The Winnipeg Treaty – Fort Garry, October 11th, 1875
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To The Honorable The Minister Of The Interior.
Sir,–I have the honor to inform you, that under authority of the Commission of the Privy Council to that effect, I proceeded to Lake Winnipeg for the purpose of making a treaty with the Saulteaux and Swampy Cree Indians, in company with my associate, the Hon. James McKay, leaving Fort Garry for Chief Prince’s Landing on the Red River, on the 17th September last, in order to embark on the Hudson’s Bay Company’s new propeller, the Colville, which Chief Commissioner Graham had kindly placed at our disposal on advantageous terms. We selected this mode of conveyance, as traveling and conveyance of provisions in York boats would, at the advanced period of the season, have occupied at least eight weeks, if at all practicable.
The steamer left the landing at five o’clock on the 18th September, but owing to the prevalence of a gale of northerly wind was compelled to be anchored at the three channels of the Red River, inside of the bar which obstructs the entrance of the lake. The wind continued during the 18th and 19th, but on the afternoon of the latter day, Captain Hackland, a sailor of much practical experience on the Northern Seas decided to risk going out, as the water on the bar was running down so fast that he feared that the steamer would be unable to cross over the bar. I may remark that the wind causes the waters of the lake to ebb and flow into the river with great rapidity, and that the bar is so serious an obstruction to an important navigation, that it ought to be examined with a view to ascertain the cost and practicability of its removal. Leaving our anchorage, we crossed the bar at three in the afternoon with difficulty, and proceeded on our voyage; anchored opposite the mouth of the Berens River on Monday, the 20th, at nine a.m., to await the arrival of a pilot, as no steamer had ever before entered the river. Under the pilotage of a Chief and a Councilor, we reached Berens River Post, the Indians greeting us with volleys of firearms, and at once summoned the Indians to meet us in the Wesleyan Mission School House, which the Rev. Mr. Young kindly placed at our disposal. We met the Indians at four o’clock, and explained the object of our visit. The question of reserves was one of some difficulty, but eventually this was arranged, and the Indians agreed to accept our offer, and the indenture of treaty was signed by the Chiefs and head men about eleven p.m. The payment of the present of five dollars per head, provided by the treaty, was immediately commenced by Mr. McKay and the Hon. Thomas Howard, who accompanied me as Secretary and Pay Master, and was continued until one a.m., when the payment was concluded.
The steamer left next day, the 21st, for Norway House, but the captain was obliged to anchor at George’s Island in the evening, owing to the stormy weather. The Colville remained at anchor all the next day, the 22nd, but left at midnight for Nelson River. We sighted the Mossy and Montreal points, at the mouth of that river, about nine a.m. on the 23rd, and arrived at the old or abandoned Norway House at eleven o’clock, under the guidance of Roderick Rose, Esquire, of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Service, at Norway House, who had been engaged for some days in examining the channel, in anticipation of our visit.
The Nelson River expands into Play Green Lake, a large stream of water studded with islands, presenting a remarkable resemblance to the Thousand Islands of the St. Lawrence River. The distance from the mouth of the river to Norway House is twenty miles. We arrived at Norway House at three o’clock and were welcomed there by the Indians, who fired a salute.
On the 24th we met the Indians in a large store-house of the Hudson’s Bay Company, and asked them to present their Chiefs and head men. We found that there were two distinct bands of Indians, the Christian Indians of Norway House, and the Wood or Pagan Indians of Cross Lake. Each elected their Chiefs by popular vote in a most business-like manner, and the Chiefs, after consulting the bands, selected the head men. We then accepted the Chiefs, and I made an explanation of the object of our visit in English, and the Hon. James McKay in the Indian dialect. We severed the questions of terms and reserves, postponing the latter till we had disposed of the former. The Indians gratefully accepted of the offered terms, and we adjourned the conference to enable them to consult as to reserves. On re-assembling, the Christian Chief stated that as they could no longer count on employment in boating for the Hudson’s Bay Company, owing to the introduction of steam navigation, he and a portion of his band wished to migrate to Lake Winnipeg, where they could obtain a livelihood by farming and fishing. We explained why we could not grant them a reserve for that purpose at the Grassy Narrows as they wished, owing to the proposed Icelandic settlement there, but offered to allot them a reserve at Fisher River, about forty miles north of the Narrows, and this they accepted. It is supposed that some eighty or ninety families will remove there in spring, and it was arranged that those who remain, instead of receiving a reserve, should retain their present houses and gardens. The Chief of the Pagan band, who has, however, recently been baptized, stated that the Wood Indians wished to remain at Cross Lake, and we agreed that a reserve should be allotted them there. The treaty was then signed and the medals and uniforms presented. The Chiefs, on behalf of their people, thanked Her Majesty and her officers for their kindness to the Indian people, which I suitably acknowledged, and the payment of the presents was commenced by Messrs. McKay and Howard, and completed on the 15th.
We left that day at half-past three amidst cheering by the Indians and a salute of fire-arms, and came to anchor in Play Green Lake, at Kettle Island, at half-past five.
The steamer left Kettle Island next morning at six o’clock for the Grand Rapids of the Saskatchewan, which we reached at four o’clock.
The original post of the Hudson’s Bay Company, at the mouth of the river, has been abandoned, and a new one established on their reserve, some six miles higher up the river, at the head of the portage, which the river steamer descends to. The Colville, at our request ran up to the Chiefs house, situated on the shore of a deep bay, and was moored and gangways laid out to the shore. We found an Indian village on the north side, and also the Chief’s house, which was built on the only spot where good and inexpensive wharfage can be had, and ascertained afterwards that the Indians claimed the whole north shore for a reserve.