The James Bay Treaty (also known as Treaty No. 9) was one of the last numbered treaties to be signed in Canada. Even though 100 years have passed, there is still little agreement between the parties as to what it means today.Treaty No. 9 was first signed in 1905 and 1906 by the Canadian government, the Ontario government, and the Cree and Ojibwe nations in what is now known as Northern Ontario.
The nations who signed the treaty generally include those people occupying the area south of the Albany River.
Over two decades later, adhesions with the remaining Cree and Ojibwe nations north of the Albany River were signed in 1929 and 1930.
The Cree and Ojibwe people firmly believed that they signed a treaty that afforded them protection and assistance from a benevolent king, as well as a land sharing and resource sharing arrangement.
They never understood that they gave up their land or the right to govern themselves. Tribal leaders speaking on behalf of the Treaty Nations and descendants of the original signatories to Treaty No. 9 (as well as Treaty No. 5) assert that entering into treaty represented an act of nationhood that endures to this day.
The transmission of the treaty story as passed down by the Elders to the present generation states that they signed the James Bay Treaty on the strength of oral statements made at the time of signing, most of which do not find expression in the written treaty text.
The Crown, on the other hand, relies only on the written treaty text. They saw the treaty as a necessary step in completely removing Indian title and relied on the sweeping surrender provisions which stated that, “the said Indians do hereby cede, release, surrender and yield up to the government of the Dominion of Canada, for His Majesty the King and His sucessors forever, all their rights, titles and priviledges whatsoever.”
The Dominion of Canada wanted to fulfill an ambitious political vision to expand its transportation, settlement, and industrial networks and needed to sign treaties with the remaining Aboriginal nations who had not yet entered into these arrangements.
To Canada and Ontario, the most salient feature of the treaty was the purported “extinguishment” of Indian title to a land mass in Northern Ontario encompassing 250,000 square miles.
A century later, there are still two very different philosophical perspectives on the Treaty which have yet to be sorted out. The task for the future will be to reconcile the conflicting interpretations of the treaty, and in doing so, arrive at a mutual understanding that will truly benefit future generations.