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.
ART BY LEAH MARIE DORION
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.
The government did not view the First Nations people as brothers or equals.
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.
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.
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.
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.