“Aboriginal title,” wrote David Laird, the chairman of the Treaty 8 Commission, “is simply an admission that the Indians should not be deprived of their occupation rights without compensation and their formal consent.” (Library and Archives Canada, 2008)
The task of having Treaty 8 drafted and signed varied significantly from prior Treaties in Canada. For the first time, the Treaty was not drafted by bureaucrats in Ottawa, Ontario, but in the commissioners’ own tents each evening after meeting with the various Chiefs and headmen in the region (Library and Archives Canada, 2008). The original treaty was signed at Lesser Slave Lake on 21 June 1899, with further adhesions taken to the Treaty at Peace River Landing, Fort Vermillion, Fond du Lac, Dunvegan, Fort Chipewyan, Smith’s Landing, Fort McMurray and Wabasca Lake later that summer. In 1900, further adhesions were taken at Sturgeon Lake, Fort St. John, Hay River and Great Slave Lake.
The compensation paid by the government during the first year of treaty negotiations for the surrender of Athabasca totalled more than $300,000. In return, the Commission enrolled 2,217 Indians under the terms of the Treaty and distributed scrip to 1,243 Métis (Library and Archives Canada, 2008).
At the first Treaty 8 signing location at Willow Point, the newspaper described the atmosphere as almost fair-like: “Everything is in a whirl out here, excitement and fun galore. This is the first and perhaps the biggest blowout this section will see in our time.”