Reconciliation Ally: From the Office of the Treaty Commissioner Archives
- By Sheldon Krasowski | November 01, 2021
Documenting Chiefs’ Treaty medals is one of the research priorities for the Office of the Treaty Commissioner. As part of this research, Treaty Commissioner Mary Culbertson and her staff were invited to collaborate with Elders at Kinistin First Nation.
The main focus of the meeting was to confirm that Chief Kinistin did not receive his Treaty medal when he agreed to Treaty Four, but the Elders also highlighted the early friendship between Chief Kinistin and a fur trader and settler named Reginald Beatty. According to Kinistin First Nation Elder Louise Smokeyday, Reginald Beatty assisted with Chief Kinistin’s claim for Indigenous title and lands under Treaty Four. In return, Chief Kinistin invited Beatty to ceremonies where he learned Cree and Saulteaux traditions and eventually became a fluent Cree speaker. Chief Kinistin and Beatty were lifelong friends and allies at a time when increased colonial pressures tended to make early settlers wary of Indigenous peoples.
In many ways, Chief Kinistin and Reginald Beatty were unlikely allies. When Beatty settled near Kinistin’s camp in 1884 the Chief accused him of encroaching on his territory and warned him to leave. Although associated with Chief Yellowquill who agreed to Treaty Four, Chief Kinistin refused to settle down and left Chief Yellowquill with 14 followers, eight of whom were Kinistin’s sons. Chief Kinistin was described as over 6 feet tall with handsome aqualine features and a chest marked by scars from arrows and bullets. Kinistin was a successful trader and was wealthy with horses, furs and all kinds of supplies. After the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) sold Rupertsland to Canada in 1869, Chief Kinistin severed trade for selling “the Indians birthright” which they had no right to. Instead Kinistin dealt with the free traders, especially Zavier Batoche, who became wealthy from trading with the Chief.
Reginald Beatty was from Lakefield Ontario and travelled west in 1874. He worked for many years with the HBC and was eventually a free trader, settling near Chief Kinistin’s camp in 1884. Beatty lived at the site for many years and is known as the founder of Melfort, Saskatchewan which was built not far from Beatty’s homestead. A few months before Chief Kinistin died, he called for Beatty and asked that Canada recognize title to his ancestral territory.
According to Beatty’s account of the meeting he replied, “that a promise of this kind was not in my power, but I would try my best to get the lands reserved for them.” Chief Kinistin responded, “keep your word in this and long shall be your life and prosperous your days in the future. Break your word to me and evil spirits shall haunt your existence and make your life miserable.”
After the Chief’s death, Beatty began lobbying the Department of Indian Affairs to have Kinistin’s territory set aside as a Reserve. By 1898 he had written numerous letters extoling the virtues of Kinistin’s community, including their cattle holdings and successful farming exploits. Basically, Beatty told them what they wanted to hear. And it worked.
By 1899 Indian Affairs Commissioner David Laird agreed to set aside the reserve and provide some assistance with farming. Establishing Kinistin First Nation was not without its challenges. The Department of the Interior sold timber licenses on reserved land to settlers; Treaty hunting rights were infringed upon; drought and hail devastated crops … But every challenge was documented by a letter or petition written by Beatty to support Kinistin First Nation. Beatty reminisced about his early days in newspaper accounts published in the 1920s, and by all accounts he lived a long and prosperous life. Reginald Beatty died at the age of 74 and is buried at the Melfort cemetery.