Before Saskatchewan became a province, it was part of the North-West Territories and its geographic and economic future was determined by the sale of Rupert’s Land. Rupert’s Land, the territory granted by the British Crown to the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) in 1670, was purchased by the government of Canada in 1870: approximately 3 million hectares (or 7 million acres) were purchased for $1.5 million in Canadian currency (£300,000). The HBC was granted one-twentieth of the best farmland in the region, and the company held on to its most successful fur-trading operations. The Rupert’s Land Purchase drastically altered the historic relationships that Saskatchewan Métis and First Nations peoples had with the land, the Canadian government, and the social environment in the prairie region. Indian and Métis people, who were not consulted about the sale, were seen as a deterrent to successful settlement of the west. The Métis, led by Louis Riel, successfully negotiated Manitoba’s entry into Confederation in 1870: they were promised title to the lands they farmed and an additional 1.4 million acres for their children. However, the promises made by John A Macdonald and the Liberal government were not kept; the Manitoba Resistance of 1869–70 ended with the dispersal of the Métis people to northern Saskatchewan to rebuild their communities.
The Métis people settled on the land, establishing their traditional patterns of hunting, trapping, and farming; their customs, languages, beliefs, and community systems became part of Saskatchewan’s social landscape. Métis women, the largest segment of the population, encouraged settlement and the practice of Catholicism, and ensured the well-being of their extended kinship system. The relationships between the Métis and the federal government followed familiar patterns as the latter repeatedly ignored the Métis’ bid for recognition as a distinct ethnic group. The Resistance of 1885 silenced the political voice of Métis people for the next several decades.
The Rupert’s Land Purchase also adversely affected Indian populations in the North-West Territories after 1870. Looking to avoid the violence and bloodshed of the Métis resistances as well as the Indian Wars in the United States, seven treaties between the federal government and Indian people were signed between 1871 and 1887. The Canadian government, however, failed to live up to the agreements made in these treaties. Broken treaty promises, the Dominion Lands Act of 1872, the Indian Act of 1876, and the encroachment of White settlers indicated a disregard for the Indigenous people of the North-West Territories which has left a legacy of bitterness still being addressed in the 21st century.