Northwest Resistance: Memorandum for the Hon. the Indian Commissioner Relative to the Future Management of Indians


In a May 1885 correspondence to the Indian Commissioner, an official states that it is his impression that Moosomin, Turtle Lake and Thunderchild bands will remain loyal, and that if they are not, that they will be discreet enough to at least appear to hold a position of neutrality. The writer was unsure regarding the loyalty, disloyalty or neutrality of Poundmaker. The writer also states, “It would seem to be matter for regret that we should not endeavour to keep well disposed Indians in hand, but the military authority superseding ours, renders it impossible to make any move in this direction.”

In a correspondence from May 29, 1885, from Indian Agent MacDonald to the Indian Commissioner, the Agent writes,

“If it can be done I would strongly recommend that the File Hill Band of indians be treated with by General Middleton, in the same manner he has done with those north - Invite the Chiefs and Head men to meet him at Fort Qu’Appelle, order the men to surrender their arms, depose the three chiefs and unruly head men and those who killed the cattle we will punish [there had been an oxen found, stripped of meat - assumedly killed by Aboriginal people, who were likely starving]. Actions of this kind will settle all difficulties in the future in this Treaty, an example should or must be made, I see no better one than to treat the File Hill Bands as having been disloyal during the troubles North had they been harshly dealt with previous to the battle of Batoche these four bands would have been on the warpath, reinforced by young bucks from other Reserves within the Treaty and by some halfbreeds what the consequences would have been no one can tell….The Northern Indians have got a lesson which they will never forget.”

In a June 2, 1885 letter from the Indian Commissioner to the Superintendent General, the Commissioner writes, “The guilty Indians should also be severely punished as an example to others in the future and the Chiefs and Head men deposed as suggested by Agent McDonald.

In a June 5, 1885 letter from the same Commissioner to Indian Agent MacDonald, the Commissioner reiterates these plans:

In a letter from the Indian Commissioner to the Superintendent General of Indian Affairs, the Commissioner recommends numerous ways to punish First Nations and Métis who were involved in the resistance: “I told the young men to consider over well what was going on [up] North. The Government was determined to punish all who took up arms against the Queen’s laws no matter how slight they may be, and no matter whether he was a White or Black man, Halfbreed or Indian, they would be dealt with alike.”

The following is a summary of the Memorandum for the Honorable Indian Commissioner relative to the future management of Indians (the summary is not a direct transcription but aims to use as much original phrasing as possible):

1. All Indians who have not during the late troubles been disloyal or troublesome should be treated as heretofore.

 2. It is suggested that all leading Indian rebels whom is it found possible to convict of particular crimes such as instigating and inciting to treason, felony, arson, larceny, murder, be dealt with in as severe a manner as the law will allow, and that no offence of their most prominent men be overlooked.

 3. Métis involved in the rebellion convicted will be punished in similar manner.

 4. That the tribal system should be abolished in as far as is compatible with the Treaty, ie. in all cases in which the Treaty has been broken by rebel tribes; by doing away with chiefs and councillors, depriving them of medals and other gifts to their offices.

 5. No annuity money to any ‘rebellious’ bands or individuals who joined “insurgents... The annuity money which should have been expended wholly in necessaries has to a great extent been wasted upon articles more or less useless and in purchasing necessaries at exorbitant prices, entailing upon the Department a greater expenditure in providing articles of clothing, food and implements not called for by the terms of the Treaty…”

 6. Disarm all rebels, but to those rebel Indians north of the North Saskatchewan River who have heretofore mainly existed by hunting: return shot guns (retaining the rifles), branding them as Indian Department property and keeping lists of those to whom arms are lent.

 7. No rebel Indians should be allowed off the Reserves without a pass signed by an Indian Department official.

8. The leaders of the Lakota who fought against the troops should be hanged and the rest be sent out of the country as they are certain of the settlers who are greatly inclined to shoot them on sight.

 9. Big Bear’s band should either be broken up and scattered among other bands or be given a Reserve adjacent to that of Onion Lake.

10. One Arrows band (later seen on the ‘not loyal’ list of bands in Carlton Agency) should be joined with that of Beardy and Okemasis (also considered ‘not-loyal’) and their present Reserve surrendered and dealt with by the Department for their benefit. Chekastaypaysin’s band should be broken up and their Reserve surrendered, the band being treated similar to One Arrows. Neither of these bands are large enough to render it desirable to maintain Farming Instructors permanently with them and as they are beyond assistance.

11. All Métis, members of rebel bands, although not shown to have taken any active part in the rebellion, should have their names erased from the Paysheets and if this suggestion is not approved of, by forcing anyone belonging to a band to reside on Reserves. It is desirable however that the connection between Métis and the Indians be entirely severed as it is “never productive” (Researcher observed note in margin of this document which was presumably by another official, possibly the Commissioner. The note simply says “yes” to indicate agreement.)

 12. Not applicable

 13. James Teenum, Mistawasis and Ahtahkakoop should receive some gift of government appreciation for their conduct [not participating in the rebellion].

14. Agents should be particularly strict in seeing that each and every Indian now works for every pound of provision given to him.

15. Horses of rebel Indians should be confiscated and sold, and cattle or other necessities be purchased with the profits of such sale as this would encourage an agricultural lifestyle.



In the weeks and months following the Northwest Resistance, there was no questioning or introspection on behalf of government officials regarding underlying causes for the Resistance beyond racist stereotypes of Indigenous stubbornness and resistance to Victorian notions of 'civilization' and 'progress.' Rather, following attempts of Métis and First Nations non-violent diplomacy, the government responded with force towards their negotiations.  Indian Affairs officials advocated that non-loyal bands be “harshly dealt with,” that an “example should or must be made,” that “ guilty Indians should also be severely punished as an example to others,” and that they “be dealt with in as severe a manner as the law will allow.”  Several of the recommendations were carried out, including the right to earn a livelihood.  The implementation of the pass system (article 7 of the memorandum - see also separate entry under “pass system” in database) would severely inhibit the ability of Indigenous peoples to organize politically, or be advocates against the settler colonial occupation.  The removal of arms such as guns and knives also meant that ability to hunt was severely undermined.   It should also be noted that the government used tactics including fear and intimidation by hanging eight other leaders and Louis Riel in a public forum.  They also sentenced Poundmaker and Big Bear to prison, inevitably leading to their hastened deaths.