CHATELAIN (Chastellaine, Chatelaine, Chatelan, Chattelaine), NICOLAS, Métis spokesman, HBC employee, interpreter, and civil servant; b. c. 1795–99, likely in or in the vicinity of Grand Portage (near Grand Portage, Minn.), son of a French-speaking father from Lower Canada and a Saulteaux mother; married, with at least two sons and one daughter; d. 6 March 1892 in Fort Frances, Ont.
Nicolas Chatelain apparently fought in the War of 1812, but little else is known about his early life. He is first identified in 1823, when he was an interpreter for the Hudson’s Bay Company at Lac La Pluie (Rainy Lake, Ont.). In 1850 he was present at the signing of the treaty of 7 September at Sault Ste Marie between William Benjamin Robinson*, representing the province of Canada, and the Ojibwas of the north shore of Lake Superior. At that time he was a member of the band at Fort William (Thunder Bay), which included a number of Métis. Chatelain worked for the HBC for nearly 50 years as an interpreter, trader, and outpost manager, occupations which may in part account for his move from Fort William to Fort Frances.
By 1871 Chatelain was an interpreter for the federal government, at a salary of $250 per annum, paid until his death. Officials reported that he could translate Ojibwa only into French, but this limitation did not hinder him. He was present during the negotiations with the Ojibwas of the Lake of the Woods region leading to Treaty No.3, and he also participated in the signing in 1873. The Métis of the Rainy Lake and Rainy River regions, of whom Chatelain was a member, shared many interests with the Ojibwas, and it is possible that they may have had more influence on the outcome of the negotiations than the Manitoba Métis, whom Alexander Morris*, the government negotiator, credited with his success.
During the negotiations the Ojibwas had asked that the local Métis be allowed to join the treaty, and although Morris refused he recommended that Métis who wished to be considered Indians could adhere to it. On 12 Sept. 1875 Chatelain, acting for the Rainy Lake and Rainy River Métis, signed a memorandum of agreement with John Stoughton Dennis*, surveyor general of Canada. Under the agreement, known as the “Half-Breed Adhesion to Treaty No.3,” the Métis, by virtue of their “Indian blood,” were to have two reserves set aside for them and were to receive the benefits of the treaty, such as annuities, cattle, and farm implements.
It is likely that the memorandum was one devised by the Métis of Rainy Lake and Rainy River, arranged by Chatelain, and then set down by Dennis. However, the later actions of the Department of Indian Affairs suggest that the federal government never ratified it. Over the following decade the Métis sought to obtain the benefits they had been promised. The first attempt came in August 1876, when Chatelain informed Dennis that Robert Pither, the Indian agent at Fort Frances, had received no instructions about the agreement, and he requested him to see that the annuities and other items were delivered to the Métis. The matter was referred to the Department of Indian Affairs, which declared that it could not recognize Métis separately and asked if the Métis would join the Ojibwa band living near them. Several months later a group of Métis, not including Chatelain, met Pither. Some annuities had evidently been paid in the interim, since the Métis declared that if the undelivered benefits were not sent and the Métis not recognized separately they would not accept further annuities.
Just at the time when resistance in the North-West rebellion [see Louis Riel*] was ending, the Métis made another attempt to obtain all their treaty rights. On 8 July 1885 Chatelain, on behalf of the “Half-Breeds of Rainy Lake,” sent a petition to the Department of Indian Affairs asking for the annuities they had not received, a total of $782 for 46 persons. In the official correspondence which followed it was established that the Métis had improved their reserves and had built good log houses. Claiming that they had never been given cattle or farm implements and had never received back payments, as specified in the 1875 agreement, they deemed themselves “badly treated by the Government.” Perhaps because of the Indian and Métis resistance in 1885, their case was favourably considered. Following recommendations from Duncan Campbell Scott* and others in the Department of Indian Affairs, back payments from 1875 were granted. Chatelain and other Métis continued up to 1886 to press for arrears in annuities and for cattle, food, and implements, but from the department’s point of view the matter was closed.
On 6 March 1892 Chatelain died in Fort Frances, likely at the Métis community there. Three years earlier he had been described by an Indian agent as “one of nature’s noblemen, six feet four inches in height, 98 years of age and totally blind.” The agent added that no one within the district had “a greater influence over the Indians than this remarkable man.” It is clear that Chatelain was also influential within the Métis community at Fort Frances, and that he had been able to act with some success for their interests in the 1870s and 1880s.
NA, RG 10, B3, 3637, file 6918; 3715, file 21809; 3830, file 62423. PAM, HBCA, B.105/a/9–20; B.105/z/1, f.3. D. T. McNab, “Hearty co-operation and efficient aid, the Métis and Treaty 3,” Canadian Journal of Native Studies (Brandon, Man.), 3 (1983): 131–49.