Heritage Trail: Treaties Part Three - Treaty Number Six

Treaty Number 4 was signed in 1874. It was the first treaty to affect an area in what is now known as Alberta.

But its impact was minor in Alberta compared to that of Treaty Number 6. As historian Michael Payne points out, Treaty Number 6 covered most of central Alberta and Saskatchewan, between the North and South Saskatchewan rivers.

It was first signed at Fort Carleton, which is located north of Saskatoon, in 1876, and the main group who agreed to this treaty were the Plains Cree. Although, there were some other groups of Woods Cree and others who signed as well.

The Cree were reluctant to sign a treaty, and the negotiations were extremely difficult.

When they were promised 640 acres of land per family, Poundmaker, one of the leaders of the Plains Cree at the time, stated quite bluntly: "This is our land, it isn’t a piece of pemmican to be cut off and given back in little pieces to us. It’s ours and we’ll take what we want."

The Cree then left and met on their own for two days. While there were those, like Poundmaker, who were opposed to making treaty, there were others who supported it.

Buffalo herds were declining, white settlers were moving into their territories to farm, and they saw making treaty as a possible way out of their problems.

One of the leaders who was interested in the possibility of signing the treaty was a guy by the name of Star Blanket. He suggested the treaty offered perhaps a new way for his people to make a living, and according to accounts of the treaty that were written down at the time, he made the case that, "surely we Indians can learn the ways of living that made the white man strong."

When the Cree returned from their retreat, they demanded better terms. These were agreed to, and most of the leaders signed Treaty Number 6.

But Poundmaker, and another chief named Big Bear, were still opposed.

On the heritage trail, I'm Cheryl Croucher.