The Winnipeg Treaty, Number Five

This treaty, covers an area of approximately about 100,000 square miles. The region is inhabited by Chippewa and Swampy Cree. The necessity for it had become urgent. The lake is a large and valuable sheet of water, being some three hundred miles long. The Red River flows into it and the Nelson River flows from it into Hudson’s Bay. Steam navigation had been successfully established by the Hudson’s Bay Company on Lake Winnipeg. A tramway of five miles in length was being built by them to avoid the Grand Rapids and connect that navigation with steamers on the River Saskatchewan. On the west side of the lake, a settlement of Icelandic immigrants had been founded, and some other localities were admirably adapted for settlement. Moreover, until the construction of the Pacific Railway west of the city of Winnipeg, the lake and Saskatchewan River are destined to become the principal thoroughfare of communication between Manitoba and the fertile prairies in the west. A band of Indians residing at Norway House, who had supported themselves by serving the Hudson’s Bay Company as boatmen on the route from Lake Winnipeg to the Hudson Bay, by way of the Nelson River, but whose occupation was gone, owing to supplies being brought in by way of the Red River, desired to migrate to the western shore of Lake Winnipeg, and support themselves there by farming.

For these and other reasons, the Minister of the Interior reported “that it was essential that the Indian title to all the territory in the vicinity of the lake should be extinguished so that settlers and traders might have undisturbed access to its waters, shores, islands, inlets and tributary streams.” The mouth of the Saskatchewan River especially seemed to be of importance, as presenting an eligible site for a future town. For these reasons the Privy Council of Canada, in the year 1875, appointed Lieut.-Gov. Morris, and the Hon. James McKay, to treat with these Indians. It may be here stated that this remarkable man, the son of an Orkneyman by an Indian mother, has recently died at a comparatively early age. Originally in the service of the Hudson’s Bay Company, he became a trader on his own account. Thoroughly understanding the Indian character, he possessed large influence over the Indian tribes, which he always used for the benefit and the advantage of the Government.

The Hudson’s Bay Company, to resume this narrative, kindly placed their propeller steamer, the Colville, at the service of the Commissioners, and the Board in London, in view of the public service rendered by its use by the Commissioners, eventually declined to make any charge for its employment. A full report of the voyage of the Commissioners, and of the results of their mission, will be found in the despatch of the Lieutenant Governor, which will be found at the end of this chapter. Suffice it to say, that the Commissioners proceeded first to Berens River, on the east side of the lake, and made a treaty with the Indians of that side of the lake, thence they sailed to the head of Lake Winnipeg, descended the Nelson River to Norway House, where no steamer had ever before been, and concluded a treaty with the Indians there.

They also promised the Indians to give those of them who chose to remove, a reserve on the west side of Lake Winnipeg, at Fisher’s River, about forty miles from the Icelandic settlement.

A considerable number of families have since removed there, and have formed a very promising settlement.

From Nelson River the Commissioners proceeded to the mouth of the Great Saskatchewan River, and met the Indians who live there. Their houses were built at the foot of the Grand Rapids, and in the immediate vicinity of the Hudson’s Bay, Tramway, some seven miles from the mouth of the river. The river is here deep to the very shore, so that the steamer ran long aside the bank, and was moored by ropes attached to the Chief’s house. The Commissioners met the Indians and informed them of the desire of the Government to control the land where they had settled, and to give them a reserve, instead, on the opposite side of the river. They said, they would surrender the locality in question, and go to the south side of the river, if a small sum was given them, to aid them in removing their houses or building others. To this the Commissioners willingly acceded, and promised that the next year a sum of five hundred dollars would be paid them for that purpose. The treaty was then signed, the Commissioners having extended the boundaries of the treaty limits, so as to include the Swampy Cree Indians at the Pas or Wahpahpuha, a settlement on the Saskatchewan River, and recommended that Commissioners should be sent in the ensuing summer to complete the work. The Commissioners then returned to Winnipeg, after a voyage, on and around the lake, of about one thousand miles. The terms of the treaty were identical with those of Treaties Numbers Three and Four, except that a smaller quantity of land was granted to each family, being one hundred and sixty, or in some cases one hundred acres to each family of five, while under Treaties Numbers Three and Four the quantity of land allowed was six hundred and forty acres to each such family. The gratuity paid each Indian in recognition of the treaty was also five dollars per head, instead of twelve dollars the circumstances under which the treaty was made being different. The area covered by these treaties was approximately about 100,000 square miles and has been described as lying north of the territory covered by Treaties Numbers Two and Three, extending west to Cumberland House (on the Saskatchewan River) and including the country east and west of Lake Winnipeg, and of Nelson River as far north as Split Lake.

In 1876, Lieut.-Gov. Morris, in accordance with his suggestions to that effect, was requested by the Minister of the Interior, to take steps for completing the treaty, and entrusted the duty to the Hon. Thomas Howard, and J. Lestock Reid, Esq., Dominion Land Surveyor. He gave them formal instructions, and directed them to meet the Indians together at Dog Head Point, on the lake, to treat with the Island Indians there and thence to proceed to Berens River to meet the Indians of the rapids of that river who had not been able to be present the previous year, and thereafter directed Mr. Howard to proceed to the mouth of the Saskatchewan and pay the Indians the five hundred dollars for removal of the houses, and thence to go up the Saskatchewan to the Pas and deal with the Indians there, while Mr. Reid was to proceed from Berens River to Norway House, and arrange with the Indians for the removal of such of them as desired it, to Fisher’s River, on Lake Winnipeg.

These gentlemen accordingly in July, 1876, proceeded in York boats (large sail boats) to their respective destinations, and were very successful in accomplishing the work confided to them.

I now append the official dispatch of Lieut.-Gov. Morris, dated 11th October, 1875, giving an account of the making of the treaty and of the journey, and his dispatch of the 17th November, 1876, relating to the completion of the treaty, together with extracts from the reports of Messrs. Howard and Reid.

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