Treaties Signal End
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A Native Tragedy
Treaties Signal End
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Treaties Signal End
Natives sign over the land and watch a way of life slip away.
In the 1870s, prairie natives signed a series of treaties that signaled the end to of a way of life.
On August 15, 1876, two thousand Plains and Woods Cree camped on the plains outside Fort Carlton on the North Saskatchewan River, waited to meet with Treaty Commissioner Alexander Morris. (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History)
On August 15, 1876, two thousand Plains and Woods Cree camped on the plains outside Fort Carlton on the North Saskatchewan River, waited to meet with Treaty Commissioner Alexander Morris. (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History)

Whiskey and disease had weakened the natives. And they were distressed by the disappearance of the buffalo, a prairie beast that had sustained natives for centuries.

"We all see the day when the buffalo will be killed and we shall have nothing more to live on... then you will come to our camps and see the poor blackkfeet starving", said Blackfoot chief Crowfoot.

For its part, the Canadian government was eager to arrange treaties with the natives. It wanted to avoid bloody and costly Indian wars as the west opened for settlement.

Treaty No. 6 was the most notable treaty, representing the transfer of 300,000 square kilometers - the largest land treaty in the continents history.

On August 15, 1876, two thousand Plains and Woods Cree camped on the plains outside Fort Carlton on the North Saskatchewan River, waited to meet with Treaty Commissioner Alexander Morris.

Morris promised money and gifts and a square mile of land to farm for each native family. According to Morris, Treaty No. 6. would bring the natives prosperity.

"All along that road I see Indians gathering, I see gardens growing and houses building; I see them receiving money from the Queen's Commissioners to purchase clothing for their children; at the same time I see them enjoying their hunting and fishing as before, I see them retaining their old mode of living with the Queen's gift in addition."
The Plains Cree were deeply divided on signing Treaty No. 6  in 1876.  Chief Poundmaker argued that the white man had no right to the land. (Courtesy of the National Archives of Canada)
The Plains Cree were deeply divided on signing Treaty No. 6 in 1876. Chief Poundmaker argued that the white man had no right to the land. (Courtesy of the National Archives of Canada)

One of the key parts of Treaty No. 6 for the natives was the promise of food in times of famine.

"The whole day was occupied with this discussion on the food question," reported Morris. "It was the turning point with regard to the treaty. ... They were anxious to learn to support themselves by agriculture ... and they dreaded that during the transition period they would be swept off by disease or famine"

The Cree were deeply divided on the treaty. One young chief named Poundmaker argued that the white man had no right to the land.

"The governor mentions how much land is to be given to us. He says 640 acres, one mile square for each family This is our land! It isnt a piece of pemmican to be cut off and given back to us. It is our land and we will take what we want"

But the main sentiment was weary resignation. An old and respected chief named Star Blanket said the treaty was their only hope.

"Can we stop the power of the white man from spreading over the land like the grasshoppers that cloud the sky and then fall to consumer every blade of grass and every leaf on the trees in their path? I think not."

Most of the plains chiefs eventually signed Treaty No. 6. The natives believed they had signed the treaty as equal nations but would soon discover their true relationship with the white man.

Months earlier, the Canadian government had passed the Indian Act, declaring all natives to be wards of the state.


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A Slow Death

The Whiskey Trade
Liquor comes to the native world and brings addiction and death.
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Buffalo Slaughter
Greed kills the magnificent prairie beast and changes native life forever
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A Slow Death
Starvation seizes the once-might prairies tribes and forces them to turn to Ottawa for food.
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