Written Documentation

Title: Indians in the Fur Trade

Author(s): Arthur J. Ray

Publisher: University of Toronto Press, 1998

Location: First Nations University of Canada, Regina & Prince Albert, Sask.

Summary: This book mainly discusses the involvement and alliance of the Plains Cree, the Swampy Cree and Assiniboine First Nations, as this relates to their role as trappers, hunters, and middlemen in the Hudson’s Bay Company fur trade economy in Western Canada from 1660-1870. This book cites a map from 1821 that shows the western movement of the Plains Cree and Assiniboine First Nations, from northern and southern Manitoba into the central and northern regions of Saskatchewan and Alberta (Ray, 1998:101). This map supports the theory that population shifts occurred after the original Cree inhabitants of western Canada had been obliterated by the smallpox epidemic of 1781 (Russell, 1991:iii).

Data Cited:

The western movement of the Plains Cree, Swampy Cree, and Assiniboine First Nations, as it related to the Hudson Bay fur trade economy in western Canada, did in effect, through various epidemics caused by European diseases, such as smallpox and measles, as well as intertribal warfare, re-distribute the tribal land base of the other First Nations within this region. This included the Dakota, the Gros Ventre [Madan and Hidatsa], the Atsina [also referred to as the Gros Ventre, in this time period], the Blackfoot Confederacy [which included the Blackfoot, Blood, Peigan, and Sarcee], and the Denesuline (referred to as Chipewyan on the map, page 101). Further, it was during this period of Canadian history that the Cree began to be referred to as three distinct groups: the Woodland Cree, the Plains Cree, and the Swampy Cree. The Assiniboine First Nations were also divided into two groups, the Plains Assiniboine and the Woodland Assiniboine, also known as Stony (Ray, 1998:136-193).

As noted by the author, the period from 1821 to 1870 was one of declining opportunities for the Indians in the fur trade. The Woodland Indians were the first to feel these changes, which arose from a declining market in the fur trade (Ray, 1998:213). In addition, by the late 1860s, the buffalo had all but disappeared in western Canada, and by 1870, the Hudson’s Bay Company had sold their interest in Rupert’s Land to the Dominion of Canada (Ray, 1998:227).

With the buffalo fast disappearing, First Nations in western Canada began to demand that Treaties be signed between them and the Federal Government of Canada, on behalf of the British Crown. Thus, First Nations sought and gained an assurance that their Aboriginal Rights, including the Right to occupy their traditional lands (guaranteed in the Royal Proclamation of 1763), would be recognized. Therefore, they agreed to share their lands and resources with the newcomers and keep the peace, in exchange for the benefits guaranteed in perpetuity through Treaty. As a result of the Treaties signed between 1871 to 1876, the Government of Canada gained access to the lands in western Canada for agricultural use and settlement, as this pertains to all the grassland, parkland and bordering woodland regions referred to in the numbered Treaties, specifically Treaties One through Seven (Ray, 1998:228).


First Nations & the North-West Rebellion (1885)

Title: Loyal till Death, Indians and the North-West Rebellion, 1885

Author(s): Blair Stonechild & Bill Waiser

Publisher: Fifth House Publishers, 1997.

Location: First Nations University of Canada, Regina & Prince Albert, Sask.

Summary: This document discusses the history of the Plains Cree after the signing of the numbered treaties in western Canada, and directly relates to the Plains Cree First Nations that are members of the Prince Albert Grand Council, the James Smith Cree Nation and Sturgeon Lake First Nation. It also provides insight into the history of Chakastaypaysin Band membership, who lost their reserve land after the 1885 Métis North-West Rebellion, and were in effect coerced and forced by the Department of Indian Affairs to join and become a part of the James Smith Band, now known as the James Smith Cree Nation.

Data Cited:

The authors of this document counter the argument based on documented evidence received from First Nations people, as well as from the Federal Government of Canada’s own record of archival files, the misleading Canadian popular myth, and/or belief, that Indian leaders conspired with Louis Riel and the Métis in the 1885 North-West Rebellion … in an effort to wrest control of the region away from the Canadian state (Stonechild & Waiser, 1997:1). Thus, this book challenges previous written books, such as the “Riders of the Plains”, the “Patrol of the Sun Dance” and the Indian-Métis conspiracy theory of George Stanley’s 1936 book, “The Birth of Western Canada” to the extent of First Nation involvement in the 1885 North-West Rebellion (Stonechild & Waiser, 1997:1-3).

Having cited the above-mentioned, the authors of this book noted [t]hat the Indians of western Canada had their own strategies for dealing with their situation in the 1880’s [in reference to the non-fulfillment of treaty promises by the Federal Government of Canada] and that these strategies did not include open rebellion (Stonechild & Waiser, 1997:4). Building on recent work of several specialists in Indian-White relations, [the book] examines the events of the rebellion from the First Nations perspective and demonstrates that Indian involvement was isolated and sporadic, not part of a grand alliance with the Métis (Stonechild & Waiser, 1997:4). [Further], the book describes how the Canadian government [after the 1885 Métis North-West Rebellion] deliberately portrayed Indians as rebels in order to justify a number of restrictive and repressive measures and how the punishment meted out to the [Indian] bands in the aftermath of the troubles has been generally ignored – what one historian has called the “great amnesia” (Stonechild & Waiser, 1997:4).

As for the quote cited as the “great amnesia”, the authors note and call into question the [mis]treatment of Indian people [by the Canadian government] in the weeks, … months, [and years] after the rebellion, especially the imprisonment of Cree leaders [One Arrow, Big Bear, and Poundmaker] for treason-felony (Stonechild & Waiser, 1997:4), as well as the loss of reserve land for some Indian bands, and including the Pass System imposed on Indian people by the Department of Indian Affairs after 1885, etc. (Stonechild & Waiser, 1997:250-253).

The above-mentioned book … brings a different but equally vital perspective to the North-West Rebellion, and in doing so, provides a more balanced understanding of the events of 1885 (Stonechild & Waiser, 1997:4). It also offers an alternative explanation for Indian behaviour at the time of the 1885 Métis North-West Rebellion, as noted the authors, they knew how to respond to change [in moving from a hunting, fishing and gathering lifestyle to an agricultural economy], that they looked to their own leaders for direction [in reference to the non-fulfillment of treaty promises by the Federal Government of Canada], and … they remained loyal to the Queen (Stonechild & Waiser, 1997:4).

The book mentions, at the time of the Metis1885 North-West Rebellion, the First Nation leaders had also been meeting, in order to address the non-fulfillment of treaty promises, as this pertains to the lack of schools, health services, poor farming equipment, etc. (Stonechild & Waiser, 1997:59). However, Indian Commissioner Dewdney saw the Metis1885 North-West Rebellion as an opportunity to rid himself and the Canadian government of troublesome Indian leaders and their nagging call for revision of the treaties. Although Dewdney known better, he advised the Prime Minister that the “break[ing] loose” of a few bands had turned “a Half-breed revolt of small magnitude into an uprising of large dimensions” from one end of the territories to the other (Stonechild & Waiser, 1997:194). As cited by the authors, [i]t was to Dewdney’s favour to portray the Indians as reckless allies of Riel who would cause trouble in the future unless reined in (Stonechild & Waiser, 1997:194).

Upon conclusion of the 1885 Métis North-West Rebellion, it was stated that a total of fifteen major recommendations were outlined by the Assistant Indian Commissioner, Hayter Reed, for the future management of Indians (Stonechild & Waiser, 1997:250-253), with a number cited as follows:

  • That the tribal system should be abolished in so far as is compatible with the treaty, which meant that in all cases in which the treaty has been broken by rebel tribes; by doing away with chiefs and councilors, depriving them of medals and appurtenances of their offices;
  • No annuity money be paid any bands that rebelled, or any individuals that left well disposed bands and joined the insurgents;
  • No rebel Indians should be allowed off the reserves without a pass signed by an I.D. [Indian Department] official;
  • Big Bear’s Band should either be broken up and scattered amongst other bands or be given a reserve adjacent to that at Onion Lake;
  • One Arrow’s band should be joined with that of Beardy and Okemasis and their present reserve be surrendered;
  • Chakastaypaysin’s band should be broke up and its reserve surrendered;

It was noted that the majority of Assistant Indian Commissioner, Hayter Reed, fifteen (15) major points were accepted by Prime Minister MacDonald, the senior Indian official at the time. However, MacDonald at the urging of his assistant, Vankoughnet, took Reed’s suggestions further, he directed Dewdney to treat any Indian who been implicated in the troubles as a rebel, even if the courts had found otherwise (Stonechild & Waiser, 1997:220).

In addition, MacDonald ordered, despite qualms about its legality, that pass system be applied to all Indians, including those who had been loyal (Stonechild & Waiser, 1997:220). This meant from this time on, from 1885 to 1950, that every Indian in western Canada required a pass permit approved by the Indian agent to leave his or her reserve (Purich, 1986).

Thus, the freedom that First Nation people had enjoyed for centuries in the area now known as western Canada had come to an end, and they were [r]educed to prisoners on the reserves, the Indians were entirely at the mercy of the government (Opekokew, 1980:31). Further, as previously noted, the Indian reserves [that had been] set aside under treaty were [now] operated more along the lines of confinement camps to protect the surrounding private-interest (Getty & Lussier, 1983, preface XIV).

As for the history of the Plains Cree that are now members of the Prince Albert Grand Council, and referred to as James Smith Cree Nation and Sturgeon Lake First Nation, as well as a further insight to the history of the Chakastaypaysin Band membership who lost their reserve land after the 1885 Métis North-West Rebellion, the authors (Stonechild & Waiser, 1997:252-260), cited the comments of Assistant Indian Commissioner, Hayter Reed’s List of Band Behaviour during the rebellion, thus noted as follows:


No. of Reserve Band:Remarks
Chakastaypaysin, Cree,
South Saskatchewan.
A few of these men I think were loyal, but are not deserving of any special recognition.
James Smith, Swampy and Cree,
Fort a la Corne.
Ditto [meaning the same as the above-noted comments].
William Twatt, Swampy and Cree,
Sturgeon Lake, north of Prince Albert
Ditto [meaning the same as the above-noted comments].


As in the case of the membership of Chakastaypaysin, Chief Earl Ermine has mentioned that the membership of Sturgeon Lake First Nation was previously known as the Willow Cree (Leo J, Omani, March 12th, 2002).