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Why Did the Government Want Treaties?

When Europeans first arrived in North America, they wanted to make alliances with Indigenous people to gain access to natural resources and maintain peace. The Indigenous nations were helpful allies to all while the British and French were more interested in fighting each other. Indigenous peoples knew the terrain (land) and were skilled fighters.

Atimoyoo, a Cree man carrying a rifle in traditional dress, circa 1905.


Atimoyoo, a Cree man is shown in traditional clothing in 1905.

When Britain defeated the French and gained control of Canada, they wanted control over all treaties with Indigenous people. The British wanted access to the traditional territories for settlers and development. They also wanted the natural resources and did not want the Indigenous people to interfere or object to their colonizing.

An illustrated farmer holds onto a plow that is being pulled by an ox.

The Canadian Government wanted the land for people from Europe to farm.

Why Did the First Nations People Sign the Treaties?

The First Nations people signed treaties to ensure that future generations of First Nations people would continue to live. They believed the treaties would help them adjust to the changing world because the government promised them health care, education, housing, and farm tools. The First Nations people also thought that treaties would protect them from White settlers and Métis moving into their territory.

A First Nations man is sitting on a plow as a team of horses pulls it through the farm field.

Photo Credit: Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan

Treaties only allowed settlers to dig the soil up to the depth of a plow.

Not all First Nations groups wanted to sign treaties. Many did not trust the government. Indigenous populations were decreasing due to disease and war. At the same time, they were being forced onto reserves. When the bison were killed off, it became hard to find food and First Nations people were starving. Many First Nations groups signed the treaties because they were desperate.

Many First Nations leaders finally signed treaties because their people were starving.

During the time of treaty-making, Queen Victoria was Queen of England and the European negotiators called her the ‘Great White Mother’ and the First Nations were called ‘her children.’

Numbered Treaties

Between 1871 and 1921, the Federal government (representing the Crown) and the Cree, Saulteaux, Assiniboine(Nakota), and Dene people negotiated treaties in the territory that is now called Saskatchewan. The federal government and First Nations signed Treaties 2, 4, 5, 6, 8 and 10 between 1871 and 1906 in the area that is now Saskatchewan.

A map of the different treaty zones in Saskatchewan.

All land in Saskatchewan is treaty land.

A map of Saskatchewan is shown with a tiny corner of the province highlighted that indicates the amount of land given for reserves if all of the reserve land was added together.

Reserve Lands are a very small percentage of all the land in Saskatchewan.

Treaty 6 may be the most pivotal treaty to be signed. The leaders looked at the Treaty 4 signing from 1874 and made some additional requests. Chief Poundmaker ensured that the agreement of the ‘Medicine Chest’ was promised and agreed to. This had ensured healthcare be provided to First Nations people for sicknesses and illnesses that were brought with the Europeans. Healthcare is a treaty right.

A black and white Portrait of Chief Poundmaker, taken originally in 1885.

Photo Credit: U of S Libraries Special Collections

Chief Poundmaker, Pîhtokahanapiwiyin, tried to protect his people during Treaty 6 negotiations.

The terms also included more agriculture implements and a famine clause, to protect them from such problems. Treaty 6 was signed on August 23, 1867.

A Plains Cree Chief named Big Bear has a blanket wrapped around himself.

Photo Credit: Library and Archives canada

The Plains Cree Chief, Big Bear, was concerned with the impossible treaty conditions that seemed to ensure perpetual poverty and the destruction of his people’s way of life.

Treaty Medal

First Nations leaders were given fine coats to signify that they had signed a treaty, as well as a treaty medal. Some reserves lost or had to give back these items. The Indian Agents took these away sometimes as a form of punishment. Some of these medals ended up in auctions that ended up in non–Indigenous people’s hands. However, these medals belong to the nations that signed the treaties.

A copper looking medal is shown with a First Nations person shaking the hand of a White person.

First Nations leaders received rewards such as a treaty medal for signing a treaty.