The fur trade at Norway House, 1796-1875 : preliminary considerations in the discussion of Treaty 5

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Enns, Richard A.
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In 1875 Alexander Morris negotiated the terms of Treaty 5 with the Indians at Berens River, Norway House and Grand Rapids, in the territory adjacent to Lake Winnipeg. In contrast to the general pattern of earlier treaties the negotiations of Treaty 5 were concluded quickly and with little deliberation. These negotiations must be considered within the pattern of political, social and economic relations which prevailed throughout the region prior to 1875. My thesis will consider the decision of the Indian community at Norway House to enter into treaty relations in 1875. I will examine the commercial fur trade at Norway House between 1796 and 1875 to determine the expectations and understandings which governed the treaty process at Norway House in 1875. My research indicates that the decision of the Indians at Norway House to enter into treaty relations is consistent with their history of involvement within the commercial fur trade. Their activities within the fur trade were intended to enhance their own level of security and they considered the treaty to be a formal agreement towards that end. Early letters and correspondence from the Hudson's Bay Company during the early years of the Company's operations provide some ethnographic details about the Indian populations who lived near the coast of Hudson Bay and those who journeyed to the coast to trade. The letters of Company travellers and other correspondence from the interior throughout the 1700s provide additional details regarding the Indian populations in the early years of contact. The Hudson's Bay Company account books, annual reports and the minutes of the Council for the Northern Department, describe the operations and the impact of the Company as it is expanded its operations throughout the interior. The journals, reports and correspondence, from Jack River and Norway House, beginning in 1796 and extending beyond 1875, detail the development of the fur trade in this region and the significance of the post at Norway House. The mission papers of James Evans describe the work of the Methodist Church among the Indians at Norway House and provide information regarding the Indian village adjacent to the Company post at Norway House. The Alexander Morris papers contain correspondence relating to the negotiations of Treaty 5 in 1875. Further information regarding Treaty 5 is available from the Department of Indian affairs and the annual reports of the Department of the Interior. The secondary literature on Norway House and Treaty 5 is limited. General discussions of the treaty process in western Canada characteristically dismiss Treaty 5, mentioning only the poor terms and the quick resolution of the negotiations. There is no detailed examination of the treaty which considers the preceding years of fur trade activity as a context for the negotiations of 1875.