slates” because they were isolated and living traditional, unchanging lifestyles. We also assume that Indians were less capable of understanding the issues, the institutions, and the motivations of the larger society than were their non-Native contemporaries. Clearly, the Edmonton Bulletin article cited earlier (October 27, 1898:8) shows that non-Native population of Lesser Slave Lake was not more informed than the Native population about the specifics of the upcoming treaty.

A usual research question stemming from the Commissioners’ Report might be: What could the Indians have known about conscription given that conscription did not exist in Canada until 1917? I have approached research differently. I asked the question: Given what was happening in the world, and given that they lived in the Peace River district in the late 19th century, what would interested negotiators know which may have influenced the negotiations? My research question was developed from my assumptions.

I assumed that the Indians of the region would know, or have access to, all of the information available to others in the district. I assumed that Indian people were not culturally, linguistically, or physically separated from the larger community but interacted, worked, and socialized with people from all walks of life including literate kinsmen, traders, travellers, missionaries, merchants, police, settlers, and even the local newspaper reporter.

By examining only one potential source of information, the Edmonton Bulletin, from around the time of the treaty negotiations, it becomes clear that the negotiators’ requests were consistent with the local and global issues of the times. A request for a railroad to Fort Chipewyan is consistent with a global and local railroad boom and is similar to requests for rail lines and stations made by non-Natives.(35) A request for tax exemption, when global and local tax issues were debated (as countries were rapidly developing infrastructure, building armies and navies, and developing education and medical services) is rational and astute.(36) Requests for economic autonomy, non-interference with mode of life, and for religious freedom exhibits comprehensive knowledge of oppression brought about by nationalism, colonization and imperialism.(37) Certainly, a request not to be conscripted into the British army and sent overseas, makes sense in light of existing world tensions and an impending world war.

Although this paper has no current practical application, and is the result of only preliminary study on the military exemption issue, it is my hope that it will be provocative and stimulate discussion and research that will lead to the goal of this conference – furthering the understanding of Treaty 8.





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1Penlington (1965:26) writes that the term “jingoism” came from a popular music hall ditty with the following lyrics: “We don’t want to fight; but by Jingo, if we do, we’ve got the men, we’ve got the ships, we’ve got the money too.”

2The first two stanzas of Recessional (Kipling 1912:324) are as follows:

Far-called, our navies melt away;

On dune and headland sinks the fire:

Lo, all our pomp of yesterday

Is one with Nineveh and Tyrel

Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,

Lest we forget – lest we forget!

If drunk with sight of power, we loose

Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe,

Such boastings as the Gentiles use,

Or lesser breeds without the Law-

Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,

Lest we forget – lest we forget!

3Whiteman’s Burden (Kipling 1912:320) depicts prevalent attitudes towards colonized peoples:

Take up the White Man’s burden–

Send forth the best ye breed–

Go, bind your sons to exile

To serve your captive’s need;

To wait, in heavy harness,

On fluttered folk and wild–

Your new-caught sullen peoples,

Half devil and half child.

4Gillespie (1948:438) writes of the period after 1870:

European interest in imperialism revived on a grand scale . . . . One nation vied with another for the possession or control of coveted markets and sources of raw materials. The race was to the strongest, the richest, or the wiliest. All resources of the Powers were cast into a titanic struggle. Societies were founded for awaking interest in colonial expansion. Books and pamphlets poured from the presses to acquaint the nations with the untold glory and unlimited profits of empire-building.

5Preston (1967:203) writes:

Naval imperialists in the last quarter of the nineteenth century frequently minimized the role of the land forces in imperial defense; and historians, impressed by the significance of sea power, have been inclined to follow suit. However, during [the last quarter of the nineteenth century] the British soldier was continually marching or fighting in colonial wars. The North-West Frontier of India saw fighting almost all the time; British troops also were in Afghanistan (1878-1880) and Burma (1885) to secure the possession of India. In South Africa the army fought the Gaika and Galeka War (1877), the Zulu War (1879-1880), the First Boer War (1880-1881), and the Matabele War (1893). Further north, British troops were busy in Egypt and the Sudan (1882-1885 and 1898-1899), in Gambia (1891-1892), in Ashanti (1873-1874 and 1895-1896), in Sierra Leone (1899), and in Somaliland (1900-1901).

6The long history of ill-will between the Boers and Uitlanders is detailed in Bigger’s book (1899). Stated very simply the Boers feared a takeover. The Uitlanders resented modifications to laws which limited their political participation while at the same time taxing them without representation.

7The Spanish American War involved Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam. These countries were experiencing inner turmoil themselves, both before and after the official war.

8The Chinese rose up against their leadership in reaction to foreign occupation.

9The United States had enacted conscription in the second year of the civil war (on both sides), and conscription has a long tradition in Europe. Universal conscription was imposed by the German Reich soon after its formation in 1870 and remained in operation until 1918. France had conscription in place in 1792. In the 19th century, after Napoleon imposed conscription, it spread to all countries of continental Europe (Prasad and Smythe 1968). England conscripted during the Civil War in the 17th century. Royalists and Roundheads, by 1642, were selecting single men in preference to married ones (Barker 1944:50).

10Six thousand came to Manitoba and the Northwest Territories (Alberta and Saskatchewan) (Kaye 1964:12).

11Between 1763 and 1874, Russia invited immigration of oppressed people such as the Mennonites and Doukhobors. After 1874, when compulsory military service was reintroduced, these groups began to emigrate or accept alternative service. In 1895 “when 10,000 Doukhobors announced their refusal to bear arms they were imprisoned or shot” (Prasad and Smythe 1968:130). In 1896, the situation reached epic proportions when a Doukhobor protest featured burning of weapons. Tolstoy, with the Quakers, assisted the Doukhobors in coming to Canada in 1899 (Epp:1974:315). Tolstoy also nominated the Doukhobors for the newly established Nobel Peace Prize (1896). In January 1899, the first Doukhobors arrived in Halifax and by spring were settled in colonies in what is now Saskatchewan (Grunchy 1930:26).

12Oath taking was contrary to their religious principles, as was private ownership of land.

13Gillespie (1948:577) writes:

Armaments, the conduct of war, and international arbitration and conciliation were on the agenda. Neither France nor Germany would commit herself to disarmament; Lord Salisbury, the English Foreign Secretary, frankly averred that he doubted whether the Powers would fulfill honorably any obligations for disarmament that they might contract. The most that could be achieved was a pious resolution pointing out the desirability of restricting military expenditures and some agreements on civilizing the conduct of war, particularly a ban on dropping bombs or other projectiles from balloons and on the use of dumdum bullets and gas projectiles. (Emphasis added.)

14Cowie and Wolfeson (1985:378-391) trace the major ideas of the 19th century. They write: “Everywhere on the Continent, unless they were suppressed, these national parties [Marxists groups] gained growing working-class support, and in 1889 they founded in Paris the Second International Workingmen’s Association, which held regular congresses attended by their representatives.” (For details of anarchists’ conferences see Tuchman 1985.)

15Preston (1967:204) writes that James “criticized the colonies for not doing what they could and should to furnish land forces for the defense of the Empire.” The colonies were also criticized for not contributing their share of the taxation burden born “by the mother country” even though Canada’s per capita contribution was one of the largest of the colonies (Preston 1967:206).


16In 1876 the following request was made at the negotiation of Treaty 6, “Lastly in case of war occurring in the country, we do not want to be liable to serve in it”(Morris 1991:215). Negotiators were told by the Commissioner that:

In case of war you ask not to be compelled to fight. I trust there will be no war, but if it should occur I think the Queen will leave you to yourselves. I am sure she would not ask her Indian children to fight for her unless they wished, but if she did call for them and their wives and children were in danger they are not the men I think them to be, if they did not come forward to their protection (Morris 1991:218).


17The original text reads:

Voulant assister au traité qui devait se faire au Landing de la rivière la Paix, le samedi suivant, je hâtai mon départ. A cette réunion rien de particulier, sauf que les Indiens s’étaient mis dans la tête qu’en acceptant le traité, ils étaient sensés s’enrôler dans l’armée anglaise, qu’on les enlèverait à leurs familles pour les envoyer au bout du monde lutter contre les ennemis de Sa Majesté britannique. On eut grand’peine à leur faire comprendre que la reine avait assez de soldats sans eux, et ils finirent par signer la traité (Grouard 1923:372).

18Kiernan (1982:92) writes, “Boers as well as Britons made use of African troops; at Bloomplaats there were some mounted Griquas with the British. Early in 1898 at the time of the Fasoda crisis it was heard in Paris that the British were thinking of bringing two thousand Zulus to the Sudan.”

19I chose these dates because the Order-in-Council for the treaty was passed by the Federal Cabinet in June 1898 and the treaty was negotiated at various points between June and August 1899 (Canada 1993:290-297). I wanted to discern what information was reaching Lesser Slave Lake after the treaty was announced, while arrangements were being made for the Commissioners to arrive, and just prior to, and following, the negotiations.

20See, for example, the Spanish American War (Edmonton Bulletin July 10, 1898:1; July 18, 1898:1; July 21, 1898:1; July 25, 1898:1 through to February 9, 1899:1), the dispatch of American troops to the Yukon (Edmonton Bulletin, August 15, 1898:1) and the Alaska boundary dispute and arbitration (September 29, 1898:1 through to May 22, 1899:1), the Fashoda incident (Edmonton Bulletin September 22, 1898:1 through to March 9, 1899), and France and the Dreyfus case (September 5, 1898:1; September 19, 1898:1) including reports of potential revolution there (January 9, 1899:1; January 16, 1899:1). The prelude to the Boer War appears (Edmonton Bulletin January 19, 1899:1; April 27, 1988:1; May 1, 1899:1; May 4, 1899:1; May 22, 1899:1 to September 1899:1) as do references to the impending Boxer Rebellion (Edmonton Bulletin, August 15, 1898:1; August 29, 1898:1; September 26, 1898:1 through to September 1899). Problems in the Soudan are found in the Edmonton Bulletin (August 29, 1898:1, September 8, 1898:7; January 30, 1899:1; February 23, 1899:1) as well as conflicts over Samoa (January 23, 1899:1; February 2, 1899:1; March 30, 1899:1; April 13, 1899:1).

21Examples of the types of treaties or terms of treaties mentioned, for example, include: the Spanish American peace treaty (Edmonton Bulletin, August 1, 1898:1; August 15, 1898:1; October 20, 1898:1; through to February 9, 1899:1); the extradition treaty between Great Britain and China (November 28, 1898:1), the Treaty Commission on the Alaskan Boundary issue (March 27, 1899:7:1); the Treaty Commission on U.S. and Canadian trade (December 1898:1; March 2, 1899:4); U.S. reciprocity treaties with France and Germany (March 16, 1899:1); the Anglo-German treaty (June 22, 1899:1); and the upcoming Athabasca treaty (October 6, 1898:1; December 19, 1898:1; March 6, 1899:3; May 15, 1899:6; May 18, 1899:2 through to September 1899).

22See, for example, armaments and expenses (U.S. warships, October 17, 1898:1; Russian warships, December 15, 1898:2; relative sizes of the French and German armies, February 16, 1899:1; money sent to Cape Colony November 3, 1898:1); socialists and anarchist conferences and activities (September 15, 1898:1; October 31, 1898:1; December 12, 1898:1; January 9, 1899:1); assassination attempts on the Czar of Russia and Queen Wilhelmina of Holland (September 1, 1898:1), and assassination attempt on Emperor William (October 17, 1898:1).

23Reports on the Czar’s Peace Conference (and conferences on disarmament) occur from August 29, 1898 to June 19, 1899. See, for example, Edmonton Bulletin August 29, 1989:1; September 1, 1898:1; January 16, 1899:2, January 23, 1899:1; March 2, 1899:1; March 16, 1899:1 April 24, 1988:1. A detailed article (Edmonton Bulletin, June 26, 1899:6) reports on the discussions surrounding the prohibition of certain weapons like dumdum bullets and proposals to abolish submarine use.

24See, for example, the article on the extension of the Rosthern Mennonite reserve necessary because of overcrowding caused by people who arrived from the United States during the Spanish American War and from Europe. This article also contains news of the order-in-council which insured that the Mennonites would be able to “carry out the principles of their social systems”(Edmonton Bulletin, December 24, 1898:3). The Doukhobors movements to Canada appear from September 1898 to March 1899, particularly January and February 1899 editions. Reports dwindle after it is announced that Doukhobor men have gone to work on the Swan River Valley railway extension (March 2, 1899:1).

25See, for example, the Bulletin telegraphic (February 27, 1899:1 and March 9, 1899:1) that reports on Kipling’s illness and the condolences sent to Mrs. Kipling by Queen Victoria and Emperor William upon the death of Kipling’s daughter. Other references include: February 12, 1899:1; February 23, 1899:1; March 6, 1899:1; March 16, 1899:1; March 27, 1899:1; and May 8, 1899:1.

26The Edmonton Bulletin (July 21, 1898:1) only reads, “The question of the colonial contribution to the defense of the empire will probably be the subject of a conference.”

27The Edmonton Bulletin (January 9, 1899) reported complaints that eastern newspapers were not being received in Edmonton on usual mail days because of train schedules. Page (1972) reproduces articles from Canadian newspapers that detail the debates over Canada’s role in the Empire (including opinions surrounding the Boer War). Presumably these newspapers were making their way to Lesser Slave Lake via Edmonton with other cargo and local papers.

28References to Treaty 8 appear in the Edmonton Bulletin as follows: October 6, 1898:1; October 27, 1989:1 December 19, 1898:1; January 5, 1899:4; March 2, 1899:1; March 6, 1899:3; May 15, 1899:6; May 18, 1899:2; June 1, 1899:3; June 5, 1899:1; June 5, 1899:7, June 22, 1899:7; June 26. 1899:6; July 6, 1899:2; July 6, 1899:3-4, July 10, 1899:2-3; July 20, 1899:4-5; August 17, 1899:3; September 11, 1899:4-11.

29“The opening of 150 miles of road from the Athabasca river to Lesser Slave lake has rendered available a wagon road 400 miles in length extending from Edmonton to St. John, opening up the whole Peace River region to trade, settlement and civilization” (Edmonton Bulletin, January 9, 1899). Plans were also being made to open a road from Fort St. John to Fort Nelson (January 9, 1899:5).

30“The H. B. Co’s mail left for Lac la Biche and Chipewyan on Thursday. This mail cleared out the letters in the hands of the H. B. Co. and in the post office awaiting carriage north. About 4,000 letters were taken. Also 16 50 pound sacks of papers. The letters will all be taken through, but only as many of the papers as there is conveyance for” (Edmonton Bulletin, January 16, 1899:1).


31The Edmonton Bulletin (January 23, 1899:1) reported that:

There are 600 letters and 250 pounds of newspapers in Edmonton post office directed to parties at Lesser Slave lake, Peace River Crossing and St. John, and Graham. No arrangements exist for forwarding them.

The Bulletin announced that on February 15, 1899, the Northwest Mounted Police were going to Peace River (and Lesser Slave Lake) by sled and would take “as many parcels and papers as they had conveyance for” (Edmonton Bulletin, January 26, 1899:5). The February 16th paper reports that the police conveyed from Edmonton: 552 letters and 233 pounds of papers for Peace River and points beyond; and for Lesser Slave Lake 220 letters and 123 pounds of papers. They also reported that a similar mail was sent to Peace River in December besides “the large number of freighters who have gone out within the past few weeks [who had] taken a large amount of mail matter” (Edmonton Bulletin, February 16, 1899:3).

32. ‘It appears that it took a month or less on average for news to travel one way. For example, the letter to Father Lacombe from the Treaty Commissioners congratulating him on his golden anniversary with the church dated June 13, 1899 (from Lesser Slave Lake) was printed in the Edmonton Bulletin on July 6, 1899. In that same edition were Session Notes from Ottawa dated June 17, 1899. A report on Treaty Commission’s progress from Pelican Portage dated August 28, 1899 was printed in the September 11, 1899 edition.

33Coarse fur prices dropped.

34June Helm’s testimony in Re:Paulette (1973: 539, 569) has been instrumental in guiding inquiries on the Indian understanding the Treaty. Helm testified that Indians could not have understood “land surrender” given linguistic and cultural barriers between Dene and English speakers. A close examination of Helm’s testimony vis-à-vis elder testimony in Paulette (Vol. 9) (see Aasen 1994) and her own interview cited in Fumoleau (1975:89-92) reveal that her testimony contradicts what the Elders said actually happened. These accounts reveal that the Indian negotiators could understand but were not told that the treaty was a land surrender document. Similarly, the negotiator at Little Red River rejected land surrender showing that he knew what it was about (Grouard 1923:374).

35References to railways and extensions include: the National Railway to Lake Superior (February 27, 1899:1); the Winnipeg to Rainy River railroad extension (March 13, 1899:1 and April 20, 1899:1); the Crow’s Nest Pass railway (March 23, 1899:1); the Grand Trunk’s purchase of the Vermont line (April 17, 1899:5); the Grandforks railway line to Montreal (May 18, 1899:1); the Intercolonial railroad to Montreal (May 18, 1899:1) and many others reported regularly under special railway columns and Session Notes from Ottawa (see May 11, 1899:3-5 and May 15, 1899:4). The Bulletin reported (on May 22, 1899:3) that a railway was planned that would run “from Edmonton to Athabasca landing and then by way of the north shore of Lesser Slave lake to Peace River Crossing.” This was being surveyed in June of 1899 (Edmonton Bulletin, June 1, 1899:4). International railway issues also made the Edmonton Bulletin including the refusal of the Chinese government to grant railroad concessions to Russia (that would link the Russian Manchurian line with thePeking line) (May 25, 1899:1).

36References to taxation in the Edmonton Bulletin include: a mining tax in the Yukon (August 21, 1899:5); a Kansas law taxing insurance companies (January 5, 1899:1); twice collected tax in Edmonton (February 2, 1899:8); Edmonton school taxes and increases (February 12, 1899:5); the Whiteman’s Burden, hospitals and taxes (April 3, 1899:8); school taxes and general taxes in Edmonton (April 27, 1899:2); insufficient taxation in 1897, 1898, and 1899 – deficits and surpluses (May 18, 1899:8). International references include a report of a Russian tax protest which resulted in the death of 300 people (February 20, 1899:1).

37The Edmonton Bulletin (September 22, 1898:3) stated, for example, that the Doukhobors were “in a condition resembling slavery; imposed because of their religious views…. It is because they dissent from the established Greek Church and refuse military service that they are persecuted.” Other examples of oppression also made the paper,