Select Page

What is a Treaty?

In the simplest form, a treaty is a legal agreement that outlines rights and benefits for each group. Treaties are nation-to-nation agreements.

Treaties in Canada were agreements made between First Nations and the Canadian Government.

The Métis people were left out of treaty negotiations.

A copy of Treaty 4. It is a yellowed and slightly torn paper with writing.

A treaty is recognized as a legal agreement between two sovereign nations.

Sovereign Nations

A sovereign nation can be defined as ‘people with one centralized government that has the power to govern a specific geographic area.’

The country we now call Canada is the homeland of Indigenous peoples. They lived according to the natural laws given by the Creator. Indigenous Nations had their own forms of government for thousands of years before the settlers arrived from Europe. These forms of government reflected the economic, social, and geographic diversity of Indigenous peoples, as well as their cultural practices and spiritual beliefs.

An illustrated group of First Nations people sit on the ground on hides. They are all watching a young child playing.

The Indigenous people living on Turtle Island were independent, sovereign nations.

Britain controlled the treaty-making process and British representatives negotiated on behalf of the Queen. When Canada was recognized as a country in 1867, the Canadian government took control of the treaty-making process.

Individual settlers were not allowed to buy land directly from First Nations. Only the government could sign treaties and make land agreements.

Queen Victoria is dressed in a gown and is sitting in a chair posing for a photo.

British representatives negotiated on behalf of the Queen of England until 1867.

It is very important to understand that the First Nations people never agreed to be governed or controlled by the Canadian government.

First Nations had their own system of governance and did not intend to agree to be ruled over by the Canadian Government. This is Chief Allan Fox from the Sweetgrass First Nation.

Treaty Negotiations

The First Nation Chiefs had to take time to negotiate with their people on the terms and on which they should agree upon. It is told that the First Nations Chiefs took the time to speak to the women of the tribe and elders before deciding. The Indigenous ‘life givers’ (the ‘Kokum’s’ or ‘grandmothers’) were the true leaders and made the decisions. However, the British and Canadian government officials would only speak and negotiate with the men.

An illustrated Indigenous woman is holding a plant.

The Women were ‘life givers’ and were highly respected but the government officials would not talk with them.

Treaty Promises

The treaties signed in Canada were all related to the land. First Nations people agreed to share their land in exchange for payments and promises. First Nations people viewed the treaties as sacred agreements between people who had always lived in Canada and people whose family roots are in other countries.

The federal government promised that it would help Indigenous people in return for the use of the land. The government promised it would provide Indigenous people with education, money, and materials. But there were many broken promises and Indigenous people suffered a lot because of the treaties.

Indigenous people suffered very much because of broken treaty promises.