First Nation Treaties

The impact of treaty-making in Canada has been wide-ranging and long standing. The treaties the Crown has signed with Aboriginal peoples since the 18th century have permitted the evolution of Canada as we know it. In fact, much of Canada's land mass is covered by treaties.

This treaty-making process, which has evolved over more than 300 years between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in Canada, has its origins in the early diplomatic relationship developed between European settlers and Aboriginal people.

These diplomatic proceedings were the first steps in a long process that has led to today's comprehensive claims agreements between the Crown and Aboriginal people.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) is the federal department responsible for negotiating and implementing treaties (including comprehensive claims). AANDC also maintains a center of expertise for understanding Canada's pre-1975 treaties with First Nations Peoples.

Treaty rights already in existence in 1982 (the year the Constitution Act was passed), and those that came afterwards, are recognized and affirmed by Canada's Constitution.

The Government of Canada and the courts understand treaties between the Crown and Aboriginal people to be solemn agreements that set out promises, obligations and benefits for both parties.

Starting in 1701, in what was to eventually become Canada, the British Crown entered into solemn treaties to encourage peaceful relations between First Nations and non-Aboriginal people.

Over the next several centuries, treaties were signed to define, among other things, the respective rights of Aboriginal people and governments to use and enjoy lands that Aboriginal people traditionally occupied.

Treaties include historic treaties made between 1701 and 1923 and modern-day treaties known as comprehensive land claim settlements.

The Royal Proclamation of 1763 and the Pre-Confederation treaties

In the 18th century, the French and British were competing for control of lands in North America. The two colonial powers formed strategic alliances with First Nations to help them advance their respective colonial interests in the continent.

For example, in what are now New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, the British made a series of “Peace and Friendship” treaties with the Mi'kmaq and Maliseet tribes between 1725 and 1779.

By the early 1760s, the British had established themselves as the dominant colonial power in North America.

The British Royal Proclamation of 1763 prohibited the purchase of First Nation lands by any party other than the Crown. The Crown could purchase land from a First Nation group that had agreed to the sale at a public meeting of the group.

Several treaties were signed after the Royal Proclamation and before Confederation in 1867. These include the Upper Canada Treaties (1764 to 1862) and the Vancouver Island Treaties (1850 to 1854).

Under these treaties, the First Nations surrendered interests in lands in areas of what are now Ontario and British Columbia.

They surrendered their interest in lands in exchange for certain other benefits that could include reserves, annual payments or other types of payment and certain rights to hunt and fish.

Historic treaties after Confederation

Between 1871 and 1921, the Crown entered into treaties with various First Nations that enabled the Canadian government to actively pursue agriculture, settlement and resource development of the Canadian West and the North.

Because they are numbered 1 to 11, the treaties are often referred to as the “Numbered Treaties.” The Numbered Treaties cover Northern Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and parts of the Yukon, the Northwest Territories and British Columbia.

Under these treaties, the First Nations who occupied these territories gave up large areas of land to the Crown. In exchange, the treaties provided for such things as reserve lands and other benefits like farm equipment and animals, annual payments, ammunition, clothing and certain rights to hunt and fish.

The Crown also made some promises such as maintaining schools on reserves or providing teachers or educational help to the First Nation named in the treaties.

Treaty No. 6 included the promise of a medicine chest.

Modern treaties—comprehensive claims

Comprehensive land claim settlements deal with areas of Canada where Aboriginal people's claims to Aboriginal rights have not been addressed by treaties, or other legal means.

The first of these modern-day treaties was the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, signed in 1975. To date, the federal government has settled 15 comprehensive claims with Aboriginal people in Canada.

Specific claims

Specific claims arise when there is an outstanding historical grievance between a First Nation and the Crown that relates to an unfulfilled obligation of a treaty or another agreement, or a breach of statutory responsibilities by the Crown.

By addressing historic injustices which have undermined trust and co-operation, strong partnerships among Aboriginal people, governments and the private sector are emerging.

In addition to building these partnerships, settling specific claims helps economic development on Aboriginal lands and in surrounding communities.

Canada's Specific Claims Policy was established to allow First Nations to have their claims appropriately addressed through negotiations by the government without having to go to court.

Claims are accepted when it is determined that Canada has breached its lawful obligation to a First Nation.

The contemporary significance of treaties

In Gathering Strength — Canada's Aboriginal Action Plan, announced January 7, 1998, the Government of Canada affirmed that both historic and modern-day treaties will continue to be key elements in the future relationship between Aboriginal people and the Crown.

The federal government believes that the treaties, and the relationship they represent, can guide the way to a shared future.

The continuing treaty relationship provides a context of mutual rights and responsibilities that will ensure Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people can together enjoy Canada's benefits.

Exploratory discussions with First Nations

The federal government is seeking the views of groups of Treaty First Nations on how the historic treaties and treaty issues can be understood in contemporary terms.

These discussions allow the parties to develop a common understanding of the issues and consider ways to move into a relationship oriented to the future.

Since many important treaty provisions are of direct interest to them, provincial governments will also have an important role in this process.

Bridging to self-government

The Government of Canada is negotiating agreements with treaty First Nations to put self-government in place. These agreements will build on the relationship already established by their treaties.

Currently, there are approximately 70 recognised treaties

Approximately 70 treaties form the basis of the relationship between 364 First Nations, representing over 600,000 First Nations people, and the Crown.



Subcategories

Article Index:

Canadian Historical Indian Treaties Time Line

Canadian treaties with First Nation peoples from 1725 to the present include Peace and Friendship treaties,Upper Canada Treaties, Province of Canada Treaties, Vancouver Island / Douglas Treaties, Numbered Treaties, Williams Treaties, and Comprehensive Claims Treaties.