I have been unable to find a copy of Treaty 6, [Treaty 6 is now available online.] but here is an enlarged outline of the area from the Canadian National Mapping service's National Atlas. Info will be added to this page about the First Nations within this area; Treaty 6 itself will be linked whenever I can find an accurate fulltext copy.
I was amazed and disquieted to learn that no matter where I searched, in Internet libraries (all Canadian), Treaty 6 was never among whatever treaties were available there. The reason for this amazement is because of the importance this treaty has had in the past, and the negotiations going on about it now, for one of the more important aspects of Native survival: health care. Treaty 6 contains the "Medicine Chest" clause, which was the only thing I -- as a 5-year-old -- understood about treaties, when my grandmother illustrated it with her World War II First Aid kit.
Signed in 1876 first at Ft. Carlton, then at Ft. Pitt by bands of Plains Cree, Woodland Cree, and Assiniboines, most of the treaty's terms are similar to those of the other numbered treaties across Western Canada during this period. But these bands had had recent horrible experience with the smallpox plague, which traditional medicines were ineffective against. They negotiated the promise of assistance in case of a "pestilence" or a "famine" (because the buffalo were pretty well done for by that time mostly due to actions in the U.S.). A clause promised that a "medicine chest will be kept at the house of each Indian Agent for the use and benefit of the Indians."
Of course those promises were soon forgotten, and a little medicine kit, like my grandma's white box with the red cross on it, doesn't help much with major health problems or regular health care. As my grandma explained it, the chest -- the little kit she showed me -- was just a symbol. It should have grown bigger: into hospitals, doctor's offices and such, as the value of the land taken increased. It was a treaty right, she said. Even as a not-quite-6-year-old, I understood that, and actually that was about all I understood about treaties, except that they were promises to stop fighting, and there would be some after World War II when we beat the Germans and the Japanese.
So did a Canadian judge understand this, in 1935. In Dreaver v. Regina the judge concluded that the medicine chest clause of treaty 6 should be interpreted as meaning that "all medicines, drugs, or medical supplies which might be required by the Indians . . .were to be supplied to them free of charge." Actually this had rather little effect, on poor and isolated reserves, for health care is really not a matter of bandaids and aspirins from a little white box. nor even medicines and drugs from distant big boxes. In 1966, the treaty right of medical and health care was expanded and clarified by another court. In Regina v. Johnston, the judge held that "the Indians are entitled to receive all medical services including medicine, drugs, medical supplies and hospital care free of charge." My italics on entitled. That is the key word here, it means the entitlement is by law (treaty right) and not a governmental voluntary charity extended to Lo, the Poor Indian. It's part payment for that land.
The Canadian government bitterly resisted this entitlement, this treaty right ruling, and it was later overturned by a higher court. A court sitting in Saskatchewan ruled "medicine chest " meant just about what my grandma had showed me, a literal little white box, and did not include "a comprehensive range of medical services. " The little white box didn't grow in that judge's eye the way the white population and the value of our lands have done.
Thus the medicine chest clause of treaty 6, and by extension to reserves outside that area (and also oral promises to Treaty 8 signatories; such promises were perhaps made to other tribes at the times of signing, and may be recallable from elders' oral histories, or old documents from signing observers) has assumed major importance now, as Canada seeks to transfer to provinces and cap the dollar value and kinds of health services the federal government maintains it has been voluntarily and charitably providing -- not as legal obligations, entitlements, treaty rights -- to Native Nations. If it is an entitlement right, they must meet the real needs, which are still the greatest in Canada for Reserve populations. If it is not a right, they can do whatever they want, budgetary efficiencies and past history tell us what that will be.
Treaty 6 Grand Council has taken on the major role of advocate for the concept of medical care treaty rights, based on the fact that its treaty's clause is not only the clearest, but had clear court-mandated interpretations though these were later rejected. Here is Treaty 6 Grand Council's website, where you can read how this body interprets its mandates, read of the research being done on the medical portfolio treaty aspects (and the problems Canada is making for them by forcing the pace), plans to take their position and researches to the United Nations. Unfortunately either they didn't post the whole of Treaty 6, or it is in the site database, whose search mechanism is presently broken, under reconstruction.
Confederacy of Treaty 6 First Nations -- Startpage for the website of Treaty 6 Grand Council, 30,000 people and a vast expanse of land (shown on my map above) in Western Canada. A page gives the band memberships and contact info.
There is some other history of Treaty 6 that makes it different from the other numbered treaties. Big Bear (Mistahimaskwa) , an Ojibwe-Cree, had become the leader of the largest Plains Cree band by the 1870's. During this period, he advocated a strategy of non-violence against the white invaders, and was attempting to form a unified pan-Indian government that could effectively resist them. He was convinced that Treaty 6 -- the whole idea of moving to limited reserves -- would destroy the people. He refused to sign until December, 1882, when the destruction of the buffalo herds had brought starvation (in the wake of the smallpox plagues of the 1870's).
He attempted to get Canadian agreement to the idea that the tribes should occupy reserves that were large pieces of adjacent land (in the Cypress Hills, south of the Q'Apple River); but Canada refused that and refused to bring in any food or allow it to be brought when his people were starving. until he would sign Treaty 6. Still, after being forced to sign by his people's sufferings, in 1882, he continued to try to get the Canadian government to renegotiate, and to get other bands to ask that they might all share a large, contiguous region of reserve land, instead of the small, isolated, scattered parcels Canadian policy determined on (in order to isolate them from each other).
In 1884, he met with Poundmaker (Pitikwahanipiwiyin) and Little Pine (Minahikosis) at Sun Dances and other social and religious occasions to urge that all bands make a concerted effort to get the land renegotiated to one big contiguous reserve. But the young warriorts Wandering Spirit and Little Bad man, who were more militant, were gaining influence in the increasingly bad situation. Thus Big Bear's own band, Poundmaker, and others joined in the second Riel War in 1885, for which surviving leaders were punished after this war was lost. I feel the Treaty 6 adhesion of 1899 -- which extends the Treaty 6 cession area in a northerly Saskatchewan small rectangle -- may have some historical bearing on this situation, but do not have a copy of it.
Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations This page shows the great complexity that has been imposed on First Nations by Canada. which makes self-government more difficult, unwieldy, and costly. Note that FSIN does not comprise all bands/Nations in the Treaty 6 area, it incorporates only all in Saskatchewan, which means 2 treaties are involved (parts of 4 , 8, and 10 as well as the eastern -- Saskatchewan half -- of 6). These treaties also affect bands in other provinces: Manitoba and Alberta, in particular, and part of British Columbia., i.e. those not part of this federation but covered by the same treaty as some Nations who are. Not only is even information-sharing more time-consuming and costly, but there are cultural-historical differences among the tribes (language/culture groups) which add to the difficulties, problems, costs and complexity of self-government, sovereignty, and of many programs, especially education and natural resources management and development. Other FSIN pages may be accessed from the bottom of this one.
Prince Albert Grand Council To Host Saskatchewan Indian Winter Games, 1997 and a bit about what they will be doing then. Saskatchewan Indian Games big success Windspeaker News reports that had many more participants than anticipated.
Housing Conditions in Lac La Ronge Indian Band -- "the largest Band in Saskatchewan" someone says, and at the end, there is contact information for it.
Native Casinos -- Saskatchewan Indian gaming commission, 4 casinos of Saskatchewan tribes, started at the end of 1996. These -- like the ones that have done so well for so many U.S. tribes, are made possible because of treaty-guaranteed sovereignty, which overrides local legislation prohibiting such enterprises.
Here is some of the future of Treaty 6 First Nations, exemplified by the presentations about their respective communities done by highschool students of the Saddle Lake Band (a member of the Treaty 6 Grand council) located in Alberta. Why are there two presentations for students from jmust one band? Well, that exemplifies one of the problems of most of Canada's First nations. Two groups of Saddle Lake Band Cree are put on two tiny, isolated reserves at different lakes, some miles apart. The band members live in separate communities with separate governments, separate programs, etc., and a land base too small and isolated to support anything meaningful in the way of local economic activity. This is the situation of virtually all of Canada's reserves. These young people describes their lives and their hopes -- and there are photos and maps, too. Treaties make only a brief appearnace in celebrations of "Treaty Days".
First Page/Premiere page - Reserve indienne - Saddle Lake Indian Reserve -- this is many pages of 7th -12th grade Cree students' writing (and some photos taken by others) that describe many facets of their community, which is the Saddle Lake area reserve for the Saddle Lake group of the Saddle Lake Band of Cree. The Canadian National mapping service also provides a closeup map of the reserve's locale and an abstract outline map showing its location northeast of Edmonton, in Alberta
First Page/Premiere page - Reserve indienne Goodfish Lake Indian Reserve -- this is another group of the same band (Saddle Lake Band) of Cree, but their community is placed at another lake some miles away. Theirt reserves are two patches of land, the band does not own the land between the reserves. Students tell how fairly recently first one family then some others came to settle at this particular lake area.
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Text, maps and graphics copyright Paula Giese, 1997
CREDITS: The treaties map areas was devised from the map sold by the Canadian National Mapping service and a black and white map devised by cartographer Molly Braun in Atlas of the North American Indian, Facts on File, NY: 1985. Facts about Treaty 6 were summarized from a number of sources including Chronology of Native North American History, ed. Duane Champagne (GDetroit: Gale Research, 1994 -- reviwed in Native Books here under References); and The Native North American Almanac, ed. Champagne, Gale Research, 1994, "Canadian Native Health Care," Ann Hodes, University of Alberta. My grandmother was Irish, not Indian (unless she gained status through her husband via the Indian Act). My grandfather was son of a woman who had belonged to Beaver Lake Band of Treaty 6 area, but was Anishinabe, not Cree. She fled to France after the first Riel war, with her lover, a Frenchman who deserted her there when she became pregnant. They -- my grandfather and grandmother -- returned to the area in the 1890's before my father was born to fight in the second Riel war (she made bullets). My father returned there as a youth sometime around World War I and had some kind of experience so unpleasant he thereafter would never talk about Indians, much less admit to any Indian blood. My grandmother -- who was in her 80's when she died in 1942 -- tried to pass on a bit of my heritage shortly before I turned 6. Of course I was too young to understand much of it, but her Medicine Chest teaching was vivid and concrete, to stick in a youngster's mind, and did. She attached great importance to treaties. The circle of sacred items was painted by Robert DesJarlait (Minnesota Red Lake Ojibwe) for Modern Indian Issues: Repatriation, Religious Freedom, Mascots and Stereotypes, Tribal Sovereignty, Tribal Government, Tribal Enterprises, Treaty Rights, by Patricia Buffalohead, 1993. Available from Oyate.
Last Updated: 4/25/97