The successful pursuance of that humane and generous policy:” Treaty 8 and the Introduction of Indian Policy to the Peace-Athabasca Country

By Robert Irwin

Historians generally recognize that the Crown had two reasons for entering into Indian Treaties.(1) First, the Crown in the right of the Dominion desired to extinguish aboriginal title to the land and open the territory for “settlement, immigration, trade, travel, mining, lumbering, and such other purposes as to Her Majesty may seem meet.”(2) In this respect, the particular nature of Treaty 8 has been considered most carefully by René Fumoleau, Richard Daniels, Denis Madill, Wendy Aasen, and Dave Leonard.(3) They all agree that the primary intent and purpose of the Crown in entering Treaty 8 was to extinguish aboriginal title to the land and open the way to development of the Peace-Athabasca district’s resource wealth. Second, the Crown sought to ensure the peaceful extension of its authority into the district and prevent conflicts between Indian peoples and white newcomers. Beyond these reasons for entering the treaty, the Crown also kept two objectives in mind when making Treaty 8. First, the treaty had to be made at as little cost as possible. Second, the Crown had to create a treaty compatible with the implementation of the Canadian government’s Indian policy, a significant aspect of which is commonly referred to by historians as the “Civilization” policy.(4) It must be remembered that Canadian Indian policy was not founded in the treaties, but rather the treaties co-exist with the structure of Canadian Indian policy. This aspect of the treaty making process – its relationship with the formulation of Indian policy – has been less explored as the emphasis of historians has justifiably been focused on understanding the spirit of the treaties as understood by the aboriginal negotiators. Yet, in order for a holistic understanding of the treaty to emerge, historians must also try to understand the Crown’s purpose and intent.

The desire to extinguish aboriginal title before resource development and the desire to keep the peace in the Athabasca and Peace River districts provoked the Crown to enter into Treaty Eight, but the terms of the Treaty were grounded in the government’s previous experiences in negotiating treaties, its desire to keep costs at a minimum, and the need to ensure that the treaties were compatible with the government’s Indian policy. The link between the treaty process and the government’s implementation of its civilization program has been made by both historians and the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples.(5) The treaties did not implement the Indian policy, nor did they impose the Indian policy — a policy produced through legislation can be changed while the treaty process represented a more permanent arrangement — but rather the treaties had to be compatible with the general objectives of the Indian policy. Indeed, part of the reason for the government’s desire to avoid conflicts in the district was to ensure that the Indian peoples remained responsive to the civilization policy. The link between the Treaty process and the Indian policy was made explicitly by J. A. J. McKenna during the treaty process. In a letter to Sifton from Peace River Crossing explaining the failure to meet the Beaver Indians at Fort St. John and their attitude towards the treaty process, McKenna wrote: “We think, however, that a full explanation of the Government’s Indian policy would induce them to take treaty if they were met at St. John before leaving for next summer’s hunt.”(6)

The Indian policy referred to in McKenna’s note had been formulated through a series of legislative enactments in the second half of the nineteenth century. As the role of Indian peoples(7) as allies of the Crown declined following the War of 1812, the government and especially the Indian Affairs bureaucracy sought a new policy directive. To formulate a new policy, the Crown conducted a thorough study of the Indian question in Canada. The reports by Justice Macauley (1839) and the Bagot Commission (1844 and 1847) are essential to understanding the context for the Indian legislation passed in 1850. Most historians emphasize the moral aspects of this policy – its efforts to eliminate Indian cultural values and impress upon Indian peoples British values of individualism, Christianity, and sexual morality – but the policy also attempted to define the status of an Indian person in civil law.(8) Under the civilization policy, Indian peoples were classified as “wards” or children under the law, to be educated in Christian values, taught agricultural and vocational skills, and finally, once they had completed the prerequisite steps, enfranchised, or given some of the rights of a subject.

The implementation of this civilization policy was the primary responsibility of the Indian Affairs bureaucracy. Reserves, Indian Agents, agricultural education, and schools were the primary tools by which Indian peoples were to be transformed into subjects. Prior to the making of Treaty 8, however, none of this infrastructure existed in the Peace-Athabasca district. When faced with the necessity of communicating new fishing regulations to the Indian peoples of the Peace-Athabasca country, Indian Affairs had to rely on agents at Edmonton and Saddle Lake and there is no indication that the rules were enforced in the Peace-Athabasca country.(9) There were no school inspectors for the Peace-Athabasca country nor any industrial or agricultural instructors. The basic framework of the Department’s relationship to Indian peoples was absent.

Nor did the Department of Indian Affairs accept that it had an obligation to Indian peoples as its “wards” prior to the making of a treaty. When the Department received a query regarding assistance for mission schools near Lake Athabasca in 1877, the Deputy Minister of the Interior remarked that the schools were “so very far” from the present treaty limits, “that it would be establishing, I fear, dangerous precedent” to offer assistance. Thus Bishop Faraud was informed that funds were “not available for localities so far removed from the territory already ceded or likely soon to be ceded by the Indians.”(10) Four years later when the Hudson’s Bay Company submitted claims to Indian Affairs for food distributed to destitute Indians in the Peace-Athabasca and Mackenzie districts, Vankoughnet informed Sir John A. Macdonald that the Indians in question were “outside Treaty limits; and the Department has not charged itself with the care of Indians with whom no treaties have been made.”(11) This attitude not only reflected the Department’s desire to keep costs at a minimum, but also the structure of the Department’s relief mechanism. Indian Agents were responsible for delivering aid to destitute Indian peoples but Indian Agencies did not exist in the North West Territories until after a treaty had been made. The nearest agencies to the Peace-Athabasca country were the Edmonton and Saddle Lake Agencies. Edgar Dewdney went so far as to suggest that “it would be better to obtain a surrender of the country they inhabit” than to offer them assistance from contiguous agencies and thereby possibly encourage them to leave their territory “before its title was extinguished.”(12)

The link between the Treaty process and the provision of assistance was made explicit in 1884. As conditions in Northern Alberta and Saskatchewan continued to deteriorate and the demands for assistance intensified, the Department of Indian Affairs sought remedies. Following pleas from Ile a la Crosse in 1883, Vankoughnet informed Dewdney that while the area was “outside of treaty limits and that the Gov’t have not hitherto given any assistance to Indians so situated” the time may have come to make a treaty. When Dewdney reported that the Indian peoples in question were “making a good living as a rule, although at times a hard year overtakes them where they are cared for by the Hudson’s Bay Company,” Macdonald remarked that “the making of a treaty may be postponed.”(13) Relying upon the goodwill of the Hudson’s Bay Company, however, was problematic. By 1886, the HBC indicated it would no longer bear the financial costs of offering assistance to Indian peoples in the Peace-Athabasca country.(14)

In response to the HBC reports, the Indian Affairs bureaucracy once again broached the subject of making a treaty and taking responsibility for the Indian peoples in the district. Two separate memoranda to the Privy Council were created, one advocating a treaty and the other rejecting the HBC position and refusing to accept responsibility for non-treaty Indian peoples. Vankoughnet wrote, in the second memorandum, that where settlement had “affected the Hudson’s Bay Company by the diminution in the number of fur bearing animals … the Government should be at the expense of providing” for the sick and destitute Indian peoples. In the Peace-Athabasca district, however, settlement had not occurred, and Vankoughnet believed the HBC stood “exactly in the same position” regarding the Indians as it had before the transfer. Following discussions, the government rejected the treaty proposal.(15)

Nevertheless, the refusal of the HBC to accept responsibility for sick and destitute Indian peoples and the continued action of missionaries in trying to establish schools forced the Department of Indian Affairs to offer limited assistance.(16) With no formal structure, the Department dealt with the issues on a case by case basis. It made a small appropriations for the construction of schools at the Shaftesbury and Lesser Slave Lake missions, but refused to offer on-going support to the Roman Catholic mission school at Lesser Slave Lake. With no policy direction, the policy was eclectic and responded to political demands rather than being oriented towards a goal. When the Liberals replaced the Conservatives in government in 1896, Bishop Emile Grouard immediately complained that although his three mission schools all boarded Indian children, they received no funding from the government unlike the smaller Church of England school at Lesser Slave Lake. The Acting Minister, R. W. Scott immediately acquiesced to the request for federal funding.(17)

In a similar pattern, the Department of Indian Affairs agreed to provide small amounts of money to missionaries for the purchase of fishing equipment for non-treaty Indians and offered financial help to the HBC for aid it distributed to non-Treaty Indians during periods of destitution.(18) But the Department generally continued to refuse to accept any permanent responsibility for helping people outside of the treaty limits except when forced to do so politically. Vankoughnet informed Prime Minister Macdonald that the Department’s policy was that Indians in the Peace River Country:

were outside of Treaty limits and that the Government had never interfered in any    way with their hunting grounds, and as the Government had no Treaty with those Indians, it had not felt it incumbent upon it to assist them, as it had Indians with whom it had Treaty relations.(19)

Such assistance, and the establishment of a ward relationship, awaited the decision to make a treaty. Indeed, although not mentioned in the Order in Council authorizing the making of a treaty in the district in 1891, the government’s need to offer assistance to Indian peoples is essential to understanding this early treaty question.(20) The government continued to struggle with this issue as late as 1897 and even as of this date had no clear plan or strategy for dealing with Indian peoples living outside of the limits of treaty.(21)

Although the government did not believe it had a ward relationship with non-treaty Indians and hence no obligation to implement its civilization policy prior to the making of a treaty, it is necessary to review the terms of the treaty itself to fully understand the link between the treaty and the implementation of the Indian policy. Indeed, the treaty, from the perspective of the government, co-existed with the Indian policy. The implementation of the civilization aspects of Indian policy in the context of Treaty 8 is found in the treaty clauses regarding access to game, reserves and allotments in severalty, agricultural tools and stock, and education. These clauses, dealing primarily with the compensation offered Indian peoples for the relinquishment of their title, are all compatible with the basic parameters of the civilization program. The Treaty and the Indian policy are independent initiatives, but David Laird, J. A. J. McKenna, and James Ross understood that these two frameworks for dealing with Indian peoples were connected and acknowledged that the relationship between the government and Indian peoples after the Treaty would be that of guardian and ward. In the Commissioners report they acknowledged:

Although in manners and dress the Indians of the North are much further advanced in civilization than other Indians were when treaties were made with them, they stand as much in need of the protection afforded by the law to aborigines as do any other Indians of the country and are as fit subjects for the paternal care of the Government.(22)

No where in the historical record, however, is there any evidence that Laird, nor any of the other Commissioners, ever explained the Indian Act or Indian policy to the Indian peoples in the making of Treaty Eight.

To fully understand how the government’s Indian policy objectives shaped the written text of the treaty, it is necessary to review the primary promises the government made to the Indian peoples. Virtually all the clauses of Treaty Eight have their foundation in earlier treaties, in the desire to limit government liabilities, and in the compatibility of the treaty with the civilization policy. The negotiation of Treaty Eight would occur within the structure of treaty making in western Canada. Consequently, the treaty would conform to the larger perspective of Canadian Indian policy. From 1891 onwards, the promises and obligations undertaken in Treaty Six provided the foundation for Treaty Eight. P.C. 52, 26 January 1891 noted that:

There should also in accordance with the custom followed in negotiating previous treaties with the Indians of the North West Territories, have to be forwarded at the same time, uniforms, medals, and flags for the chief and headmen. Money would have to be provided for a gratuity at the rate of $12 for every man, woman, and child, that being the gratuity paid to the Indians interested in the adjoining country covered by Treaty No. 6, when that Treaty was negotiated with them. The other terms of the proposed to treaty should, it is considered, be the terms of the proposed treaty, excepting the gift of a horse wagon and harness to each chief, in lieu of which cows and other cattle should, it is thought, be given of the value of the former.(23)

This connection to Treaty Six remained an important element of the treaty process in 1898 and 1899. Moreover, while some debates occurred over the specific terms of the treaty, they primarily reflected the government’s changing perspective on the success of the Indian policy as a whole, and the government’s desire to reduce the cost of the treaty.

One of the first and most important issues to be considered in this regard is the promise of annuities. The Indian Commissioner for the Northwest Territories, A. E. Forget suggested that the value of the annuity should be linked to the value of the land surrendered. 12 January 1898 he wrote:

it might be well to consider the advisability of basing the amount of the annuity to be offered on the comparative value of the country to be ceded and the cost of carrying our the Treaty obligations. For instance while the Lesser Slave Lake and Peace River Indians might be tendered an annuity of $5.00 per head, those at Fort McMurray and Ft. Chipewyan might be offered $4.00 and those further North, if treated with, $3.00/head.(24)

By 23 April 1898, he had changed his position to reflect the conditions offered in Treaty Six.

I would also invite the Department’s attention to the fact that in all the Western Treaties it was the practice to give a present of Seven dollars ($7.00) per head on the completion of the Treaty, in addition to the annuity of five dollars. This was given as a tangible expression of the goodwill of the Crown and as the Northern Indians are well aware of this having been done, it is more than probable that if the same course is not pursued in their case they may make it ground for refusing to treat.(25)

Another alternative, however, was suggested by J. A. Macrae, a former Indian Agent to Treaty Six, and, subsequently, the Treaty Eight Commissioner in 1900.

Macrae proposed to eliminate annuities altogether.(26) He argued a one time lump sum payment would, in the long run, cost the government less money and would encourage the Indian peoples to live a more independent life after the treaty. Macrae’s radical proposal was considered carefully by the Department of Indian Affairs, J. A. J. McKenna supporting the proposal and David Laird opposing it.(27) Duncan Campbell Scott, the Departmental accountant, produced a comparison of the cost of annuities and a one-time lump sum cash payment.(28) Commissioner McKenna continued to impress upon the Superintendent General the need for this new strategy as late as April, 1899. He noted the Commissioners instructions in Order in Council of 27 June 1898 confined them to offering gratuities and annuities in the fashion practiced in Treaties One through Seven. Although the Order in Council allowed the Commissioners to reduce these sums if possible, J. A. J. McKenna noted that under these conditions:

it may be taken for granted that if the Indians are offered and willing to accept such forms of compensation they will insist on having the figures of the treaty made with the Indian immediately to the South of their country [Treaty Six].(29)

Instead, McKenna reiterated his support for a one time cash payment. In the long-term, he argued, it would be cheaper for the government.

It has been held that such a procedure would be unjust to future generations in that it would fail to provide compensation to them for the alienation of their title, and would necessitate the Government’s coming to their assistance in the event of the Indians becoming destitute in the future. But the fact is that the annuity amounts to very little, either as respects the compensation for future generations, or in the way of providing against destitution. As compensation for territorial title it is more fanciful than real. And it may safely be stated that the extent of relief to Indians has never been appreciably lessened by any annuity paid them.(30)

The issue was discussed by the Governor General in Council, and in his final instructions to David Laird, J. A. J. McKenna, and J. H. Ross, Sifton provided clear instructions:

Sifton never offered a reason for this decision, and no indications of the reason exist in the files of the Department of Indian Affairs. Statements made by the Indian Department about a bond of trust, however, lead the historian to surmise that the concept of an ongoing relationship as indicated by annuities was preferable for the implementation of this bond of trust, a bond essential to the implementation of the Indian policy.

Like annuities, the terms of Treaty Eight considering reserves can be found in the government’s earlier treaty making policy and its desire to implement the Indian policy. Reserves entered into the treaty making process in the Robinson-Huron and Robinson-Superior treaties of 1850. Robinson reported that:

In allowing the Indians to retain reservations of land for their own use I was governed by the fact that they in most cases asked for such tracts as they had heretofore been in the habit of using for purposes of residence and cultivation.(32)

Following the example of the Robinson treaties, Lt. Governor A. G. Archibald offered reserves to the Indian peoples in the Stone Fort negotiations of 1871. He also connected reserves with the transformation of Indian peoples livelihood towards the values of agriculture:

Your Great Mother, therefore, will lay aside for you ‘lots’ of land to be used by you and your children forever. She will not allow the white man to intrude upon these lots. She will make rules to keep them for you, so that as long as the sun shall shine, there shall be no Indian who has not a place that he can call his home, where he can go and pitch his camp, or if he chooses, build his house and till his land.

These reserves will be large enough, but you must not expect them to be larger than will be enough to give a farm to each family, where farms shall be required. They will enable you to make a living should the chase fail, and you should choose to get your living by tilling…(33)

Thus, reserve lands, offered in all of the western treaties signed in the 1870s, were linked to the government hope that Indian peoples would convert their economic lifestyle to agriculture. The conversion to agriculture was perceived as one of the primary goals of the civilization process. Indian demands for large reserves, large enough to continue pursuing traditional hunting and fishing activities were rejected.(34)

In his offer of reserves in Treaty Six, Alexander Morris demonstrated how the government’s desire to have Indians move onto reserves and take up agriculture had further shaped the government perspective on the treaties. Furthermore, the government’s civilization policy goal to eventually eliminate Indians and their reserves from Canada had become clear. The terms offered ensured that the reserve policy conformed to the Indian Act. He informed the Indian peoples:

we wish to give each band who will accept it a place where they may live; we wish to give you as much or more land than you need; we wish to send a man that surveys the land to mark it off, so you will know it is your own, and no one will interfere with you. What I propose to do is what we have done in other places. For every family of five a reserve to themselves of one square mile…

There is one thing I would say about the reserves. The land I name is much more than you will ever be able to farm, and it may be that you would like to do as your brothers where I came from did.

They, when they found they had too much land, asked the Queen to sell it for them; they kept as much as they could want, and the price for which the remainder was sold was put away to increase for them, and many bands now have a yearly income from the land.(35)

Thus, by 1876, the policy of granting reserves to Indian peoples in treaty negotiations was well established, and the policy had been designed to conform with the policy as outlined in the Indian Act and the civilization policy. Following the completion of the early numbered treaties, the government extended the enfranchisement parameters of the Indian Act to western Canada in 1880. The nature of the reserve system, however, was being questioned within Indian Affairs as Departmental officials considered the terms to be offered in Treaty Eight.

The debate over reserves in Treaty Eight revolved around the central purpose of the reserve system. Reserves had been developed in Upper Canada in the 1830s as an integral element of the emerging civilization policy.(36) Indian peoples were to be collected onto reserves and provided with educational, agricultural, and religious instruction. After achieving “civilized” status, they would take their place as full British subjects. That few Indian peoples had adopted the British perspectives on individual property ownership so essential to this program, led to significant questions being raised about the nature of the reserve system. Communal identities, traditional leadership structures, and traditional spiritual celebrations were fostered within the reserve communities.(37) Thus A. E. Forget indicated 12 January 1898 that placing the Indian peoples in the proposed Treaty area onto reserves may not be the correct course of action. He noted, however, that the structure of the civilization policy was difficult to implement without reserves. He wrote:

The question of allotting reserves is a difficult one to deal with without definite knowledge of local conditions but it is probable that these northern Indians, equally with those of the south, will desire to be granted lands for their sole use and occupancy and while for many reasons it would be well could the Reserve system be dispensed with and ownership in severalty be substituted in future Treaties, I fear that in consideration of the need for educational and religious facilities it will be necessary to adhere to the plan of assembling the Indians upon reserves.(38)

The Government accepted Forget’s position, but since they had little information about the territory, Sifton’s memorandum to the Governor General in Council suggested that the Treaty Commissioners be granted flexibility. This flexibility, however, was limited to the size and scope of the reserves to be offered with the condition that they not be larger than those offered in other Treaties. Sifton wrote:

that the undersigned considers that the Commissioners should be given discretionary power as to the annuities to be paid to and the reservations of land to be set apart for the Indians, with the understanding that no greater obligations will, on the whole, be assumed in either respects than were incurred in the securing the session of the territory covered by the treaties which were made with the Indians of the other portions of the North West.(39)

Reports from the proposed treaty district, however, convinced the Department of Indian Affairs to reconsider its position.

Missionaries and the North-West Mounted Police communicated the dissatisfaction with the proposed treaty amongst the Indian peoples. One of the issues frequently mentioned was the Indian peoples fears of being confined to reserves. From Fort Smith, the NWMP reported that the Indians in that area “do not want to take treaty for fear they will be confined to reserves. The Government will have a difficult time to convince them to sign.”(40) A similar report came from Inspector W. H. Routledge at Fort Chipewyan. He wrote: “I understand that a wrong impression has been circulated among the Indians respecting the object of the Treaty, that they were to be confined on Reserves, their hunting and fishing privileges to be curtailed etc.”(41) The Reverend Charles Weaver at Wabasca expressed similar concerns in that district.(42) Sifton, meanwhile, had discussed conditions in the Lesser Slave Lake region with J. H. Ross, the third Treaty Commissioner, and understood “that great numbers of them [Indians] at least may prefer being dealt with along the lines which the Halfbreeds are treated. I intend to go very fully into the whole question … and possibly may have the Order in Council so amended as to give the Commissioners even greater scope.”(43)

J. A. J. McKenna pressed Sifton to consider the idea of land in severalty 17 April 1898. He noted that the reserve system existed as an element of the civilization policy and was intended to be temporary. Why impose the system if the Indians did not need or demand it? He wrote:

When the Government negotiated for the surrender of the Indian title to the land in the organized territories it had to deal with Indian nations which had distinct tribal organizations. The communal idea was strong and made necessary the setting apart of reserves for the continuance of the common life until the Indians could be gradually weaned from it…

From what I have been able to learn of the North country, it would appear that the Indians there act rather as individuals than as a nation, and that any tribal organization which may exist is very slight…. They are averse [sic] to living on reserves, and as that country is not one that will ever be settled extensively for agricultural purposes it is questionable whether it would be good policy to even suggest grouping them in the future…. The most the Indians are likely to require in the way of reserves are small fishing stations at certain points which they might desire to have secured to them. I do not think the Commissioners should go further in the way of general reservations, unless they should have authority to guarantee to every Indian settled upon, or in occupation of land, and individual title thereto. The limit might be put at 160 acres as the Indians are likely to require small holdings.(44)

McKenna’s position was quite clear. The purpose of the civilization policy was to install a system of individual ownership of property in the Indian peoples. If the Indians already accepted this value, why not offer to present it to them in the treaty?

Sifton clearly thought these proposals were important and had the issue discussed in Council. Indian peoples had requested the reserves in earlier treaties and the connections between the Cree in the Lesser Slave Lake area and those around Edmonton were well known. What if the Indians demanded reserves? In the end, Sifton, hoping to prevent any conflicts in the negotiation process, offered a compromise. The Treaty Commissioners were to have the discretion of offering reserves comparable to those in Treaty Six, or allotments in severalty. In his final instructions, he wrote:

As to Reserves, it has been thought that the conditions of the North country may make it more desirable to depart from the old system, and if the Indians are agreeable to provide land in severalty for them to the extent of 160 acres to each, the land to be conveyed with a proviso as to non-alienation without the consent of the Governor General in Council. Of course, if the Indians prefer reserves you are at liberty to undertake to set them aside.(45)

Although land in severalty, as opposed to reserves, seemed appropriate within the goals of the government’s civilization policy, it had ramifications not considered by the government for other elements of Indian policy as defined in the Indian Act. Occupying land in severalty was regarded as a step along the process to enfranchisement and many of the protections and privileges in the Indian Act did not apply to Indian peoples holding land outside of reserves.

Similar connections between the treaties and the Indian policy could be made for the clauses regarding education. Indian peoples demanded schools during the negotiating process of Treaty One. The first draft of this treaty contained no mention of education or schools, but the final version of the Treaty contained the clause: “And Further, Her Majesty agrees to maintain a school on each reserve hereby made, whenever the Indians of the reserves should demand it.”(46) Archibald had informed the Indian peoples at Treaty One that he wished them to learn to read and write, and they demanded the policy be placed in the treaty. The government accepted this policy, but, it is clear, placing education in the treaty was simple since it conformed to the Indian policy. As historian J. R. Miller noted, the government of Canada was not opposed to schooling.(47) Indian peoples also took the promise of schools quite seriously. Treaty Six Indian peoples made immediate demands for schools following the signing of the Treaty, and the government quickly became aware of the difficulty of placing specific policy in a treaty.

By 1879, the government was moving away from the treaty policy of placing a school on the reserve whenever the Indian peoples requested it, and towards a policy of residential schools off reserve.(48) This policy required the removal of young children from Indian families and their placement in the care of missionary run schools where their daily lives could be regimented and controlled. By 1891 the Department had also received information from the Peace-Athabasca country suggesting that boarding schools would be a better civilizing tool than the traditional day schools.(49) Residential and industrial schools, however, proved problematic for the cash-strapped Department of Indian Affairs. The schools were expensive, requiring government money not only to pay salaries of teachers, but also to board students. The Department also faced protests from treaty Indian families who noted that day schools, rather than residential schools, had been promised by treaty. By 1897, the Department of Indian Affairs had become disillusioned by the entire education policy.(50)

In the Peace-Athabasca district, the government had made small grants to missionaries operating schools for Indian peoples prior to the treaty, but some relied upon the North West Territorial government for operating expenses.(51) These grants were much smaller than those made to schools within treaty districts and primarily covered only teachers’ salaries. Missionaries, consequently, became a partner in the making of Treaty Eight, since they understood the treaty would result in increased financial assistance for the mission schools. The Indian peoples of Treaty Eight raised the issue of education at Lesser Slave Lake just as those in previous negotiations had raised the issue. Although David Laird had made the government’s willingness to deal with the issue of education clear in his offer, he tried to deflect Indian peoples concerns regarding education.(52) Nevertheless, a clause on education did appear in Treaty Eight. Given the important role of Father Lacombe and Bishop Grouard in the negotiations, it must have been expected. Indeed, Grouard’s memoirs suggest that he had doubts about the treaty process until the education clause, and the Indian peoples desire for a Catholic education, emerged.(53) Still the education clause of Treaty Eight provided the government with significantly more flexibility than the clause in Treaties One through Seven. Treaty Eight, reflecting the ongoing experimentation of Canada with the Indian school system, called only for:

Further, Her Majesty agrees to pay the salaries of such teachers to instruct the children of said Indians as to Her Majesty’s Government of Canada may seem advisable.(54)

In the pamphlet which accompanied the treaty, the issue of religious freedom also emerged. This issue was raised after missionaries entered into the negotiations. Bishop Grouard notes that the Indian peoples at Lesser Slave Lake indicated a preference for Roman Catholic schools in the first day of discussions. Anglican missionary George Holmes apparently believed that the first day’s discussion regarding education had prevented the Anglicans from winning new converts from the Roman Catholics by preventing them from establishing competing schools. He quickly went to the Indian peoples and, through his initiative, the issue of religious freedom was discussed on the second day. He apparently was satisfied that the Commissioners recognized his concerns during the second day of discussions.(55)

Finally, the provision of economic assistance in the form of agricultural tools, implements, stock, ammunition and fish net twine can be traced to similar patterns within the government policy-making structure. David Laird noted in 1878, the government’s choices were “to help the Indians to farm and raise stock, to feed them, or to fight them.”(56) In earlier treaties, Indian peoples requested these goods in the context of treaty-making and the government, sometimes grudgingly, granted these terms. In Treaty Eight all of the methods of assistance were itemized because the Commissioners had to ensure they addressed the needs of all the people living in the vast and differentiated territory to be ceded in the treaty. They believed that different bands would draw upon different elements of the assistance package.(57)

What becomes clear is that the Treaty Commissioners could and did make concessions within the text to Indian peoples demands only when these demands fell within the parameters of the Indian policy. One example, notable for its distinctiveness and the unwillingness of the government to undertake the promise in other treaties, is the medicine chest clause of Treaty Six. This promise, unlike others, does not fit within the parameters of the Indian policy and consequently was not offered in either Treaty Seven or Treaty Eight and notably, no reconsideration of earlier treaties occurred as was the case in the size of the reserves and the offer of agricultural assistance in Treaties One and Two. When the issue of medicine was raised by the Indian peoples in the negotiation of Treaty Eight, the Commissioners did not include medical assistance in the terms of the treaty, but orally promised to provide medical assistance when government officials were in the region.(58) The Commissioners made similar promises with regard to taxation, enforced military service, and assistance for the ill, aged, and destitute.

By 1899, therefore, the Canadian government had a thoroughly established pattern for treaty making. This pattern contained two objectives: obtain a blanket extinguishment of aboriginal title and foster the peaceful exploitation of resources by the incoming white community. The treaty also needed to be compatible with, if it did not set into motion, the civilization policy. Prior to making a treaty, the government was reluctant to extend its Indian policy into the unceded territory. It claimed that it had no relationship nor obligations towards non-treaty Indian peoples. Only after treaty did the government implement its Indian policy administration. The three perspectives of the Crown in entering Treaty Eight were summarized by the Deputy Superintendent General in his annual report for 1899:

Although there was no immediate prospect of any such invasion by settlement as threatened the fertile belt in Manitoba and the Northwest Territories and dictated the formation of treaties with the original owners of the soil, none the less occasional squatters had found their way at any rate into the Peace River district.

While under ordinary circumstances the prospect of any considerable influx might have remained indefinitely remote, the discovery of gold in the Klondike region quickly changed the aspect of the situation. Parties of white men in quest of a road to the gold fields began to traverse the country, and there was not only the possibility ahead of such travel being greatly increased, but that the district itself would soon become the field of prospectors who might at any time make some discovery which would be followed by a rush of miners to the spot. In any case the knowledge of the country obtained and diffused, if only by people passing through it, could hardly fail to attract attention to it as a field for settlement.

For the successful pursuance of that humane and generous policy which has always characterized the Dominion in its dealings with the aboriginal inhabitants, it is of vital importance to gain their confidence at the outset, for the Indian character is such that, if suspicion or distrust once be aroused, the task of eradication is extremely difficult.(59)

Thus, the Treaty was intended to secure access to resources, keep the peace between whites and Indian peoples, and build a layer of trust between the Indian peoples and the government essential to the success of the civilization policy.

It is important that historians understand the government’s perspective on the treaty process. The Cree, Chipewyan, and Beaver negotiators certainly understood that the treaty was not simply a transaction regarding title to the land. Oral tradition suggests they regarded the treaty as a “peace and friendship treaty.”(60) The questions they asked and the demands they made suggest these negotiators were trying to establish the terms of the relationship between Indian peoples and the government. They certainly did not accept the position of the Department of Indian Affairs that after the treaty they would become “wards.” They sought freedom to pursue their lifestyle outside of the Indian policy and without a relationship of wardship. Yet that is exactly the opposite of what the government envisioned in the treaty process and the government’s perspective shaped the written text of the treaty. Understanding the relationship between the Indian policy and the treaty is therefore critical to assessing the spirit of Treaty Eight and the meaning of the oral promises made by government negotiators. It is also critical for any interpretation of the Indian peoples demands and negotiating tactics. It is only by examining the spirit and intent of both sides, that a complete appreciation of the treaty can be obtained.




1See for example Robert J. Surtees, “Canadian Indian Treaties,” Handbook of North American Indians: Vol. 4, Indian-White Relations, Wilcomb Washburn, ed. (Washington: Smithsonian Institute, 1988), 202-210; and J. R. Miller, Skyscrapers Hide the Heavens: A History of Indian-White Relations in Canada, (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1989), 162.

2National Archives of Canada (Hereafter NAC), RG 10, vol. 1851, Treaty No. 428. (Hereafter cited as Treaty 8).

3René Fumoleau, As Long As This Land Shall Last: A History of Treaty 8 and Treaty 11, 1870-1939, (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1975). Richard Daniels, “The Spirit and Terms of Treaty Eight,” in The Spirit of the Alberta Indian Treaties, ed. Richard Price, (Montreal: Institute for Research on Public Policy, 1979), 47-100. Denis Madill, Treaty Eight Research Report, (Ottawa: Treaty and Historical Research Centre, Indian and Northern Affairs, 1986). Wendy Aasen, The Spirit and Intent of Treaty 8 in the Northwest Territories: As Long as the Sun Shines, the River Flows, and Grass Grows, (N. W. T. Treaty 8 Tribal Council, 1994). Dave Leonard, Delayed Frontier: The Peace River Country to 1909, (Edmonton: Detselig, 1995). For a discussion of federal extinguishment policy as regards the numbered treaties in western Canada see Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, Treaty Making in the Spirit of Co-existence, 29-34.

4L. F. S. Upton, “The Origins of Canadian Indian Policy,” Journal of Canadian Studies VII, no. 4 (Nov. 1973), 51-61; John L. Tobias, “Protection, Civilization, Assimilation: An Outline History of Canada’s Indian Policy, Western Canadian Journal of Anthropology 6, no. 2, (1976), reprinted in As Long As the Sun Shines and the Water Flows, eds. Ian Getty and A. S. Lussier, (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1983), 39-55.

5See for example, J. R. Miller, Skyscrapers Hide the Heavens: A History of Indian-White Relations in Canada, (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1989), 162-69. John Leonard Taylor, “Canada’s Northwest Indian Policy in the 1870s, Traditional Premises and Necessary Innovations,” in Sweet Promises: A Reader on Indian-White Relations in Canada, ed. J. R. Miller, (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991). Royal Commission, Treaty Making, 33.

6McKenna to Sifton, 7 June 1899, MG 27, v. 66, R. C. 490. The letter is misdated and should be 7 July 1899.

7The terminology used in this paper reflects the topic it presents. I use Indian peoples rather than First Nations, aboriginal, or native because the focus is on the government’s Indian policy. Indian has special legal meaning in the context of this policy and the constitution.

8The most important works on the early Indian policy are L. F. S. Upton, “The Origins of Canadian Indian Policy,” 51-61; John Leslie, “The Bagot Commission: Developing a Corporate Memory for the Indian Department,” Historical Papers/Communication Historique (1982), 31-51; John Tobias, “Protection, Assimilation, and Civilization: An Outline History of Canada’s Indian Policy;” and John Milloy, “The Early Indian Acts: Developmental Strategy and Constitutional Change,” in Ibid.. Two studies by DIAND also consider this period. John Leslie, Commissions of Inquiry into Indian Affairs in the Canadas, 1828-1858 (Ottawa: DIAND, 1985) and John Milloy, A Historical Overview of Indian-White Relations, (Ottawa: DIAND, 1992).

9A. E. Forget to Agents, 21 Nov. 1893, RG 10, v. 3581, f. 878 pt. A.

10Memorandum, Vankoughnet to Superintendent General, 6 June 1877, (Meredith notation at bottom of page), and E. A. Meredith to Faraud, 11 June 1877, RG 10, vol. 3649, file 8185. It is notable that the Deputy Minister of the Interior rather than the Deputy Superintendent General of Indian Affairs signed the final reply to Faraud.

11Vankoughnet to Macdonald, NAC, Macdonald Papers, MG 26, vol. 243, reel C-1691.

12Dewdney to Superintendent General, 12 Jan. 1881, RG 10, vol. 3708, file 19502 pt.1.

13Vankoughnet to Dewdney, 19 Nov. 1883; Dewdney to Superintendent General, 25 April 1884, RG 10, vol. 4006, file 241, 209-1.

14HBC Commissioner J. Wrigley to Indian Affairs, 12 Nov. 1886, RG 10, vol. 3708, file 19,502 pt. 1. The HBC continued to impress this position on the government in 1888. Secretary of Board HBC to Donald Smith, 15 May 1888, Ibid.

15Two Memorandum, Superintendent General to Privy Council, 19 Jan. 1877, RG 10, vol. 4006, file 241,209-1. The Superintendent General noted in the margin of both Memorandum that they should be brought to the next general sitting, and later in the Memorandum on the treaty “no present necessity for dealing with this subject.

16For a discussion of the HBC policy during this period and the effort to reconcile the fur trade with industrial economic structures, see A. J. Ray, The Canadian Fur Trade in the Industrial Age, (Toronto: UTP, 1990), 44-45, and 70-74.

17Grouard to Minister of Interior, 9 Sept. 1896; Scott to Grouard, 19 Oct. 1896, RG 10, vol. 3815, file 56,465.

18Vankoughnet to Dewdney, 3 June 1887, A. Desmarais to Dewdney, 2 Jan. 1888 and Vankoughnet to Dewdney, 8 Jan. 1889, RG 10, vol. 3781, file 39830; Memorandum to Accountant, 9 June 1887, and Vankoughnet to J. Gough Brick, 11 July 1887, RG 10, vol. 3779, file 39478; Hayter Reed to Superintendent General, 4 Nov. 1887, RG 10, vol. 3784, file 40775 (See margin note). Vankoughnet to Macdonald, 20 July 1888, Macdonald Papers, vol. 292 makes it clear that the decision to finance the HBC assistance to Indian peoples was regarded as a one time emergency expense. Fumoleau, 38 suggests the practice of providing money to the HBC became regular after 1888. He cites a 1905 letter from Scott to Pedley as evidence for all assistance offered after 1888. Other letters in Departmental records indicate that the government continued to regard its obligations as extending only to treaty Indians. See for example, Vankoughnet to Dewdney, 12 Feb. 1891 and Vankoughnet to Brick, 13 Feb. 1891, RG 10, vol. 3779, file 39478 where the Deputy Superintendent noted expenditures were “as a rule confined to the Indians within treaty limits.” The Superintendent General could, and did, make special exceptions. The HBC was informed that if “an absolute necessity” existed, the Government would “approve of the Hudson’s Bay Co. rendering such amount of assistance as may be absolutely necessary. Dewdney to Donald Smith, 8 April 1892, RG 10, vol. 1109. Vankoughnet drafted the letter “very cautiously” for Dewdney. Vankoughnet to Dewdney 8 Mar. 1892, Ibid.

19Vankoughnet to Macdonald, 19 May 1888, RG 10, vol. 3708, file 19,502 pt. 1. Vankoughnet would reiterate this position to each succeeding Superintendent General as the HBC continued to press its case.

20P.C. 52, 26 Jan. 1891, RG 10, vol. 3848, file 75236-1 makes no mention of this issue. Fumoleau, 42-43 makes no mention of the connection, but the stillborn treaty process of 1891 is the culmination of his chapter on the government’s involvement in the district.

21Memorandum, J. D. McLean, 2 Dec. 1897, RG 10, vol. 1121.

22Canada, Sesssional Papers, 1900, No. 14, xxxviii..

23RG 10, vol. 3848, file 75236-1.

24Forget to Department of Indian Affairs, 12 Jan. 1898. Ibid.

25Forget to J. D. McLean, 23 April 1898, RG 10, vol. 3848, file 75236-1.

26J. A. Macrae to J. A. J. McKenna, 3 December 1898, RG 10, vol. 3848, file 75236-1.

27J. A. J. McKenna to Laird, 5 December 1898; Memorandum respecting proposed Indian Treaty No. 8 and Halfbreed Claims, David Laird, 12 January, 1899. RG 10, 3848, 75236-1.

28Memorandum showing the amounts to be voted in addition to the sum already available following the adoption of any one of the alternative schemes proposed by Mr. McKenna’s memorandum of the 3rd instant, Accountant, 27 Mar. 1899. RG 10, 3848, 75236-1.

29McKenna to Sifton, 17 April 1899. RG 10, vol. 3848, file 75236-1.


31Sifton to Laird, McKenna, and Ross, 12 May 1899, RG 10, vol. 3848, file 75236-1.

32“Report of William Robinson, 24 Sept. 1850,” in Alexander Morris, The Treaties of Canada with the Indians of Manitoba and the North-West Territories, first published, 1880 (Saskatoon: Fifth House, 1991), 19

33Morris, Treaties, 29.

34J. R. Miller, Skyscrapers Hide the Heavens, 165-7 contains a succinct summary of the reserve issue. The connection of the civilization policy to agricultural development was first spelled out in the 1844 Bagot Commission. See Journals of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada, 1847, Appendix T. John Leslie, “The Bagot Commission: Developing a Corporate Memory for the Indian Department,” Historical Papers/Communications Historique, (1982), 38-52.

35Morris, Treaties, 205.

36R. J. Surtees, “The Development of an Indian Reserve Policy in Canada,” Ontario History (June 1969), 87-98. L. F. S. Upton, “The Origins of Canadian Indian Policy,” Journal of Canadian Studies 8, no. 4 (November 1973), 51-61.

37For a discussion of these issues, see Sarah Carter, Lost Harvests, (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1990) and Katherine Pettipas, Severing the Ties that Bond, (Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1993).

38Forget to McLean, 12 Jan. 1898, RG 10, vol. 3848, file 75236-1.

39Sifton to His Excellency, The Governor General in Council, 18 June 1898; O.C. 1703, 27 June 1898, Ibid.

40Extract from the Report of the Corporal of the N.W.M.Police Stationed at Fort Smith, Slave River, 31 Oct. 1898, forwarded to Deputy Superintendent General of Indian Affairs, 6 Feb. 1899, NAC, NWMP Records, RG 18, vol. 160, file 71-73.

41Routledge to Herchmer, 31 Dec. 1898, forwarded to the Deputy Superintendent of Indian Affairs, 6 Feb. 1899, RG 18, vol. 160, file 71-73.

42Weaver to Sifton, 26 December 1898, RG 10, vol. 3848, file 75236-1.

43Sifton to Laird, 10 Feb. 1899, RG 10, vol. 3848, file 75236-1.

44McKenna to Sifton, 17 April 1898, Ibid.

45Sifton to Laird, McKenna, and Ross, 12 May 1899, Ibid.

46Morris, The Treaties, 315.

47J. R. Miller, Shingewauk’s Vision: A History of Native Residential Schools, (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1996), 97-98.

48Miller, Shingewauk’s Vision, 100-103.

49George Holmes to Hayter Reed, 31 Dec. 1891, RG 10, vol. 3781, file 39830.

50Ken Coates, “Betwixt and Between: The Anglican Church and the Children of Carcross Residential School,” BC Studies, no. 64, (winter 1984-85).

51A. E. Forget to Reed, 16 Dec. 1893, RG 10, vol. 3824, file 60190; List of schools provided grants for 1896-97, RG 10, vol. 3815, file 56,465; and Board of Education to Cowley, 25 May 1892, PAA, Acc. 70.387, A281, Item 97.

52Charles Mair, Through the Mackenzie Basin, 60. Canada, Sessional Papers, 1900, No. 14, xxxvii.

53Emile Grouard, Soixante ans d’apostolat, 370.

54Treaty Eight.

55Holmes to Young, 24 June 1899, PAA, A 281, Item 149.

56Miller, Shingewauk’s Vision, 100.

57Canada, Sessional Papers, 1900, No. 14, xxxviii.

58McKenna to Sifton, 26 July 1899, MG 27, Sifton Papers.

59“Annual Report of Indian Affairs,” Sessional Papers, 1900, No. 14, xviii-xix.

60Both Fumoleau and Daniels comment extensively on this issue and it is beyond the scope of this paper to discuss the perspective of the aboriginal negotiators. For transcriptions of a few interviews conducted by the Treaty and Aboriginal Rights Research team in the 1970s see Richard Price, ed., The Spirit of the Alberta Indian Treaties, (1987). It is important, however, to realize that Indian peoples understood the government’s purpose and intent and rejected it.