The First Peoples lived in the region now known as Saskatchewan for approximately 11,000 years. They were hunters and gatherers. They hunted the bison (buffalo), deer and antelope in southern Saskatchewan. Moose, elk, caribou and deer were hunted in the forested areas of northern Saskatchewan. Fish, geese and ducks were also a source of food. Beaver, rabbits and ground squirrels were trapped. They gathered berries (chokecherries, saskatoons, blueberries, raspberries) and wild plants (wild rice, turnips, onions). Food was plentiful.
FIRST NATIONS of the PLAINSThe First Nations tribes had their own languages, beliefs, traditions, ceremonies, customs, stories and histories. They had their own territories and made treaties with one another, sharing certain hunting, fishing, gathering and trapping territories. They traded with one another.
The First Nations peoples living in the central and southern regions hunted with spears and later with bows and arrows. Bison (buffalo) became one of the main sources of food and also provided them with clothing, shelter and tools. To catch the bison, the hunters would attack the animals at water holes, trap them in gullies or surround them. Bison were also stampeded over cliffs.
THE ARRIVAL OF FUR TRADERS AND SETTLERSThe way of life of the First Nations peoples changed after the arrival of the fur traders. The fur traders hunted and trapped animals for the furs. First Nations peoples shared their knowledge about hunting, trapping and survival skills with the fur traders and also became involved in the fur trade. They traded furs and hides of the beaver, fox, marten, weasel, moose, deer and buffalo at trading posts. In exchange they received kettles, pots and pans, knives, guns, tools, axes, tobacco, blankets, beads, scissors and needles.
The Métis were a group of people evolved from the fur traders and the First Nations peoples. They were descendants of European fathers and Aboriginal mothers. Their lifestyle was a combination of both cultures. They spoke European and First Nations languages. The Métis people were bison hunters, traders and trappers. Some were guides for explorers. Others delivered cargo with their Red River carts and some were farmers.
Many of the First Nations peoples died from diseases (such as smallpox) and warfare. Small groups of warriors would raid other camps to capture horses. Horses were a prized possession. The more horses a tribe had the more powerful they were. Hunting bison was easier with horses. There was fighting over hunting grounds.
The Government of Canada established the North West Mounted Police (1873) to bring law and order. More newcomers arrived hoping to settle, work the land and become farmers. The settlers were not prepared for the hardships of life on the prairies. The First Nations Peoples shared their knowledge and survival skills with the newcomers.
Ways the First Nations peoples helped the newcomers
TREATIES and THE REBELLIONBy the 1870s the great herds of bison had disappeared. The First Nations peoples were worried about how they would survive. The government encouraged them to sign treaties. The Cree, Dene, Saulteaux and Nakota First Nations signed treaties with the government. Treaties were seen as a way to provide for future generations.
They were placed on reservations and had a hard time adjusting to a new way of life.
More information about treaties
The Métis people felt threatened when homesteaders arrived and started farming. They feared they could not keep their land. The government ignored their concerns. The Métis led by Louis Riel along with Cree leaders Chief Poundmaker and Chief Big Bear rebelled in 1885. The fighting did not last for long. The leaders of the North West Rebellion were punished.