There were many types of treaties, each signed with different goals in mind. Treaty types include:
- Historic treaties
- Peace and Friendship Treaties (1725–1779)
- Douglas Treaties (1850–1854)
- Numbered Treaties (1871–1921)
- Modern treaties
Prior to 1960, the treaties signed in Canada covered almost all of the country except for most of Yukon, British Columbia, and Nunavut.
Historic treaties are those treaties signed by First Nations and the British and Canadian governments between 1701 and 1923. The British and Canadian governments wanted to sign treaties with First Nations in order to reduce the possibility of conflict and to support European immigration and land settlement, agriculture, natural resource use, trade, and other economic developments.
Peace and Friendship Treaties (1725–1779)
The Peace and Friendship Treaties, signed in the Maritimes in pre-Confederation Canada, were intended to end hostilities and encourage cooperation between the British and Mi’kmaq and Maliseet First Nations. Unlike later treaties signed in other parts of Canada, the Peace and Friendship Treaties did not involve First Nations surrendering rights to the lands and the resources they had traditionally used and occupied. In modern times, the Supreme Court of Canada has confirmed that Mi’kmaq and Maliseet First Nations continue to enjoy their treaty rights to hunt, fish, and gather.
The Douglas Treaties (1850–1854)
James Douglas was the Chief Factor of the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1849, when its western headquarters were moved from Vancouver, Washington to Victoria in the new British colony of Vancouver Island. Douglas became governor of the colony and began to encourage British settlement on First Nations lands. Over a period of four years, he made a series of 14 land purchases, known today as the Douglas Treaties. These treaties applied to territories on Vancouver Island and covered small tracts of land around Victoria, Nanaimo, and Port Hardy.
The Manitoba Act (1870)
On May 12, 1870, the Manitoba Act received Royal Assent and Manitoba was legally recognized as the fifth province to join Confederation. This was the first and only Indigenous people to bring a province into Canada’s Confederation. While the Act is not legally referred to as a ‘Treaty’, in many ways, the Manitoba Act (1870) was the Métis Nation’s treaty with Canada.
The Manitoba Act (1870) was a way for the Métis Nation to fight for their rights and the future rights of their children (including important land, language, education, and religious rights) in face of the newly Confederated Dominion of Canada encroaching westward into the Métis Nation’s Homeland.
To learn more about why the Manitoba Métis chose to rise up and enter into negotiations with Canada, see: Making Manitoba / La creation du Manitoba1
Unfortunately, Canada did not lawfully fulfil their obligations as outlined in Section 31 of the Manitoba Act (1870), and in 1981, the Manitoba Metis Federation (MMF) took Canada to court (Manitoba Metis Federation Inc. v. Canada). It was not until 32 years later, in 2013, that the Supreme Court would rule in the MMF’s favor. In 2016, the MMF and Canada signed a framework agreement that would lay a path forward for reconciliation on this issue.
Read the Supreme Court Judgement2
The Numbered Treaties (1871–1921)
Eleven Numbered Treaties were signed by the First Nations in Canada and the reigning monarchs of Canada (Victoria, Edward VII, or George V) between 1871 and 1921. The treaties provided the government with large tracts of land in exchange for promises made to the First Nations of the area. The specific terms differed with each treaty.
The First Nations leadership and the Canadian government had different goals in signing the Numbered Treaties.
The First Nations’ goals were to:
- secure the survival of their people (who had been seriously affected by disease and starvation)
- establish a peaceful relationship with the settler government
- ensure their cultural and spiritual survival as separate and distinct nations by keeping their own form of government and institutions
- begin to transition from a hunter-gatherer society to an economy based on agriculture and animal husbandry
The Canadian government’s goals were to:
- advance colonization across the Prairie regions
- complete the Canada Pacific Railway
- extract the resources from the area
It is important to note that not all Nations are signatories to numbered treaties. For example, the Dakota peoples are not signatories. The Métis people generally did not enter into treaty agreements with the exception of one group that negotiated adherence to Treaty 3 in northwestern Ontario (Métis Nation of Ontario, 2020). Also, some Nations did not sign at the same time as neighbouring Nations, so there are instances where a community within a Treaty Territory may have signed a later numbered treaty. For example, Rolling River First Nation is a Treaty 4 community within the Treaty 2 boundary.
For more on how the Dakota peoples came to be holders of unceded territories and their stories of Indigenous title and resistance see Dakota claim in Canada4.
Many modern treaties are being negotiated today. The Government of Canada officially calls modern treaties Comprehensive Land Claims. As of May 2017, 65 First Nations in British Columbia were participating in the treaty process. Six First Nations have completed a treaty. These negotiations are “tri-partite,” meaning that three levels of government are involved: the First Nation, the Government of Canada, and the Province of British Columbia. The first modern treaty in British Columbia was completed in 1999 with the Nisga’a First Nation1 although this treaty was negotiated outside of the B.C. treaty process.
There are many barriers to First Nations achieving a treaty today. Some First Nations have been working for decades to get treaties for their people. The process is very slow and expensive. Also, for many years the Government of Canada tried to stop First Nations from organizing a treaty process. From 1927 to 1951, the Indian Act made it illegal to meet or raise funds for Indigenous rights and lands claims issues.
For these and other reasons, some First Nations in British Columbia do not agree with the treaty process. Union of BC Indian Chiefs has described why these agreements are not fair or equal:
- The Government of Canada gets recognition of its sovereignty, but First Nations do not. First Nations get limited recognition of their right to a piece of land that is always much smaller than their traditional territory. They have to co-manage that land with the government.
- First Nations may achieve self-government, but they have to obey Canadian and provincial laws. Canada does not have to obey any First Nations laws.
- Modern treaties are the “full and final settlement” between First Nations and the federal and provincial governments. The First Nation agrees it will not make any legal claims against Canada or B.C. to right historical wrongs. For example, it will not seek compensation for any past extraction of resources or destroyed habitat.
On July 6, 2021, the Manitoba Métis Federation and the Government of Canada entered into an agreement which gave the Manitoba Métis Federation–as the existing government of the Manitoba Métis Community–immediate recognition and a first step toward the conclusion of a modern-day Treaty between the Manitoba Métis Federation and the Government of Canada. The Agreement signed by Minister Carolyn Bennett and Manitoba Métis Federation President David Chartrand is Canada’s first Métis self-government agreement.
To read more about this historic agreement see the press release: Manitoba Métis Self-Government Recognition and Implementation Agreement5
‘Numbered Treaties Map’ was a BCcampus adaptation (Yug), and is licensed under a CC BY-SA (Attribution Share Alike) License.
- Making Manitoba (https://www.manitobametis.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/MMF_Provisional_Gov_BookletWeb.pdf)
- https://www.manitobametis.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/MMF_Provisional_Gov_BookletWeb.pdfSupreme Court Judgement (https://scc-csc.lexum.com/scc-csc/scc-csc/en/item/12888/index.do)
- Manitoba Numbered Treaties (https://trcm.ca/lets-talk-treaties/what-is-a-treaty/)
- Dakota Claim in Manitoba (https://vantagepoints.ca/stories/dakota-claim-canada/)
- Manitoba Métis Self-Government (https://www.mmf.mb.ca/self-government-agreement)