No Surrender: The Land Remains Indigenous

No Surrender: The Land Remains Indigenous

by Sheldon Krasowski


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Between 1869 and 1877 the government of Canada negotiated through Seven with Indigenous Peoples in Western Canada. Many the negotiations suffered from cultural misunderstandings between the treaty commissioners and Indigenous chiefs, but newly uncovered eyewitnes accounts show that the Canadian government had a strategic plan to deceive over the "surrender clause" and land sharing.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780889775961
Publisher: University of Regina Press
Publication date: 02/16/2019
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 1,242,288
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.90(d)

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"The Loyalty Which Costs Nothing Is Worth Nothing"

In entering into a Treaty with them, I cannot too strongly urge the necessity of making them thoroughly acquainted with its provisions, before regarding it as being finally concluded. ... If this is true and if the Indians with the general assent of the tribe enter into a treaty, after thoroughly understanding it, they will I am confident adhere to it most faithfully. If, on the other hand, they did not understand it, circumstances might arise in carrying it out, which would leave them to suppose they were overreached, and in that case it [the treaty] would not be worth the parchment on which it was written. — S.J. Dawson, December 19, 1870

Although the government of Canada successfully negotiated Treaty One at Red River in 1871, the first attempted treaty negotiation occurred the previous year at Fort Frances. The impetus for these negotiations was the Red River Resistance and the passage of Canadian soldiers through Anishinaabe territory along Lake Superior. The Anishinaabe Chiefs allowed the right-of-way for the soldiers, but the negotiations concluded on August 19, 1870, without an agreement on settlement. The Canadian government attempted a second treaty negotiation at Fort Frances the following year. On April 17, 1871, the Canadian government issued an order-in-council to appoint Wemyss Simpson as Indian commissioner to negotiate a treaty with "the bands inhabiting the tract between Thunder Bay and the Stone Fort." A later order-in-council dated April 25, 1871, appointed Simon Dawson of the Department of Public Works and Robert Pither of the Hudson's Bay Company to an association with Simpson to use their advantages to reach a treaty with the First Nations. The area covered by the order-in-council included the watershed of Lake Superior to the North-West Angle of Lake of the Woods and from the American border to the height of land from which the streams flow toward Hudson Bay. According to the crown, this land was occupied by "Saulteaux and Lac Seul Indians of the Ojibbeway Nation and numbered about twenty-five hundred men women and children." After five days of negotiations at Fort Frances, the Anishinaabe refused to accept the treaty. Commissioner Simpson then travelled to Fort Garry (near Red River), where James McKay replaced Dawson as treaty commissioner, and Lieutenant-Governor Adams Archibald took the lead in the negotiations with the Cree and Saulteaux that resulted in Treaty One.

After the failure of the Fort Frances negotiations, the treaty commissioners were under enormous pressure to conclude a successful treaty with the Cree and Saulteaux at Fort Garry. Tensions between Euro-Canadian settlers and the Saulteaux, as well as demands for compensation by the Chiefs for keeping the peace during the Red River Resistance, added to this pressure. Pressure to complete a treaty aroused the interests of journalists, and the Treaty One negotiations at Fort Garry were well documented in The Manitoban and other newspapers. The reported speeches of the Chiefs evinced eloquence but also intransigence as Indigenous leaders consistently resisted the demands of the treaty commissioners. Although the Saulteaux and Cree Chiefs agreed to Treaty One at Fort Garry and Treaty Two at Manitoba Post, there were a number of discrepancies between the written texts of the treaties and the oral negotiations. These differences were eventually resolved through "the outside promises" memorandum when Canada was forced to amend Treaty One to include additional promises. This example taught Canada that oral promises could not be made and later ignored without repercussions. The Treaty One negotiations emphasized sharing the land in exchange for treaty benefits, but as in the numbered treaties that followed at no time during the negotiations was the surrender of lands discussed. There was conflict during the negotiations, but the most significant aspect was the intense pressure on the treaty commissioners to conclude the treaty successfully, especially after the failure of negotiations at Fort Frances.


Crown representatives sent to Fort Frances knew very little about the Anishinaabe north of Lake Superior (known by the crown as Saulteaux or Ojibbeway). Indian Commissioner Simpson described the Anishinaabe at Rainy River as "quite untamed and in their native state.... They seem fully alive to their own interests and evince no small amount of intelligence in maintaining their views." Simpson was both a cousin and a brother-in-law of HBC Governor George Simpson, and he was employed by the Hudson's Bay Company at various forts throughout the west, eventually running the fort at Sault Ste. Marie until 1864. Despite this experience, Simpson appeared to have little knowledge of the Anishinaabe in the Lake Superior area. During the period of negotiations with the Anishinaabe from 1870 to 1872, Simpson paid only four visits to the territory. In his report to Lieutenant-Governor Archibald, Simpson described the Anishinaabe in the Fort Frances area as "filthy in the extreme, most improvident and ... quite incapable of understanding gratitude." He was aghast that they had refused to allow Christian missionaries to come among them, and he thought that their conditions could never be improved. Simpson claimed that the Anishinaabe did not grow crops, but he acknowledged their reliance on the wild rice harvest. In his summary to Archibald, he feared that the Anishinaabe at Fort Frances "would become a most serious bar to the settlement of the North West." Although his comments were extremely negative and short-sighted, Simpson considered his appointment as Indian commissioner to be part time; when the Manitoba Executive Council recommended the appointment of a full-time Indian commissioner in the autumn of 1872, he resigned to devote himself to business interests in Sault Ste. Marie.

Simpson's assistant treaty commissioner, Robert Pither, was also a former HBC employee at Fort Frances until he was appointed an Indian agent in 1871. In 1870, the Canadian government contracted Pither to distribute gifts among the Anishinaabe at Fort Frances and to assist Colonel Wolseley's military expedition to Red River. Simpson had nothing but praise for the work of Pither. Prior to 1870, he knew Pither only by reputation, but he was "happy to testify to his admirable qualities." Simpson claimed that Pither "knows personally every Indian and to what family he belongs and ... he also speaks their language and French and is much respected by everyone who knows him." This was high praise from Simpson, rarely supportive of his colleagues. Canada also contracted Nicolas Chastelaine to distribute presents and try to influence the Fort Frances Anishinaabe and Métis communities, but he was severely criticized by Simpson. In his report to Archibald, Simpson claimed that "Chastelaine was much given to favour the Indians in any negotiation and I do not think much to be trusted."Simpson grudgingly accepted his presence at Fort Frances because Chastelaine was "kept down by Mr. Pither." The Department of Indian Affairs later hired Chastelaine as an interpreter, and he helped to interpret the successful Treaty Three negotiations in 1873. Chastelaine received a salary of $250 per year until his death in 1892.

Although Pither garnered praise from Simpson, other government agents were more critical. In a letter to John A. Macdonald, former Indian Agent F. Burton Marshall claimed that the Chiefs did not trust Pither because of his association with the Hudson's Bay Company. After attending a council with the Chiefs in February 1872, Marshall wrote that "I feel sure that should Mr. Pither remain this winter at Fort Frances ... the government may effect no treaty next year." His point might have been exaggerated, for Marshall was angling for Pither's job, but there was mistrust between the Anishinaabe and the Hudson's Bay Company, especially after the free traders moved in and started selling goods at prices cheaper than the HBC prices. According to the written account of the Treaty Three negotiations in 1873, Pither played a limited role and did not participate in the speeches. He was named a commissioner to negotiate the treaty mainly because of his role as Indian agent at Fort Frances.

Of the three treaty commissioners appointed in 1871, Dawson had the most experience with the Anishinaabe communities since he was responsible for surveying the road from Prince Arthur's Landing on Lake Superior to the North-West Angle of the Lake of the Woods. Dawson had moved to Canada from Scotland as a young man and started working for the Department of Public Works in 1851. His experience with the Anishinaabe stretched back to 1857 when he was a member of the Hind expedition commissioned to explore Rupert's Land. After that expedition, Dawson surveyed the Red River route and managed relations between the Anishinaabe and the Department of Public Works. In late 1869, the Canadian government called on him to negotiate a treaty with the Anishinaabe Chiefs to grant the military safe passage to the Red River settlement. Dawson recalled that there was a great deal of apprehension about "the position these Indians would assume on troops being sent into their territory." Louis Riel had already visited the Anishinaabe Chiefs and asked for their assistance in his resistance to the Canadian government. Dawson found that the Chiefs had no intention of interfering with the troops; although he was unable to negotiate a comprehensive treaty that included settlement, both he and Simpson successfully negotiated for the right-of-way in the spring of 1870. In the fall, Dawson described the reaction of the Anishinaabe communities to the arrival of the troops: "They had heard that the White Man, with boats and warriors innumerable, was to pass through their land, and with natural curiosity they waited as long as they could to see so great a marvel, but the sturgeon disappeared at the usual season, and hunger compelled them to disperse before the troops arrived." According to Dawson, the Anishinaabe agreed to the right-of-way out of curiosity and self-interest. They wanted to view the Canadian soldiers, so they resisted the pressure from the Métis. Simpson quoted Chief Manatontenis: "I do not intend to try and stop the soldiers from passing through my lands on their way to Red River, but I expect a present and if Mr. Dawson is to make roads through our country I expect to be paid for the right-of-way."

The Anishinaabe respected Dawson and were willing to trust his word on the military expedition. Anishinaabe oral histories of Dawson described him as tall and fair and weighing 200 pounds. He was always "good to the Indians," especially those who worked with him on the road. Elder Joe Charlie remembered that Dawson had adapted Homer's tale of the siege of Troy to the North-West for campfire entertainment. Charlie also claimed that Dawson could travel through the country armed only with a jackknife. Dawson was once accosted by a party of surveyors from Toronto "armed to the teeth with all sorts of fearful and wonderful weapons." He addressed the party and their weaponry with a grin and asked "is it Indians ye're after or cinnamon bears?" The surveyors responded that they needed to be careful, but Dawson replied, "yes, I fancy I have seen as much of its bad places as you will see, but do you see what [weapons] I carry myself?" He then slowly turned out all of his pockets, revealing only a stout jackknife.

During his employment with the Department of Public Works, Dawson was responsible for between 300 and 400 workmen as well as immigrants and their families who used the road to Red River. In a letter to the minister of the interior, Dawson described his strategy for negotiating relations between Euro-Canadians and the Anishinaabe. He admitted that there were differences between the two groups, mainly because their habits and origins differed so greatly, but he was always able to resolve them. When differences occurred, Dawson always called a "Council of the Chiefs and made them punish or reprimand their own people" while he "dealt with and kept in order the white people." Dawson was aware that the Anishinaabe system of governance was based upon consensus. Each head of a family had a say in matters relating to the community, with the hereditary Chief having the principal authority. The Chief with the most authority was the one whose hereditary line "ruled over the tribes in by-gone times." Dawson also knew that the Anishinaabe held their councils at Rainy River in the spring when all of the communities gathered together for meetings, feasts, ceremonies, and sturgeon fishing. In a letter dated December 12, 1872, Dawson described his relations with Anishinaabe leaders in glowing terms: "Since the first attempt was made at opening the country the utmost harmony has prevailed between the Indians and the people on the Public Works." He claimed that, without the assistance of the Saulteaux as allies and guides, it would have been nearly impossible to construct a transportation system through the region.

Generally, Dawson's strategy was sound and created many successful partnerships with Anishinaabe Chiefs. Dawson was also one of the few government representatives who had a good relationship with Chief Blackstone (Mukadaossin) from Lac des Milles Lacs. Blackstone was first on Marshall's list of people "detrimental to the speedy arrangement of a Treaty" and was described as a "notorious scoundrel." After witnessing the negotiations in 1870 and 1871, Marshall wrote that Blackstone was likely to cause trouble because he had a claim against the government for assisting the troops. Marshall also recounted an incident in which Chief Blackstone accepted a present of flour from a contractor to assist twenty-five men (brought in to build steamers) across Lac des Milles Lacs. According to Marshall, Blackstone sent two guides with instructions to abandon the men in the middle of the lake. This caused a three-day delay, and when the group returned to the portage all of their supplies and tools had been burned. During the treaty negotiations in 1872, Blackstone was described as one of the Chiefs "holding out against" the treaty. At the conclusion of the unsuccessful negotiations, each Chief was presented with a shotgun by the commissioners, but Blackstone had already received one at the conclusion of negotiations in 1871. He was instead presented with a pair of gloves, which "roused his native dignity." When he was asked to ride with the Chiefs and delegation in the wagons, he refused: "[Am I] not able to walk?"

Although Chief Blackstone had a reputation for causing trouble and appeared to hinder settlement at every opportunity, he and Dawson had a good relationship. Dawson described him as "only a sort of quasi chief" of a band numbering fewer than 100. When Blackstone attended the treaty negotiations at Fort Frances, the other Chiefs gave him little countenance until he was recognized as a Chief by the treaty commissioners. When Blackstone spoke at the Treaty Three negotiations in 1873, Dawson supported his claim and recognized his authority to speak. Chief Blackstone also supported Dawson after a number of misconduct charges were sent to the Department of Indian Affairs by someone who had misappropriated Blackstone's name. Dawson's refutation of the charges was supported by Blackstone's appearance at Prince Arthur's Landing to give a statement. The Chief refuted all of the charges against Dawson and denied that he had authorized anyone to speak for him to the department. Regarding his position on the upcoming treaty negotiations, Blackstone stated that "as the other chiefs had poor heads, they had made him spokesman and when the Government came to make a treaty they would all come down in a friendly manner and arrange it." Although Blackstone was viewed as a difficult negotiator, his friendship with Dawson provided assistance to the commissioners during the negotiations in 1873.


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Copyright © 2019 Sheldon Krasowski.
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Table of Contents

List of Maps and Figures IX

Foreword Winona Wheeler XI

Preface and Acknowledgements XV

Introduction: The Numbered Treaties in Historical Context: "Our Dream Is That One Day Our Peoples Will Be Clearly Recognized as Nations" 1

Chapter 1 Treaties One and Two and the Outside Promises: "The Loyalty Which Costs Nothing Is Worth Nothing" 39

Chapter 2 Treaty Three: The North-West Angle Treaty: "I Take Off My Glove to Give You My Hand to Sign the Treaty" 87

Chapter 3 Treaties Four and Five: The Fort Qu'Appelle and Lake Winnipeg Treaties, 1874 and 1875: "The Treaties Should Be Canadas Magna Carta" 129

Chapter 4 Treaty Six: The Treaty of Forts Carlton and Pitt: I Want to Hold the Treaty We Made with the Queen" 175

Chapter 5 Treaty Seven: The Blackfoot Crossing Treaty: "The Great Spirit and Not the Great Mother Gave Us This Land" 235

Conclusion: As Long as the Sun Shines: "An Everlasting Grasp of Her [the Queen's] Hand" 271

Notes 279

Selected Bibliography 317

Index 333

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