A letter from a Department of Indian Affairs (DIA) official demonstrates that the potential for an adhesion to Treaty 8 or the creation of a new Treaty was being discussed for Aboriginal land owners in Northern Saskatchewan as early as 1883. In this letter, the Aboriginals in the area of Ile-a-la-Crosse and others north of Treaty 6 are recorded as being anxious to enter a treaty agreement. It was recognized by the official writing the 1883 letter that any plans of the government to extend the railway or another public work into the area could be prevented by the area’s Aboriginal inhabitants.------------------------------ A DIA memorandum from January 19th, 1887 demonstrates that the Aboriginals north of the Treaty 6 area were still requesting to enter treaty, and that a number of them were sick and destitute. The tribal groups in this area consisted of the Beaver, Slaves, Yellow Knives, Cariboo Eaters, Dog Ribs, Chippewayans, Cree and Metis. There was a scarcity of food the winter prior in this area due to a lack of wildlife such as rabbit and lynx. Hudson’s Bay Company representatives argued that it was the government’s responsibility to provide for the sick and destitute individuals in this area, since they had purchased the Company’s interest in that region. As such, the government was perceived to be the natural protector. Since the government still didn’t need the land for settlement, railways, or resource exploration in the area, however, they continued to postpone treaty negotiation with the respective individuals. Most of the area of northern Saskatchewan was unsuitable for agriculture, with the exception of the Peace River district. The same memorandum states that occasionally the Aboriginals in the area had been given gifts of fishing supplies and ammunition, but nothing more.------------------------------ By 1904, there was still intra-governmental discussion as to whether the federal government should treat with the Aboriginals in this area or not. A memorandum from 1904 demonstrates this: “The Department has for some time had under consideration the advisability of admitting to Treaty No. 8 the Indians of Portage la Loche and Isle a la Crosse. Not long after this treaty was made, the Department began to be urged to admit these Indians. The half-breed claims within the district were also brought up, but action upon these cognate matters has remained in abeyance until the present.” Discussion centred on the financial burden that would be incurred by the government should they enter into a treaty agreement with the Aboriginal groups in this area. The memoranda remarked as such: “I think we should be careful not to burden the Dominion with any extensive charges for the purchase of the Indian title to this country. We may be reasonably sure that it is not an agricultural country whatever its capacities may be, and that to give a quid pro quo on the same basis as for a country with great agricultural possibilities would be a mistake.” A letter from the Department’s accountant shows that up until May 5th, 1904, all that had been spent on the Aboriginals in the Portage la Loche and Ile-a-la-Crosse areas respectively was $76.52 and $287.12. The maintenance of a boarding school at Ile-a-la-Crosse amounted to an additional expenditure of $72 per year. (The researcher advises that these figures are in dollar amounts from 1904 - no adjustment for inflation has been made.)------------------------------- The 1904 memoranda also noted that in light of the lack of agricultural land available for settlement in the area, it would be more advantageous to the government to model the terms of a potential treaty on the terms that were provided in Treaty 9. Given the familiarity of the Aboriginal people in the area with the penny-pinching terms of treaty 9, however, it is doubtful that they would have considered these terms acceptable, and thus the terms of treaty 8 were used as a guide, albeit edited to omit provisions that related to agricultural assistance.------------------------------ On July 20, 1906, Superintendent General of Indian Affairs Frank Oliver set up the Treaty 10 Commission via an order of the Privy Council. J.A.J. McKenna, the appointed Commissioner for the treaty, was not able to conclude negotiations with all First Nations in the Treaty 10 region in 1906, so Thomas A. Borthwick was employed to finish the job in the summer of 1907. In a report dating to January 18, 1907, the official notes with respect to the actual negotiations that had occurred the summer past that “There was a marked absence of the old Indian style of oratory, the Indians confining themselves to asking questions and making brief arguments. They all demanded even more liberal terms than were granted to Indians treated with in past years, the Chief of the English River Bend going so far as to claim payment of “arrears” from the year when the first Treaty was made; some expected to be entirely fed by the Government, after the making of the treaty; all asked for assistance in seasons of distress; and it was strongly urged that the old and indigent who were no longer able to hunt and trap and were consequently often in destitute circumstances should be cared for by the Government.”------------------------------ Because the government required McKenna to work with a pre-drafted Treaty that could not be altered despite Aboriginal discontent, there was an expressed fear on the part of the Aboriginal leaders that entering into treaty would curtail their hunting and fishing privileges. These leaders did not want lakes or rivers to be monopolized or depleted by commercial fishing operations. There was an additional fear that entering into treaty would allow the government to enslave them, in regards to which the report states “I was able to disabuse their minds of this absurd notion and to make it clear that the Government’s object was simply to do for them what had been done for neighbouring Indians when the progress of trade or settlement began to interfere with the untrammelled exercise of their aboriginal privileges as hunters...I made it clear that the Government had no desire to interfere with their mode of life or to restrict them to reserves and that it undertook to have land in the proportions stated in the Treaty set apart for them…” The report also notes that there was a marked desire to secure education rights for their children, as well as the furnishing of medicines and a resident medical man. He also remarked that there were some Aboriginal people who demanded a few head of cattle for those who wanted to raise stock. ------------------------------ Because the government had informed the Commissioner that the terms of the treaty were fixed and that no negotiations would occur, the official attempted to assuage the fears of the Aboriginal leaders with reassurances such as the following: “I stated that the Government was always ready to assist Indians in actual destitution; that in times of distress they would without any special stipulation in the treaty, receive such assistance as it was usual to give in order to prevent starvation among them, and that the attention of the Government would be called to the necessity of some special-provision being made for assisting the old and indigent who were unable to work and dependent on charity for subsistence.”------------------------------
The reluctance of the government to enter into treaty and adopt the financial obligations associated with said legal obligations is indicative of a shift in its relationship toward and perception of Indigenous people. Whereas the British North America Act had symbolized the Crown as the protector of Indigenous interests on a nation-to-nation basis, it became clear in years following that this protection was extremely limited and only enacted to the extent that it enabled a protection of Crown interests. As such, the Queen’s representatives in Canada expressed little intent to come to the aid of the Aboriginal peoples who inhabited northern Saskatchewan during their times of sickness and destitution in 1887. Any gifts that had been given to these Aboriginal groups likely served the purpose of placation and maintenance of pseudo-friendly relations with non-Indigenous people in the area. The government’s preoccupation with discussion of the potential financial burden that would be incurred by entering into treaty is evidence of a lack of concern regarding Indigenous interests and well-being both in the short and long-term. Further evidence of this utilitarian ethic is demonstrated by the government’s deliberation as to whether they could negotiate using the penny-pinching terms set forward by Treaty 9. As well, it should be noted that following establishment of the legal agreement of Treaty 10, the government reneged on several of its promises, most notably those of healthcare and aid. Commissioner Borthwick, acting on the instructions of Minister Oliver, had assured the Aboriginal leaders that the government would doubtlessly provide terms of healthcare and aid, and that these need not be included in the treaty. In the years following, however, the government resorted to a familiar legal defense by asserting that these terms had not been included in the official “legal” written document, and as such, no obligation to provide aid or health care existed. This demonstrates an indifference on the part of the Crown in regards to how its encouragement of encroaching Settlers and commercial fishing and hunting operations were making it increasingly difficult for Aboriginal peoples to survive via a subsistence living. Additionally, the following decades presented other problems in receiving the goods and services to which the Crown had agreed in the treaty negotiations.
Île-à-la-Crosse, Lac du Brochet, Canoe Lake