- First Nation people were making Treaties with each other, and with the plant and animal nations, long before the arrival of Europeans to North
- Leanne Simpson shares the following story retold by Nishnaabeg scholar John Borrows in Recovering Canada: The Resurgence of Indigenous Law about Treaty Making with Animal Nations:
In a time long ago, all of the deer, moose, and caribou suddenly disappeared from the Nishnaabeg territory. When the people went looking for them, they discovered the animals had been captured by the crows. After some negotiation, the people learned that the crows were not holding the moose, deer, and caribou against their will. The animals had willingly left the territory because the Nishnaabeg were no longer respecting them. The Nishnaabeg had been wasting their meat and not treating their bodies with the proper reverence. The animals knew that the people could not live without them, and when the animal nations met in council, the chief deer outlined how the Nishnaabeg nation could make amends:
Honour and respect our lives and our beings, in life and in death. Cease doing what offends our spirits. Do not waste our flesh. Preserve fields and forests for our homes. To show your commitment to these things and as a remembrance of the anguish you have brought upon us, always leave tobacco leaf from where you take us. Gifts are important to rebuild our relationship once again.
The Nishnaabeg agreed and the animals returned to their territory. Contemporary Nishnaabeg hunters still go through the many rituals outlined that day when they kill a deer or moose, a process that honors the relationships our people have with these animals and the agreement our ancestors made with the Hoof Clan to maintain the good life (Simpson, 2008, p. 34).
According to Nishnaabeg traditions, it is my understanding that our relationship with the moose nation, the deer nation, and the caribou nation is a treaty relationship like any other, and all the parties involved have both rights and responsibilities in terms of maintaining the agreement and the relationship between our nations. The treaty outlines a relationship that when practiced continually and in perpetuity, maintains peaceful coexistence, respect, and mutual benefit (Simpson, 2008, p. 35).
Source: Simpson, L. (2008). Looking after Gdoo-naaganinaa: Precolonial Nishnaabeg Diplomatic and Treaty Relationships. Wicazo Sa Review, 23: 2, pp. 29-42.
- In North America, the earliest post-contact Treaties were developed to ensure good relations, strengthen alliances, and gain access to land.
- After Canada was established by the British North America Act of 1867, the Crown entered into Treaties with First Nations (referred to as the Numbered Treaties).
- Treaties apply in perpetuity: First Nations offered aid to the British (under King George) and were given promise that they would be looked after (“If you ever need me, I will be there”).
- First Nations and settlers (the Crown) negotiated Treaties on behalf of those who were not yet born. As such, settlers and newcomers to Canada are also beneficiaries of Treaties.
- Negotiations were sophisticated and forward thinking, despite serious language barriers (early Treaties were endorsed with Chiefs’ marks (an “X”) rather than a signature). They signed the documents under the assumption of the honour of the Crown.
- Treaties resulted in a number of commitments on the part of the Crown, in exchange for sharing the land, including annuities (annual payments of $5, not subject to inflation), education, health care, and more.
- There is still some debate about what was agreed to and promised. The Treaty Venn Diagram identifies where First Nations understandings (based on the oral record) and the Crown’s understandings (based on the written document) of the Treaties and the Treatymaking process differ and intersect. See Facilitator Resource: Treaty Venn Diagram.
- The Crown maintains that First Nations ceded land through the Treaty-making process, but First Nation peoples saw themselves as stewards – rather than owners – of land and water, and thus would not have ceded the land to the Crown representatives.
- The Métis Nation was excluded from the numbered Treaty-making process. The government implemented the scrip system for Red River Métis people after the 1869/70 Red River Resistance in order to extinguish their Aboriginal Title to the Métis lands they were promised in the Manitoba Act. The process of implementing scrip (160 acres or $160 to the children of half-breed heads of families) was dishonorable; a position the Crown repeated with the Numbered Treaties.
- The “Dakota were also denied entry into Treaty negotiations, in spite of their requests to be included” (Chief Darcy Bear). They have Indian Status, but have not signed Treaties with the Crown.
- Broken promises: Treaties are legally enforceable agreements. When commitments are not honoured, there is a legal framework for adjudication. The Supreme Court ruled that interpretations of Treaties shall be made in favour of the intended beneficiaries: First Nations peoples.
See the Facilitator Resource: Historic Treaties infographic for the numbers.
Chief Darcy Bear. (n.d.). The Dakota/Crown Relationship: A Legacy of Alliance.
Treaty Relations Commission of Manitoba
Office of the Treaty Commissioner. (2008). Treaty Essential Learnings: We Are All Treaty People. Saskatoon: Office of the Treaty Commissioner.