A Rare 1921 Canadian Indian Peace Medal
Silver, weighing 230 grams, obverse is maker marked "P.W. ELLIS & CO. LIMITED." (Toronto) under the crowned bust of George V in Coronation robes, inscribed "GEORGIVS V DEI GRA: REX ET IND: IMP:" above, reverse has the Canadian Treaty Commissioner shaking hands with a Native Chief backed by a prairie setting, a sunrise in the distance at the left and teepees behind the Chief at the right, 76.4 mm, with ring suspension, cleaned, extremely fine. In its hardshelled case of issue, recessed medal bed, scuffed, case very fine. Footnote: Jamieson reports that fifteen George V Indian Peace Medals were struck, which was the last issue to the North American continent. The numbered treaties (or Post-Confederation Treaties) are a series of eleven treaties signed between the aboriginal peoples of Canada and the reigning monarch of Canada (Victoria, Edward VII or George V) from 1871 to 1921. It was the Government of Canada who created the policy, commissioned the Treaty Commissioners and ratified the agreements. These Treaties are agreements with the Government of Canada, administered by Canadian Aboriginal law and overseen by the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. For a variety of reasons, most of them economic, the federal government refused to offer treaties to the Native people in the Canadian North until required to do so by national priorities. The Department of Indian Affairs seemed convinced that the Native people were best left as subsistence harvesters and saw no justification for any systematic attempt to restructure their lives. Thus, until after 1900, Native people inhabiting land outside the agricultural belt were regularly rebuffed when they attempted to initiate treaty negotiations. This pattern of rejection was repeated on numerous occasions. Native people in northern Alberta, northern Saskatchewan, northern Manitoba, and northern Ontario sought, at various times, to initiate discussions about a treaty. Just as often, however, the federal government ignored their requests, offering only short-term palliative benefits rather than the modest guarantees of negotiated treaties. Eventually, however, agreements were negotiated - Treaties Eight, Nine and Ten and a major adhesion to Treaty Five - which brought thousands of Native people in non-agricultural districts under treaty. These were, however, significantly different from the agreements reached on the southern Prairies. Duncan Scott, Deputy Superintendent General of Indian Affairs, forwarded his recommendations through the civil service, and on March 3, 1921, the Committee of the Privy Council authorized the signing of a treaty with the Native people inhabiting unceded territories in the Mackenzie River Valley north of the 60th parallel. The provision in the draft treaty that the boundary commence "at the northwesterly corner of the territory ceded under the provision of Treaty Number Eight, thence northeasterly along the height of land to the point where it intersects the boundary between the Yukon and the Northwest Territories" meant that a section of Yukon Territory, the upper reaches of the Mackenzie River basin, were included in the accord. Treaty Eleven, the last of the Numbered Treaties, was an agreement established between 1921 and 1922 between King George V and various First Nations in what is today the Northwest Territories. The new treaty covered an area of approximately 620,000 square kilometres and was expected to affect almost 3,400 people. Treaty Eleven provided for a reserve amounting to one square mile for each family of five, "or in that proportion for larger or smaller families." Reserve lands could be sold by the government "for the benefit of the said Indians" with their consent. The Native People were to retain their hunting, fishing, and trapping rights throughout the territory covered by the treaty, except over tracts that the government required for mining, lumbering, settlement, trading, or other purposes. A one-time payment of thirty-two dollars per chief, twenty-two dollars per headman, and twelve dollars per person was to be made, and an annual payment of twenty-five dollars per chief, fifteen dollars per headman, and five dollars per person. A suit of clothing was to be given the chief and headman every three years, and medals and flags when the treaty was signed. Schools were to be provided as the government deemed necessary. Agricultural tools were to be provided, and fifty dollars worth of hunting and fishing equipment to each family after the treaty was signed. Hunting and fishing equipment to the value of three dollars was to be provided to each family annually. The empowering document stated that "It is not proposed to grant these Indians lands in severalty as was done in the case of Treaty No. 8 and the cattle and agricultural implements provided for in that Treaty will not be of great use owing to the non-agricultural character of the country, but in lieu thereof it is proposed to substitute as far as practicable hunting, trapping and fishing equipment." The Treaty process started even before formal approval to negotiate it had been granted. On January 6, 1921, a public notice was issued, informing the Indians and the mixed blood people in the Mackenzie River Valley that a treaty party would visit the area the forthcoming summer to secure adhesions to Treaty Eight (subsequently changed to Treaty Eleven). Preparations continued through the winter and spring, as the Department of Transportation attempted to secure suitable transportation for the treaty party. Initial plans called for negotiations to begin the July 5th at Fort Providence, with Conroy's group then circling through the region, to finish at Fort Rae by August 23rd. Changes occurred before the expedition started. The Hudson's Bay Company informed J.D. McLean, Secretary of the Department of Indian Affairs, that the scheduled trip to Fort Laird could not be made at the allotted time, owing to difficulties in navigating the Laird River other than at high water. Unless the treaty party travelled to the post with the regular spring steamer, a more expensive canoe trip would be involved. The matter resolved by simply striking Fort Laird off the first year's itinerary. The matters of schedules and transportation having been decided, Treaty Commissioner Henry Anthony Conroy, carrying a commission to receive applications for half-breed scrip and to negotiate a treaty, left Edmonton for the Mackenzie Valley in June 1921. The treaty party arrived at Fort Providence on the June 24th. They found the Native people already on site and turned immediately to the task of negotiating the treaty. Conroy was assisted in this task by Bishop Breynat who joined the treaty group at Fort Providence and stayed with them for the remainder of the 1921 expedition. This initial meeting went quickly; a chief was elected and the treaty was signed. A band from Trout Lake arrived two days later, and their acceptance of the terms was quickly achieved. Commissioner Conroy had more difficulty at Fort Simpson. He described his efforts to convince the Native people to sign: "At first the Indians at this point were nearly unanimous in their decision to let 'well enough' alone and to remain in the condition in which they had been heretofore, but after several talks and explanations, they all entered into Treaty." Bishop Breynat's services again proved extremely valuable. As he later commented, "I may say that I am responsible for the treaty having been signed at several places, especially Fort Simpson." The hesitation at Fort Simpson and, according to oral testimony collected by Rene Fumoleau some years later, at Fort Providence rested on a concern about hunting and trapping rights. Like those who signed the other northen treaties, ensuring a continuation of harvesting practices was of primary importance to the Native people in the Treaty Eleven area. As Fumoleau commented on the negotiations at Fort Providence, "all the witnesses stress the fact that it was only after complete freedom to hunt, to trap, and to fish had been promised to the Indians, that they accepted the treaty." The weight of Fumoleau's evidence, particularly the consistency of Native accounts of the negotiations, lack of substantive discussions and repeated promises concerning Native hunting and fishing rights, suggests that Treaty Commissioner Conroy and his party were determined to secure Native adherence to Treaty Eleven, but were less concerned about the niceties of actual negotiations. Conroy was successful in his mission, for all the Native groups except the Fort Liard band had accepted the treaty by the end of the summer of 1921. It is obvious from later testimony that he was much less successful in explaining the significance of the document or making the Native people true partners in the process. Conroy and Breynat, both committed to assisting the Native people of the Mackenzie, demonstrated the paternalism typical of the day. They "knew" what was best for the Native people and, in their interests, used what tactics were required to secure their signatures on the document. The Native leaders signed, as they had elsewhere, because there was little to be gained by remaining outside of treaty. They specifically asked if their hunting rights would be respected and having received heartfelt assurance on this account, accepted the other provisions of the treaty. The monetary benefits of the treaty, plus the provision of supplies to the Native people gathered for the negotiations, were welcomed, as was the government's apparent commitment to protect them from the expected incursions of non-Native prospectors and developers on the heels of the Norman Wells strike. In addition to Conroy's being unable to gain signatures from some bands in the Liard district during that summer, matters were complicated with Conroy's death in April 1922. Thomas William Harris, the Indian Agent at Fort Simpson, Conroy's replacement, conducted the remaining treaty signings at Liard in July 1922. The signatories included Bishop Gabriel-Joseph-Elie Breynat of the Apostolic Vicariate of Mackenzie.