Hudson’s Bay Company: 350 years of archives

By Anik Laflèche

The year 2020 marked the 350th anniversary of the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC). Founded on May 2, 1670, HBC is one of the oldest still-operating companies in the world.

While HBC’s longevity is a feat on its own, this company stands out for another reason: a very large portion of its historical records has survived, kept, for most of its history, in London, England. Considering that the documents survived centuries of existence, life in the Canadian wilderness, trips across the Atlantic, poor conservation conditions, fires and floods, and two world wars, it is amazing that so many records can still be consulted today.

A black-and-white photograph of a building seen through a gate that reads “Hudson’s Bay Company, incorporated 1670” and a second building seen beyond a fence to the right.

A photograph of HBC Post [Fort] Chipewyan, Alberta, 1900. (a019629)

The HBC records have their own fascinating story, separate from the company’s history. The records were originally kept for legal and business reasons, not historical purposes.

While the records were arranged alphabetically in 1796, the first true efforts to describe and organize the collection date to 1931, when HBC hired its first archivist, Richard Leveson Gower. This was the result of mounting pressure from researchers and historians to access the collection.

In the 1960s, with the 100th anniversary of Canada’s confederation (1967) and the approaching centennial of the creation of the province of Manitoba (1970), serious thought was given to transferring the HBC archives to Canada. This idea became a reality in 1974, when all of HBC’s corporate archives were donated to the Archives of Manitoba. The HBC’s museum collection, on the other hand, is showcased in the Manitoba Museum.

While LAC is not the institution mandated to conserve the Hudson’s Bay Company archives, we do hold microfilmed copies of many—although not all—documents in MG20. Glimpses into the role that HBC played in the development of the North-West and land grants after the transfer of Rupert’s Land and the North-Western Territory can be had in some of LAC’s other fonds, such as RG15, the fonds for the Department of the Interior.

Records from the Hudson’s Bay Company are classified in LAC’s collection as MG20. The fonds holds a large variety of documents, such as board minute books, letterbooks, journals, ledgers, staff records, ships’ logs, photographs, post journals, diaries, maps, architectural drawings and photographs, dating from 1667 to 1956. The organization of the records is the same as that originally created by the company and matches that of the collection in the Archives of Manitoba.

Black-and-white image of a textual document, specifically, a minute book. The date “24th October 1671” can be seen in the top-right corner. On the left is a list of men who attended the meeting. The rest of the text comprises two paragraphs describing the discussion had during the meeting.

This document, a minute book in which the first entry was made on October 24, 1671, is the oldest surviving record in the Hudson’s Bay Company archives. The minute book includes the records written during the first 18 months of the company’s existence. King Charles II granted the HBC charter on May 2, 1670. (MG20-A1, file A.1/1, Microfilm reel HBC-1)

Although the Hudson’s Bay Company holds a controversial place in Canadian history, having been one of the main tools for the resource exploitation period of colonization, its records are a crucial source of information of the history of Canada and the First Nations, the Métis Nation, and Inuit. These documents offer insights into our colonial past, westward and northward expansion, economic and cultural development, as well as the daily life of fur traders, Indigenous peoples and frontier communities.

The HBC records offer insights into the birth and development of the Métis Nation, an independent people of First Nation and European ancestry who coalesced into a distinct nation in the northwest in the late 18th century. They would rise to resist the takeover of their homeland in the next century after the Hudson’s Bay Company transfer of Rupert’s Land to the Dominion of Canada.

These records can help Canada on its journey towards Reconciliation with First Nations, the Métis Nation, and Inuit.

For more information on the history of the Hudson’s Bay Company archives, I recommend reading Deidre Simmons’s Keepers of the Record: The History of the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives or consulting the Archives of Manitoba page “Hudson’s Bay Company Archives – About HBCA.”

If you are doing or planning to do research using the Hudson Bay Company archives records or research on a related topic, our reference specialists can assist you. Simply complete our form to contact us. We look forward to hearing from you!


Anik Laflèche is an archivist in the Reference Services Division.

Manitoba: Kwaata-nihtaawakihk—A Hard Birth

On the left of the graphic, Tatânga Mânî [Chief Walking Buffalo] [George McLean] in traditional regalia on horse. In the middle, Iggi and girl engaging in a “kunik”, a traditional greeting in Inuit culture. On the right, Maxime Marion, a Métis guide stands holding a rifle. In the background, there is a map of Upper and Lower Canada, and text from the Red River Settlement collection.

By William Benoit

The year 2020 marks an important year in the history of Canada. One hundred and fifty years have gone by since the 1870 transfer of Rupert’s Land and the North-Western Territory to Canada. It is also the year that Manitoba entered Confederation. This was no small feat. There were discussions as to whether the Canadian government would create a province or just keep it as a vast territory.

The Métis would push Canada toward creating the new province.

Painting of a person holding a riding crop above his head, standing on a sleigh being pulled through the snow by a rearing brown horse.

Breaking a Road in Manitoba (e011072986)

Manitoba would be the first addition to the list of four original Canadian provinces: Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. There was no template to use. Deep, careful and altruistic thinking about the future should have been the order of the day. Instead, for the Métis, what resulted from the experience were feelings of displacement, trauma and resilience. In post-Confederation Manitoba, the position of the Métis deteriorated. New settlers from Ontario were hostile. Métis elders, over generations, described that period as a “Reign of Terror” against the Métis.

Métis Nation Elder Verna DeMontigny recently described the province-building exercise that led to Manitoba as a hard birth, or Kwaata-nihtaawakihk in the Michif language. It was certainly difficult.

The Supreme Court of Canada, in its 2013 decision in Manitoba Metis Federation Inc. v. Canada, provides a detailed narrative of the Métis people, the Red River Settlement, and the conflict that gave rise to the Manitoba Act and Manitoba’s entry into Canada:

The story begins with the Aboriginal peoples who inhabited what is now the province of Manitoba—the Cree and other less populous nations. In the late 17th century, European adventurers and explorers passed through. The lands were claimed nominally by England, which granted the Hudson’s Bay Company […] control over a vast territory called Rupert’s Land, which included modern Manitoba. Aboriginal peoples continued to occupy the territory. In addition to the original First Nations, a new Aboriginal group, the Métis, arose—people descended from early unions between European adventurers and traders, and Aboriginal women. In the early days, the descendants of English-speaking parents were referred to as half-breeds, while those with French roots were called Métis.

On November 19, 1869, the Hudson’s Bay Company surrendered Rupert’s Land and the North-Western Territory under its letters patent to the British Crown. By Order-in-Council dated June 23, 1870, the British government admitted these territories to Canada, under section 146 of the British North America Act, 1867 (now the Constitution Act, 1867), effective July 15, 1870.

It took almost eight months from the Hudson’s Bay Company surrender until the completed land transfer took full effect.

The Canadian government, led by Prime Minister John A. Macdonald, intended to absorb the territories and open them up to settlement. Before this could happen, Canada would need to deal with the Indigenous peoples who were living in these territories. Under the Royal Proclamation of 1763, Canada was duty-bound to treat with the sovereign Indigenous nations to obtain their consent to the Imperial Crown to exercise its sovereignty over them. Written more than a hundred years before, the proclamation’s purpose was to organize and manage the newly expanded British North American territories after the Seven Years’ War. Included in the proclamation were regulations to stabilize relations with Indigenous peoples through the regulation of trade, settlement and land purchases on the frontier.

A drawing of people sitting in a circle around a person standing in the middle who is speaking. There is a building with people sitting and standing on the balcony in the background.

The Manitoba Indian Treaty; a chief lecturing at length at the Stone Fort (the Métis man seated on a chair within the circle may be the translator) (e010967476)

Therefore, for the First Nations, the process would be to enter into treaties, whereby they agreed to settlement of their lands in exchange for reservations of land and other promises. The government policy with respect to the Métis was less clear.

A sepia photograph of a town with buildings on either side of a wide dirt road with wagon tracks.

Main Street, Winnipeg, looking south, 1879; the street’s width was to accommodate the space needed for Red River Carts (e011156541)

Prior to confederation with Canada, white settlers had begun pouring into the Red River, displacing the social and political control of the Métis. This led to resistance and conflict. To settle the conflict and assure annexation of the territory, the Canadian government entered into negotiations with representatives of the Métis-led provisional government. The result was the adoption in 1870 of the Manitoba Act, which made Manitoba a province of Canada.

The Manitoba Act is a constitutional document with many treaty-like characteristics. It enshrines the promises and obligations that Canada has to the Métis people. These promises represent the terms under which the Métis agreed to surrender their claims to govern themselves and their territory, and to become part of Canada. These obligations remain in force today.

The Métis Nation is an internationally recognized Indigenous people. In Canada, it is one of three Indigenous groups with constitutionally entrenched Aboriginal and treaty rights, alongside First Nations (“Indians”) and Inuit (“Eskimos”). The Métis Nation Homeland is a vast area of land in west-central North America. The Métis, as the Founders of Manitoba in 1870 and Canada’s negotiating partners in Confederation, continue to play an important role in Canada’s development.

(In Michif: Li Michif Naasyoon nishtowinikaatew oobor lii piyii pi li moond nishtowiinikasowak li moond autochtone. Daan li Canada si te payyek enn band di moond avek lii dray tretii daan li constitution, aloon bor li Promii Naasyoon pi li Ziskimoo. Li Michif Naasyoon Nataal li piyii mitoni kihchi-mishow, li taryaen daan li sawntrel west Nor America. Lii Michif, koum li fondateur di Manitoba daan li 1870 pi Canada’s naasaasyi-iwow di maashkihtonikaywin daan li Confederation, kiiyapit il li enportaan daan li Canada’s oosishchikeywiin.)


William Benoit is the Advisor for Internal Indigenous Engagement in the Office of the Deputy Librarian and Archivist of Canada at Library and Archives Canada.

Kahkewaquonaby, the Grand Council, and First Nations Rights

By Kelly Ferguson

In the Sir John A. Macdonald fonds, there are a series of letters exchanged between Macdonald and Dr. Peter Edmund Jones (Kahkewaquonaby). These letters offer a small glimpse into the work of Jones as well as organizations like the Grand General Indian Council of Ontario and Quebec in the struggle for the rights of First Nations during the 1870s and 1880s.

Jones was born in 1843 to Reverend Peter Jones (Kahkewaquonaby) and Elizabeth Field. In 1866, Jones earned a medical degree from Queen’s College in Kingston, becoming one of the first licensed Anishinaabe (and First Nations) doctors in British North America. After graduation, Jones worked as a practicing physician in Brantford, Ontario, Niagara, Ontario, and New York City. He eventually set up a practice in Hagersville, Ontario, next to the New Credit reserve. He served as Chief of the Mississaugas of the New Credit (now the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation) from 1870 to 1874, and again from 1880 to 1886.

A sepia photograph of a seated man dressed in traditional quill design buckskin jacket and bag, holding a ceremonial pipe and a string of wampum beads.

Portrait of Kahkewaquonaby (Reverend Peter Jones), father of Dr. Peter E. Jones. The photograph was taken on August 4, 1845, and is by David Octavius Hill (photographer) and Robert Adamson (chemist). (a215156k)

Beginning in 1874, Jones served as part of the Grand General Indian Council of Ontario and Quebec. The Grand Council first met in 1870, and one of its primary tasks was reviewing the Indian Act and other pieces of legislation that related to the rights of First Nations.

By 1884, the Grand Council’s focus was on the Indian Advancement Act. The Act enforced significant changes to regulations and governing systems for First Nations in Eastern Canada, including limits on the size and functions of councils and the appointment of local Indian agents to preside over the councils.

The Grand Council continued to debate the new Indian Advancement Act from 1884 to 1886. There were major objections to the Act, particularly the limits to the size of councils and the limits to their function, as well as the appointment of local Indian agents as chairmen. In 1887 Jones, then a delegate on the Grand Council, sent Macdonald a letter with suggestions and comments about both the Indian Act and the Indian Advancement Act. Jones’ recommendations included granting power to local councils to make decisions when the Indian agent was not there, extending equivalent powers to the chiefs, as well as increasing the number of councilors.

A black-and-white microfilm of a handwritten letter.

Letter to Sir John A. Macdonald from Dr. Peter E. Jones written January 5, 1887. In the letter, Jones offers suggestions and comments regarding the Indian Act and the Indian Advancement Act. (e007956445)

Jones also wrote to Macdonald with recommendations on the Electoral Franchise Act. Although, in theory, First Nations men had been able to vote since 1867, enfranchisement meant that they were required to give up their status under the Indian Act, as well as the accompanying treaty rights. Jones was supportive of enfranchisement, but not at the expense of status. He saw the Electoral Franchise Act as an opportunity to support a version of enfranchisement that maintained a person’s status under the Indian Act and protected treaty rights.

A sepia scan of a handwritten letter.

Letter to Dr. Peter E. Jones (Chief) from Sir John A. Macdonald, written August 31, 1886, discussing the Electoral Franchise Act. (e011198071-001-v8) (e011198071-002-v8)

A black-and-white microfilm of a two-page letter written on Department of Indian Affairs letterhead.

Letter to Sir John A. Macdonald from L. Vankoughnet, Deputy Superintendent of the Department of Indian Affairs. Dated March 28, 1887, the letter discusses amendments to jthe Indian Act, including suggestions offered by Dr. Peter Edmund Jones. (e007956441) (e007956442)

In the end, the Macdonald government ignored Jones’s recommendations regarding the Indian Advancement Act, and Wilfrid Laurier’s Liberal government later repealed the Electoral Franchise Act. The franchise would not be fully extended to status Indians under the Indian Act until 1960, and subsequent amendments to the Indian Act throughout the 19th century continued to assert increased control over the lives of First Nations. That said, these letters still provide a small glimpse into the work of organizations and individuals in the struggle for the rights of First Nations. Both in the 1880s and today, Indigenous Peoples have fought for the right to self-determination and the protection of their Indigenous, Aboriginal and treaty rights, and these letters offer a small window into one of many examples.


Kelly Ferguson is a political archivist in the Science and Governance Private Archives Division of Library and Archives Canada.

 

 

Archives as resources for revitalizing First Nations languages

On the left of the graphic, Tatânga Mânî [Chief Walking Buffalo] [George McLean] in traditional regalia on horse. In the middle, Iggi and girl engaging in a “kunik”, a traditional greeting in Inuit culture. On the right, Maxime Marion, a Métis guide stands holding a rifle. In the background, there is a map of Upper and Lower Canada, and text from the Red River Settlement collection.

By Karyne Holmes

The preservation of First Nations languages is crucial for the survival of the unique identity of each nation and community. The ability to speak your language strengthens your connection to your ancestral heritage, community, and land and nature. In effect, language knowledge instills a strong sense of pride and confidence in your identity, and it is interconnected to mental and emotional well-being.

Since colonial contact, government policies have caused the displacement and separation of our people from their families, communities, lands and languages. Attempts at assimilation, such as the establishment of residential schools and the ongoing Millennium Scoop, have distanced multiple generations from their languages and cultures. Canada recognizes only English and French as official languages. First Nations communities have therefore taken leadership in ensuring that their languages are maintained, relearned and passed down. The decline in the natural inheritance of language through kinship has led to the rise of language-preservation and language-revitalization projects.

Revitalization initiatives value both traditional and technological approaches to learning. Digital resources are also important, as they offer various supplements to land-based language learning, such as video lessons, online dictionaries and interactive games. Social media platforms like Facebook allow for online classroom communities with communication opportunities between teachers and learners that would otherwise not be possible because of distance. Language-learning apps are rising in popularity and continue to be developed to support the needs both of beginners and of students who wish to spend extra time learning independently on their own schedules.

In addition to individuals recovering their languages, communities are empowering themselves by collectively reclaiming the original-language place names of the geographic territories that they occupy. These original names give insight into the history of the area and provide knowledge about it. The names are highly descriptive, reflecting physical characteristics of bodies of water and terrain, or honouring notable events, stories and activities associated with the locations. Some names reveal ecological knowledge or communicate information about travel and navigation. These insights were gradually diminished through the imposition of settler-drawn maps that assigned and formalized their own names to locations. As part of the movement toward decolonizing spaces, the restoration of place names in First Nations languages is being done through the redrawing of maps, and through designating names in First Nations languages to traditional territories and the institutions located there.

A hand-drawn map showing a river and bodies of water, with writing indicating locations and directions. On the right of the page is a white ruler, shown for scale.

A drawing, dated 1896, of a canoe route between Lake Waswanipi and Lake Mistassini showing Cree place names (n0117726)

Archives can play a supporting role both in current language revitalization and in future language preservation. Historical research into archives can be of value to language initiatives, as researchers can find documentation of languages in several forms. Although mostly created by non-Indigenous explorers, missionaries and anthropologists, types of records that are of special interest include journals, maps and dictionaries. These may reveal what the creators of these records learned from their encounters with First Nations peoples. Of particular interest are recordings of songs and stories, as well as historical documents that may recover traditional place names and include older vocabularies with insights into the origins of and the knowledge associated with those names.

A typed page with one column listing words in English and another column listing words in Nakoda.

Transcription of a page from an English-Nakoda dictionary written between 1883 and 1886 (e011055392)

A handwritten document with one column listing words in English and another column listing words in Innu-aiman.

Page from a notebook of Innu-aimun vocabulary learned while trading, ca. 1805 (e011211380)

Archives are relevant for finding out about our past, but they can also be valuable for assisting language maintenance and protection. They can function as spaces to preserve and make accessible for future generations newly created resources that reflect the current language knowledge of fluent speakers. Archives can be either physical or digital resource centres for language learners to access a vast collection of language content. Collaborations between leaders of language-revitalization initiatives, language keepers and archivists can ensure that our grandchildren have pride and flourish in their identity, not only by speaking their original language, but also by hearing it through our ancestors’ voices.

Check back for future blogs related to First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation language resources available at Library and Archives Canada.

This blog is part of a series related to the Indigenous Documentary Heritage Initiatives. Learn how Library and Archives Canada (LAC) increases access to First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation collections and supports communities in the preservation of Indigenous language recordings.


Karyne Holmes is an archivist for We Are Here: Sharing Stories, an initiative to digitize Indigenous content at Library and Archives Canada.

 

First Nations cradleboards: understanding their significance and versatility

On the left of the graphic, Tatânga Mânî [Chief Walking Buffalo] [George McLean] in traditional regalia on horse. In the middle, Iggi and girl engaging in a “kunik”, a traditional greeting in Inuit culture. On the right, Maxime Marion, a Métis guide stands holding a rifle. In the background, there is a map of Upper and Lower Canada, and text from the Red River Settlement collection.

By Elizabeth Kawenaa Montour

Cradleboards are still an integral part of the cultural practices of First Nations peoples. I experienced using a cradleboard for my family when we received one from my mother-in-law. It was not new, the paint was flaking off and its footrest was wobbly. An antique restorer stabilized the paint and repaired the footrest. I selected a floral printed fabric to make a pad and embroidered a long sash of denim with multiple colours. I bundled my infant daughter in a thin flannel blanket, placed her on the cradleboard and wrapped the sash snugly around her. She was content when on the cradleboard and would usually fall asleep within minutes. I used it to bring her to local community events. Unfortunately, she outgrew it in about a month.

The cradleboard now decorates my home and is a reminder of those first few months of her life—it brings back cherished memories. Only later did I become aware of its cultural and historical significance while reading a book on First Nations cultural materials. The features of our cradleboard matched one that was over a hundred years old. Early First Nations cradleboards are in museums or private collections, as anthropologists and antique collectors visited communities and approached families directly to purchase and collect them.

A black-and-white photograph of nine people facing the camera. A man is holding a baby in a cradleboard.

Caughnawaga [Kahnawake] reserve near Montréal [left to right: Kahentinetha Horn (née Delisle), Joseph Assenaienton Horn, Peter Ronaiakarakete Horn (Senior) holding Peter Horn (Junior), Theresa Deer (née Horn), Lilie Meloche (née Horn), unknown, Andrew Horn, unknown], ca. 1910 (e010859891)

From the East Coast to the West Coast, the design and materials for cradleboards correspond to the culture of each First Nation. Generally, cradleboards are used by the Algonquin, Haudenosaunee (Six Nations/Iroquois), Plains and West Coast First Nations. Cradleboards are different from other infant carrier–type baskets, bags, slings, carrying hoods and dugout-trough-style cradles.

A black-and-white photograph of three children. The youngest child is in a cradleboard that is embroidered with a pattern of flowers.

Two young girls standing on a wooden porch beside a boy in a cradleboard, Temagami First Nation, probably Lake Temagami, Ontario, unknown date (e011156793)

The construction of a cradleboard starts with a flat plank of wood to which functional components are added. The handle or canopy is at the top end and provides protection for the head. This part may be a bar of curved wood or a canopy of arched bark. A flat piece of wood or bark rail is attached close to the bottom of the board as a footrest and keeps the infant in place when the board is placed in an upright position. Materials that are used for the cradleboard may include wood, leather, bark, cord, plant fibres, woven fabrics or a combination of these. Cradleboards can be stylized by carving, shaping, painting or adding decoration to the different components. Since a newborn grows quickly, a second, larger board may be used to accommodate a growth spurt. Boards may be shared between families, with a new mother borrowing one when needed. Cradleboards can be commissioned ahead of the arrival of an infant and range from a simple utilitarian style to more artistic creations.

A black-and-white photograph of a woman and two children in a canoe. One of the children is sleeping in a cradleboard.

Atikamekw woman, infant on a cradleboard and young girl in a canoe, Sanmaur, Quebec, ca. 1928 (a044224)

A cradleboard enables a mother to return to her daily activities more easily after birth, while keeping her newborn close by her. The infant can be carried safely, while being comforted by the stimulation of being swaddled. Swaddling is done by bundling the newborn and securing its arms in a thin blanket with light pressure. This is thought to be good for the infant’s posture, as the back is flat on the board and the spine can be kept straight. When the cradleboard is placed horizontally, a cross bar attached under the board on the top end raises the head slightly higher than the bottom end. Using gravity, the infant’s blood circulation is enhanced. Of course, not all of the infant’s early life is spent on the cradleboard, as it is used as occasions warrant.

A black-and-white photograph of eight people, including a baby in a cradleboard in a forest. There is a canoe in the foreground.

First Nations family, Ishkaugua portage, [Newton Island, Ontario], 1905 (a059502)

Once the infant is wrapped in the swaddling material, it is placed on the cradleboard on a thinly padded cushion and secured by wrapping the sash several times around the child and board. Another technique is to place the infant in a leather or cloth bunting bag (also known as a moss bag) that is easily placed on or removed from the cradleboard. The bag is then attached to the cradleboard, the infant is placed in it and then secured with leather or cord laces. Sashes and extra covers may be made by the mother, relatives or friends and could include unique embroidery, beadwork and ribbon work designs. Designs featured may represent clans, traditional symbols, or motifs of plants, animals and nature.

Smaller versions of cradleboards are made for the children. These provide the opportunity for young girls to practice their nurturing skills while at play and prepares them for motherhood or caregiving. A cloth or corn-husk doll or a bundle of sage or other dried plant material is usually placed on the board

A black-and-white photograph of 7 women, a teenager and children on the shore of a lake. Two babies are in cradleboards.

Cree women and children at Little Grand Rapids, Manitoba, 1925 (a019995)

Eastern area

Haudenosaunee (Six Nations/Iroquois) and Algonquin-style cradleboards start with a flat plank of wood. On the backs of older Haudenosaunee boards, there are usually low-relief carved images of animals, flowers and leaves painted in basic colours of red, black, green, yellow and blue. There may be additional carving on the top end of the board, handle, footboard and wood bar. In rare examples, silver or metal inlays have been inserted on the wood bar.

A colour photograph of a man in a purple and white shirt sitting at a table and speaking into a microphone. In front of him is a baby in a cradleboard with red and white fabric.

Kenneth Atsenienton (“the fire still burns”) Deer and grandson Shakowennenhawi (“he is carrying the words”) Deer at the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, Kahnawake, Quebec, May 1993 (e011207022)

Some of the wooden structural elements were attached with wood pegs. Handles were reinforced with leather strips, gut or cord. The curves on the wood handles were hardwood that had been steamed and bent. Haudenosaunee wood handles were straight across, while the Algonquin boards had a bowed wood handle. A cover can be draped over the handle to provide a quiet space or shield the infant from the elements. Objects might be hung from the handle for the child to look at, such as beaded strings, charms or possibly a baby rattle. Some Algonquin cradleboards had a one-piece rail attached to the board, which would go up each side, curving at the bottom and serving as a footrest.

A cradleboard could be carried on a person’s back by attaching straps or a tumpline to the cradleboard; these then went around the chest or forehead and left the hands free.

A watercolour painting of two women and a man. One of the women has a pipe in her hand and a baby in a cradleboard on her back. The man has a rifle in his hand.

This watercolour painting shows a woman carrying a baby in a cradleboard, ca. 1825–1826 (e008299398)

Western area

First Nations in the Plains region would cover the leather or fabric used for the cradleboard with their traditional beadwork styles. The infant was placed in an enveloping enclosure attached to the cradleboard.

Northwest Coast First Nations had more than one type of cradleboard, as well as a dugout-trough cradle. Cradleboards were made of woven plant fibres, cedar boards and hollowed-out logs.

The tradition of making new cradleboards is carried on today by First Nations carvers and craftspeople. In celebration of the birth of new generations, they may incorporate past knowledge in new designs including personalized elements and stylistic representations of present culture.

Visit the Flickr album for more images of cradleboards.

This blog is part of a series related to the Indigenous Documentary Heritage Initiatives. Learn how Library and Archives Canada (LAC) increases access to First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation collections and supports communities in the preservation of Indigenous language recordings.


Elizabeth Kawenaa Montour is a project archivist in the Exhibitions and Online Content Division of the Public Services Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

Mighty Indigenous Warriors: From Egypt to the First World War

On the left of the graphic, Tatânga Mânî [Chief Walking Buffalo] [George McLean] in traditional regalia on horse. In the middle, Iggi and girl engaging in a “kunik”, a traditional greeting in Inuit culture. On the right, Maxime Marion, a Métis guide stands holding a rifle. In the background, there is a map of Upper and Lower Canada, and text from the Red River Settlement collection.

By Elizabeth Kawenaa Montour and Sara Chatfield

When First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation were recruited in 1914 to fight in the First World War, enlistees were not aware of the new reality of 20th-century warfare. As a prelude to the First World War, in 1884, approximately 56 Kanienkenha:ka (Mohawk), 30 Ojibway and 19 Métis men were recruited for Britain’s six-month Nile expedition in Egypt totalling 400 men. The men were chosen for their strength, endurance, and skill in handling boats and rafts—qualities that were needed to navigate up the numerous cataracts and rapids of the Nile River. They did not see active battle, as they arrived two days after the city of Khartoum, Sudan had fallen, and British Major Charles G. Gordon had been killed. The expedition returned with the loss of 16 men and stories of what they had seen. Along their journey on the Nile, they saw monolithic temples and statues carved out of hillsides at Abu Simbel, the Sphinx of Giza, the pyramids, exotic markets and Egyptian life in Cairo.

A black-and-white photograph of a large group of men standing in front of the Parliament buildings.

Canadian voyageurs in front of the Parliament Buildings, a detail from the “Canadian Nile Contingent,” 1884. (c002877)

Three decades later, their next involvement in an overseas military expedition was with the Canadian Expeditionary Forces (CEF) in the First World War. It was an opportunity for First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation soldiers to see the world, and to prove their courage and combat skills. Soldiers were facing a major change in combat style and warfare. The new reality of war involved the use of chemical warfare, machine guns, fighter aircraft, armoured vehicles, and trench warfare.

Our latest Co-lab challenge, Correspondence regarding First Nations veterans returning after the First World War, illustrates some Indigenous peoples’ experiences during the war, touches upon how their communities coped during their absence, and gives information about their lives after they returned home. These documents provide us with information that the Personnel Records of the First World War may not. They offer information such as what the solider planned to do after the war, if he owned land or farm animals, or if he was suited to farming. There is also information about whether the soldier suffered any lingering disabilities, who they lived with, and if they had any dependants.

Created by the former Department of Indian Affairs, these records are unique in that an overseeing federal “Indian Agent” included personal information and comments on the returning First Nations soldiers. In contrast, this was not the case for non-Indigenous soldiers, as no similar sets of records exist for the rest of the CEF.

A page from the “Indian Agent’s Office,” Chippewa Hill, Saugeen Agency, February 14, 1919.

Document from RG10 Vol 6771 file 452-30 sent to Duncan Campbell Scott from T.A. Stout on February 14, 1919, providing information about John Besito. (Image found on Canadiana)

This personal information became part of the federal government files in Ottawa. The records are also unique in that the “Indian Agents” delved into the soldier’s post-service life. The information that was collected included gratuitous private information and personal judgements about the veterans and the civilian lives they returned to. For example, the “Indian Agent’s Office” notes dated February 1919 for Private John Besito from Saugeen Agency, Ontario, state, “He has a location of fifty acres in the Reserve. He has a house and some improvements on his location.”

As well as administrative information, such as CEF regimental numbers and membership in First Nation agencies and bands, these records also give us genealogical information. For example, the names of three deceased soldiers are listed in a letter to the Department of Indian Affairs dated February 12, 1919, written by the “Indian Agent” of the Griswold Agency in Manitoba. The letter states that the deceased soldiers are from Oak River and Oak Lake Reserves. The letter also includes the CEF regimental number of one of the deceased, Private John Taylor, and that the Department of Indian Affairs paid a pension to his wife and two children. Other correspondence informs us that Private Gilbert Moore, who was killed in action on March 24, 1918, left behind parents in poor circumstances and that they applied for a pension; and that Private Thomas Kasto left a mother who received a pension.

A black-and-white studio portrait of a First World War soldier in uniform and holding a rifle.

Photograph of Canadian Expeditionary Forces soldier Michael Ackabee. (e005176082)

As well as providing information about the soldiers who fought with the CEF, these files make reference to women in First Nation communities who provided funds to help with the war effort to organizations such as the Red Cross, the Girls Overseas Comfort Club, and the Canadian Patriotic Fund. Women in the communities knitted socks and made shirts to add to the “comfort boxes” that were mailed to the men overseas. They also fundraised by making beadwork, woven baskets, and quilts to sell at box socials and fairs.

Indigenous soldiers who survived the war often returned home changed, both positively and negatively. Sapper Peter Taylor, a Kahnawake soldier, suffered the rest of his life with complications from mustard gas poisoning until he passed away in 1955. Private Tom Longboat, the Olympic long distance runner from Six Nations of the Grand River reserve, returned home from his duty overseas in France to find his wife had remarried after receiving word that he had been killed.

A black-and-white photograph of two men in First World War military uniforms smiling and buying a newspaper from a young boy. The man on the right is accepting a newspaper from the boy and giving him money in exchange.

Private Tom Longboat, the Onondaga long distance runner, buying a newspaper from a French boy, June 1917. (a001479)

Many who returned home were affected mentally and physically. We give our gratitude for their sacrifices and service, and they will be forever acknowledged, honoured, and respected.

This blog is part of a series related to the Indigenous Documentary Heritage Initiatives. Learn how Library and Archives Canada (LAC) increases access to First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation collections and supports communities in the preservation of Indigenous language recordings.


Elizabeth Kawenaa Montour is a project archivist and Sara Chatfield is a project manager in the Exhibitions and Online Content Division of the Public Service Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

Chief Poundmaker: Revisiting the legacy of a peacemaker

On the left of the graphic, Tatânga Mânî [Chief Walking Buffalo] [George McLean] in traditional regalia on horse. In the middle, Iggi and girl engaging in a “kunik”, a traditional greeting in Inuit culture. On the right, Maxime Marion, a Métis guide stands holding a rifle. In the background, there is a map of Upper and Lower Canada, and text from the Red River Settlement collection.

By Anna Heffernan

Pîhtokahanapiwiyin was a Plains Cree chief who was known as Chief Poundmaker in English. In 1885, he was tried and convicted of treason-felony because of his alleged involvement in the North-West Rebellion/North-West Resistance. On May 23, 2019, 134 years later, the Canadian government posthumously exonerated him and officially apologized to the Poundmaker Cree Nation of Saskatchewan, which is home to many of his descendants. His people, and other Plains First Nations who passed down accounts of his life, remember Poundmaker as a leader who remained committed to peace even when faced with dire circumstances. After decades of advocacy by his First Nation community, Poundmaker’s story is also coming to the attention of the broader Canadian public thanks to his exoneration. At Library and Archives Canada, we have many photographs and documents that help to tell this story.

Poundmaker was born around 1842 to a Stoney Nakoda father and a Métis mother of French Canadian and Cree descent, near Battleford in what is now Saskatchewan. In the early 1870s, an influential Blackfoot chief, Isapo-Muxika (Crowfoot), adopted Poundmaker and gave him the name Makoyi-koh-kin (Wolf Thin Legs), after a son whom Crowfoot had lost in battle. Poundmaker returned to the Cree after living for a time with the Blackfoot, but he maintained a friendship with his adopted father.

A black-and-white photograph of Poundmaker standing in front of a tipi wearing a fur hat, a shirt and vest, a blanket around his waist, and moccasins. Standing next to him is his wife, wearing a blanket around her shoulders over a dress.

Pîhtokahanapiwiyin (Poundmaker), right, with his wife, circa 1884 (a066596-v8)

A black-and-white photograph of Isapo-Muxika (Crowfoot), seated holding an eagle feather fan and wearing a hide shirt adorned with fur and beads or quills.

Isapo-Muxika (Crowfoot) in 1886 (c001871)

By August 1876, Poundmaker had become a headman and spoke at the Treaty Six negotiations. He was successful in having a famine clause added to the treaty, which promised that the Canadian government would provide rations to the signatory nations during times of food scarcity. Poundmaker recognized that the majority of his band favoured making a treaty, and he signed it on August 23, 1876. In 1879, Poundmaker and his band settled on a reserve about 40 miles (65 kilometres) west of Battleford.

Faced with the ever-increasing settlement of the West, which reduced the land and game that First Nations relied on to survive, Poundmaker urged his people to remain peaceful. He advised that war was no longer a feasible option, and in his words, “our only resource is our work, our industry, our farms.” In 1883, the Canadian government reduced the rations they had been providing to First Nations, and many were dissatisfied with the government’s failure to fulfill treaty promises.

In June 1884, several bands came to Poundmaker’s reserve to discuss the situation, including Mistahimaskwa (Big Bear) and his followers. With over 2,000 Cree gathered, they held a Thirst Dance (also known as a Sun Dance), a sacred ceremony in many Plains First Nations traditions. The North West Mounted Police attempted to disperse the Cree and prevent the Thirst Dance from taking place. Poundmaker and Big Bear were able to keep the peace for the time being, but it was clear that tensions between First Nations and the police were high, and it was becoming more difficult to restrain the young warriors in their bands.

In 1885, representatives of the Métis in the District of Saskatchewan, North-West Territories, wrote to Louis Riel, who was living in Montana territory at the time. They were also experiencing difficulty because of increasing white settlement and lack of government recognition of their rights, and they asked Riel to return to the region to help. Leaders of the Cree and other First Nations continued to meet with each other and discuss their worsening predicament. With buffalo herds in decline, hunting was no longer a reliable source of food. The transition to agriculture was difficult, and both First Nations and settler farms in the region were failing to yield sufficient crops. Many Cree were starving, and their leaders were desperate to find a solution.

In the eyes of the settler-Canadian press, the Métis movement and the First Nations movement were the same. In fact, although they had many of the same grievances, the Métis and First Nations leaders were far from being united. Poundmaker sought to pressure the Canadian government into honouring its treaty promises through peaceful means. But as the Métis resistance grew, some of Poundmaker’s band members joined in fighting alongside them. In papers seized from Louis Riel at Batoche, there are French and English translations of a letter from Poundmaker to Riel, in which Poundmaker responds to a letter from Riel. Poundmaker’s reply was likely translated from Cree to French for Riel.

Handwritten letter, written in English

Translations of Poundmaker’s letter to Riel, found among Riel’s papers seized at Batoche. (e011303062)

The letter is undated. Based on its contents, it was likely written after the Battle of Duck Lake, the initial engagement of the North-West Rebellion/North-West Resistance between the North West Mounted Police and commander Gabriel Dumont’s Métis forces. In this letter, Poundmaker expresses respect for Riel but also makes it clear that he is not interested in joining the fight and is ready to negotiate with the military. As the translation reads, “We have all laid down our arms and we wish that the war was finished between us and when the General arrives I am ready to treat with him (hear him literally) with the most sincere intentions of the most complete submission.”

Poundmaker saw the Métis victory at Duck Lake as an opportunity. He wanted to take advantage of the uncertain state that the Canadian government found itself in to negotiate for supplies and rations. His people desperately needed these, and the government was obliged by treaty to provide them. Poundmaker’s band and a Stoney Nakoda band that was camping with them went to Battleford to open negotiations with the Indian Agent. The white settlers had deserted the town and holed up in the fort with the Indian Agent. After waiting for a day, the starving band members looted the empty Battleford homes for food, despite Poundmaker’s attempts to prevent this action. Although greatly exaggerated by the press at the time, the “looting of Battleford” was an act of desperation, not an attempt to start a conflict.

When the Indian Agent would not agree to meet with Poundmaker, the band left the town and set up camp at Cut Knife Creek. Some of the warriors erected a warriors’ lodge at the camp, signifying that the warrior society had taken control. Meanwhile, Lieutenant-Colonel William Otter and his column of soldiers travelled to Battleford. On April 31, 1885, he set out with over 300 men to attack Poundmaker’s band in retaliation for the perceived attack on Battleford. They arrived at Cut Knife Creek on May 2. Poundmaker did not take part in the battle, which lasted for seven hours before Otter withdrew. Poundmaker convinced the warriors not to pursue the retreating army, which prevented many losses. Following this attack, many of the warriors in Poundmaker’s camp departed to join the Métis forces in Batoche. On May 12, Riel’s forces were defeated. Upon learning this, Poundmaker sent a message to Battleford offering to negotiate a peace. Major-General Frederick Middleton replied that he would not negotiate and demanded Poundmaker’s unconditional surrender. On May 26, Poundmaker obliged and came to Battleford, where he was arrested

Oil painting of a large group of First Nations people sitting and standing in a semi-circle with tipis in the background. Chief Poundmaker is seated on the ground in the centre with a ceremonial pipe in front of him. General Middleton is on the right seated in a chair, with several army men standing behind him.

The Surrender of Poundmaker to Major-General Middleton at Battleford, Saskatchewan, on May 26, 1885. Oil painting by R.W. Rutherford, 1887 (e011165548_s1)

On August 17, 1885, Poundmaker’s trial began in Regina. He was charged with treason-felony. The trial lasted for two days. In our collection, we have a written account of the testimony that Poundmaker gave at his trial. This account was found in a box of miscellaneous files in the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development fonds. Unfortunately, there is no indication of the author of this account.

A handwritten page in English.

A written account of Poundmaker’s testimony from his 1885 trial (e011303044)

Poundmaker spoke to the court in Cree, while an interpreter translated his words into English. According to the account, the Chief’s words were translated as, “Everything I could do was done to prevent bloodshed. Had I wanted war, I would not be here now, I would be on the prairie. You did not catch me, I gave myself up. You have got me because I wanted peace.” The jury deliberated for half an hour before returning a verdict of guilty. The judge sentenced him to three years in a penitentiary. The impact of this decision on Poundmaker was immediately apparent. According to the author of this account, upon hearing his sentence, Poundmaker said, “Hang me now. I would rather die than be locked up.”

For a man who had spent his life on the land, hunting and leading, the effects of incarceration were profoundly detrimental. After only one year in the Stony Mountain Penitentiary, Poundmaker’s health had declined so much that he was released. Four months after his release, he died of a lung hemorrhage while visiting his adopted father Crowfoot on the Siksika Blackfoot reserve.

Nothing can truly right the injustice of Poundmaker’s imprisonment, or reverse the damage that the loss of his leadership had on his band and the Plains Cree. However, recognizing this injustice is a step toward greater understanding between Canadians and Indigenous peoples.

This blog is part of a series related to the Indigenous Documentary Heritage Initiatives. Learn how Library and Archives Canada (LAC) increases access to First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation collections and supports communities in the preservation of Indigenous language recordings.


Anna Heffernan is an archivist/researcher for We Are Here: Sharing Stories, an initiative to digitize Indigenous content at Library and Archives Canada.

Judith-Pauline White, Nunatsiavut photographer

On the left of the graphic, Tatânga Mânî [Chief Walking Buffalo] [George McLean] in traditional regalia on horse. In the middle, Iggi and girl engaging in a “kunik”, a traditional greeting in Inuit culture. On the right, Maxime Marion, a Métis guide stands holding a rifle. In the background, there is a map of Upper and Lower Canada, and text from the Red River Settlement collection.By Heather Campbell

A black-and-white photograph of an Inuk girl facing the camera. The young girl is wearing a white amauti (a girl’s or woman’s coat with a large hood) and stands in front of a building as a woman peeks out from a window behind her.

An Inuk girl stands as a woman peeks out from a building behind her, circa 1900–1950 (e011307844)

Judith-Pauline White (née Hunter) was an Inuk woman born in 1905 in Hebron, Newfoundland (now Newfoundland and Labrador), about 200 kilometres north of Nain in Labrador. She married a well-known trading post owner, Richard White, in 1922 and became stepmother to his daughter; the couple would have five children together. The Richard (Dick) White Trading Post (now a heritage building) is located in Kauk, approximately 4 kilometres south of Nain and 34 kilometres north of Voisey’s Bay. Ms. White, an amateur photographer, took photos in the area starting in the 1920s. In the 1950s, she met anthropologist Alika Podolinsky Webber, who travelled to Labrador to conduct research for her thesis about the art of the Mushuau Innu (of the Innu Nation). Podolinsky Webber went to Kauk because she was aware that the trading post was a hub for Innu and Inuit along the north coast of Labrador. Ms. White sent a shipment of material to Podolinsky Webber after Mr. White died in 1960. The material included photographs and negatives for over 200 images of daily life in and around the trading post. White’s photographs (see lower levels) feature both Innu and Inuit, and are a visual documentary of life in Labrador from the 1920s to the 1950s. This wealth of knowledge, which was tucked away for decades before being donated to Library and Archives Canada in 2007, is now accessible to everyone.

A black-and-white photograph of an Innu man staring at the camera, wearing traditional clothing and sitting on a pile of supplies. In the background, many other people are standing in front of a dark-coloured house with two small windows.

Innu on the move, circa 1925–1940 (e011305800)

As an Inuk woman from Nunatsiavut, an artist and a former curator, I am interested in the life and work of this early photographer. I cannot help but think of the well-known Inuk photographer Peter Pitseolak from Cape Dorset. His snapshots of Inuit life in the 1940s and 1950s are some of the earliest examples of Inuit individuals turning the camera on their own communities, rather than being the topic of ethnographic study by others. Unbeknownst to Pitseolak and those who followed his work, an Inuk woman in Nunatsiavut was also taking photos of everyday life. Why have we not heard of her? As Inuk scholar Dr. Heather Igloliorte writes in the Fall/Winter 2015 issue of the Inuit Art Quarterly, the Indian Act excluded Inuit in Nunatsiavut when Newfoundland joined Confederation in 1949:

Labrador Inuit artists were unfortunately omitted from virtually all of the developments that emerged from the concerted efforts of [James Houston (who “discovered” modern Inuit art)], the government, the Canadian Guild of Crafts, the Hudson’s Bay Company, and others, because the federal government did not officially recognize that there were Inuit in Labrador until decades later. We did not establish studios, form co-operatives, build relationships with the southern Canadian art world, and develop national or international markets for our work. We were not even permitted to use the ubiquitous “Igloo Tag” for authentification until 1991.

A black-and-white photograph of a woman standing in a window of a wooden building, wearing a dress with a white collar and a necklace with a large cross. In the left-hand corner of the window frame, a child is peeking out, looking toward the camera.

Woman standing in a window, circa 1900–1950 (e011307849)

When Newfoundland joined Confederation, White was still taking photographs, but galleries and exhibitions at the time did not feature Nunatsiavut Inuit artists. Instead, these artists sold their works door to door, at local craft shops or to the occasional visitor. We can only imagine how the Inuit art world would have reacted to White’s work had the contemporary provincial or federal governments given support and recognition to Nunatsiavut Inuit artists. We are thankful to the Alika Podolinsky Webber estate for its valuable gift. It is a visual reminder of Judith-Pauline White’s passion for photography and her recording of Labrador Innu and Inuit culture, which is now available online for all to enjoy.

A black-and-white photograph of an Innu man and three members of his family. The men and young boy are dressed in fur jackets and mittens. A tent and trees are in the background.

Innu man Pasna and his family, circa 1920–1940 (e008299593)

Visit Flickr to see more of Judith-Pauline White’s photographs.

This blog is part of a series related to the Indigenous Documentary Heritage Initiatives. Learn how Library and Archives Canada (LAC) increases access to First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation collections and supports communities in the preservation of Indigenous language recordings.


Heather Campbell is an archivist in the Public Services Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

Treaties with Indigenous peoples: past and present

On the left of the graphic, Tatânga Mânî [Chief Walking Buffalo] [George McLean] in traditional regalia on horse. In the middle, Iggi and girl engaging in a “kunik”, a traditional greeting in Inuit culture. On the right, Maxime Marion, a Métis guide stands holding a rifle. In the background, there is a map of Upper and Lower Canada, and text from the Red River Settlement collection.By Elizabeth Kawenaa Montour

Treaties between Indigenous peoples and settlers were made during early contact and continue to be negotiated today. Subsection 35(1) of the Constitution Act, 1982 recognizes and affirms the existing Aboriginal (Indigenous) and Treaty rights of Aboriginal peoples in Canada. Library and Archives Canada’s (LAC) holdings include pre-Confederation and post-Confederation Indigenous treaties and treaty-related material. A range of this content is available on our website, to promote public awareness and improve access. Modern treaty agreements are located in the Inuit and Indian Affairs Program sous-fonds. LAC preserves many treaties but does not have all of them. There are descriptions of modern treaties in our catalogue, but some are not yet available for public viewing. Many early treaties and agreements from the Western and Maritime regions are archived in other institutions.

Gray-toned illustration of a hilltop with a tent and flags, soldiers on horseback, First Nation peoples, and tipis and a cart, with trees in the foreground and clouds in the background. The words “Canadian Illustrated News” and “December 16, 1876” appear on the side of the image.

Treaty with Saskatchewan Saka wiyiniwak (Cree) at Fort Carlton (Western Treaty No. 6) (e002140161)

The word “treaty” may seem like a dated diplomatic term. In fact, treaties are constitutionally recognized agreements between the Crown and Indigenous peoples. They are therefore still negotiated and signed today. Treaties document how Canada developed into its present form. The historical development of treaties is very complex, and each is unique. Ideally, the intent and scope of a treaty should be based on a clear, shared understanding of the interests and outcomes for the participating parties. In reality, the early treaties were agreements between two parties from two different cultures, which affected understandings and outcomes. Many of these types of documents were detrimental for Indigenous people, resulting in the erosion of their culture and the loss of their territorial land bases.

A handwritten page that includes the location, date, parties, signatories and some of the text of Western Treaty No. 5.

Western Treaty No. 5 – treaty and supplementary treaties with First Nations at Berens River, Norway House, Grand Rapids and Wapang – IT 285 (e002995143)

A black-and-white photograph of an obelisk monument with a wheeled cart nearby.

First Nations treaty monument at Fort Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan (Western Treaty No. 4) (a019282)

Pre-Confederation: from contact to 1867

Treaties before Confederation involved several changing political entities. The colonists involved may have been Dutch, French, British or other; the land may have been classified under names like New France, British North America, Rupert’s Land, Upper Canada, Lower Canada, Canada West (Ontario), Canada East (Quebec) and Colonial America (the Thirteen Colonies). Early Eastern treaties were known as “peace and friendship” treaties, since their purpose was to prevent conflict. Some involved protocols with the use of oral traditions, symbolic items and gestures such as using pipes, tobacco and wampum belts. This conveyed and signified the importance of a shared message. Beginning in 1818, annual treaty payments were made to individual First Nations who had signed treaties. This practice continues with some disbursements still honoured today and paid out to those who are eligible.

Post-Confederation: from 1867 to 1975

The Western numbered treaties, from 1 to 11, covered areas from the southern tip of James Bay and west to the Rocky Mountains, from the United States boundary line and north to the Beaufort Sea. These should not be confused with the Upper Canada Land Surrenders, which are also numbered. Most of the western plains were ceded to the Canadian government through treaties, which was significant because the Royal Proclamation of 1763 stated that settlers could not occupy land unless it had been surrendered to the Crown by First Nations. In 1871, British Columbia was brought into Confederation with the promise of a transcontinental railway within 10 years. Manitoba was created out of Rupert’s Land in 1870, with Alberta and Saskatchewan following in 1905.

A black-and-white photograph of First Nations men and government officials posing in front of treaty documents, with a flag in the background.

Signing of the treaty at Windigo, Ontario, on July 18, 1930 (Western Treaty No. 9) (C068920)

A black-and-white photograph of a line of First Nations men dancing, with a building and tents in the background.

1937: “6 A.M. and the treaty dance is still going strong” at Fort Rae, Northwest Territories; Tlicho (Dogrib-Behchoko/Rae-Edzo/Edzo) (a073741)

A black-and-white photograph of an aerial view of a riverbank with narrow roads, tents and people walking. On the right are trees and a barn-like building.

Maskeko wiyiniwak (Cree) camped along the shore in 1935 for Treaty 9 payments at Moose Factory, Ontario (a094977)

Modern treaties: from 1975 to the present

The landmark James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (1975) was the first major agreement between the Crown and Indigenous peoples in Canada since the numbered treaties. It was amended in 1978, by the Naskapi First Nations, who joined the accord through the Northeastern Quebec Agreement. Additional agreements followed: the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement (1993), the Nisga’a Final Agreement (2000), the Labrador Inuit – Nunatsiavut (2005) and the Nunavik Inuit – Northern Quebec (2006) agreements, the Eeyou Marine Region Land Claims Agreement (2010), the Tshash Petapen (New Dawn) Agreement with the Innu of Labrador (2011), and more.

Treaties Recognition Week Act, 2016 (Ontario)

A handwritten page written in black ink with red accents. Titled “Indian Treaty,” it includes the date, parties and signatories.

Williams Treaty No. 2 – Mississauga First Nations of Rice, Mud and Scugog Lakes and Alderville – IT 488 (e011185581)

The Treaties Recognition Week Act, 2016 was recently enacted by the Government of Ontario. During Treaties Recognition Week in 2018, LAC displayed the original Williams Treaty of 1923, the last historic land cession treaty in Canada, at the University of Ottawa.

The Lubicon (Saka wiyiniwak) Land Claim Settlement (2018)

A land claim settlement was awarded to the Lubicon Lake Band of Cree in Northern Alberta in 2018. They were inadvertently not included in Treaty 8 in 1899, and for decades they had asked the federal and provincial governments to allocate a reserve for them. By the 1980s, oil exploration and wells in their traditional territory made their claim urgent. They made themselves heard in 1988, when the Winter Olympics were about to be held in Calgary, Alberta, with a boycott of a landmark exhibition of Indigenous art and culture, “The Spirit Sings” (ironically, it was originally titled “Forget Not My Land”).


Elizabeth Kawenaa Montour is a project archivist in the Exhibitions and Online Content Division of the Public Service Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

 

From Assimilation to Negotiation: The 1970s Indian Claims Commission, digitized

On the left of the graphic, Tatânga Mânî [Chief Walking Buffalo] [George McLean] in traditional regalia on horse. In the middle, Iggi and girl engaging in a “kunik”, a traditional greeting in Inuit culture. On the right, Maxime Marion, a Métis guide stands holding a rifle. In the background, there is a map of Upper and Lower Canada, and text from the Red River Settlement collection.By Marko Davidovic

The Indian Claims Commission of the 1970s came into existence with a bang, as a footnote to Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s government’s proposed 1969 White Paper (formally known as the Statement of the Government of Canada on Indian Policy). The White Paper was truly explosive, an assimilative document laying out the government’s intention to abolish Indian status, the Indian Act, and the reserve system. It set off a storm of resistance and activist mobilization from coast to coast to coast. Suddenly, First Nations communities across the country faced an open threat that did not discern or discriminate, but that simply said: we will assimilate everyone at once into the Canadian body politic, there will be no more special treatment, no more Indian department, and no more “Indian problem.”

The swell of pan-Indigenous organization in response became a tidal wave that swept the White Paper aside—it was abashedly retracted in 1970—and kept on moving, as Inuit and the Métis Nation joined their voices with those of First Nations. We are still feeling the effects today: these were the years that saw the Calder case’s landmark recognition of ongoing Indigenous title and the founding of provincial and national Indigenous organizations, including the precursors to today’s Assembly of First Nations (AFN), Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), and Métis National Council (MNC). These years were marked by resistance and, sometimes, open antagonism, the crescendo of simmering pushback against government policy and conduct.

A typewritten memo, dated March 12, 1973, from President Andrew Rickard of Grand Council Treaty #9, on behalf of his people, about his intentions and expectations of working with all levels of government.

A memo from Andrew Rickard, President of Grand Council Treaty #9 (today’s Nishnawbe Aski Nation), March 12, 1973. Library and Archives Canada, page 3. (e011267219)

Yet the Indian Claims Commission, essentially a procedural footnote intended to tie up loose ends and bring to an end the era of Indigenous claims, might be called the most enduring legacy of the original 1969 Statement. The newly digitized primary materials of the Commission tell the story of the tumultuous 1970s, but also that of the Commission’s surprising success. Adapting to a shifting political context, it took on the role of mediator between the Crown and Indigenous communities and ultimately did much to lay the groundwork for contemporary claims processes in Canada.

The Collection

The Commission was, for the most part, a one-man office.

A page of typewritten text with a picture centred at the top of Dr. Lloyd I. Barber, a middle-aged man with a brush cut, dressed in a suit and a tie, and talking on the telephone

Biography and picture of Dr. Lloyd I. Barber, from a keynote presentation at a conference. Library and Archives Canada, page 77 (e011267331)

By the time the Regina-born, Saskatoon-based academic Dr. Lloyd I. Barber began his duties as Indian Claims Commissioner, his terms of reference had changed. Rather than adjudicating and closing off claims, he was researching histories, assessing grievances, and building contacts and relationships. He corresponded constantly with Ottawa, as well as with a veritable who’s who of Indigenous leaders. In many of these letters, it is clear that he saw damage control as a large part of his job. His relative independence from Ottawa allowed him leeway to echo Indigenous communities’ calls for justice and equity, a role he played without hesitation.

A typed letter, dated November 22, 1974, from Indian Claims Commissioner Lloyd I. Barber to Deputy Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development Judd Buchanan, calling for the federal government’s affirmation and support of Indigenous treaty rights in view of provincial violations.

Letter from Commissioner Lloyd I. Barber to Judd Buchanan, Deputy Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, concerning hunting, fishing, and trapping rights of prairie First Nations. Library and Archives Canada, page 35 (e011267232)

A veteran professor of commerce, Barber established a consistent tone across his letters—patient, calm, reassuring, and often quite apologetic. He embodies a sensitive and sympathetic figure, defining his plain language carefully against that of bureaucrats and civil servants. This persona is stamped on the materials of the fonds and cannot be easily separated from the successes of the Commission as a whole.

A newspaper clipping from Native Press, November 18, 1974, on Commissioner Lloyd Barber’s speech in Yellowknife, which characterizes the government’s assimilative approach to Indigenous status as insufficient and dangerous to pursue.

Newspaper clipping from Native Press, November 18, 1974, pertaining to a speech given by Lloyd Barber in Yellowknife. Library and Archives Canada, page 59 (e011267332)

The true litmus test for the Commission’s successes consisted in the dialogues Barber established, and here the research and reference materials assembled by the Commission are revealing. The Commission collected a wide swath of material, organized by province, band, and claim—from historical records from the early nineteenth century onward, to transcripts of parliamentary debates, to endless clippings from newspapers, many of them from local First Nations papers. These clippings offer snapshots and summaries of issues on the ground between Indigenous and non-Indigenous society in the heated 1970s. They also reflect the Commission’s function in assessing not just the policy and logistics of land claims, but the public perception of these issues, particularly in First Nations communities. These media sources provide a rich backdrop in understanding both the Commission’s general recommendations and its concrete interventions in specific grievance processes.

A newspaper clipping, providing an example of Commissioner Barber’s process of collecting information from local media sources.

Newspaper clipping pertaining to the 1975 Dene Declaration. Library and Archives Canada, page 21 (e011267159)

In 1977, the Indian Claims Commission turned in a compelling report summarizing its findings and recommendations. It was superseded by the Canadian Indian Rights Commission, which continued the work and built on the relationships Barber had initiated. Born in struggle and contradiction, Barber’s Commission had managed to not only walk the wobbly tightrope between government and Indigenous communities, but had actually succeeded in rerouting much of the swell of activism of the 1970s back into channels of dialogue and negotiation. It remains a decisive factor in a decisive period in Crown-Indigenous relations.

This blog is part of a series related to the Indigenous Documentary Heritage Initiatives. Learn how Library and Archives Canada (LAC) increases access to First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation collections and supports communities in the preservation of Indigenous language recordings.


Marko Davidovic is an archival assistant on We are Here: Sharing Stories, the Indigenous digitization initiative, in the Public Services Branch at Library and Archives Canada.