Treaty 6 Grievances and Renegotiation


Various Aboriginal leaders convened at Fort Carlton to air an extensive list of grievances regarding unfulfilled stipulations of Treaty 6. They obtained an audience with Indian Affairs representative J. Ansdell Macrae and diplomatically advocated for fulfillment of the treaty terms. ----------------------------- The grievances concerned are summarized as follows: 1. Wild work oxen - The leaders reported that the wild oxen they had been given to accomplish farm tasks were not sufficiently domesticated, and as a result were extremely difficult to work with. In some instances the wild oxen were so obstinate that they could not be cared for and had died or been killed. The leaders asked that these wild oxen be replaced with more suitable oxen. 2. Cows - Similar to the grievance regarding wild oxen, many of the cows which had been supplied to the leaders were wild. As a result, these cows were not capable of being stabled and had died of exposure to the cold. The leaders asked that these wild cows also be replaced. 3. Horses - Similar to the first two grievances, some of the horses given them were too wild for the Aboriginal recipients to use. These grievances were a demonstration of bad faith on the part of the government, as the commissioners who made the treaty had specifically promised the Aboriginal leaders well-broken beasts. The leaders asked that these be replaced. 4. Wagons - The Aboriginal leaders argued that the wagons that had been promised were very poorly made and were no longer serviceable as a result of average use. It was not reasonable for the Chiefs to be expected to travel by foot since they were elderly. The leaders requested that these poorly made wagons be replaced with a similar means of conveyance. 5. Conveyance for chiefs - For the same reason, the leaders requested that horses as well as vehicles be given to all Treaty 6 Chiefs - excepting those who received good gifts under the treaty. 6. Aid - During treaty negotiations, Aboriginal leaders were promised aid in the form of liberal assistance when they were destitute. The Aboriginal leaders reported that the crops were poor, rats were scarce, and other game was likely to be so. As such, they looked forward with the greatest fear to the approaching winter. Now that the government had disposed of all the property that Aboriginal people owned before the treaties were made, the Aboriginal people were reduced to absolute and complete dependence upon what relief was extended to them by the government. They argued that with the present amount of assistance they could not work effectively on their reserves, and thus the amount of assistance needed to be increased. 7. Clothing - It was promised by Commissioner Alexander Morris that the Aboriginals should not be short of clothing. Yet, the leaders stated that they had never received any. They feared that during the winter some of them would be unable to leave their houses without freezing to death. 8. Schools - Schools had been promised to them but had not been established on all the reserves. They desired the government to fulfill its promise entirely by putting up school houses and maintaining them in repairs. 9. Machinery - The Aboriginal leaders had been told that they would see how the white man lived, and would be taught to live like him. They argued that the white man had threshing mills, mowers, reapers, and rakes, and that in keeping with treaty promises, they should be taught to live like the white man lived and be given these implements as well. 10. Requests - Requests for redress of these grievances had been made repeatedly without effect. The leaders stated that they were glad that the young men had not resorted to violent measures to gain redress, but it is almost too hard for them to bear the treatment received at the hands of the government after its “sweet promises” which were made to get their land from them. The leaders stated that they now fear that they are going to be cheated, and that they would wait until next summer to see if this council had the desired effect. Failing that, they would take measures to get what they were promised. (The proposed “measures” could not be elicited, but a suggestion of the idea of war was repudiated.) 11. Renewals - That all bad things, implements and tools, as well as stock should be replaced by gifts of better articles on an ongoing basis. 12. Insufficiency of government assistance - Many who desired to settle were forced to wander from the reserves as there was not enough of any one thing supplied to them to enable all to farm. A living by agriculture was promised to them, and this is what they were entitled to. 13. Lack of confidence in the Government - The leaders stated that at the time of making the treaty they were comparatively well off, but were deceived by the “sweet promises” of the Commissioners, and now are “full of fear” for they believe that the Government which pretended to be friendly is trying to cheat them. The leaders pointed out the effect of not fulfilling these treaty promises. Had the treaty promises been carried out all would have been well, instead of feeling as though they had been deceived and cheated. They did not blame the Queen, but the government of Ottawa. 14. Medicines - The leaders stated that although they were promised Medicine Chests for each reserve, they had never received them. As well, they argued that they suffer from health complaints that could be cured, and that many live among or near them who could administer the drugs beneficially. 15. Beef - The leaders stated that they want to have beef at all treaty annuity payments. 16. Maps of reserves - The leaders asked that every Chief be given a map of his reserve in order that he may know the boundaries and not be robbed of it. 17. Harness - The leaders asked that a harness be given them for all of their cattle, and that when oxen are given to them the harness should be on them. --------------------------------- In a letter between Indian Affairs official in December 1884, Indian Commissioner Dewdney replied “I beg to state that upon referring to the Treaty and to the negotiations as officially reported that took place when the Treaty was being concluded, I cannot find that any of the promises claimed under these heads were really made to the Indians. And indeed so far as the actual quantity and description of implements as well as food given to them and the value of the same are concerned, they have received very much more than the Treaty every intended that they should receive, and the Agents throughout the Territories should be instructed to keep this constantly before the minds of the Indians, impressing them as far as possible with the fact that they have been most generously treated by the Government and far beyond any expectations that they could have entertained under the most liberal interpretation that could be put upon the Treaties made with them.” In January of 1885, Hayter Reed reported in a letter regarding his investigation of the points of grievance of the Aboriginal leaders. He replied by saying that he couldn’t ascertain if the oxen were wild or not, but that some of them were killed by the Indians when they found they couldn’t handle them. He also stated that some of the cattle were very wild, and some of the horses may have been a little wild, but that the Indians could quiet them. Regarding the wagons, Reed make a blanket statement that the Indians are very hard on everything they receive and are inclined to say that an item was bad whenever anything that is given to them breaks. Regarding schools, Reed replied that a school is kept as regularly as possible under the circumstances on Mistiwasis, Ahtakahkoop, Peterquahkee and John Smith Reserves. Owing to a small per capita allowance, he argued that it is difficult to keep a teacher on some of these reserves, and there is also difficulty with maintaining regular student attendance. He also stated that given the small size of reserves such as One Arrow or Chakatayhapom, it is not worthwhile for the government to keep a school there. Reed stated that there were a few exceptional cases where inferior tools were given to the Aboriginal people, but that these were very few and that for the most part, implements have been of good quality. He also stated that the government has been dispensing tools and implements in limited quantities, since if they dispersed them in the quantities demanded by the Indians, everything would be lost or broken long before the band knew how to handle them properly. As such, the Indians would be restricted to using plows, harrows and hoes, and would not receive more advanced equipment such as threshing mills, mowers, reapers, and rakes, until they had become well enough advanced to use them (social Darwinism). ------------------------------ Reed added, “I am confident many of the Indians although they have the list of complaints formulated on their behalf would not, if closely questioned by an official, feel inclined to assert that all these were real ground of grievance.” ---------------------------------- “I am of opinion that Indians can on argument be convinced that the government is not only endeavoring but is actually keeping the promise is (neccesarily?) a long and most tedious task to perform but can be done.”

The repeated efforts on the behalf of Aboriginal leadership to resolve grievances over unfulfilled treaty promises represents the desires of First Nations people to resolve inter-governmental disputes diplomatically. Dewdney’s response, however, that “I cannot find that any of the promises claimed under these heads were really made to the Indians” indicates a vast difference of understanding in regards to what was negotiated during the treaty-making processes. These discrepancies resulted from two distinct factors of government corruption. One is the government’s exploitation of the inability of First Nations people to read and understand the written “legal” treaty documents, which were considered the “legitimate” version of treaty negotiations in British North America at the time. This inability was taken advantage of to avoid including verbal promises made during the process of negotiation. The second factor of corruption is the government’s use of deception to cheat Aboriginal peoples by making verbal promises that they did not intend to keep. These promises were made in order to enhance the favorability of land surrender to Aboriginal leaders ("sweet promises", as described in their list of grievances), and to assure that Aboriginal leaders who forfeited the rights to their land would be safe and secure in the hands of the government. These verbal promises were retained in the oral history and storytelling of Plains peoples, and have been transmitted generationally to the present day. ------------------------------ Dewdney’s comments are also indicative of the Victorian social Darwinist racial sentiment of the day, which dictated that social progress occurred in stages, and that these stages could not be transgressed in order for authentic progress to occur. Thus, Aboriginal communities were relegated to the use of inferior farming tools which arguably frustrated their attempts at farming by prolonging the number of hours required to work as well as increasing the expenditure of physical energy required. ------------------------------ In this case, the attitudes of Indian Affairs representatives such as Reed towards Aboriginal grievances was to dismiss it as unreasonable complaining and illogical entitlement. The effect of Reed’s comments is one of "gaslighting," stating that in the case of being closely questioned by a (rational) government official, the concerns of Aboriginal leaders would be revealed to be irrational. Reed does, however ironically, display hope for the intellectual potential of Aboriginal people by stating that they could eventually be convinced that the government is keeping the treaty promises made. This failure to acknowledge that agreements were made dishonestly, however, seriously undermined the inter-governmental relationship between Aboriginal peoples and Ottawa. It also seriously undermined the ability of Aboriginal people to adapt to the career requirements of an agricultural lifestyle and eventually led to the failure of the agricultural project.