Before the Ink Dried


``When Indigenous Peoples talk about the land and the making of treaty, we are talking about our life and the life of future generations. Land is central to that process. We have a relationship with our Creation based on a legal system designed to protect and honour the land. These are the laws that guided Cree Peoples when the Chiefs negotiated and concluded Treaty Six in 1876``. Sharon H. Venne, "Treaties Made in Good Faith" in Native and Settlers—Now and Then (2007).


 Before the Ink dried…

 As soon as Treaty 6 concluded, the First Nations were experiencing difficulties with the government in respect of treaty fulfillment. Oral tradition among the Cree asserted that Big Bear, Little Pine, and Piapot wanted to see how “faithful” the government would be in honoring the treaties (Tobias 193). By 1879, the buffalo herds that once roamed the Canadian prairies were now depleted; Big Bear, Little Pine, their bands and other Cree, and Assiniboine followers made their way to the known buffalo ranges of the Milk and Missouri Rivers in the United States (Tobias 192). For the bands that remained in Canada, the people were starving, teepees were disheveled and in need of new hides, the First Nations life source was gone. Game was so scarce that once mighty bands were reduced to eating gophers, dogs, and even their horses, while some waited outside the HBC posts for rations (Stonechild and Waiser 34).

 The First Nations distressed by this, looked to the government to assist them in establishing their reserves and provide farming equipment but the government had other priorities like building the railway and did little to help the plains First Nations. When the government did decide to pay attention to them, they would interpret the treaties narrowly or neglect to address them at all (Stonechild and Waiser 28). The First Nations could not understand that a short while ago they extended their hand and collectively decided to share the land with the newcomers in good faith resulting in a special nation to nation relationship. The truth was that the government did nothing to save the buffalo from extinction and did very little to promote agriculture (Stonechild and Waiser 34).  

 Selection of reserves proved to be disheartening for the First Nations, it was their understanding that they could select reserves where they wished, but the government situated reserves with unfavorable lands apart from each other and away from the rest of society. Many First Nations in Treaty 6 wanted to choose reserves in the Cypress Hills area so they could continue their way of life amongst one another and preserve what buffalo were left. However, they were discouraged as the government feared a high concentration of First Nations in one area would create strong alliances and a possible uprising against them like what was happening with the tribes in the United States. This was one of many violations of the Treaty. Dewdney also failed to distribute twine and ammunition as the Treaty stated (Tobias 210). The government viewed reserves as “training grounds” to prepare Indian people to live in Canadian society (Price 61). This was only the beginning of ill relations between the First Nations and the government.     

 Treaty 6 lands accommodated the settlement of lands for Europeans and resource based opportunities for westward expansion and development. The First Nations believe that they honored their terms of the treaty based on a nation to nation relationship and argue that the Government did not fulfill its promises and developed polices to work against the treaty and as a result has created animosity and resentment with the First Nations. First Nations and Government’s perspectives on interpretation of the Treaty remain distant and complex to this day. Significantly, First Nations understood that the treaty would assure them to continue their way of life physically and culturally. As a result of the lack of fulfillment of treaty terms by the government, First Nations dispute over their Treaty rights is ongoing in the form of lobbying, land claims, litigation, and negotiations with the federal government.