The Winnipeg Treaty

On the 27th we met the Indians near the Chief’s house in the open air, at a spot where a large fire had been lighted by them, as the weather was cold. We took a similar course as at Norway House in severing the question of terms of the treaty and reserves, and with like satisfactory results. After a lengthy discussion the Indians agreed to accept the terms, and we then entered upon the difficult question of the reserves. They complained of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s reserve, and wished to have the land covered by it, but we explained whatever had been promised the Company would be given just as promises made to them would be kept. They said the Company’s reserve should be at the abandoned post at the mouth of the river, and not at the end of the portage. We informed them that we would inquire as to this. They then claimed a reserve on both sides of the river of large extent, and extending up to the head of the Grand Rapids, but this we declined to accede to. Eventually, as the locality they had hitherto occupied is so important a point, controlling as it does the means of communication between the mouth of the river, and the head of the rapids, and where a “tram-way” will no doubt ere long require to be constructed, presenting also deep-water navigation and excellent wharfage, and evidently being moreover the site where a town will spring up, we offered them reserve on the south side of the river. They objected, that they had their houses and gardens on the north side of the river, but said that as the Queen’s Government were treating them so kindly, that they would go to south side of the river, if a small sum was given them to assist in removing their houses, or building others, and this as will be seen by the terms of the treaty, we agreed to do, believing it to be alike in the interests of the Government to have the control of so important a point as the mouth of the great internal river of the Saskatchewan, and yet only just to the Indians, who were making what was to them so large a concession to the wishes of the Commissioners. On our agreeing to the proposal, the treaty was cheerfully signed by the Chief and head men, and the payment of the present was made to them, together with a distribution of some provisions. I enclose a tracing of the mouth of the river, copied from a sketch thereof kindly made for me by Mr. Ross, which will enable you to understand the actual position of the locality in question, and the better appreciate our reasons for our action in the matter.

The steamer left the Grand Rapids in the afternoon of the 27th, and the captain took his course for the mouth of the Red River, but anchored, as the night became very dark, between George’s Island and Swampy Island.

On the 28th, resuming our course at half past five a.m., we sighted Berens River Mission House at eight o’clock, and passed into the channel between Black Bear Island and Dog Head or Wapang Point, at 12.30; then observing a number of Indians on the shore making signals to us by firing guns, we requested the captain to approach the shore. The water being very deep the steamer went close inshore and anchored–the Indians coming off to us in their canoes. We found them to be headed by Thickfoot, a principal Indian of the band inhabiting the islands, and some of those and the Jack Head band of the West Shore, and explained to them the object of our visit. They told us they had heard of it, and had been waiting to see us. Thickfoot said the Island Indians at Big Island, Black Island, Wapang and the other islands in the vicinity had no chief; that they numbered one hundred and twenty-eight, and those at Jack-Fish Head sixty. Thickfoot said he had cattle and would like to have a place assigned to his people on the main shore, where they could live by farming and fishing. We suggested Fisher River to them, which they approved of. Eventually we decided on paying these Indians–took Thickfoot’s adhesion to the treaty, of which I enclose a copy, and authorized him to notify the Indians to meet at the Dog Head Point next summer, at a time to be intimated to them, and to request them in the mean time to select a Chief and Councilors. Thickfoot expressed gratitude for the kindness of the Government, and his belief that Indians of the various Islands and of Jack Head Point would cheerfully accept the Queen’s benevolence and settle on a reserve. After paying this party, and distributing a small quantity of provisions among them, we resumed our voyage, and, owing to the character of the navigation, again came to anchor in George’s Channel at seven o’clock, p.m. On the 29th, we left our anchorage at five o’clock a.m., and entered the mouth of the Red River at twelve o’clock, crossing the bar without difficulty, as the weather was calm. We arrived at the Stone Fort at three o’clock in the afternoon, but had to remain there till next day, awaiting the arrival of conveyances from Winnipeg. Mr. McKay and I left the Stone Fort on the 30th at seven a.m. leaving our baggage and a portion of the provisions which had not been used to be forwarded by the steamer Swallow, and reached Fort Garry at ten o’clock, thus terminating a journey of over one thousand miles, and having satisfactorily closed a treaty with the Saulteaux and Swampy Cree, which will prove of much importance in view of the probable rapid settlement of the west coast of Lake Winnipeg. The journey, moreover, is of interest, as having been the first occasion on which a steam vessel entered the waters of Berens River and of the Nelson River, the waters of which river fall into the Hudson’s Bay, and as having demonstrated the practicability of direct steam navigation through a distance of three hundred and sixty miles from the city of Winnipeg to Norway House. I may mention here that the prevalence of timber suitable for fuel and building purposes, of lime and sandstone, of much good soil, and natural hay lands on the west shore of the lake, together with the great abundance of white fish, sturgeon and other fish in the lake, will ensure, ere long, a large settlement.

The east coast is much inferior to the west coast, as far as I could learn, but appeared to be thickly wooded, and it is understood that indications of minerals have been found in several places.

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