The Earl of Selkirk was a young man who unexpectedly inherited a lot of money from his father and wanted to do good with it, and he was interested in trying to relieve the problems that the poor Highlanders in Scotland had, gradually losing their livelihood.
His most ambitious scheme in this way was to acquire land at Red River, basically where Winnipeg now stands, and bring settlers out, which he did over a period of a few years starting in 1812. He needed to get title to the land and there are actually two groups that he had to worry about.
First, as far as the British government was concerned, title was in the hands of the Hudson's Bay Company, which had been granted a huge area called Rupert's Land more than two hundred, more than a hundred and fifty years before by a Royal Charter. So Selkirk bought a large tract of land from the Hudson's Bay Company. Evidently the Hudson's Bay Company wanted him to have the land because they wanted a settlement on it, and we can tell they wanted him to have the land because they sold him a hundred and sixteen thousand square miles for ten shillings, which even in those days wasn't very much money.
One of the documents we have in this exhibit is the deed, the formal indenture or bargain by which the Hudson's Bay Company sold the land and, apart from five parchment pages of legalese, there is a wonderful hand-drawn map which shows the exact territory. The map was drawn by a a very well known mapmaker in London, Aaron Arrowsmith, and it's a very precious document and it also shows clearly just how extensive the land was.
In 1817, Selkirk finally made it himself to Red River. He hadn't actually shown up yet. And he realized that he should get some kind of title as well from the local First Nations people and what he came up with is a kind of a treaty. Some might argue it was the first treaty ever signed between Europeans and Aboriginal people in Western Canada.
By this treaty, five First Nations leaders agreed that the Selkirk settlers could remain where they were and settle along the banks of the Red and Assiniboine. And we have that treaty too in this exhibit.
The point of interest about it, again there's a map and there are references to the agreement, but apart from Lord Selkirk's signature, there are also the signatures of five First Nations leaders. One of them is Chief Peguis, who's the one who's best-known now, but there are four others: three more Ojibwe and one Cree leader.
And each of these men took upon himself the responsibility of giving permission for the settlers to live on certain parts of the land. Their signatures, of course, are not European-style signatures. What they are are drawings of their totems, or what some people call clan symbols, which represent their families. In addition, someone has written their names alongside.
But we have the bear which was one of the leaders. We have the martin, which was Peguis' symbol. We have a catfish and a sturgeon and a snake, and those five are the five totems of the five First Nations leaders who agreed to this.
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