While negotiators for the British Crown struggled to contain First Nations’ demands, the strategy of the Cree and Saulteaux was to gain full compensation for their lands. Agricultural assistance, medical aid and other promises had been verbally made at earlier negotiations of the Numbered Treaties; however, these terms did not appear in the written text of Treaties 1 and 2. Records of the discussions proved that the Crown had indeed made promises beyond what the federal government initially planned: these omissions upset the First Nations, who responded by obstructing the surveying of land and the movements of settlers. While the issue of the “outside promises” was eventually resolved in 1875 through a revision of Treaties 1 and 2, the dissatisfaction over the Canadian government’s failure to recognize its treaty commitments set the backdrop for the negotiation of Treaty 4. The treaty ceded 195,000 square km of territory ranging from the southeast corner of present-day Alberta through most of southern Saskatchewan to west-central Manitoba. Canada sent the Hon. Alexander Morris, Lieutenant-Governor of the North-West Territory, David Laird, Minister of the Interior, and William Christie, retired HBC factor, with an escort of 105 militia to Fort Qu’Appelle on September 8, 1874, to conduct negotiations on behalf of the British Crown.

The Saulteaux, aware of the dissatisfaction of their tribal kin with Treaties 1, 2 and 3, were hesitant to enter into negotiations. On the other hand the Plains Cree, led by Loud Voice (Kakiishiway), had indicated their willingness to listen to the Commissioners. Charles Pratt, a Cree catechist, served as official translator. While approximately 2,000 had gathered, this represented less than half of the First Nations of the area, and the Assiniboine, who were in the midst of hunting buffalo, were not present at all. With Treaty 4 being the first major treaty to be negotiated in the North-West Territories, the First Nations elected to confront the Crown over the large settlement of money and land that had been made with the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC). On September 8, 1874, the first day of talks, the First Nations indicated that they were not yet sufficiently prepared to meet with the Commissioners. On the second day, Saulteaux spokesman “The Gambler” expressed disappointment that the Commissioners were not camped with the First Nations, and questioned why they chose to stay at the HBC post.

The First Nations requested more time to meet amongst themselves. On the third day the Saulteaux sent a request to have the meeting moved to the Indian camp, but this idea was rejected. The Saulteaux, who were the most numerous, tried to prevent the Cree from attending meetings, at one point making the threatening move of cutting down the tent of one of the chiefs. Tensions were high as the First Nations debated how to approach the issues that would have such momentous consequences for their future. Lead Commissioner Alexander Morris decided to proceed with an address to the Cree, during which he outlined the Queen’s promises of a “bounty and benevolence” which included reserves, agricultural provisions, schools, and annuities. Morris frequently mentioned concern about the well-being of children and the yet unborn; and the treaty, he promised, would last “as long as the sun shines and water flows.” The Commissioner increased the pressure by claiming that he could not stay long. On the fourth day, the Commissioners agreed to move the meeting tent away from the HBC post, as the First Nations did not feel free to speak out on the Company’s property. Grievances about the HBC were again raised by The Gambler, who claimed: “The Company has stolen our land.”

Morris countered that the Crown had paid compensation to end the Company’s trading monopoly. This explanation was still not satisfactory, prompting influential Chief Pasqua to say, “We want that money.” On the fifth day, the Saulteaux continued to demand that the activities of the Hudson’s Bay Company be restricted, something that Morris replied he did not have the power to do. As the talks began to fall apart, Loud Voice called for the unity of the Cree and Saulteaux as the leader of the Saulteaux, Chief Cote, threatened to leave. After Morris cautioned that it would be a long time before another treaty offer was made, Cote agreed to stay another day. On the following and final day, Cree leader Loud Voice offered the opinion that a treaty would be a good thing. Another spokesman, Kamooses, sought reassurances that the Queen’s intentions were good and that “my child will not be troubled for what you are bringing him.” After receiving this assurance Kamooses, speaking on behalf of the assembly, stated that they were willing to accept the same terms as Treaty 3. That afternoon, thirteen chiefs placed their “x” on the treaty.

The written terms of Treaty 4 included: reserves of one square mile for every five persons; annuities of $25 for a chief, plus coat and medal, a $15 annuity per headman, and a $5 annuity for each individual; a suit of clothing every three years per chief; blankets, calicoes and British flag (given once); $750 worth of powder, shot and twine annually; two hoes, a spade, scythe, axe and seed per family; a plough and two harrows per ten families; oxen, a bull, four cows, carpenter’s tools, five hand saws, five augers, a crosscut saw, a pit saw and a grindstone per chief; there was to be a school on the reserve; no liquor was to be allowed; and hunting, fishing and trapping rights would be respected.

A year after the treaty was signed, confusion reigned as to whether it was valid. Chief Piapot pressed to expand treaty terms to include clauses concerning farm instruction, machinery, gristmill, medicines, stores, and blacksmiths; and the Indians delayed taking annuities for four days in a futile attempt to further these demands. Implementation of the treaty was very slow. Ottawa believed that the First Nations would continue to survive by hunting the buffalo for another decade, while the chiefs expected agricultural help immediately and were disappointed when told that the treaty stated they had to be settled on their reserves first. In 1876, surveyor Wagner began laying out reserves for Gordon, Pasqua, Kawacatoose, Day Star, and Sakimay.

In 1874, when Treaty 4 was negotiated, the First Nations had insisted on having a Treaty Ground set aside to conduct treaty business. When settlers began to occupy the area, the First Nations applied to the government for assurance that the site would be safeguarded. As Indian Agent Allan Macdonald advised the Deputy Superintendent General of Indian Affairs, “this site … represents the place on which the Treaty was signed, also where the Indians have assembled to receive their annuities ever since, and they feel a strong attachment to it.” In the summer of 1879 the Deputy Minister of the Department of the Interior concurred: a 1,300-acre site was formally surveyed. Government officials, however, began to doubt the wisdom of having large congregations of Indians in one place—a reflection of the tensions arising from starvation and dissatisfaction with the implementation of treaty terms. In 1882, Edgar Dewdney instructed the Indians to take payment of their annuities on their reserves rather than at the Treaty Ground. This plan was met with resistance. Piapot, for example, planted a flag at the Treaty Ground and told Dewdney: “Where I have the flag, that is the land promised for the treaty and that is where I want to get my money.” Dewdney confirmed to Ottawa that “the Indians have been told that the Treaty Ground was to be kept for them, it was promised, and the agreement should be carried out as sacred as if the land was an Indian Reserve.” The outbreak of the North-West Resistance in 1885 brought about the imposition of the pass system that forbade First Nations to leave their reserves without permission; treaty payments were then moved to reserves, leaving the Treaty Ground in disuse. In 1894, after seeking clearance from the Department of Justice, Indian Affairs informed the Department of the Interior that the Treaty Ground was “no longer required for the purpose for which it was set apart … it is handed over to your department.”

In 1995, after extensive negotiations, the federal government agreed to a settlement just over a century after the Treaty Ground had been abolished. The settlement has made possible the purchasing of much of the original site and enabled the construction of the Treaty 4 Governance Centre, which includes the Chiefs’ Legislative Assembly for the 35-member First Nations, a Keeping House and Archives for the preservation of Treaty 4 culture and heritage, and offices for government agencies and other organizations.

Blair Stonechild