Lower Fort Garry, July 20th, 1871
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Sir,–I have the honor to inform you that on Monday last I came to this Fort with the Commissioner to meet the Indians called here, with a view to negotiate a treaty, intending to open the business on Tuesday morning.
It appeared, however, on inquiry, that some bands of Indians had not arrived on Tuesday morning, and we were therefore obliged to postpone the opening of the meeting till Thursday. On that day the Indians from all the sections of the country to which the invitation extended were found present to the number of about one thousand. A considerable body of half-breeds and other inhabitants of the country were also present, awaiting with some anxiety to learn what should be announced as the policy of the Government.
I enclose you a memorandum of the observations with which I opened the meeting. On reading them you will observe one or two points which may require some explanation.
At the time of the treaty with the Earl of Selkirk, certain Indians signed as Chiefs and representatives of their people. Some of the Indians now deny that these men ever were Chiefs or had authority to sign the treaty.
With a view therefore to avoid a recurrence of any such question we asked the Indians, as a first step, to agree among themselves in selecting their Chiefs and then to present them to us and have their names and authority recorded.
Furthermore, the Indians seem to have false ideas of the meaning of a reserve. They have been led to suppose that large tracts of ground were to be set aside for them as hunting grounds, including timber lands, of which they might sell the wood as if they were proprietors of the soil.
I wished to correct this idea at the outset.
Mr. Simpson followed me with some observations in the same strain, after which the Indians retired to select their Chiefs and spokesmen.
On Friday morning the Chiefs and spokesmen were duly presented, and after their names were recorded, the Indians were invited to express their views.
After some delay they stated that there was a cloud before them which made things dark, and they did not wish to commence the proceedings till the cloud was dispersed.
On inquiring into their meaning, I found that they were referring to some four of their number who were prisoners in jail. It seems that some Swampy Indians had entered into a contract with the Hudson’s Bay Company as boatmen, and had deserted, and had been brought up before magistrates under a local law of last session, and fined, and in default of payment sent to prison for forty days.
Of this term some considerable part had expired. A few of the offenders had paid their fines, but there were still four Indians remaining in prison.
On learning the facts I told the Indians that I could not listen to them if they made a demand for the release of the Indians as a matter of right; that every subject of the Queen, whether Indian, half-breed or white, was equal in the eye of the law; that every offender against the law must be punished, whatever race he belonged to; but I said that on the opening of negotiations with them the Queen would like to see all her Indians taking part in them, and if the whole body present were to ask as a matter of grace and favor, under the circumstances, that their brethren should be released, Her Majesty would be willing to consent to their discharge; she would grant as a favor what she must refuse if asked for on any other ground. They replied by saying that they begged it as a matter of favor only. Thereupon I acceded to their request, and directed the discharge of the four Indians. This was received with great satisfaction. I explained again, that there might be no misunderstanding about it, that henceforth every offender against the law must be punished. They all expressed their acquiescence in what I said. The discharge of the prisoners had an excellent effect.
Next morning the Indians, through one of their spokesmen, declared in presence of the whole body assembled that from this time they would never raise their voice against the law being enforced. After the order of the release, the Chiefs and spokesmen addressed us questions were asked and answered, and some progress made in the negotiations. Eventually the meeting adjourned till this morning at ten o’clock.
A general acquiescence in the views laid down by Mr. Simpson and myself was expressed, but it was quite clear by the proceedings of to-day, that our views were imperfectly apprehended. When we met this morning, the Indians were invited to state their wishes as to the reserves, they were to say how much they thought would be sufficient, and whether they wished them all in one or in several places.
In defining the limits of their reserves, so far as we could see, they wished to have about two-thirds of the Province. We heard them out, and then told them it was quite clear that they had entirely misunderstood the meaning and intention of reserves. We explained the object of these in something like the language of the memorandum enclosed, and then told them it was of no use for them to entertain any such ideas, which were entirely out of the question. We told them that whether they wished it or not, immigrants would come in and fill up the country; that every year from this one twice as many in number as their whole people there assembled would pour into the Province, and in a little while would spread all over it, and that now was the time for them to come to an arrangement that would secure homes and annuities for themselves and their children.
We told them that what we proposed to allow them was an extent of one hundred and sixty acres for each family of five, or in that proportion; that they might have their land where they chose, not interfering with existing occupants, that we should allow an annuity of twelve dollars for every family of five, or in that proportion per head. We requested them to think over these propositions till Monday morning.
If they thought it better to have no treaty at all, they might do without one, but they must make up their minds; if there was to be a treaty, it must be on a basis like that offered.
That under some such arrangements, the Indians in the east were living happy and contented enjoying themselves, drawing their annuities, and satisfied with their position.
The observations seemed to command the acquiescence of the majority, and on Monday morning we hope to meet them in a better frame for the discussion and settlement of the treaty.
I have, etc., Adams G. Archibald. The Honorable The Secretary of State for the Provinces.