Worlds Apart


Canada's History - - CONTENTS - By Don­ald B. Smith and Doug Cuthand

Vis­its to Cen­tral Canada in 1886 gave some Plains First Na­tions chiefs a dis­turb­ing glimpse into their fu­ture.

A YEAR AF­TER TROOPS sup­pressed an 1885 up­ris­ing by Métis and First Na­tions in the North-West Ter­ri­to­ries, Prime Min­is­ter John A. Macdon­ald re­ceived a let­ter from a young Mo­hawk land sur­veyor work­ing in the Assini­boia dis­trict (now part of Saskatchewan). Thomas Green was no stranger to Macdon­ald. Green was a re­cent grad­u­ate of McGill Univer­sity whom the prime min­is­ter had rec­om­mended for a job with the Do­min­ion Land Sur­vey. More­over, he was pos­si­bly the first In­dige­nous per­son in Canada to be cer­ti­fied as a land sur­veyor.

Green’s tem­po­rary work in the North-West Ter­ri­to­ries made him aware of the dire sit­u­a­tion of the Plains First Na­tions peo­ple, who were suf­fer­ing from dis­ease and hunger due to the dis­ap­pear­ance of the bi­son and the govern­ment’s fail­ure to ful­fil its treaty promises.

In a let­ter writ­ten in March 1886, Green sug­gested that Macdon­ald reach out to im­por­tant chiefs who had re­mained neu­tral dur­ing the five-month con­flict in 1885: “Show them, or at least, al­low them to be shown the prin­ci­pal sights and cities of On­tario and Que­bec, and above all, have them visit the most pros­per­ous In­dian re­serves of th­ese prov­inces. Let them see how their In­dian brethren are pros­per­ing in those prov­inces; let them un­der­stand that the In­dian can sub­sist like the white man where there is no game; and let them un­der­stand that the govern­ment do not wish to ex­ter­mi­nate them.”

The young Mo­hawk’s ad­vice might have in­flu­enced Macdon­ald. A few months later, the prime min­is­ter held a brief meet­ing with western chiefs dur­ing a stop at the Black­foot Sik­sika Re­serve east of Calgary while on his first, and only, trip across Canada on the new transcon­ti­nen­tal rail­way in July 1886. Shortly af­ter­wards, he ex­tended in­vi­ta­tions to nine First Na­tions chiefs. The govern­ment-spon­sored trips — pre­sented as gifts for “loy­alty” — would take groups of Black­foot, Cree, and Ojibwe lead­ers to south­ern On­tario and Que­bec by train. They would stay in com­fort­able ho­tels and tour fac­to­ries, schools, churches, jails, re­serves, and farms. They would also be guests of hon­our at the un­veil­ing of a memo­rial to Mo­hawk Chief Joseph Brant and be re­ceived at Earn­scliffe, the prime min­is­ter’s stately res­i­dence.

For Macdon­ald, it was a way to im­press the prairie lead­ers with the Do­min­ion’s nu­mer­i­cal strength and tech­no­log­i­cal achieve­ments. The First Na­tions pop­u­la­tion of the West at the time was about fif­teen thou­sand. In con­trast, On­tario and Que­bec had a to­tal pop­u­la­tion of about three mil­lion. For the chiefs, the trip was an op­por­tu­nity to make their dif­fi­cul­ties known to politi­cians and the pub­lic.

In­ter­est­ingly, an­other group of Plains First Na­tions lead­ers toured Cen­tral Canada at around the same time. The two prom­i­nent Cree lead­ers and a young Stoney Nakoda chief were spon­sored by the Methodist Church. The or­ga­nizer, Rev­erend John McDougall, was a Protes­tant mis­sion­ary who fre­quently spoke out against the In­dian Act, ar­gu­ing that it gave the Depart­ment of In­dian Af­fairs un­war­ranted au­to­cratic power and dis­cour­aged self-help as well as self-re­spect. He also protested a newly in­sti­tuted pass sys­tem to re­strict off-re­serve travel by First Na­tions mem­bers.

Not sur­pris­ingly, the fed­eral govern­ment de­clined to fund the Methodist con­tin­gent. Nor were the Methodist visi­tors in­vited to meet the prime min­is­ter. McDougall’s group left first, in early Au­gust 1886. The Black­foot con­tin­gent left in two groups in late Septem­ber, and the Cree-Ojibwe chiefs fol­lowed shortly af­ter­wards.

There are no first-hand ac­counts of the chiefs’ im­pres­sions of their trips — few First Na­tions peo­ple on the prairies spoke English or French, and al­most none could write those lan­guages. But there was abun­dant press cov­er­age, as well as writ­ten com­men­taries by McDougall and Rev­erend John Maclean, a Black­foot-speak­ing Methodist mis­sion­ary.

One of the Black­foot del­e­ga­tions in­cluded the renowned Chief Crow­foot (Is­apo-Muxika) and his fos­ter brother Three Bulls, both of the Sik­sika Black­foot First Na­tion. They were ac­com­pa­nied by Jean L’Heureux, a colour­ful French Cana­dian who had lived with the Black­foot for two decades and who trav­elled with them as an in­ter­preter. Fa­ther Al­bert La­combe, a leg­endary Ro­man Catholic priest who spoke both Black­foot and Cree, joined them in Ottawa and trav­elled with them to Mon­treal. The sec­ond Black­foot group in­cluded Blood Chief Red Crow (Mékaisto), Red Crow’s pipe car­rier One Spot, and North Axe, the newly elected chief of the Peigans.

Rid­ing the trains as pas­sen­gers, they likely re­flected on how th­ese con­veyances had al­tered their way of life. Crow­foot’s peo­ple had re­luc­tantly al­lowed the Cana­dian Pa­cific Rail­way (CPR) to build its line through the Sik­sika re­serve. But they be­came alarmed when the speed­ing “fire wag­ons” belched sparks as they thun­dered past, caus­ing prairie fires and killing some of the Black­foot’s much­prized horses. “Great dam­age was caused,” Crow­foot told a jour­nal­ist writ­ing for Toronto’s Daily Mail in 1886. “Our horses lost their food and some were lost by go­ing on the heated ground. … Last year we asked for dam­ages but have yet re­ceived no an­swer. If this harm was done in the white man’s coun­try, it would be re­dressed.”

Crow­foot took th­ese griev­ances with him as he trav­elled east with Three Bulls. Red Crow, One Spot, and North Axe fol­lowed on a later train. In Mon­treal, Crow­foot met with CPR pres­i­dent Wil­liam Van Horne. Van Horne re­fused to pay com­pen­sa­tion but did of­fer Crow­foot a life­time rail pass. The chief wore the prized

pass on a chain around his neck but his fight with the rail­way con­tin­ued un­til his death in 1890.

Sur­prises met the chiefs at ev­ery turn. Maclean recorded how Red Crow and North Axe de­scribed the ex­tra­or­di­nary ex­pe­ri­ence of step­ping into a “small room which had an iron door,” be­ing lifted up­wards and then down­wards to “where the white men say the Great Evil Spirit dwells.” Fi­nally, the ride stopped, the door opened, and they came “at the same place where they had started from.”

As as­ton­ish­ing as their el­e­va­tor ride was, the big­gest shock for the First Na­tions visi­tors was the con­trast be­tween rich and poor. Shar­ing was deeply en­trenched in Plains First Na­tions cul­ture, and ev­ery­one was pro­vided for af­ter a hunt. Ac­cord­ing to Maclean, when Red Crow and North Axe later told their fel­low Bloods and Peigans of the poverty they had wit­nessed, they re­marked, “In many things the white men were in­fe­rior to the In­di­ans.”

The western chiefs drew crowds wher­ever they went. Crow­foot in par­tic­u­lar was li­on­ized by the press and the pub­lic. At fifty-six, his proud bear­ing, colour­ful re­galia, and thin, hawk-like face fit per­fectly with the pub­lic’s con­cep­tion of a great chief. Tall and lithe, he wore a tiny owl’s head in a top knot in his hair as a holy pro­tec­tor. The Mon­treal Star de­scribed his voice as “sonorous, well in­flected, and ev­i­dently one ac­cus­tomed to com­mand.”

In Mon­treal they stayed at the Riche­lieu Ho­tel, an es­tab­lish­ment that boasted hav­ing “ev­ery pos­si­ble mod­ern con­ve­nience and lux­ury that care­ful thought can sug­gest.” In con­trast to their usual fare at home of boiled beef, ban­nock, and tea, they were of­fered an ex­ten­sive menu that in­cluded pies, cus­tards, and sweets. At least one chief with the Methodist party — Pakan — “weighed 180 pounds when he first reached Toronto [and] now weighs 205 — a clear gain of twenty-five pounds in one month,” the Toronto Globe re­ported. This style of liv­ing did not suit Crow­foot, how­ever; he be­came ill and ex­hausted only a few weeks into the tour.

Af­ter Mon­treal, Crow­foot and Three Bulls spent three days tour­ing Que­bec City. While there, they stopped at the renowned Liver­nois stu­dio, where a pho­tog­ra­pher took sev­eral elab­o­rately staged pho­to­graphs of them.

On Oc­to­ber 9, Crow­foot and Three Bulls joined with the re­cently ar­rived mem­bers of the rest of the Black­foot con­tin­gent. To­gether, they trav­elled by horse-drawn car­riages to the prime min­is­ter’s home. “As the barouches drove through the gates of Earn­scliffe, Lady Macdon­ald, with char­ac­ter­is­tic grace, ad­vanced to meet her visi­tors,” re­ported the Ottawa Jour­nal. “Alight­ing from the main en­trance, Crow­foot and his In­dian al­lies were es­corted to the par­lour, where the usual hand­shak­ing took place.” Crow­foot then launched into a lengthy speech, which the news­pa­per de­scribed as a “mas­ter­piece of elo­quence” from the “In­dian point of view.” Crow­foot stated: “With the com­ing of the white man, the buf­falo have gone, and we will need par­tial sup­port at least.” He asked for help in start­ing farms and es­tab­lish­ing a mar­ket for their pro­duce.

Ac­cord­ing to the Ottawa news­pa­pers, Macdon­ald promised to find a mar­ket for their sur­plus pro­duc­tion, stat­ing, “If they were all peace­able he would see that they were well cared for.” It was a bru­tal age. As so­cial wel­fare his­to­rian Hugh Shewell has writ­ten, wel­fare re­lief in North Amer­ica “was not a read­ily ac­cepted func­tion of the state in the mid­dle to late nine­teenth cen­tury.” Macdon­ald saw no need for any ad­di­tional com­pen­sa­tion, apart from a gift of twenty-five dol­lars

to each of the chiefs and a prom­ise to send “more presents and cloth­ing to their peo­ple.” In part­ing, Lady Agnes Macdon­ald gave a photo of her hus­band to Crow­foot. Af­ter­wards, they all gath­ered on the lawn, where a pho­tog­ra­pher took a group photo.

Two days later the Black­foot chiefs were feted at an af­ter­noon levee at Ottawa’s city hall, this time joined by the party of Cree and Ojibwe chiefs who had reached Ottawa on Oc­to­ber 11. The lat­ter del­e­ga­tion in­cluded Big Child (Mistawa­sis) and Star­blan­ket (Ah­tahkakoop) — both from the Prince Al­bert area. Big Child and Star­blan­ket trav­elled with In­dian agent Allan Macdon­ald, in­ter­preter Peter Hourie, and two other chiefs — Kahkewis­ta­haw, com­monly known in English as Fly­ing in a Cir­cle, and Louis O’Soup, a Saulteaux (Ojibwe). O’Soup, or Osoop — which meant lit­er­ally “back fat” — was a noted or­a­tor and suc­cess­ful farmer.

A group photo taken at the levee shows all of the visi­tors on the steps of city hall with Mayor Fran­cis McDou­gal. For Crow­foot, the levee marked the end of the trip. By then too ill to con­tinue, he soon boarded a train home, ac­com­pa­nied by Three Bulls.

The next stop on the chiefs’ tour — now mi­nus Crow­foot and Three Bulls — was Brant­ford, On­tario, for the un­veil­ing of a memo­rial to Chief Joseph Brant (Thayen­da­negea), the great Iro­quois leader who fought be­side Bri­tain dur­ing the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion. Like other Loy­al­ists, Brant and his peo­ple were forced to flee to Canada af­ter the rev­o­lu­tion.

By the late-nine­teenth cen­tury, the Six Na­tions ter­ri­tory west of Hamil­ton had be­come a show­piece for the Depart­ment of In­dian Af­fairs. With its many pro­duc­tive farms run by mem­bers of the Six Na­tions of the Iro­quois Con­fed­er­acy, it was touted as

Chiefs and in­ter­preters on the lawn of Prime Min­is­ter John A. Macdon­ald’s res­i­dence in 1886. Seated, left to right, are North Axe, Three Bulls, Crow­foot, Red Crow, and One Spot. Fa­ther Al­bert La­combe, left, and Jean L’Heureux, stand be­hind.

Mo­hawk land sur­veyor Thomas Green.

The Joseph Brant Mon­u­ment in Brant­ford, On­tario.

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