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Chief Peguis: A Friend to the Selkirk Settlement

For the week of Monday July 12, 2010

On July 18, 1817, Chief Peguis of the Ojibwa (Saultaux) signed Lord Selkirk’s treaty. The treaty was the first of its kind between a British subject and a First Nation of Rupert’s Land (making up most of the Prairies, Ontario and Quebec, and a portion of the modern Northwest Territories and Nunavut). The Selkirk Treaty set a precedent for the Canadian government’s acquisition of the entire northwest 50 years later.

Chief Peguis
© Courtesy of the Archives of Manitoba

Peguis was born ca. 1774 near Sault Ste. Marie in present-day northern Ontario. Between 1770 and 1790, Peguis and his people migrated near Pembina, Manitoba, along the Red River. The Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) and the North West Company (NWC) established trade posts here, beginning a rivalry that later involved Peguis, who became a chief in 1805.

In 1809, Thomas Douglas, Fifth Earl of Selkirk, purchased HBC stock in order to create a Red River settlement for Scottish immigrants. The newly arrived families found the promised settlement still under construction and were themselves ill-prepared for their new life. Peguis proved to be their greatest help, transporting them to Fort Daer in Pembina and teaching them to hunt buffalo. The NWC, however, threatened by the newcomers’ presence, attacked and expelled them in July 1815. Peguis and his band again came to their aid, protecting and accompanying the group as they journeyed to a temporary camp. In August, the settlers returned and built Fort Douglas to protect what was theirs, but NWC hostilities resumed. In June 1816, 60 armed Métis led by an NWC trader surrounded Fort Douglas. Peguis, advised by the HBC territorial Governor to remain neutral, witnessed the capture of the fort and the death of 21 settlers at the Battle of Seven Oaks. He subsequently fed and housed many of the survivors and their families before they decamped to the HBC’s Norway House.

"Red River Settlement 1812"
© Canada Post Corporation 1962. Reproduced with Permission

With Peguis’ help, Lord Selkirk’s forces recaptured Fort Douglas and the Selkirk settlement in 1817. These disturbances led to Lord Selkirk’s creation of a land treaty that ensured undisputed tenure. Peguis used his influence as a respected leader to convince the chiefs of the Cree and Ojibwa at Red River to sign the treaty. For protecting the settlers, and for his co-operation with the HBC, both parties honoured Peguis until his death in 1864.

Chief Peguis was designated a National Historic Person in 2008 for his skill as a hunter, warrior, diplomat and leader. Thomas Douglas (Fifth Earl of Selkirk) was designated in 1943, while the Arrival of the Selkirk Settlers and Fort Douglas were designated in 1924.

For more information on the Battle of Seven Oaks, which was designated as a National Historic Site in 1920, see Battle of Seven Oaks.

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