Treaties are legally binding agreements that set out the rights, responsibilities and relationships of First Nations and the federal and provincial governments. Ontario would not exist as it is today without treaties. They form the basis of the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. Although many treaties were signed more than a century ago, treaty commitments are just as valid today as they were then. (Government of Ontario)
The Royal Proclamation is a legal document issued by King George III on October 7, 1763, after the end of the Seven Years War. The main purpose for its creation was to restore peaceful relations between the British Crown (government) and First Nations living on the land we refer to as Canada. This document also outlined the treaty-making process between First Nations and the Crown. The Proclamation acknowledges that Indigenous Peoples will continue to hold the Title to the land unless it's transferred through a treaty. The Proclamation, sometimes referred to as the Indian Magna Carta, was "the first time the word nation was used to describe the original inhabitants of Canada" (CBC News).
Sources: Royal Proclamation of 1763, Canada's 'Indian Magna Carta,' turns 250 (CBC News). | Royal Proclamation of 1763: Relationships, rights and treaties.(Government of Canada)
Treaties are legally binding agreements made between two or more nations (governments). Even before the arrival of European settlers, treaties have been made between Indigenous Nations living on Turtle Island (North America). These treaties allowed Indigenous Nations to form relationships and agreements with each other in order to settle disputes, aid peace-making, manage resources, and share lands. Many treaties between Indigenous Nations were recorded orally, while some may have also been recorded using symbolic objects such as Wampum Belts (Historica Canada).
The arrival of Europeans in the land we call Canada brought about the beginning of treaty-making between Indigenous Nations and European colonial governments. These early treaties were initially based on mutual respect and cooperation, and outlined the relationship between nations and their rights and responsibilities. However, over centuries, this relationship became a tool for assimilation.
When looking at treaties, it's important to consider the different worldviews of Indigenous Peoples and European settlers. For Indigenous Nations, treaties were viewed as an equal relationship where both nations can live together and share the land. On the other hand, European settler governments didn't view Indigenous Peoples as equals. They viewed treaties as a way to assimilate and remove Indigenous Peoples from their lands (Historica Canada).
Oral tradition is at the centre of how Indigenous Peoples interpret treaties. These interpretations are not typically based on legal language or concepts but based on what was discussed, often in Indigenous languages, during treaty negotiations. European settlers believed in recording the treaty in written text. Considering the differences in languages, these written versions were very different from what was discussed during negotiations. It's also important to note that translations between the languages of the settlers and Indigenous Peoples may have led to inaccurate translations since certain words or concepts may not exist in the other language. For example, the idea of land ownership doesn't exist in an Indigenous worldview (Broken Promises).
Sources: Broken Promises (Anishinabek Nation) Treaties and agreements (CIRNAC) | Treaties from 1760 - 1923: Two sides to the story (CBC News) | Treaties in Canada: Education Guide (Historica Canada)
Historic treaties were signed between 1701 and 1923 in the areas we now call Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia, while modern treaties, also known as comprehensive land claim agreements, were first signed in 1975. Historic treaties made between First Nations and the Crown were negotiated under different intents. First Nations leaders negotiated and "signed" treaties to secure the future of their peoples, and included access to education and health care. On the other hand, the Crown's main intent was to get access to the land and resources and remove Indigenous Peoples from their land (Indigenous Corporate Training).
Modern treaties are agreements between Indigenous Peoples, the federal and provincial governments, and sometimes a territory. They are generally made in areas where Indigenous Titles and Rights have not yet been settled. Compared to historic treaties, modern treaties are signed with the intention to improve the social, cultural, political, and economic conditions of Indigenous communities involved (Land Claims Agreements Coalition).
Sources: What’s the Difference Between Historic and Modern Treaties? (Indigenous Corporate Training, Inc.) | What is a Modern Treaty? (Land Claims Agreements Coalition)
Treaties are legally binding agreements which still hold true today. "Treaties provide a framework for Indigenous and [non-Indigenous peoples] to live in a good way as community partners and neighbours" (University of Alberta). Treaties don't just apply to Indigenous peoples. Non-Indigenous peoples continue to benefit from living on Turtle Island or the land we now call North America because of treaties. As treaty people, we have the responsibility to respect each other and to learn more, reflect on, and take care of the land we're on.
Source: How To Be a Better Treaty Person (University of Alberta | Newtrail)
In the following interactive maps, enter a location to determine which Treaty agreement applies to an area:
Watch and listen to Indigenous speakers share their knowledge about the importance of treaties, treaty relationships, and rights in Ontario.