Select Page

A Different Understanding

Different Worldview

When breaking down the treaties, it is important to understand the different worldviews of the people involved in signing the treaties.

Equality was important to the First Nations people during the treaty-making process. The First Nations people believed that they could coexist with the colonizers in the spirit and intent of the treaty. The First Nations peoples’ understanding of the treaty was to grant non-Indigenous people the right to live in their territory so long as they maintained peace and respected the land.

A mosaic showing a hunter with a gun, two geese and a moon in the sky.


The First Nations people believed that the spirit and intent of the treaties were to co-exist and share the land.

However, the Canadian government did not share this view. They did not see the First Nations people as equal. They did not understand or value the First Nations’ way of life and wanted to destroy it. They believed the land should belong to the settlers.

The government viewed treaties as the first step in the assimilation process.

An illustrated Indigenous man talks to a White person.

The government did not view the First Nations people as brothers or equals.

Oral Versus Written

In the First Nations way of life, agreements were made verbally and confirmed with ceremonies. Oral understandings were considered sacred and sincere.

The Europeans believed that agreements had to be written down for them to be binding. Writing down the details of an agreement was foreign to the First Nations people.

The written treaties were very different than the First Nation people’s oral understanding of the treaties. The Elders’ understanding of the treaty was that First Nations people were to continue their way of life with control over how they lived and the land.

An illustrated First Nations man shakes the hand of of government official wearing a suit. Two First Nations women stand in the background.

Oral agreements were honoured by First Nations people. They did not need written proof that an agreement existed.


There was a lot of misunderstanding during treaty negotiations due to the language barrier. English was a language that First Nations people did not understand fully either verbally or written. The Europeans also did not understand the languages of the First Nations people.

A First Nations man stands for a photo amongst a group of White men and women in formal wear.

First Nations people could not read the treaties. How would you feel if you had to sign an agreement in this language?

Words often had very different meanings in English and Indigenous languages. In some cases, there were no words to be able to accurately translate because the meaning of the word did not exist in the other language.

Sometimes the translator was from a different area and did not even speak the same Indigenous language as the people they were supposed to be translating for.


Land was an important part of the treaties and the beliefs regarding land were very different for both sides. First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people understood the process of ‘living with the land’ rather than the European understanding of ‘owning the land.’

When the First Nations agreed to the treaties, they agreed to share the use of the land. This was what was verbally agreed to.

A First Nations man stands for a photo amongst a group of White men and women in formal wear.

There was a verbal agreement in place to share the land.

The Canadian government wrote into the treaties that the First Nations people would cede or give up their rights to the land. However, First Nations people did not agree to do that.

The misrepresentation of the written treaties was a very significant and important difference in how the two parties understood the treaties and how future generations would understand the treaties.

The size of the reserves were much smaller than the First Nations people believed they would be.

The treaties promised areas of land for First Nations people to live on. Many First Nation leaders described huge areas of land that they believed were promised in the treaties. The commissioners never explained the meaning or actual size of a square mile so the treaty land given was smaller than it should have been for the population that lived there. The First Nations people were also promised the rights to use all treaty lands (all of Saskatchewan) for hunting, fishing, and gathering food – but this promise was broken.

Two different illustrated bubbles are shown. One shows a group of First Nations people sitting together by a campfire with a tipi in the background. The other one has a First Nations family with a farm in the background.

The land given to First Nations people was much smaller than it should have been for the number of people planning to live there.

Signing Treaties

The treaty negotiations were both oral and written. Because the First Nations people did not read or write English, they believed that they were agreeing to what was said. There are differences between what was orally agreed to and what was written in the treaties.

A hand-drawn pictograph made by Chief Paskwa is shown, where he explains what is being agreed to in Treaty 4.

Some words the British would use didn’t translate to First Nations’ languages, so First Nations would have no way to understand what they were agreeing to in the treaties.

The Canadian government was only going to sign treaties on paper. Paper disintegrates after a while and becomes brittle and the colored ink fades on paper. First Nations people knew that ink on hide lasted longer than on paper. Oral history tells that some Nations wanted an extra copy of the treaty written on sheepskin just in case the parchment paper did not last.

Pipe Ceremony

First Nations participated in a pipe smoking ceremony with the treaty negotiators to affirm the agreement. This ceremony was spiritual and invited the Creator as a witness to the First Nations people. Smoking the pipe and sitting on the ground while the agreement was made was very important to First Nations. The pipe ceremony honoured Mother Earth and let the Creator know that they First Nations peoples would teach their children and the non-Indigenous settlers to honour Mother Earth and live respectfully on her.

A group of First Nations people sit cross-legged with their heads down in a circle. There is a First Nations person that stands in the middle of the circle, while raising a pipe that has smoke coming from it.

A pipe ceremony was sacred to the First Nations people. It meant that they agreed to be truthful, respectful, and hold to the decisions made during the meetings.

Oral history tells that the government officials would not sit on the ground but sat on boxes instead. They would not actually smoke the pipe, so the smoke was passed over their heads to complete the ceremony.

A group of Cree men sit in a circle in traditional clothing.

Credit: Provincial Archives of Alberta

This is a pipe ceremony at Waterhen River, Northern SK.