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The Robinson Treaties

The following is an excerpt from “Chapter II – The Robinson Treaties”, from the book “The Treaties of Canada with the Indians of Manitoba and the North West Territories Including the Negotiations on which They Were” by Alexander Morris, Published 1880 by Belfords, Clarke & Co., reproduced under rights granted by the Copyright Act of Canada.

In consequence of the discovery of minerals, on the shores of Lakes Huron and Superior, the Government of the late Province of Canada, deemed it desirable, to extinguish the Indian title, and in order to that end, in the year 1850, entrusted the duty to the late Honorable William B. Robinson, who discharged his duties with great tact and judgment, succeeding in making two treaties, which were the forerunners of the future treaties, and shaped their course. The main features of the Robinson Treaties—viz., annuities, reserves for the Indians, and liberty to fish and hunt on the unconceded domain of the Crown—having been followed in these treaties. A special feature of the Robinson Treaties, was the adjustment of a claim made by the Indians to be paid, the amount received, by the Government, for the sale of mining locations. This was arranged, by Mr. Robinson, agreeing to pay them, the sum of £4,000 and an annuity of about £1,000, thus avoiding any dispute that might arise as to the amounts actually received by the Government. The number of Indians included in the treaties were stated by Mr. Robinson to be: on Lake Superior, 1240, including 84 half-breeds; and on Lake Huron 1422, including 200 half-breeds.* The relations of the Indians and half-breeds, have long been cordial; and in the negotiations as to these initial treaties, as in the subsequent ones, the claims of the half-breeds, to recognition, was urged by the Indians.

I cannot do better, in giving information with regard to these treaties, than simply to reproduce the Report of Mr. Robinson to the Honorable Colonel Bruce, Superintendent-General of Indian Affairs, in which he describes the course of his negotiations and communicates their results. A copy of the treaties will be found in the Appendix. The Report is as follows:

TORONTO, 24th. September, 1850.

SIR :—I have the honor herewith to transmit the Treaty which on the part of the Government I was commissioned to negotiate with the tribes of Indians inhabiting the northern shore of Lakes Huron and Superior; and I trust that the terms on which I succeeded in obtaining the surrender of all the lands in question, with the exception of some small reservations made by the Indians, may be considered satisfactory. They were such as I thought it advisable to offer, in order that the matter might be finally settled, without having any just grounds of complaint on the part of the Indians.

The Indians had been advised by certain interested parties to insist on such extravagant terms as I felt it quite impossible to grant; and from the fact that the American Government bad paid very liberally for the land surrendered by their Indians on the south side of Lake Superior, and that our own in other parts of the country were in receipt of annuities much larger than I offered, I had some difficulty in obtaining the assent of a few of the chiefs to my proposition.

I explained to the chiefs in council the difference between the lands ceded heretofore in this Province, and those then under consideration, they were of good quality and sold readily at prices which enabled the Government to be more liberal, they were also occupied by the whites in such a manner as to preclude the possibility of the Indian hunting over or having access to them: whereas the lands now ceded are notoriously barren and sterile, and will in all probability never be settled except in a few localities by mining companies, whose establishments among the Indians, instead of being prejudicial, would prove of great benefit as they would afford a market for any things they may have to sell, and bring provisions and stores of all kinds among them at reasonable prices.

Neither did the British Government contemplate the removal of the Indians from their present haunts to some (to them) unknown region in the far West, as had been the case with their brethren on the American side.

I told them that the two chiefs who were in Toronto last winter (Shinguacouse and Nebennigoebing) only asked the amount which the Government had received for mining locations, after deducting the expenses attending their sale. That amount was about eight thousand pounds which the Government would pay them without any annuity or certainty of further benefit;  or one-half of it down, and an annuity of about one thousand pounds.

There were twenty-one chiefs present, about the same number of principal men, and a large number of other Indians belonging to the different bands, and they all preferred the latter proposition, though two of them (Shinguacouse and Nebennigoebing) insisted on receiving an annuity equal to ten dollars per head.

The chiefs from Lake Superior desired to treat separately for their territory and said at once in council that they accepted my offer. I told them that I would have the treaty ready on the following morning, and I immediately proceeded to prepare it; and, as agreed upon, they signed it cheerfully at the time appointed.

I then told the chiefs from Lake Huron (who were all present when the others signed) that I should have a similar treaty ready for their signature, the next morning, when those who signed it would receive their money; and that as a large majority of them had agreed to my terms I should abide by them.

I accordingly prepared the treaty and proceeded on the morning of the ninth instant to the council-room to have it formally executed in the presence of proper witnesses—all the chiefs and others were present. I told them I was then ready to receive their signatures; the two chiefs, Shinguacouse and Nebennigoebing, repeated their demand of ten dollars a head by way of annuity, and also insisted that I should insert in the treaty a condition securing to some sixty half-breeds a free grant of one hundred acres of land each. I told them they already had my answer as to a larger annuity, and that I had no power to give them free grants of land. The other chiefs came forward to sign the treaty and seeing this the two who had resisted up to this time also came to the table and signed first, the rest immediately following.

I trust his Excellency will approve of my having concluded the treaty on the basis of a small annuity and the immediate and final settlement of the matter, rather than paying the Indians the full amount of all moneys on hand, and a promise of accounting to them for future sales. The latter course would have entailed much trouble on the Government, besides giving an opportunity to evil disposed persons to snake the Indians suspicious of any accounts that might be furnished.

Believing that His Excellency and the Government were desirous of leaving the Indians no just cause of complaint on their surrendering the extensive territory embraced in the treaty; and knowing there were individuals who most assiduously endeavored to create dissatisfaction among them, I inserted a clause securing to them certain prospective advantages should the lands in question prove sufficiently productive at any future period to enable the Government without loss to increase the annuity.** This was so reasonable and just that I had no difficulty in making them comprehend it, and it in a great measure silenced the clamor raised by their evil advisers.

In allowing the Indians to retain reservations of land for their own use I was governed by the fact that they in most cases asked for such tracts as they had heretofore been in the habit of using for purposes of residence and cultivation, and by securing these to them and the right of hunting and fishing over the ceded territory, they cannot say that the Government takes from their usual means of subsistence and therefore have no claims for support, which they no doubt would have preferred, had this not been done. The reservation at Garden River is the largest and perhaps of most value, but as it is occupied by the most numerous band of Indians, and from its locality (nine miles from the Sault) is likely to attract others to it, I think it was right to grant what they expressed a desire to retain. There are two mining locations at this place, which should not be finally disposed of unless by the full consent of Shinguacouse and his band; they are in the heart of the village and show no indications of mineral wealth, they are numbered 14 and 15 on the small map appended to Messrs. Anderson and Vidal’s report. I pledged my word on the part of the Government that the sale of these locations should not be completed, and as the locatees have not, I believe, complied with the conditions of the Crown Lands Department there can be no difficulty in cancelling the transaction.

The chiefs are desirous that their several reservations should be marked by proper posts or monuments, and I have told them the Government would probably send someone next spring for that purpose. As I know many of the localities I shall be able to give the necessary information when required.

When at Sault Ste. Marie last May, I took measures for ascertaining as nearly as possible the number of Indians inhabiting the north shore of the two lakes; and was fortunate enough to get a very correct census, particularly of Lake Superior. I found this information very useful at the council, as it enabled me successfully to contradict the assertion (made by those who wore inciting the chiefs to resist my offers) that there were on Lake Superior alone, eight thousand Indians. The number on that lake, including eighty- four half-breeds, is only twelve hundred and forty—and on Lake Huron, about fourteen hundred and twenty-two, including probably two-hundred half-breeds; and when I paid the Indians they acknowledged they knew of no other families than those on my list.

The number paid, as appears on the pay list, does not show the whole strength of the different bands, as I was obliged at their own request to omit some members of the very large families. I have annexed to this Report the names of the chiefs, their localities, and number of souls in each land as recognized by me in apportioning the money, thinking it will be useful when paying the annuity hereafter.

This information may I believe be fully relied on for Lake Superior, but the census for Lake Huron is not so perfect; and I would suggest that Captain Ironside should be furnished with copies of that document and also of the pay-lists, in order that he may correct, in time, any errors that are found to exist.

As the half-breeds at Sault Ste. Marie and other places may seek to be recognized by the Government in future payments, it may be well that I should state here the answer that I gave to their demands on the present occasion. I told them I came to treat with the chiefs who were present, that the money would be paid to them—and their receipt was sufficient for me—that when in their possession they might give as much or as little to that class of claimants as they pleased. To this no one, not even their advisers, could object, and I heard no more on the subject. At the earnest request of the chiefs themselves I undertook the distribution of the money among their respective bands, and all parties expressed themselves perfectly satisfied with my division of their funds.

On my arrival at Penetanguishene I found the chiefs Yellowhead and Snake, from Lake Simcoe, and Aissance, from Beausoleil’s Island, waiting to see me, to prefer their claim, to a small tract of land between Penetanguishene and the vicinity of the River Severn. I was aware of their intending to make such a claim and took the precaution of asking the chiefs assembled in council at the Sault whether it was well founded, they emphatically declared that those chiefs had no claim on Lake Huron, that they had long since ceded their lands and were in the receipt of a large annuity, this I believe to be the case, and Captain Anderson, whom I met there, is of the same opinion; but I promised to inquire into it and give them an answer, and I will therefore thank you to cause the necessary information from your office to be furnished to me on the subject. Should it appear that these chiefs have any claim I think I could get their surrender of it for a small amount, and there remain sufficient funds at my disposal for the purpose.

The Canadians resident on the lands just surrendered at Sault Ste. Marie are very anxious to obtain titles to the land on which they have long resided and made improvements; they applied to me after the treaty and I advised them to memorialize the Government the usual way, setting forth the manner in which they were put in possession by the military authorities of the time, and that I had little doubt that the Government would do them justice. I think the survey of the tract should be made so as to interfere as little as possible with their respective clearings and that those who can show a fair claim to the favorable consideration of the Government should be liberally dealt with.

It will be seen on referring to the treaty that I have kept within the amount at my disposal. Of the £4,160 agreed by me to be paid to the Indians of both lakes, there remains £75 unexpended. I could not from the information I possessed tell exactly the number of families I should have to pay, and thought it prudent to reserve a small sum to make good any omissions, there may still be a few who will prefer claims, though I know of none at present. If not, the amount can be paid next year with the annuity to such families as are most deserving; or it may be properly applied in extinguishing the claim made by the Lake Simcoe Indians, should it appear on inquiry to be just.

The whole amount given to me in August was £5,033 6s. 8d., of this sum their [sic] remains £800, which I have placed in the Bank of Upper Canada to the credit of the Receiver-General, and I have prepared a detailed account of the whole, which, with the proper vouchers, I shall deliver to the Accountant of the Crown Lands Department.

I have much pleasure in acknowledging the valuable assistance afforded me by all the officers of the Honorable the Hudson’s Bay Company resident on the lakes; and the prompt manner in which their Governor, Sir George Simpson, kindly placed their services at my disposal.

The report made last year by Messrs. Anderson and Vidal I found of much use to me, and the long services and experience of the former gentleman in Indian affairs enabled him to give me many valuable suggestions.

Captain Cooper and his officers by attending at the council, and otherwise, gave me most cheerfully all the aid in their power; and Captain Ironside, of your Department, with his assistant, Assickinach, were of essential service to me.

I found it absolutely necessary to have the aid of some one in taking the census of the Lake Huron Indians at the time they were receiving their resents at Manitoulin; and as Captain Ironside was fully occupied in attending to his own duty, I requested Mr. Keating, who had long known the Indians on that lake, to give me his assistance. This he cheerfully and very efficiently did, and afterwards was with me in distributing and paying out the money.

I have, in course of my negotiations with the Indians on the present occasion, collected some information which may be useful to your Department and will at an early day send it to you.

I will thank you to lay the two treaties accompanying this Report before His Excellency, and trust they may meet with his approval.

I have, &c.,

(Signed) W. B. ROBINSON,
The Hon. Col. Bruce,
Superintendent-General, Indian Affairs.

* The census return of the Department of the Interior for the year 1878 gives the numbers of these Indians as follows:
Chippawas of Lake Superior – 1,947
Chippawas of Lake Huron – 1,458

** The annuities under these treaties have recently been increased, time following item having been inserted in the Supplies Act of Canada, viz., “Annual grant to bring up annuities payable under the Robinson Treaty to the Chippawas of Lakes Huron and Superior, from 96 cents to 84 per head, $14000.”