Doug Fischer: The Legacy of the 1905 "Treaty 9" In Canada's Ontario Province

Roundup: Talking About History

Even when they discarded the clothes they wore for official occasions, the seven middle-aged white men -- three government agents, a pair of policemen, a doctor and a Hudson's Bay Co. tour organizer -- could not help but appear faintly comic.

Looking at them in photographs a century later, the men who brought Treaty 9 to the Cree and Ojibway of northern Ontario and left with the rights to their land stuffed in their satchels seem unable to shake their stiff Victorian posture, even out on the wind-swept flood plains of the James Bay coast.

The photos, many taken by Duncan Campbell Scott, the famed poet from Ottawa and the lead treaty commissioner, capture the entourage in formal and informal poses: in suit and tie, under the British flag and flanked by full-dress policemen; in pith helmet and mosquito netting on a portage trail; in high-button boots and jaunty boaters walking amid a group of aboriginals seated on the grass.

"All of them could just as easily been travelling to a native village in Mashonaland or to a Himalayan hill station of the British Raj," historian James Morrison observes wryly. "The members of the treaty party seemed to have enjoyed themselves immensely."

Indeed they did. In journals and articles written after their 1905 travels to the native communities flung along the 800 kilometres of the Albany River, it's clear the members of the treaty entourage were invigorated by the crisp boreal air and the expanse of forest that slipped alongside their canoes.

It must have especially pleased Scott to be away from Ottawa and the bureaucratic precision of the Indian Affairs department. While Indian guides or others in the treaty party paddled, Scott often buried himself in the Oxford Book of Poetry or penned verse of his own, much of it to appear in Via Borealis, a volume of poems published in 1906. Fishing and sketching were popular pursuits of others in the party.

For the Cree and Ojibway, however, the mission of the visitors from Ottawa was a much more serious business. A century later, the reverberations of the trek are still being played out across northern Ontario, most recently in the evacuation at Kashechewan, the troubled Cree reserve created by Treaty 9 in the lowlands at the mouth of the Albany River.

[Editor's Note: This is a very short excerpt from a much longer article. Please see the Ottawa Citizen for more.]

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