Treaty Negotiations, 1876 to 1878, Between Canada and First Nations of Alberta and Saskatchewan.

[..] unsuspecting victim for his money or furs. Many carried out their various schemes under the guise of being free traders.
The southern portion of the country in Blackfoot and Peigan territory was polluted with so-called traders whose unbridled use of rotgut whisky was creating havoc amongst the once-proud Blackfoot nation and their allies. The Americans from across the border of Montana had established so-called trading posts within our border and had accomplished what the thousands of Crees had failed to do in their best days, namely the subjugation of the southern tribes. The American long-range rifles and their speed with the short gun while they plied the natives with whisky and cheated them out of their belongings was a disgrace to a civilized nation.
It was with horror and impotent rage that I had listened to a recital of the growing power that these degenerate adventurers who acknowledged no authority but their unmerciful use of guns and whisky to victimize the natives. A man named Felix Monroe, who had been a Blackfoot interpreter with the Palliser expedition in '58, spent half the night telling us of the many misdeeds going on in that part of the territories.
I was in those days indifferent to the need of government, but now was fully awake to the fact that nothing could save my Indian friends but some authoritative action to oust these American vagabonds and leeches who were sucking the very life blood of the southern tribes.
My old friend Spence had kept me informed of the controversy raging in the settlement of the Red River and Fort Garry that ended with the Rebellion of 1869-70, the final outcome of which I had learned on this trip. During the transition of authority from the Hudson's Bay Company to the Government of Canada I had taken a neutral stand, not joining with any side in the disputed matters concerned with this change. I deemed the whole question was not of my concern, living in the western Territories. It would be some time before we were affected.
The matter of annexation to the States was a different matter. Its accomplishment even to a minor degree by the usurping of authority by these unprincipled traders in our territory fairly made my blood boil as nothing had in all the years of agitation, petitions, and what-not that had predated the Riel Rebellion. I welcomed the news that a high official of the Government of Canada was being sent out to the West to investigate actual conditions and report recommendations.
It was variously rumoured in Hudson's Bay circles that as a result of this investigation a police force would be made available to the Territories and that some form of authoritative 215 government would be established. I found myself adopting a completely different attitude. It had now become a personal matter by the loss of two winters' labour in trapping and trading.
The continued decrease of buffalo on the prairies was creating considerable resentment among the Indians whose livelihood depended completely on the buffalo. Though poison bait was unheard of among the northern tribes, a supply was being used and made available by these southern traders. Indian dogs had been killed by the baits set out for wolves and coyotes, and it was a common belief that horses had been poisoned by eating grass where an unrecovered carcass had decomposed. If horses could die, they argued, then buffalo would also be killed.
Isolated among the northern tribes, I had not given these matters much thought. My personal loss by one of these rogues filled me with a resentment almost beyond my control. At the moment I did not credit my brother's weakness for drink a factor of any importance. I had fervently expressed my hearty approval at Carlton and Fort Pitt and definitely stated that it would be easy to recruit help to route those whisky traders and crooks who were engaged in that nefarious business.
When we got back home, Charlotte received my bad news with her usual fortitude. "Well, Peter! Using your own words, it is tough luck. We are both healthy and we can still hunt and fish. We will leave our two boys with my mother and make that trip to Beaver Lake that you claim is swarming with mink."
"Look here, woman! It will be impossible for you to go along. We will have to go on saddle horse and bring our stuff on pack horses. How can you take the girl along? Three children will be too much for your mother and I will not allow it."
"Forget your objections," she replied, "I have made up my mind. If there are as many mink on that creek as you claim, you will have no time to trap, skin and prepare the pelts as well as cook your meals, and besides we both have to work to recover our losses this winter."
The weather was very mild for that time of year in the latter part of October 1870, after a sharp period that froze the small lakes. I made a last effort to change my wife's idea of braving the trip but it was useless. "We can be at that creek in four days. We have a good tent and the weather is mild. Look at this fur-lined bag that I have made for our girl. Hundreds of Indian children have been carried for centuries in this kind of thing. My mother helped me make it. Besides, she is only too eager to have our boys in her care while we are away."
I gave up the argument but I slammed the door good and [...]
[...] you have fingers and toes, so sit down and rest yourself while I get some breakfast ready."
"Do not bother," I said. "I'm not hungry."
"Huh," he grunted, "Stop worrying. Healthy good women in our tribe never have trouble with babies. When you married one of our girls, you did not marry trouble. Your wife has had four children without your presence, so why trouble yourself now?"
This remark of the old gentleman had its desired effect in cooling my nervousness. Under his cheerful conversation which avoided the matter uppermost in my mind, we began eating. I forgot my lack of hunger and my usual good appetite asserted itself, much to the amusement of my optimistic friend. The gleam in his eye reminded me of my former protests against eating any breakfast.
It was now broad daylight and everybody was up and about their duties. I watched the old gentleman's clumsy efforts at washing the dishes. Then he turned to me in a grumbling voice and said, "You have my wife working for you and I have to do her work, so you had better go after my horses as I need them this morning."
I had a long walk after his horses. It took quite a search to find them but I brought them in for him at the Hunter teepee. Mrs. Hunter waved to me to come to my own tent.
Charlotte gave me a weary smile and said, "Peter, I am glad for you. It is another boy and I want him named David."
I was so relieved and glad that she was all right that I would have consented to the name Ebenezer had she asked.
Hunter I noticed just tied his horses up till noon, then turned them out again. He had merely sent me after the horses to keep me occupied. I was grateful for his clever management that had kept me busy and free from needless worry.
Two days later a couple of strangers arrived and made inquiries as to my whereabouts. They were guided to Hunter's teepee by one of the camp guards. Hunter immediately offered them the hospitality of his teepee, placing robes for them to rest in a reclining position. A good meal was prepared at once as was the custom when strangers were guests. The guard had shown them to Hunter's tepee knowing how matters were in my tent, this with far more consideration and tact than I experienced among white settlers in later years.
John sent his wife to call me from my tent without saying just what was wanted.
"These men," said Hunter, "are sons of Mista-wa-sis and Ah-tuk-a-kup; they have been up to Whitefish Lake and have followed you here."
I shook hands with both men saying, "My friends, you have come at a bad time. I'll have to talk with my wife before I can promise to go with you."
Discussing the matter of the arrival of these men, my wife's answer was typical of the way she faced all our problems.
"You have given your word to their fathers, Peter. There is nothing for you to do but go with them at once. I will be all right with Mrs. Hunter to look after me. Peter Shirt and Red Head can look after the carts and we will return with the others. Thanks to our friends, our carts are loaded and the others are almost ready."
I went back to the men and told them that I would be ready as soon as they wanted to go. "We are ready now," said one man as he rose to his feet from where he was resting. "My father has already started for Carlton and we may be late if we delay."
Packing a few things in a bag for extras, I went with the clothes I was dressed in, hurriedly packed food and cooking utensils on a pack horse and riding Whitey, my buffalo runner, I was ready to start. Peter had fetched the horses while I was packing my duffle for the trip. I bid the family goodbye and gave some last minute instructions to Peter in regard to the care of the family and equipment. These latter orders were hardly necessary as I had long since been dependent on the young man for the care of everything while I was away. Of course a man likes to assert his authority, especially with strangers present.
Hunter decided to come along with us as he wanted to listen to the treaty negotiations. I was just a bit worried that the fast trip would be too much for him but he was well mounted as we all were and if he grew too tired I could leave the pack outfit and he could follow up at an easier gait. I need not have given the matter any thought for he stood up to the trip as well as any of us and his saddler turned out to be the best riding horse of the lot.
We arrived at Carlton the evening of the fifth day of hard riding and long hours, but our horses were all in excellent condition to start with and stood up well to the trip. A large encampment appeared, and separated by a lane were the various tents and canvas shelters that housed the traders. Apparently they had anticipated an agreement on treaty terms and had come prepared to do business with the Indians.3 Later I learned that my youngest sister was there also. She had married a trader, a big strapping Swede by the name of Pederson. Though I was kept pretty busy, we managed to get together for a visit.
A comfortable teepee had been set up for our use with buffalo robes, new blankets, cooking utensils, and even prepared food. Mr. Hunter was particularly impressed with the 236 care lavished on us for our stay. Certainly it was the best hospitality that could be provided. The camp crier rode among the teepees and announced our arrival. He was riding on a gaily decorated pinto pony. He was telling the people that their interpreter had arrived and that the chiefs and councillors should get ready for the meeting the next day.
I decided to take a walk around camp and saw Governor Morris walking in front of the Hudson's Bay post. There were over 250 teepees on the Indian section of the grounds. It was an impressive sight. I had never seen so many teepees in one locality before. There were hundreds of horses feeding on the flats, some picketed close by their owner's teepee with the usual assortment of dogs which appeared to have barked themselves to exhaustion as they lay before each teepee.
Peter Ballenden and his brother Sam came to the chiefs and informed them that the Governor desired them to meet him at the fort that evening. I had just returned from my walk when Mista-wa-sis came to my tent and asked me to accompany them.
"I have been told," said the chief, "that the Governor has hired two other interpreters. However, we have decided to pay you ourselves, even if the Governor does not."
The chiefs were dressed in all their finery, feathers, plumes, and ermine-decorated coats. I felt a little out of place among the tribal costumes; and when we came before the assembled officials, they also had quite as great an array of finery as our Indian chiefs. My work clothes, though neat and clean, when compared against all the other finery were indeed inadequate. I wished that I had come better prepared for this situation.
When I saw Peter Ballenden and the Rev. John McKay seated among the official group, I presumed they were the interpreters the chief had mentioned. I was not too greatly concerned, as I knew both men; their ability as interpreters to a large gathering such as we would be faced with on the morrow would be tested to the limit.
Governor Morris, Hon. James McKay, Clarke, William Christie, now retired from the Hudson's Bay service, and a Dr. Jackes were all seated at the table when we entered" Clarke jumped up and came forward to introduce our party.
I was standing beside Mista-wa-sis, but Clarke paid no attention to my presence while he was conducting the introductions. Although Clarke, Ballenden, Christie, and the Rev. McKay all knew me by name, they did not offer any sign of recognition.
The Governor advanced and shook hands with the chiefs, saying, "I have come to meet you Cree chiefs to make a treaty with you for the surrender of your rights of the land to the 237 government, and further I have two of the most efficient interpreters that could be obtained. There stand Peter Ballenden and the Rev. John McKay."
His words were interpreted by Peter Ballenden.
Big Child answered, "We have our own interpreter, Peter Erasmus, and there he is. Mr. Clarke (he pointed directly at Clarke) advised me that Peter Erasmus was a good man to interpret the Cree language. Further than that, he recommended the man as the best interpreter in the whole Saskatchewan valley and plains. Why he did so, only he knows. On Clarke's advice, though I have no acquaintance with the man, I went to a great deal of trouble to fetch him here and though I know nothing of his efficiency, I am prepared to use his services. All our chiefs have agreed."
"Is that correct?" asked Governor Morris of Clarke.
"Peter Erasmus lives several hundred miles from here and I did not know that the chiefs had sent for him; therefore I hired these two other interpreters."
"It was quite unnecessary to send for the man," said the Governor. "We have two interpreters hired by the government and it is up to the government to provide the means of communication."
I had quietly interpreted these side conversations to the chief and he was prepared for an answer.
"Very good," said Mista-wa-sis, "you keep your interpreters and we will keep ours. We will pay our own man and I already see that it will be well for us to do so."
This latter statement by the chief, I interpreted to Morris directly, not waiting for Ballenden to misinterpret the chief's meaning.
"There is no need for you to assume this extra expense for an interpreter when the government is willing to pay for the interpretations," reiterated the Commissioner.
The chief replied rather heatedly, "Our man will interpret as well as yours. I can speak Blackfoot and I know what it takes to interpret. If you do not want the arrangement, there will be no talks. We did not send for you, you sent for us."
I was quick to translate the conversations before waiting for Ballenden's hesitant and slow interpretations. The Governor's party were huddled at the table in low conversation, none of which I could hear. In the meantime the chiefs gathered together and were about to leave the room when the Governor looked up and saw they were going to leave.
"All right," he said. "You can have your interpreter. My tent will be pitched on the prairie where we will meet. There will be a band playing to notify you of our presence."


Treaty No. Six

THE GOVERNOR'S TENT was pitched on a slight rise some distance from the fort. Most of the other officials were already waiting for him in the tent. Then the Governor's carriage appeared, accompanied by the Mounted Police and led by the promised band. The Police, dressed in their smart scarlet uniforms and riding well trained horses, made a big impression with the Indians. In fact the great prestige of the Governor was somewhat overshadowed by the smart appearance of his escort.
Many Indians of that camp were seeing the Mounted Police for the first time. Though small in number, the Police were to be an important factor in establishing in the minds of the tribes the fairness and justice of government for all the people regardless of colour or creed — something they had no concept of in its broader sense.
The Indian's own rules were handed down from the dim past, their oldest traditions accepted without question. The chiefs and councillors were chosen for outstanding qualities of character. Bravery and ability were the sole measures by which their leaders were qualified to take positions of trust. A son of a chief assumed office following the death of the chief only if he had proved himself qualified under these standards of office.
The Indians recognized and respected the personal qualities 239 of the individuals comprising the Force as being the qualities they demanded in their own leaders. The administration of impartial justice without regard to colour or creed, and the tenacity of its members in carrying out their duties, soon became a topic of Indian campfire conversation. The small number of this Police Force would have been utterly incapable of handling the thousands of Indians if they had attempted to employ force to compel obedience.
The chief and his councillors administered the laws for their band and the tribe recognized the necessity for rules governing individuals who at times broke the rules set by their leaders for the benefit of the majority. That, in my opinion, is what made possible the successful role that this small Force played in the progress of settlement of one country.
Our approach to the Governor's tent was delayed by certain ceremonial proceedings that have been far better described than I feel capable of doing. However, let me say that these ceremonial practices had a deep significance to the tribes and can only be explained as a solemn approach to a vital and serious issue for discussion.
Few people realize that those so-called savages were far more deeply affected and influenced by their religious beliefs and convictions than any comparable group of white people, whose lip service to their religion goes no deeper than that. The forms of ceremonial behaviour with which the Indians approached the Governor's tent were based on practices whose actual meaning has long since been lost. The ceremony in the crowning of the kings and queens of England would have little meaning were it not for the benefit of a written language.
We were finally seated on the grass in a large semicircle in front of the Governor's tent crossed-legged, a position that seems to be the most restful and relaxed manner of listening to a speech. I have seen quite old men rise to their feet to speak from this position without the use of their hands or arms to assist them, all with apparently effortless ease. My own attempts in this regard were never graceful or even easy. I always had to use my hands and arms to assist me. It was a physical feat that I never successfully conquered.
We were patiently awaiting the Commissioner's convenience when the Hon. James McKay came to the front and called Peter Erasmus to come forward to interpret the Governor's speech. I rose to my feet and said, "I object, Sir. It is my impression that I am not employed by the government but am acting only on behalf of the chiefs assembled here. Therefore, I refuse to interpret the Governor's speech; that I consider is the 240 duty of its paid servants." I then faced the Indians and repeated my words in Cree.
McKay again insisted but I just as promptly refused.
Mista-wa-sis turned to me and in an undertone asked me if I thought that I was capable of interpreting.
"Certainly I can, or else I would not be here. Let their own men talk first and then you will understand why I refuse to do their bidding."
Big Child and Star Blanket on each side of me nodded their agreement. The former rose to his feet. There was considerable stir among the Indians at the delay. Voices were noticeable from those seated furthest away from the stand. As soon as Big Child stood up there was immediate silence. He was a commanding figure of a man, not tall, but he stood straight and his wide shoulders spoke of strength. He didn't say a word until there was complete silence. Showing his closed fist with index finger protruding, he spoke, "This is number one," indicating "one" with the raising of his hand for all to see. "Already you have broken your word on what you have agreed."
I stood beside him and interpreted word for word as he spoke.
All the Indians rose to their feet and crowded forward behind their chiefs. The Police were kept busy keeping them away from the table. They were like a forest as a gathering storm of words rolled forward. I was thoroughly angered at the manner in which the Governor had been inveigled into this situation.
I had expected neither the strong reaction from the Indians nor McKay's determination to have his own way. I knew that Peter Ballenden had not the education or practice to interpret, and his voice had no carrying quality to make himself heard before all this large assembly. The Rev. McKay had learned his Cree among the Swampy and Saulteaux. While there was a similarity in some words, and I had learned both languages, the Prairie Crees would not understand his Cree. Further, the Prairie Crees looked down on the Swampy and Saulteaux as an inferior race. They would be intolerant at being addressed in Swampy or Saulteaux words. I knew that McKay was not sufficiently versed in the Prairie Cree to confine his interpretations to their own language.
The Rev. Mr. McDougall was busy trying to calm Bear Skin, the most irate and the loudest of any of the crowd. Both leading chiefs stood without saying a word while all the fuss went on. Finally Big Child was satisfied that the Government party had been sufficiently chastised. He waved to those 241 immediately surrounding him to be seated, and as before, with a few words, restored order.
The Governor was quick to take advantage of the lull after Mista-wa-sis had waved his people to silence. You could almost feel the strong tension that still remained. Governor Morris started his address with the Rev. McKay interpreting.
"You nations of the Crees," he began, "I am here on a most important mission as representing Her Majesty the Queen Mother to form a treaty with you in her name, that you surrender your rights in these northern territories to the government."
He went on to explain that treaties already had been signed by other tribes, naming those that had been treated with. He mentioned the Touchwood Hills Crees and some of the others, saying that he had been chosen because he was familiar with Indian conditions.
McKay's interpretations were mixed with Swampy and Saulteaux words. I mentioned this in English to the table, and the Honourable James angrily shouted, "Stop that, or you will rattle him!"
Mista-wa-sis, after listening for a time, jumped to his feet and said, "We are not Swampy Crees or Saulteaux Indians. We are Plains Crees and demand to be spoken to in our own language."
McKay understood, was confused, and sat down. The Governor turned to me and asked what the chief had said. I explained the chief's words. The Rev. McKay again tried to continue, got mixed up with Saulteaux words and took his seat.
Ballenden was now called up. I was delighted, for I knew the man quite well. He was a good man to interpret personal talks but I knew he would be completely out of his element as an interpreter for such a large meeting, where a man's voice had to carry to reach the men furthest from the stand.
His attitude of the previous evening in not showing me any recognition; and Clarke's conspicuous neglect of a formal introduction, even though he was personally acquainted with me, had fairly made my blood boil. I had no pity for the men who had contributed their share to having me discredited with the Commissioner. Ballenden did exactly as I thought. He made an excellent interpretation of the Governor's words but in a voice so low that it could not be heard beyond the first ten rows of men seated on the ground. The men in the back rows got to their feet and demanded that he speak in a louder voice; again there was some confusion and the two chiefs beside me got to their feet and ordered the men to be quiet. Ballenden tried to raise his voice, choked, and then sat down. My revenge at that 242 moment was sweet but I could read consternation on the faces of my impolite friends at the table.
The Governor, who I could see was growing exasperated at these frequent interruptions to his talk, said, "All right, Erasmus. Let this be your chance to justify your chiefs' confidence in your work."
I immediately rose to my feet, stepped beside the Governor's table, faced the Crees, and spoke in Cree, reviewing the text of the Governor's speech to them. Then I motioned to the Commissioner to continue his address. I knew my voice had suffered nothing from my heated veins or the exultation that I felt at the complete disposal of the slight so desperately manoeuvered by these men sitting around the table. The Governor spoke for an hour or so explaining the purpose of the treaty and its objectives, and describing in some detail the terms. He especially emphasized the money each person would get. There were no further interruptions.
Once during a pause in the Governor's speech, the Honourable James differed with me over an interpretation of one word. However, his brother supported my interpretation in the matter and no further objections were expressed during the whole of the remaining treaty negotiations. Though that first day I felt high strung and angry over the treatment I had received, I was determined that nothing would prevent me from doing my work with credit to my employers and justice to the Governor's talks.
The Indians had retired to their teepees or were sitting in groups discussing the treaty terms. Hunter was around somewhere with the other Indians. I was reclining in our tent trying to calm my ruffled feelings and assess the value of my contribution to the talks when the Governor's cook stuck his head in the tent flaps and said that the Governor wanted to see me. I was about to give the men a curt refusal, thinking that sending the lowest man on their staff to summon me to the great man's presence was another effort to emphasize my status. Then I heard the Hon. James McKay, Christie, and Dr. Jackes questioning the cook, asking if he had found my tent. He answered in the affirmative; then they all came to the tent and said they were there to escort me back to the Governor's quarters. Entering, I stood without making any comment, awaiting the gentleman's pleasure. "Well, Mr. Erasmus. I suppose you are slightly exhausted over your labours this forenoon?" I thought I detected a slight hint of sarcasm in his tone and immediately answered, "No, Mr. Morris. Not by the work but by the preliminaries that led up to the work."
He smiled and I heard laughs in the background. Then he 243 came forward to where I was standing and handed me a glass of brandy, which I accepted, for to have refused would have indicated that I was still nursing a grievance in the face of his apparent effort at appeasement.
"Mr. Erasmus, I called you here to congratulate you on your work. You are the first man I ever heard who interpreted to such a large audience without making a mistake. I see you have friends around here, although our first impressions may have discouraged this view."
It was pretty much of an after-dinner speech. Some of the Governor's guests applauded but I noticed that Clarke and Ballenden were not among them. Mr. Morris advised me that, beginning that day, I would be in his pay for the balance of the talks.
"Thank you, Sir. I hope that I may have better co-operation in the next few days. I promise to give you the best I have, and assure you that today's unpleasantness will not be repeated from our side."
I begged to be excused and took my departure without further words.
The next day the Police band preceded the Governor as before, but there was not so much pomp and display from the Government party. Even the Governor walked unescorted from his carriage the short distance to the stand. The Indians were already in place in their usual postures of comfortable listening as on the previous day.
The Commissioner formally opened the meeting by stating that today he wanted to hear what they had to say, adding, "I cannot go any further in regard to the terms I explained yesterday."
Poundmaker, who was not a chief at that time but just a brave, spoke up and said, "The governor mentions how much land is to be given to us. He says 640 acres, one mile square for each family, he will give us." And in a loud voice he shouted, "This is our land! It isn't a piece of pemmican to be cut off and given in little pieces back to us. It is ours and we will take what we want."
A strong wave of approval came back from the seated Indians at his statement. Some braves in the last row rose to their feet, waved their hands and arms, shouting, "Yes! Yes! " in Cree. Apparently these were Poundmaker's followers. It was some time before the main chiefs could restore order.
The Commissioner was visibly shaken by this demonstration that erupted at the beginning. His assumption had been that the Indians had completely adopted his treaty terms, which by his own words he was not authorized to change in any 244 form. I thought to myself, "A boxer sent into the ring with his hands tied."
The Governor went on to explain that unless certain lands were set aside for the sole use of the Indians, the country would be flooded with white settlers who would not give the Indians any consideration whatever. He made references to other areas where settlement was growing very fast. Morris's speech and explanation were couched in simple terms for the understanding of the Indian people. His manner held a sincerity that was most effective in impressing his audience. Knowing the Indians as I did, I could see that they were receiving the message with a growing understanding of its purpose.
Standing at the Governor's table I was able to observe the reactions of some of the listeners. I felt that Big Child and Star Blanket were both convinced of the fairness and justice of the terms explained to them by the speaker. I had an increased confidence in my interpretations, my sympathies transferred to the Governor's side, and my early animosity to the party was completely gone. The translations came to my tongue without effort and I seemed inspired to a tension that made my voice heard in the back rows where I had placed Hunter to give me a sign if my voice was not being heard distinctly.
Mista-wa-sis rose to his feet at the conclusion of Morris's detailed explanations of the treaty terms and answers to questions that arose during the proceedings, saying, "We heard all you have told us and I want to tell the Governor how it is with us as well. When a thing is thought out quietly, that is the best way. I ask this of him today, that we go and think over his words."
Governor Morris agreed with the chief and the meeting was adjourned till Monday. It was now Saturday.
The Indians did not hold a council on Sunday. The main chiefs said it was better to let the people have time to talk things over among themselves before calling a meeting. So word was sent to the Governor that they wanted to postpone the meeting till Tuesday. Permission was granted and a council called for Monday.
I was asked to attend the council with them and was personally escorted to the meeting by Mista-wa-sis and his ally Star Blanket. They said that I might be called upon to explain the talks, in case of any misunderstanding of my interpretations of the treaty terms. "There are many among us who are trying to confuse and mislead the people; that is why I thought it best to give them lots of time for their bad work. Today they will have to come out in the open and will be forced to show their intentions," said Big Child.
about an understanding among their own. people before meeting with the Commissioner.
Whether the treaty was actually misunderstood or deliberately misconstrued I know not, but the meeting was hardly underway when Big Child motioned me to disprove any wrong statement by those opposed to the agreement.
There were immediate objections to my taking part in the council but Star Blanket got up and spoke most emphatically. "Mista-wa-sis and I fetched this man here at a great deal of trouble to ourselves because we were told that Peter Erasmus was learned in the language the Governor speaks. You all heard and saw the other men fail to interpret what he tried to say. He, Peter Erasmus, is the people's hired man. He is here to open our eyes and ears to the words that you and I cannot understand. Mista-wa-sis and I have asked him here to keep us right on what was offered in the treaty terms."
Ah-tuk-a-kup's words had the immediate effect of silencing any further attempts to confuse treaty terms. There was then no further need to dispute any statement intended to be misleading by those opposed or trying for better promises under the agreements.
The talks went on all day, only adjourned for a short noon- hour meal. Indian eloquence had full play that day. Many of the council men spoke in addition to the chiefs. There was a Chipewyan Indian present who argued considerable time away and was supported by Poundmaker and The Badger until a council man rose and objected to his interference.
"This man is not a chief and has no authority to speak for his band. Why should he be allowed to interrupt the council and waste so much of our time?"
There was loud assent from many voices and that silenced the voluble Chipewyan, whom I judged to be the main troublemaker.
Poundmaker and The Badger led the faction who were strong in their objections and refused to grant the possibility of existing by agricultural pursuits. These men had most of their support from those with less than thirty lodges to their count. Late that afternoon, I thought there was little hope of reaching an agreement. I was getting tired and about to ask permission to retire when I saw Ah-tuk-a-kup nod to Big Child.
Mista-wa-sis rose to his feet. All afternoon he had sat without taking part in the speeches. All those who were taking part in the previous arguments sat down. There was silence as the man stood and waited for every person to be seated.
"I have heard my brothers speak, complaining of the 246 hardships endured by our people. Some have bewailed the poverty and suffering that has come to Indians because of the destruction of the buffalo as the chief source of our living, the loss of the ancient glory of our forefathers; and with all that I agree, in the silence of my teepee and on the broad prairies where once our fathers could not pass for the great number of those animals that blocked their way; and even in our day, we have had to choose carefully our campground for fear of being trampled in our teepees. With all these things, I think and feel intensely the sorrow my brothers express.
"I speak directly to Poundmaker and The Badger and those others who object to signing this treaty. Have you anything better to offer our people? I ask, again, can you suggest anything that will bring these things back for tomorrow and all the tomorrows that face our people?
"I for one think that the Great White Queen Mother has offered us a way of life when the buffalo are no more. Gone they will be before many snows have come to cover our heads or graves if such should be."
There were loud groans and exclamations of despair at the latter statement from many places among the group. Mista-wa- sis continued after waiting for the murmur to die down.
"I speak the tongue of the Blackfoot. I have been in their lodges. I have seen with my eyes and listened with my ears to the sorrows of that once-proud nation; people whom we have known as our enemies, the Peigan and the Bloods who are their brothers. Pay attention, listen hard to what I am about to say. The Big Knives of the south came into Blackfoot territory as traders; though few in number they have conquered these nations, and that, all the Crees in the days of our fathers and their fathers before them failed to do. How did they do it? Listen closely, my brothers, and you will understand. What was done to them can be done to us if we throw away the hand that is extended to us by this treaty.
"These traders, who were not of our land, with smooth talk and cheap goods persuaded the southern tribes it would be a good thing to have a place to trade products of the hunt, the hides and tanned goods. The traders came and built strong forts, and with their long rifles that can kill at twice the distance of our own and the short guns that can spout death six times quicker than you can tell about it, they had the people at their mercy. The Blackfoot soon found out the traders had nothing but whisky to exchange for their skins. Oh, yes! They were generous at first with their rotten whisky, but not for long. The traders demanded pay and got Blackfoot horses, buffalo robes, and all other things they had to offer.
"Those traders laughed at them for fools, and so they were, to sell their heritage for ruin and debauchery. Some of the bravest of the Blackfoot tried to get revenge for the losses but they were shot down like dogs and dragged to the open plains on horses to rot or be eaten by wolves.
"The Great Queen Mother, hearing of the sorrows of her children, sent out the Red Coats. Though these were only of a number you could count on your fingers and toes, yet the cutthroats and criminals who recognized no authority but their guns, who killed each other on the slightest pretence and murdered Indians without fear of reprisal, immediately abandoned their forts, strong as they were, and fled back to their own side of the line. I ask you why those few men could put to flight those bad men who for years have defied the whole of the southern Indian nations?
"Surely these Red Coats are men of flesh and blood as ourselves and a bullet is just as effective on them as on any Blackfoot. Why of course, they are of flesh and blood. They could be killed as easily as any Blackfoot, but ask yourselves why the traders fled in fear from so few men. The southern tribes outnumbered this small Police Force one hundred to one, but they were helpless in spite of their numbers.
"Let me tell you why these things were so. It was the power that stands behind those few Red Coats that those men feared and wasted no time in getting out when they could; the power that is represented in all the Queen's people, and we the children are counted as important as even the Governor who is her personal speaker.
"The Police are the Queen Mother's agents and have the same laws for whites as they have for the Indians. I have seen these things done and now the Blackfoot welcome these servants of the Queen Mother and invite her Governor for a treaty with them next year.
"I, for one, look to the Queen's law and her Red Coat servants to protect our people against the evils of white man's firewater and to stop the senseless wars among our people, against the Blackfoot, Peigans, and Bloods. We have been in darkness; the Blackfoot and the others are people as we are. They will starve as we will starve when the buffalo are gone. We will be brothers in misery when we could have been brothers in plenty in times when there was no need for any man, woman, or child to be hungry.
"We speak of glory and our memories are all that is left to feed the widows and orphans of those who have died in its attainment. We are few in numbers compared to former times, by wars and the terrible ravages of smallpox. Our people have 248 vanished too. Even if it were possible to gather all the tribes together, to throw away the hand that is offered to help us, we would be too weak to make our demands heard.
"Look to the great Indian nations in the Long Knives' country who have been fighting since the memory of their oldest men. They are being vanquished and swept into the most useless parts of their country. Their days are numbered like those of the buffalo. There is no law or justice for the Indians in Long Knives' country. The Police followed two murderers to Montana and caught them but when they were brought to the Montana court they were turned free because it was not murder to kill an Indian.
"The prairies have not been darkened by the blood of our white brothers in our time. Let this always be so. I for one will take the hand that is offered. For my band I have spoken."
There was a deep silence after Mista-wa-sis had taken his seat. No one appeared to have anything to say. Then, finally, Star Blanket rose to his feet and for along minute stood with his head bowed as if in deep thought or as if he had been profoundly impressed with the former speaker's words.
"Yes," he said finally, "I have carried the dripping scalps of the Blackfoot on my belt and thought it was a great deed of bravery. I thought it was part of the glory of war but I now agree with Mista-wa-sis." Then he raised his voice so that it rang with the power of great conviction, "It is no longer a good thing. If we had been friends we might now be a host of people of all nations and together have power to demand the things some of you foolishly think you can get and insist on now demanding.
"No, that is not the road we took, but killed each other in continuous wars and in horse stealing, all for the glory we all speak of so freely. The great sickness took half our lodges and the dreaded disease fell as heavily on our enemies. We are weak and my brother Mista-wa-sis I think is right that the buffalo will be gone forever before many snows. What then will be left us with which to bargain? With the buffalo gone we will have only the vacant prairie which none of us have learned to use.
"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 consume every blade of grass and every leaf on the trees in their path? I think not. Before this happens let us ponder carefully our choice of roads.
"There are men among you who are trying to blind our eyes, and refuse to see the things that have brought us to this pass. Let us not think of ourselves but of our children's children. We hold our place among the tribes as chiefs and 249 councillors because our people think we have wisdom above others amongst us. Then let us show our wisdom. Let us show our wisdom by choosing the right path now while we yet have a choice.
"We have always lived and received our needs in clothing, shelter, and food from the countless multitudes of buffalo that have been with us since the earliest memory of our people. No- one with open eyes and open minds can doubt that the buffalo will soon be a thing of the past. Will our people live as before when this comes to pass? No! They will die and become just a memory unless we find another way.
"For my part, I think that the Queen Mother has offered us a new way and I have faith in the things my brother Mista-wa-sis has told you. The mother earth has always given us plenty with the grass that fed the buffalo. Surely we Indians can learn the ways of living that made the white man strong and able to vanquish all the great tribes of the southern nations. The white men never had the buffalo but I am told they have cattle in the thousands that are covering the prairie for miles and will replace the buffalo in the Long Knives' country and may even spread over our lands. The white men number their lodges by the thousands, not like us who can only count our teepees by tens. I will accept the Queen's hand for my people. I have spoken."
With the last of his words, the councillors of both main speakers rose to their feet, together held up their hands as a gesture of acceptance, and again took their places. Other chiefs among the assembly spoke a few words in agreement. The greater majority with a few exceptions had accepted the views of the two main chiefs.
Mista-wa-sis adjourned the meeting by saying, "It is good that my brothers go back to their teepees and study these matters with care. We will not be hasty. You will have a chance to ask questions on things you want cleared up. We will have our interpreter mark down the things we think we should have."
To this the Indians agreed. Dismissed, many of the chiefs came up and shook hands with Mista-wa-sis and Ah-tuk-a- kup, thus expressing their unanimous approval of the speeches of the two men that had swung the meeting in favour of treaty terms. I noticed that Poundmaker and The Badger were not among those who came forward to shake hands.
After I had retired to our tent, I lay awake thinking of the things spoken by the two chiefs, and marvelled at the confidence they both felt in the fairness of the justice carried out by this slender arm of the Queen Mother. The statement that 250 the Police had the same laws for white men and the Indians was true of our country, whereas only the previous year some Americans had committed murder on our side of the line. They had been followed to Montana and arrested but when they were brought before the Montana court, in spite of all the clear evidence of their guilt, the case was dismissed. The men had only killed Indians and that was not considered a crime on that side of the line.
On Tuesday the Indians were slow in gathering at the Governor's tent. Poundmaker and The Badger were trying to gather support for their demands in the matter of treaty terms. Majority opinion had forced them to a grudging consent at the meeting. The Chipewyan was again active wherever he could find an audience, and backed by the other two men had regained his former boldness. But I noticed he was having difficulty in getting anyone to listen.
The Governor did not waste any time on preliminary talk but said he was ready to listen to the people and was prepared to clear up any question about which there was any doubt. Poundmaker immediately spoke, asking help when the Indians started to settle on the reserves. The Badger took up the theme with more elaboration.
"We think of our children. We do not want to be greedy but when we commence to settle on the reserves we select, it is then we want aid and when we can't help ourselves in case of trouble."
Sakamoos and others spoke, referring to portions of the treaty in regard to settlement on reserves, the need for medical help, and guidance in regard to the new project of agriculture. A summary of their remarks meant that they wanted assistance to get established in their new occupation of agriculture, not only financially but also in instruction and management.
Then the Hon. James McKay, in a somewhat arrogant tone, admonished them in Cree for their demands. "In my experience you always want more than you were promised in the first place and you are never satisfied with what is given you." He made other biting remarks detrimental to the character of the Indian.
In view of my knowledge of what had transpired at their council I thought his speech most unfortunate and very harmful. His very attitude insulted the intelligence of his listeners. There was distinct murmur of disapproval all over the crowd. McKay had hardly taken his seat when The Badger leapt to his feet.
"I did not say that I wanted to be fed every day. You, I know, understand our language and yet you twist my words to suit 251 your own meaning. What I did say was that when we settle on the ground to work the land, that is when we will need help and that is the only way a poor Indian can get along."
The speech that McKay had made was not interpreted into English but Morris could see that it had made a bad impression on the people by the angry stir that prevailed. I interpreted all Indian replies and said, "Let McKay, the Honourable James, explain his own speech." However, I noticed the Governor did not take the trouble to inquire into the contents of McKay's speech that had so roused the Indians.
"You will remember the promise that I have already made," he said instead. "You will get the seed and you need not concern yourselves about what your children will eat. They will be taught and be able to look after themselves."
Big Child spoke, "It is well known that if we have plenty in our gardens and crops we would not insist on getting more provisions, but it is only in the case of extremity and from the ignorance of Indians in commencing to work the land that we speak. We are in the dark. This is no trivial matter with us."
"The things we have talked over in our Council, we think are for our good," said Star Blanket. "I believe that the good councillors of the Queen Mother and her commissioners know what is best for them. I was told that the Governor was a good man and now that I have seen him and listened to him talk, I know I heard right. He has removed some of the obstacles to our understanding and I hope he will remove them all."
Star Blanket paused in his discourse as Big Child rose to his feet and demanded silence from the back where the Chipewyan was again causing a disturbance.
Star Blanket continued, "We want food in the spring, when we begin to farm; according as the Indian settles on the land and as he advances, his needs will increase. I would now ask the Governor to give us time to consider all the things that he has told us today."
This was granted, with a warning from the Commissioner that he could not spend too much time with them as he had other tribes to treat with that would be waiting for him. He further stated that he had heard that the buffalo were near and they would want to be on their way to get their winter provisions. "Food, my friends, is getting scarce in camp."
The Governor now turned to the Chipewyan who had been making a disturbance in the crowd. "You are only one of those people you claim to represent. You are no wiser than your tribe who have already accepted treaty terms with the Government. If you have anything to say, I will speak to your people after I have finished with the Crees."
Teequaysay on the following day got up at the outset of the meeting to say, "Listen, my friends, all of you sitting around here, be patient and listen to what our interpreter has been instructed to tell you. What he will tell you are the things our main chiefs and councillors have decided to ask for and have agreed are for our best interests. There will be no more talk or questions asked of the Governor."
I first explained to the Commissioner that the document I was about to read had been prepared by the main chiefs and their councillors and actually contained little more than what already had been promised, but I had been asked to read the petition to all the people for their agreement. Thus I interpreted the contents to the Indians before handing it to the Governor.
The Governor then spoke at some length as he dealt with each section of the petition and gave reasons for the few of the things that could not be granted. However, he consented to a grant of one thousand dollars to assist those actually engaged in farming land on the reserves, but this would operate for three years only. This would apply to each band. They would receive a plough and harrow for three families under the same conditions. They would be at liberty to hunt and trap on government lands the same as before. The things they would be getting would be a present on top of what they had before nor would they be compelled to go to war except on their own free will. A medicine chest would be placed in the house of every agent for the free use of the band. Each band would get four oxen, one bull and six cows, one boar and two pigs. After a band had settled on its reserve and started to raise grain, they would get one hand mill. Each chief would get one horse, harness and wagon.
Most of the chiefs expressed agreement, but Poundmaker was still not satisfied. Joseph Toma asked for guns and said he was speaking for Red Pheasant.
Morris replied, "When the list of things the interpreter read was handed to me, Red Pheasant sat in silence and I presumed he was satisfied as the others were. Then the principal chiefs expressed approval. I cannot grant your request."
Red Pheasant got up and repudiated the statement of Joseph Toma's as his own and not by his permission. That terminated the discussion in the formation of the treaty terms.
The Governor thanked the Indians for their attention and co-operation in all the proceedings and stated that the additional requests would be written in the treaty in all things he had agreed to. These special provisions were added into the draft of the treaty before the signing began. There were fifty 253 signatures to that historic document and other adhesions followed the same wording as that signed at Carlton. The reading of the treaty took a great deal of time and required the services of all the interpreters but this time there were no fireworks in the matter of words used, nor the objection to Ballenden's voice. Half the Indians were not concerned.
Mista-wa-sis had called me aside and told me to keep a close watch on the wording to see that it included everything that had been promised. However, the other chiefs appeared satisfied that the Governor would carry out his promises to the letter. I was able to assure Mista-wa-sis that everything promised had been included in the writing. He was satisfied and his name was the first in the signing.
The following day the Governor was at his tent at ten o'clock while the chiefs' uniforms were issued, complete with medals and a flag. The councilmen were to receive theirs at the Hudson's Bay store. The Governor gave them a short discourse on the meaning of the uniforms, which in substance meant that they were now representatives of the Queen Mother and to see that their people should receive justice, and on their part to fulfill the obligations contained in their positions. There would be an issue of uniforms to the men that they chose from time to time to represent them as chiefs and councillors.
There was a great deal of hand-shaking and some fine compliments exchanged on both sides before the Governor took his departure. Mista-wa-sis and Star Blanket, I knew, meant every word they said, as did the Governor. Poundmaker was equally well versed in complimentary words but I felt certain that he didn't mean a word he said; in this I was right, for eight years later he served in jail for his activities in the Riel Rebellion.
Treaty payments were started immediately after the signing. Christie was in charge and retained me for the balance of that day to assist in the interpretations. "Peter, the Governor wishes to see you at the fort this evening for a private talk and I believe Clarke has something to say as well," he advised me.
Later in the evening I made the call.
"I'm proud of you, Erasmus," said Clarke, "the way you handled the first day of the talks. I was in a bad spot after hiring those two men. I could not go back on my word."
"Well, as it turned out there was no harm done, but I hope you realize that your actions almost created a riot and could have wrecked the whole business. Trying to pretend you did not know me that first evening I considered a rank insult, and that, my high-minded friend, I do not take without repayment.
Further, you should know that you cannot treat men like Mista-wa-sis and Ah-tuk-a-kup as children, and the manner in which the Honourable James spoke during the meeting was equally as stupid."
"Well, Peter, I hope you hold no grudge. You can understand the position I was in at the time. I hope you will forget the whole miserable business."
"Certainly, Clarke. The victor is never the man to bear a grudge; it is always the loser, and I hope you bear that in mind."
Later in the day I had an interview with the Governor which was more than satisfactory, as he shook hands with me and told me to take a seat. Christie was present and appeared to be busy with treaty business.
"Your salary will be five dollars a day, as you have interpreted for the Indians as well as the government."
"He has done two men's work," said Christie, "so he is entitled to that money as well. And the man has travelled several hundred miles to be here — he should be given something for that."
"You are right, Mr. Christie," replied the Governor. "Put him down for fifteen dollars for four days' pay. He will be paid at five dollars a day during treaty negotiations and a travel allowance until I am through at Fort Pitt."
This was indeed good news and the unexpected support from Mr. Christie was, you can believe me, more than ample compensation for my real or imagined slight of the first evening of the talks.
"You may go with me to Fort Pitt by way of Battleford or you can go direct to Fort Pitt and meet me there. You will be paid at the rate of five dollars per day for travelling and the same for interpreting when I arrive."
"I would prefer to go direct to Fort Pitt as I have a friend with me who will take care of some supplies that I intend to take back to my people."
So it was arranged to meet at Fort Pitt.
Hunter, during all our stay at Carlton, had taken care of our horses, and also made himself useful in keeping me informed of all the latest developments in camp in relation to the activities and opinions in regard to treaty talks. I was thus free to devote all my time to a study of the treaty terms in the conduct of my duties. He had cultivated a friendship with Mista-wa-sis and Ah-tuk-a-kup, and I suspect kept them fully informed on all angles of their opposition.
On the morning of the twenty-fifth, we were making 255 preparations to go to Fort Pitt when the two main chiefs called at our teepee to inform us that they had not collected all the money from their Indians for our pay.
"We were waiting for the Indians to receive all their treaty money before we started collecting your money."
I replied: "We will have to start today or this evening as it will just give us time to meet our appointment with the Governor."
"All right," said Star Blanket. "We will start at once and see what we can do. You must wait until we see you later in the day."
They handed me two hundred and thirty dollars that afternoon, and with the sixty I had received from the paymaster Mr. Christie, I felt well paid for my trip. I thanked them for the money and told them I was well satisfied with the amount they gave me.
An Indian stopped me while I was making the rounds of the traders' stores and offered to buy Whitey, my buffalo runner horse. "I want a hundred dollars for him without the saddle or bridle," I said.
He accepted at once and handed me a roll of bills for me to count out the money. I called Hunter to witness the counting, as he had been instructed in the use of money. The animal was good value for the price but I mention this incident to show how easily at that time the Indians could have been cheated out of their money.
I bought a good stout cart horse harnessed to a cart for fifty dollars to carry our duffle and the goods we bought. The traders were getting ready to move to the next trading spot at Fort Pitt and were offering some good deals to lighten their loads. I bought a shotgun practically new for about half the asking price from my new brother-in-law, then loaded our carts with staple articles of food and a stove. This would be the first cooking stove we would have since our marriage.
At our evening stop I took the gun and presented it to John Hunter; his pleasure was something to see, as he alternately polished the blued steel of the barrel and took aim as if to get used to the feel of the gun. Then I showed him a handsome piece of good print for dresses for his wife and some household utensils as well, but when I showed him all those things his former pleasure evaporated and he looked very grim.
"Peter," he said, "I cannot accept this gun with all the other things that you have bought for us. I never could match such a gift with a return. It is too much. My wife shall have all the things you bought for her but I am sorry you must take the gun back."
"That gun, my friend, is not a gift. It is in payment for all the work looking after the horses and your trouble mixing with the Indians to bring back a report of what was going on in camp. You have earned the price of that gun five times over. Without your help, I could not have prepared my interpretations or made myself familiar with all the things the Governor had to tell the people in that paper the chiefs and councillors signed."
"Yes," said Hunter, "but I was doing those things for my own pleasure and didn't know that it was any help to you. I would have looked after the horses in any case."
"You must not think," I said, "that I would be so ungrateful and selfish as to take all that pay and not give you something for all your wife has done for us and all the kind friendly acts you have done for me personally." Assuming an angry tone, I said, "Throw the gun away if you wish. It is yours to do what you like with it. I do not need another gun as I have one at home just as good."
He was profuse in his apologies. Luckily I had hit on the only theme that could dissolve his ethical beliefs that a gift must always have compensation.
"You must give those things to my wife as a gift. Do not give her those things as payment for care of your wife, or she will be hurt and refuse them even as a gift." I had not thought of it his way. Such delicate management hadn't occurred to me. To pay his wife for what they considered a friendly service would be putting a price on friendship that would take away the pleasure of doing things for your real friends.
We were both happy on the first leg of our journey towards home. We were well satisfied with our trip. John Hunter was a chief in his own tribe. His name interpreted in English was Little Hunter. He was not a small man as his name would indicate but I found that the name may have been received as a child. He was not a big man but he certainly wasn't little either in physical stature or in character.
"Poundmaker," he said while discussing the meeting, "is not satisfied, nor will he ever be satisfied. He does not think but just talks and keeps on talking. He and some of the others will make trouble. Times will be hard for the prairie Indians once the buffalo are gone. They will have nothing and will not settle on the land until they are nearing starvation. Steinhauer has often told us that we must learn to farm and raise animals to support ourselves for the day when the buffalo will be no more. Now I have to believe him. We are lucky that we already know something about raising grain and vegetables, and besides we still have bush game and fish.
We arrived at Fort Pitt ahead of the government party. A detachment of Police was already camped on the north side of the river and I counted a hundred Indian teepees camped on the flat near the fort.
We crossed the river with a boat that some traders were using to carry their goods across. Although the river was unusually low that fall, crossing goods over safely always gave some concern. By assisting the traders, we got the use of their boat that made the crossing a simple matter.
On the morning of September the fifth, the Governor and his party arrived with a Police escort that had gone out to meet him. All the tribes that were to meet there had not yet arrived but they had sent riders ahead to tell the others of their coming. Finally on the sixth, the last of the tribes pitched their teepees with the others.
I was resting under my cart when William Bull of the James Seenum band came to where I was resting. "The chiefs have called a meeting and have sent me to bring you to speak to them."
I thought it necessary for one of us to stay with our cart as there was a host of prowling dogs around. Train dogs are cunning beasts and I always said that I thought they would sooner steal than be fed in a proper way.
"Go ahead," said Hunter. "I can keep your shady couch warm till you return. Then we will move in with the chief Seenum and William who have invited us to share their teepee. We can get a canvas and bind our load for safety."
I was questioned at some length about the attitude of the tribes who signed the treaty at Carlton, about details in reference to treaty concessions, and the terms agreed upon, which by that time I had memorized by heart. I gave them a review of the discussions of the council meeting of the chiefs at Carlton, reporting the objections raised by those who opposed the signing, and spoke of the petition that had been drawn up for the Commissioner, with the points agreed to and those refused. I mentioned Poundmaker's and The Badger's efforts at trying to block or misinterpret the terms of the treaty, at which there were some expressions of disgust about their attitude." Then I wound up my talk by a report of the two speeches made by Mista-wa-sis and Ah-tuk-a-kup that had swung the whole opinion of the assembly in favour of the signing.
I could see that the content of these two speeches had a tremendous effect on my audience, as I had reserved the latter for the last before sitting down.
Sweet Grass, who was the most important chief among 258 those gathered in council, rose to his feet to speak to their people.
"Mista-wa-sis and Ah-tuk-a-kup, I consider, are far wiser than I am; therefore if they have accepted this treaty for their people after many days of talk and careful thought, then I am prepared to accept for my people."
Chief Seenum then took his place and spoke. "You have all questioned Peter Erasmus on the things that have taken place at Carlton. He is a stranger to many of you but I am well acquainted with him. I have respect for his words and have confidence in his truthfulness. Mista-wa-sis and Ah-tuk-a-kup both sent their sons all the way from Carlton to where he lives, and he is married to one of our favourite daughters. He was not at home but they followed him to the prairie where he was hunting buffalo with our people. Little Hunter is a chief and brings back a good report of his work during treaty talks. He would not tell us something that was not for our good. Therefore, as those other chiefs who are in greater number than we are have found this treaty good, I and my head man will sign for our people. I have spoken."
Each of the other chiefs with their councillors expressed agreement, each man expressing in his own words ideas that conformed to the general acceptance of treaty terms. They were all willing to sign the treaty and there was not a single dissenting voice.
There was some delay on the morning of the seventh, which was the day set for the meeting with the Governor, as it was found that there were insufficient young men for the manoeuvres that always preceded a gathering of this kind as at the meeting at Carlton. Finally two young men volunteered their help. They were in training but as yet were not considered fully qualified.
The riders were performing in front of the people who were advancing to the Commissioner's tent when suddenly the two young men got confused in their movements and crashed their horses into each other. Both men were thrown to the ground, receiving injuries, and the horses were hurt. Fortunately there was a Police doctor on hand who took charge of the injured men. One had a dislocated hip while the other had only minor injuries; as they were taken care of the proceedings went ahead.
To an inexperienced person, viewing it for the first time, the show would appear to be a disorganized, undisciplined, crazy display of horsemanship, but this was not true. I had watched them training from a slow walking speed; all movements had an exact timing that was finally speeded up to manoeuvres that 259 were carried out with a speed and intricacy of movement that was most confusing to those watching for the first time.
When the people were finally seated in their usual posture, sitting cross-legged, the Governor opened his address. There were no interruptions, but quiet attentive listening. At the conclusion of his talks, he asked the people for their opinions, but no one responded. There was a considerable pause as he waited for their reaction to his words. Morris looked puzzled, or rather "disappointed" might be the better description of his attitude. At other places he had received many objections and a lot of questions.
Finally Chief Eagle got to his feet, faced the people, and told them not to be afraid to speak their minds. If there was anything they did not understand or wished to know, this was the place and the time to express their thoughts. However, there was no response; apparently they had made up their minds the day previously.
Sweet Grass made a speech of some length, expressing his willingness on behalf of his people to accept the treaty terms and summed up his address by saying, "I am no wiser than my brothers at Fort Carlton who have accepted the Queen Mother's hand. I will sign for my people."
James Seenum spoke with some feeling, referring to the plough he had received as a gift from Mr. Christie some years previously. He stated that they had pulled the plough by manpower when their ponies had refused to work, had used the roots of trees for hoes, and had now learned the value of growing grain and vegetables. He was greatly pleased to know that now they would be furnished with better tools and the means to work the land.
Chief Seenum asked for a large tract of land. "For my part, I wish to say that I want a large area to settle all the Cree — the Woods Crees and Plain Crees — who may not now be taken in by the treaties at this time."
Apparently he wanted a general reserve that would accommodate all Indians who might not at this time be willing to choose land and which would be set apart for this purpose. The chief went on to say, "I want an area from the Whitemud River to Dog Rump Creek, extending back as far as the Beaver River and its southern border to be the Saskatchewan River."
The Governor replied that he could not promise such a large tract of land without consultation with his superiors. The area selected was beyond his instructions. "It is not in my power to add clauses to this treaty, no more than you have already been promised, but I will bring your request before the House at Ottawa. However, I know it will not be accepted. As 260 you said so, being a chief, I will bring the matter to the attention of my superiors."
Eight years afterward, in June of 1884, James Seenum engaged me to accompany him and interpret in regard to his request for a large area as requested in this treaty at Fort Pitt. We went to Regina where he was successful in getting the Saddle Lake Reserve lines extended to take in a block of land to the east. He had amended his claims considerably but won his demands for better farm land, because the Whitefish and Goodfish Reserves were not large enough to accommodate the young people according to the average per-person allowance by treaty terms.
On September 9th, the treaty terms were read and explained to the people. The chiefs agreed to sign, and so the treaty was quickly completed with none of the dissension that had occurred at Carlton. The paying of treaty money and issuing of uniforms took the greater part of two more days.
Governor Morris advised me that I would now be in the government service and that he would recommend me at a salary of fifty dollars per month. I would act for the government in the distribution of rations and goods in fulfillment of the government's part of the treaty terms. I would also be called upon from time to time to interpret the treaties to those chiefs who had not yet signed. I was to remain at my present abode at Whitefish Lake for the purpose of handling matters concerned with Indians of that area and its precincts.
This information was most agreeable and an entirely different prospect than that I was faced with on my first appearance at Carlton. Governor Morris further advised me that I would be on call for any assignment for which my services might be required. To all this I agreed, suitably expressing my appreciation of his confidence and assuring him of my fidelity in the accomplishment of my duties.
The departure of Governor Morris and his entourage was attended by all the chiefs and their head men, with considerable show of appreciation and good wishes from the Indians at Fort Pitt. For myself, I felt that all the chiefs there would carry out their obligations with sincerity and would make every effort to assist their people to become established on the reserves that they would choose the following summer. This was verified in later years when I had an opportunity of visiting some of their reserves.
The camp now broke up. William Bull came to me and said he wanted to travel home with me. I was glad and arranged with him to drive one of the carts. I bought another cart and horse from a trader at a very low price as he had sold out his 261 goods and did not need the outfit on his return to Fort Garry.
I also bought five sacks of flour from the government stores from stock they had on hand to meet requirements of the Indians in the treaty negotiations, a half keg of tea, and a half keg of sugar from a ten gallon barrel. I took all the tobacco I could get, as there had been a heavy run on this luxury item. Taking advantage of the lower prices of the traders anxious to clear their stocks for the return journey, I was able to practically name my own price for the things I wanted.
The cart that I had purchased from Alexander Kennedy was iron bound, the first to make an appearance in the trade, so I was not afraid to load heavy. I was very well pleased with myself as I made the rounds of the traders preparing to leave, picking up bargains wherever I could. Money, my friend, had a great deal more value in those days and I still had money in my pocket when my carts were loaded.
William Bull was usually the best of companions but for the first few days I thought he was very quiet and somewhat despondent. Actually he seemed to be occupied in some deep thought, so I finally asked him what was troubling him.
"The chief has asked for a great stretch of land about which he now speaks as if it had already been promised to him. I listened carefully to your interpretations of the Governor's answer to his request. The Governor stated that he had no authority to grant any such request and merely stated that as James Seenum was a chief and had asked, he would pass the request on to his superiors. Is that right, Peter?"
"Yes, it certainly is. To have an unrestricted amount of land for one chief would have broken the terms of the treaty to all those others who had already signed. Surely Chief Seenum does not think that he has been promised the land from the Dog Rump Creek as far west as the Whitemud River, with the Beaver River at the north and the Saskatchewan River as its southern boundary?"
"Yes! That is exactly what he told me only the last night before the camp broke up. I tried to explain to him that this was not true but he would have none of my explanation, and we had some words between us. That is why I asked to go along with you. It would be a good thing if you would speak to him about the real truth as spoken by the Governor."
"Well of course I will talk to him, but if he does not listen to the words of his own councillor, how will he listen to me? If he is not satisfied with the terms of the treaty why did he sign? It seemed to me that he understood everything that I spoke about the night of the first council of the chiefs." I explained to them 262 that each man, woman and child then living would be apportioned eighty acres each, according to the number of Indians then belonging to his tribe.
"I and the others all understood exactly as you now explain. Further than that, the Governor also mentioned the amount of land each Indian would be entitled to when they picked their reserves next year. For myself, I can only occupy a small portion of the land my family would be entitled to, but I understand that all the land, regardless of the amount each family uses, will belong to the band and can be used by our children's children."
"You are quite right, William. I know the chief is a stubborn man but surely he is a man of his word. He has promised to abide by the agreement that all the other chiefs signed. He signed for his band and so did you."
"This thing will someday make trouble for us, mark my word," said William Bull, "for the man is not easily turned from his way, once he makes up his mind. I am afraid he will persist in claiming that the land was promised by the Governor, and many of our people will follow his lead. You and I both know differently but will the people believe us? Suppose they did, can we go against our chief?"
"Well, William, we will cross the bridge when we come to it. In the meantime, I do not think we should bother our heads about it. All the Governor promised, as I said before, was that he would bring his request to his superiors, and he also said that he was certain that they would refuse."
We were heavily loaded but by travelling early and late, we made good time. The weather remained clear and our stock stood up to the work. Our equipment did not give us any trouble or cause of delay. My iron bound cart proved an excellent improvement over the other all-wood carts.
My family was not yet home by the time we arrived at Whitefish, so we unloaded our carts and arranged to have my new horses taken care of. I caught up a fresh saddle horse and started out to meet the buffalo hunters.
I shot a black bear near where the village of Spedden is now situated. He was standing on his hind legs eating saskatoons on a side hill. He was bending the branches with his paws much as man would do. I shot him just behind the front legs in the body. He dropped and rolled almost to my horse's feet from about twenty-five steps away. The thick growth of grass had deadened the sound of my approach. It was a tempting shot but a foolish one. If our party were not on this side of the Saskatchewan, the meat would spoil before it could be used. I felt guilty of a crime against all the laws of prairie life — unwritten laws, but 263 nevertheless lived up to by all the tribes of my acquaintance. Wasting animal life without cause was looked upon as the act of a stupid and unthinking person.
Fortunately for my conscience, our people were close at hand and I met them within an hour's ride. My family was well. My newest son showed his objections to being stopped on the trail by a lusty show of lung power that wouldn't stop till the cart moved on. There was one son who would follow his father's footstep — he loved travelling before he could even crawl. The party camped early that evening and some men went out to bring the bear back to camp for distribution among the people.


Erasmus, Peter. Buffalo Days and Nights. Calgary: Glenbow-Alberta Institute, 1976.



Selection of input documents and completion of metadata: Gordon Lyall.

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