Signing Manitoba's First Indian Treaty

By George Siamandas

On August 3, 1871 Manitoba 's first nations signed Treaty No 1 at the big stone fort known as Upper Fort Garry. As the area around Manitoba was being settled the aboriginal peoples that are known to have lived here for about 6,000 years became concerned the influx of the settlers from Ontario. The federal government wanted to encourage settlers to flow into the west but they wanted to avoid the bloodshed that had occurred in the United States in the late 1860s.

Adams Archibald who would become Manitoba's Liet Governor, was sent to negotiate treaties with the Indians. The Salteaux Indians led by Yellow Quill were beginning to block settlers movement west of Portage La Prairie. They wanted a treaty.

Adams Archibald had promised "lots of land to be used by you and your children forever." "So that as long as the sun shall sign there shall be no Indian who has not a place he can call his home here he can go and pitch his camp or if he chooses build his house and till his land."

Selkirk had made an early treaty in 1817 with Chief Peguis for the land for the Red River settlement.

In July 1871, Wemyss Simpson was sent to do the negotiations. They decided to work on several treaties with different groups. The feds ensured that having soldiers present tended to have a "calming effect." And the negotiators were told to be parsimonious so as not to create difficult precedents.

Initially the Indians wanted much more land than the government was willing to give but they did back off when the government threatened to cut off negotiations. The Indians backed off on the land but requested farm animals and farm equipment so that they could become farmers.

On Aug 3 1871 they signed treaty 1. This gave up most of the southern Manitoba land for settlement. And it gave the right to the government to assign native people to designated reserves. Indians were to receive $3 per person a year raised to $5 in 1875. They were promised schools. Simpson continued negotiations and got speedy agreement to treaty 2 west and north of treaty 1. It was signed on Sept 12 1871. Treaty 3 was signed in Sept 1873.



Right from the beginning the natives had trouble convincing the federal government to honour its obligations. The government had to be pushed to honour its agreement to provide the farm animals. The Indians were also to receive land 160 acres per family of 5 but the census was thought to have greatly underestimated the numbers. The Indians received approximately 0.4% of Manitoba's land area. The Indians in the inter-lake and north were not dealt with until 1875 in treaty 5. The premise was that natives would adjust to an agricultural way of life.

It seems that the Indians were sabotaged every step of the way in trying to become farmers. Not experienced in farming the Indians did not choose the best land for agriculture. And when they did find good land the government did not supply the agricultural equipment that had been promised as part of the treaties. In some cases the people themselves pulled the ploughs because they were not given oxen.

In 1889 Indian Commissioner Hayter Reed wanted to keep the Indian farmers small scale, and to prevent them obtaining loans for mechanized equipment. And those bands that were successful at farming like the Oak River Dakota Sioux, were forced to obtain special permits to sell their grain.

By the early 1900s Manitoba's natives had lost enthusiasm for agriculture.


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