AS LONG AS THE SUN SHINES THE RIVER FLOWS AND THE GRASS GROWS
by Wesley Peters
The 1817 Selkirk Treaty period
Mechkadewikonaie (Black Robe) was the first Chief of the Portage Band and was signatory to the 1817 Selkirk Treaty along with Chief Peguis. The Selkirk Treaty would be the first formal agreement dealing with lands owned by the Portage Band.
Chief Black Robe drew the symbol of the fish in the Selkirk Treaty to indicate his clan and the extent of his land between the forks of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers to the Musk Rat Root River west of Portage La Prairie.
In the fall of 1800, Henry Alexander the Younger recorded in his journal that Chief Black Robe and Chief Peguis were both on the roster of the Red River Brigade as trappers. The history of the two Chiefs along with their respective bands share parallel paths. Their shared history would lead to the formation of their original reserves with the assistance of the Rev. William Cochran.
Due to the diminishment of wildlife Rev. Cochran encouraged Chief Peguis to relocate his people and form a permanent farming settlement. Chief Peguis and Rev. Cochran were able to establish the St. Peters settlement in 1832 from this effort. After many years of working with the Peguis Band, Rev. Cochran moved to Portage La Prairie.
On June 14, 1851 Rev. Cochran, negotiated on behalf of the newly arrived settlers to Portage La Prairie to rent land from Black Robe’s son Chief Pee-qua-kee-quah. The settlers agreed to make annual payments for the use of the land and timber.
With the rental arrangement, the Portage Band’s homestead was assigned as a reserve which comprised of 717 acres. This arrangement not only established the Portage Reserve but also defined the band’s land holdings and property outside the boundaries of the reserve. As with the Peguis Band, Rev. Cochran encouraged the Portage Band to take up farming on their reserve.
The relationship between the band and the settlers changed as more and more settlers moved into the region. The settlers eventually stopped their annual payments altogether ignoring the rental arrangement.
Treaty One, 1871
In 1868, as more settlers attempted to move onto the band’s land west of Portage La Prairie, Oo-za-we-kwun (Chief Yellowquill), and the band asserted their ownership of the land by driving the settlers away.
This action led to James McKay, (council of Assiniboia) being sent to arrange a three year lease with the band. James McKay assured the band that there would be a treaty before the lease expired. This would be the band’s second lease agreement with the newcomers in less than two decades.
On July 27, 1871 the tribes of southern Manitoba assembled at Lower Fort Garry to begin the treaty with Canada. Yellowquill became the Chief of the Portage Band in the mid 1860s and would represent the band in Treaty One.
The treaty discussions focussed primarily on the location and land base for each band. It was understood by both parties that a census would be taken soon after the treaty. The census was to determine the acreage of each reserve and the surveys would be based on the census. There were no surveys conducted until the summer of 1873.
Throughout the negotiations, Canada maintained that the purpose of the reserves was so that the bands could adopt an agricultural lifestyle. The Chiefs were willing to adopt an agricultural lifestyle and sought promises from Canada’s negotiators that they provide the farm implements with cattle for the start up of their farms. When they were successful in obtaining these concessions from Canada they then accepted the terms of the treaty.
The Treaty One negotiations concluded August 3rd, 1871.
Treaty One Revision 1876
Shortly after the conclusion of the treaty, the concessions became problematic for both sides. The southern bands began to request that the treaty promises for farm implements and cattle be honoured. The problem was that the promises were not written into the treaty but attached as a memorandum. Canada would later refer to the memorandum as the outside promises.
The Portage Band felt that the delay in receiving a reserve prevented them from receiving the needed farm implements and cattle. This delay created division within the band and would lead some to follow hereditary Chief Short Bear and some to remain with Chief Yellowquill. Chief Na-wa-che-way-ka-pow of the White Mud River Band felt that they were not represented at Treaty One and chose to remain in their locality as a separate community from the Portage Band.
In the month of July, 1875 at the Round Plain, Canada met with the Portage Band to resolve the reserve question and division within the band. The Round Plain meetings could not achieve a final resolution surrounding the complex issues. The parties would reconvene the following year in Long Plain.
In the summer of June 1876, at the Long Plain, Short Bear requested that his reserve be allocated on the band’s original reserve. His request would be denied as there were new owners. The new owners did not negotiate with the Chief of the Portage Band for the sale of the original reserve and the property surrounding it. The band would have to choose an alternative location.
Five years from the signing of the treaty, Short Bear and his people would be granted a reserve at the Long Plain. Thus the revised treaty was concluded on June 20th, 1876 in Long Plain.
The Government of Canada and Long Plain First Nation continue to improve relations through mutual respect and maintaining the integrity of the treaty.