The Blackfeet Treaty – Fort Pitt, September 8th, 1876
To His Excellency The Governor Of Manitoba.
Excellent Governor,–Having had some years of experience as a missionary amongst the Cree and Blackfeet Indians of the North-West Territory, I humbly undertake to submit to your consideration a few details regarding the latter tribe of Her Majesty’s Indian subjects. I do this with all the more confidence as the successful way in which you conducted the treaty with the Carlton Indians (a treaty including no small difficulties), has convinced me of your thorough knowledge of the character of this people. But, although the general character of all the tribes may be nearly the same, yet in their social dispositions they sometimes materially differ, and this, I think, will be found to be the case with the Cree and Blackfeet when compared on that point. The Cree have always looked upon the white man as a friend, or, to use their own language, as a brother. They have never been afraid of him, nor have they given him any cause to be afraid of them. The Blackfeet have acted somewhat differently; they have regarded the white man as a demi-god, far superior to themselves in intelligence, capable of doing them good or evil, according as he might be well or ill disposed towards them, unscrupulous in his dealings with others, and consequently a person to be flattered, feared and shunned, and even injured, whenever this could be done with impunity. I am not now describing the Blackfeet of the present day, but those of fifteen years ago, when I first saw them. They were then a proud, haughty, numerous people (perhaps ten thousand on the British side of the line), having a regular politico-religious organization by which their thirst for blood and their other barbarous passions were constantly fired to the highest pitch of frenzy. Since that time their number has decreased to less than one half, and their systematic organizations have fallen into decay; in fact they have been utterly demoralized as a people. This sudden decadence was brought on by two causes: 1. About ten years ago the Americans crossed the line and established themselves on Pelly River, where they carried on to an extraordinary extent the illicit traffic in intoxicating liquor to the Blackfeet. The fiery water flowed as freely, if I may use the metaphor, as the streams running from the Rocky Mountains, and hundreds of the poor Indians fell victims to the white man’s craving for money, some poisoned, some frozen to death whilst in a state of intoxication, and many shot down by American bullets. 2. Then in 1870 came that disease so fatal to Indians, the small-pox which told upon the Blackfeet with terrible effect, destroying between six hundred and eight hundred of them. Surviving relatives went more and more for the use of alcohol; they endeavored to drown their grief in the poisonous beverage. They sold their robes and their horses by the hundred for it, and now they began killing one another, so that in a short time they were divided into several small parties, afraid to meet. Fortunately for them the Government were aware of the state of affairs in the country and did not remain indifferent to it; and, as I have heard yourself explain to the Indians, Her Gracious Majesty has at heart the welfare of even the most obscure of her subjects. In the summer of 1874, I was traveling amongst the Blackfeet. It was painful to me to see the state of poverty to which they had been reduced. Formerly they had been the most opulent Indians in the country, and now they were clothed in rags, without horses and without guns. But this was the year of their salvation; that very summer the Mounted Police were struggling against the difficulties of a long journey across the barren plains in order to bring them help. This noble corps reached their destination that same fall, and with magic effect put an entire stop to the abominable traffic of whiskey with the Indians. Since that time the Blackfeet Indians are becoming more and more prosperous. They are now well clothed and well furnished with horses and guns. During the last two years I have calculated that they have bought two thousand horses to replace those they had given for whiskey. They are forced to acknowledge that the arrival of the Red Coats has been to them the greatest boon. But, although they are externally so friendly to the Police and other strangers who now inhabit their country, yet underneath this friendship remains hidden some of that dread which they have always had of the white man’s intention to cheat them; and here, excellent Governor, I will state my reasons for believing that a treaty should be concluded with them also at the earliest possible date.
1st. The Blackfeet are extremely jealous of what they consider their country, and never allowed any white men, Half-breeds, or Cree to remain in it for any length of time; the only reason that they never drove the Americans off, apart from their love for whiskey, was their dread of the Henri rifle.
2nd. They have an awful dread of the future. They think that the Police are in the country not only to keep out whiskey traders, but also to protect white people against them, and that this country will be gradually taken from them without any ceremony. This I can certify, for although they may not say so to others yet they do not hide it from me.
3rd. Numbers of people are settling around Fort McLeod and Fort Calgary in order to farm, raise stock, etc. This will probably drive the buffalo away through time from the ordinary hunting grounds, and if so, the Blackfeet, being the most helpless Indians in the country, and unaccustomed to anything else but hunting buffalo, would suffer extremely.
4th. The settlers also are anxious that a treaty be made as soon as possible, so that they may know what portions of land they can hold without fear of being molested.
5th. The Blackfeet themselves are expecting to have a mutual understanding with the Government, because they have been told of it by several persons, and namely by Gen. Smythe last year.
Such are the principal reasons which occur to my mind for making a treaty with the Blackfeet. It remains for you, excellent Governor, to weigh their value. Of course you would find the same prejudices amongst the Blackfeet that you have found amongst the Cree, but you would have no greater difficulty in dispelling them. You would have four clans to treat with, viz.: the Blackfeet, Blood, and Piegan, all of the same tribe, and the Sarcee, a branch of the Peace River Indians called Beavers. As to the place of rendezvous there would be no difficulty whatever; the Blackfeet live in large camps under their respective Chiefs, and could go to any point after due notice.
It remains for me now, excellent Governor, to beg you to excuse the many defects of this communication, and to accept the assurance of sincere esteem and profound respect of
Your most humble servant, Constantine Scollen, Priest, O.U.I.
P.S.–I am also aware that the Sioux Indians, now at war with the Americans, have sent a message to the Blackfeet tribe, asking them to make an alliance offensive and defensive against all white people in the country.
In order to effect a treaty, Lieut. Gov. Laird, and Lieut.-Col. James F. McLeod, met the Blackfeet, at the Blackfoot crossing, on the Bow River on the 17th day of September, 1877, which day had been selected for the time of meeting. Gov. Laird proceeded from the temporary seat of the Government of the North-West Territories at Swan River, and Col. McLeod from Fort McLeod, the head quarters of the Mounted Police, to the appointed rendezvous.
The Commissioners met the Indians on that day, and after five days of tedious negotiations, the treaty was satisfactorily concluded, and signed by the Chiefs and head men present.
The total number of the Indians, represented at the making of the treaty, and who were paid the gratuity under it, was four thousand three hundred and ninety-two. The terms of the treaty, were substantially the same as those contained in the North-West Angle and Qu’Appelle treaties, except that as some of the bands were disposed to engage in pastoral pursuits, it was arranged to give them cattle instead of agricultural implements. The Minister of the Interior well observes in his report “that the conclusion of this treaty with these warlike and intractable tribes, at a time when the Indian tribes, immediately across the border, were engaged in open hostilities with the United States troops, is certainly a conclusive proof of the just policy of the Government of Canada toward the aboriginal population,” and, I add, of the confidence of the Indians in the promises and just dealing of the servants of the British Crown, in Canada, a confidence that can only be kept up by the strictest observance of the stipulations of the treaties.
I now append the interesting despatch of Lieut.-Gov. Laird, giving a detailed account of the negotiation of the treaty, and a report of the speeches of the Commissioners and Indians, extracted from a report in the Globe newspaper, dated October 4th, 1877, which, though not authentic, I believe, gives a general view of what passed during the negotiations.