The University of Alberta respectfully acknowledges that we are located on Treaty 6 territory, a traditional gathering place for diverse Indigenous peoples including the Cree, Blackfoot, Métis, Nakota Sioux, Iroquois, Dene, Ojibway/ Saulteaux/Anishinaabe, Inuit, and many others whose histories, languages, and cultures continue to influence our vibrant community.
The foregoing is a Traditional Territory Acknowledgment from the University of Alberta regarding the lands where the University is situated, where I currently type, and where you are likely reading this post. I was born on Treaty 6 territory. I have lived most of my life on Treaty 6 territory. And I very well may die on Treaty 6 territory someday. Given that I, other contributors to this blog, and probably most who read this post, have such a significant personal connection to Treaty 6, it made sense for ReconciliAction YEG's first week of content to concern Treaty 6.
Let us begin with some basic history. Beginning in the 1830s, the Hudson's Bay Company aggressively hunted the plains and wood bison to the extent that bison populations dwindled from abundance to dire scarcity within a single generation. The bison were a critical resource for the Cree, Blackfoot, and other Indigenous peoples who inhabited the prairies for millennia. So when the bison nearly disappeared from the face of the earth, Indigenous peoples starved. In 1874, Manitoba historian Charles Bell wrote to the Minister of the Interior:
The Crees are very troublesome at Carleton, Pitt, Victoria and Edmonton. I saw some at Victoria, last spring, who came in from the plains starving, and demanded provisions from the settler & the H.B. Co. There were no buffalo on the plains all winter, and they suffered frightfully. They told us that many Indians had eaten their horses, dogs, buffalo skins and in some cases their snowshoe laces & moccasins and then died.
In addition to the depletion of the bison, Indigenous peoples were facing a pandemic of smallpox and tuberculosis that came with the new European settlers. So in the years leading up to the signing of Treaty 6 in 1876, Indigenous peoples were dying from both starvation and disease.
Around the same time, the Canadian government wanted to acquire more land for farming and railroad construction, protect settlers from the possibility of armed conflict with Indigenous peoples, and for Indigenous peoples to transition to a European-style agricultural culture and economy.
As a result, three provisions, which had not been included in any of the five prior numbered treaties, were included in Treaty 6: a promise from the government to provide assistance in transitioning to an agricultural economy, a promise of a medicine chest to be kept at the house of each Indian agent, and a promise to protect Indigenous peoples in times of famine and pestilence. These promises were offered by the government in return for Indigenous peoples giving up title to their land and agreeing to be confined to a smaller reserve of land.
Understandably, some Cree leaders were desperate to sign the Treaty, thinking that they were making a difficult decision in order to ensure the survival of their people. Other leaders, such as a Saskatchewan Plains Cree leader named Big Bear (Mistahi-maskwa), famously and peacefully resisted signing the Treaty on the principle that their rights should not be sacrificed to the colonial powers. However, even Mistahi-maskwa, for all his resilience, eventually signed Treaty 6.
Sadly, Mistahi-maskwa and other Indigenous leaders of that time could not have anticipated all the ways in which the Canadian government would fail to uphold their treaty obligations to Indigenous peoples in the years immediately following the signing of Treaty 6. Indian Commissioner Edgar Dewdney was notoriously tight-fisted with the quantity and quality of food assistance provided to Indigenous peoples. Sometimes, Dewdney knowingly provided food to Indigenous peoples that was in such bad condition that it was the cause of further sickness. The government also failed to provide shelter to Indigenous peoples in lieu of bison hides and many Indigenous peoples suffered from exposure as a result . Despite signing Treaty 6, many Indigenous peoples suffered and died through continuing famine and pestilence.
Ultimately, the Canadian government failed to take reasonable steps to provide protection to Indigenous peoples during times of famine and pestilence in accordance with Treaty 6, and Indigenous peoples received insufficient resources in return for the title to their land. The legacy of Treaty 6 is a tragic example of how the colonial powers weakened Indigenous communities to the point that they would desperately give up their rights in return for the promise of survival. It is an example of how even once their rights were given up, the Canadian government broke its promises to Indigenous peoples and allowed continued suffering and death in Indigenous communities.
It is important to remember this history as we spend the next week examining textual interpretation of Treaty 6, as we consider what it means to live on Treaty 6 territory, and as we settlers contemplate our role in reconciliation with our Indigenous neighbours today.
Until next time,
Team ReconciliAction YEG
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 https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/buffalo-robe-trade; https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np/ab/elkisland/nature/eep-sar
 James W. Daschuk. Clearing the Plains: Disease, politics of starvation, and the loss of Aboriginal life. Regina: University of Regina Press, 2013. Canadian Electronic Library/desLibris. Page 96. Downloaded Sep 14, 2018.
 Ibid at 98.
 Ibid at 111.
 Ibid at 118.
 Ibid at 117.
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