Numbered Treaties

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Numbered Treaties
Map of Numbered Treaties of Canada. Borders are approximated.
Context Treaties to transfer large tracts of land from the First Nations to the Crown in return for different promises laid out in the treaty
Signed 1871–1921

Key representatives of the British Crown: Adams George Archibald, Alexander Morris, David Laird, Duncan Campbell Scott, Wemyss Mackenzie Simpson, S.J Dawson, William J. Christie, James McKay, James MacLeod, James Hamilton Ross, J.A.J. McKenna, Samuel Stewart, Daniel G. MacMartin, Henry Anthony Conroy,

Key representatives of First Nations groups: Crowfoot (Blackfoot Nation), Big Bear (Cree Nation), Chief Powassin (Ojibwe Nation), Chief Keenooshayoo (Athabasca First Nations)
Languages English

The Numbered Treaties (or Post-Confederation Treaties) are a series of eleven treaties signed between the Aboriginal peoples in Canada (or First Nations) and the reigning monarch of Canada (Victoria, Edward VII or George V) from 1871 to 1921.[1] These agreements were created to allow the Canadian government to pursue settlement and resource extraction in the affected regions, which include modern day Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, Saskatchewan, and the Northwest Territories. These treaties provided the Dominion of Canada large tracts of land in exchange for promises made to the Aboriginal people of the area. These terms were dependent on individual negotiations and so specific terms differed with each treaty.

These treaties came in two waves—Numbers 1 through 7 from 1871 to 1877 and Numbers 8 through 11 from 1899 to 1921. In the first wave, the treaties were key in advancing European settlement across the Prairie regions as well as the development of the Canadian Pacific Railway. In the second wave, resource extraction was the main motive for government officials.

Today, these agreements are upheld by the government of Canada, administered by Canadian Aboriginal law and overseen by the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. However, the Numbered Treaties are criticized and are a leading issue within the fight for First Nation rights. The 1982 Constitution Act gave protection of First Nations and treaty rights under Section 35. It states, "Aboriginal and treaty rights are hereby recognized and affirmed".[2] This phrase however was never fully defined. As a result, First Nations must attest their rights in court as the case in R v Sparrow.

Through more than a century of interaction First Nations view the Numbered Treaties as sacred. As an expression of this association, First Nations in Canada and members of the federal government will regularly meet to celebrate milestone anniversaries, exchange ceremonial and symbolic gifts, and discuss treaty issues. Treaty Days are celebrated in Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba.


The relationship between The Canadian Crown and Aboriginal peoples stretches back to first contact between European colonialists and North American Aboriginal peoples. Over centuries of interaction, treaties were established concerning interaction between the monarch and Aboriginal peoples. Both the Royal Proclamation of 1763 and the British North American Act of 1867 established guidelines that would be later used to create the numbered treaties.

The Royal Proclamation occurred in 1763, and is considered to be the foundation of treaty-making in Canada. This proclamation established a line between the Appalachian Mountain from Nova Scotia and the southern region of Georgia, and prevented settlement beyond that specific area by white colonists.[3] The Royal Proclamation of 1763: The proclamation also established protocols that needed to be acknowledged by the governing authority in regards to purchasing land from First Nations Peoples in North America and later Canada.[4] The Royal Proclamation was created as a result of the assertion of British jurisdiction over First Nation territory. While the British laid claim over First Nation territory, uprisings from Pontiac, the Three Fire Confederacy, and other First Nations Peoples resulted in a period of violence between the two peoples as the British attempted to maintain their claim and the Natives fought to dislodge British troops from their land. As a result of these uprisings, the intention of the Royal Proclamation was to prevent future disputes.[5] The Royal Proclamation stated that the only authoritative government that was able to purchase land from First Nations People was the British Crown. One of the stipulations of this agreement was that First Nation People were to be informed and attend the public assembly regarding the purchase of lands.[6]

When the British North American Act was created, a division of power was established between the Dominion Government and its provinces that separated First Nation Peoples and settlers. The federal government retained responsibility for providing health care, education, property rights and creating other laws that would affect the First Nations people.[7][8] Following the establishment of the British North America Acts in 1867, the Dominion Government of Canada replaced the British Crown as the leading authority, and gained control of 19th century First Nations land transfers.[9]

Both the Royal Proclamation and the British North America Acts impacted the procedures of governmental and First Nations People negotiations. They set the stage for future negotiations that would occur, including the numbered treaties that would begin in 1871.

Call for treaties[edit]

Negotiation of the Number Treaties began in 1871. The first seven affected those living on the plains, while the remaining were negotiated at a later time between 1899 and 1921 and concerned those living further north. Each treaty delineates a tract of land which was thought to be the traditional territory of the First Nations signing that particular treaty.[10] For Canada it was a necessary step before settlement and development could occur further westward. No two treaties were alike, as they were dependent upon specific geographic and social conditions within the territory being addressed.[11]


After confederation, the newly formed Dominion of Canada looked to expand its borders from sea to sea. There was fear amongst the population that rapid expansion from the United States would leave the country cornered with limited arable land, lack of opportunity for economic growth, and resource extraction.[12] To the west of Ontario was Rupert's Land, fur trading territory operated by the Hudson's Bay Company since 1670, which contained several trading post and some small settlements, such as the Red River Colony.[13] During the first session of Parliament many called for the annexation of the territory and letters were sent to the British Monarchy suggesting that "it would promote the prosperity of the Canadian people, and conduce to the advantage of the whole Empire if the Dominion of Canada ... were extended westward to the shore of the Pacific Ocean."[14] In the following years, negotiations took place to acquire full control of the region with the creation of the Rupert's Land Act of 1868 and the Northwest Territories Transfer Act of 1870.[15] Even though the government acquired the land from the Hudson's Bay Company, they failed to have full control and use of the land; this transfer solely provided sovereignty over the area.

One of the conditions in order to ensure British Columbia would join the confederation at the time was the expansion of the Canadian Pacific Railway into its territory in order to connect it to the rest of the nation.[16] This major infrastructure project would have to go through the interior of the newly acquired land and through First Nation territory. Canadian law, as set out in the Royal Proclamation, recognized that the First Nations who inhabited these lands prior to European contact had title to the land. In order to satisfy British Columbia's request and the growing need for land by eastern settlers and new immigrants, treaties would have to be created with the First Nation people in the interior.

Similarly, the later treaties of the turn of the century were not conducted until the land was useful for government purposes. When gold was discovered in the Klondike in the 1890s Treaty 8 was established in the hopes of quelling tensions and conflicts between First Nations of the northern reaches and miners and traders.[17] Despite the fact that First Nations people of the Mackenzie Valley were in economic need well before the 1920s, it was not until an abundance of oil was found that treaties needed to be implemented.[18] Ottawa lobbied for treaties in the north only when potential development could be supported in the region. For political and economic reasoning, the federal government hastily put treaties into place without regards to First Nation well-being.[19]

First Nations[edit]

With Treaties 1–7, there was some resistance from members of the First Nations to the treaty process and growing anxiety that it would allow a flood of settlers, but many saw it as a way to secure much needed assistance.[20] The First Nations at this time were suffering due to the changing dynamics of the west including disease, famine, and conflict.[21] First Nation people were being decimated by disease, specifically smallpox, and tuberculosis which had catastrophic ramifications for several groups. Tsuu T'ina for example were decimated by Old World disease. Their population fell from several thousand to only 300 to 400 remaining within the 1800s.[22] They began to suffer from famine due to the near extinction of the buffalo. Active participation in selling pemmican and hide in the fur trade, in addition to hunting for personal sustenance, meant that those living on the plains lacked a vital food source to maintain their livelihood. They were eager to receive food aid and other assistance from the government, which they believed would be offered following the implementation of treaties.[23] Some First Nation groups also sought to ensure some form of education would be provided to them through the implementation of the treaties. Education was crucial to the First Nations because their cultural way of life was diminishing around them quite rapidly. They believed that the promise of education would not only help curb the loss of culture but also ensure their children's future success in a new developed West.[24][25] In the northern regions of this untreatied land, the First Nations were suffering from similar issues, but had to continue to lobby the Canadian government for years before treaties were negotiated. A focus on materials needed for survival was placed when they did finally occur.[26]

Creation of treaties[edit]


Unlike previous treaties, which included both First Nations and European tradition, the numbered treaties were conducted in a purely British diplomatic manner. First Nations were given translators, either of European or Métis descent, who were to translate what was being said during the discussions. What can be seen here is a significant difference between the written documents used by government officials of the time, and the oral traditions used by the First Nation communities throughout the negotiation process. This reality is proven through diaries like those of the Indian commissioner, Duncan Campbell Scott, who wrote a detailed account of negotiating Treaty 9 through Treaty 11.[27] There are also claims from First Nations people that Alexander Morris failed to mention the surrender clause in the treaty text at the negotiations for Treaty 6, leading to miscommunication between the two groups.[28] Evidence can also be found amongst the few written documents of the time by First Nations chiefs; during Treaty 3, Chief Powasson took detailed notes during the negotiations, which shows the differences in understanding of what was being offered during the talks because of the language barrier.[29]

The use of specific wording during the negotiations and within the treaties are also points of contention. The language used by the commissioners during the numbered treaties negotiations addressed First Nations tradition by giving them entitlement of children and the Crown was identified as Queen Mother.[30] When the commissioner recognized First Nations peoples as children and the Crown as Queen Mother it ensured the First Nations people were to always to be protected from danger by their parents and enjoy their freedom.[30] As the numbered treaties negotiations came to an end, the language use was significant to First Nations people. To seal the numbered treaties references to the natural world like, "You will always be cared for, all the time, as long as the sun walks"[31] was used to appeal to the First Nations people.

List of Numbered Treaties[edit]

In the table below is information about each numbered treaty including its signing date, its location, the major signers, those affected, and a brief summary of what each group received following the agreement.[32][33]

Differing perspectives[edit]


The Crown's intentions were based upon expansion and transition. The treaties allowed the fur trading territory to house a new settler society. As stated in the written terms of the numbered treaties, the Crown desired "peace and goodwill" between First Nations and Her Majesty.[34] In the view of the Crown, treaties were the agreement to trade First Nations territory for "bounty and benevolence". This language makes the First Nations wards of the state and under the government's protection.[34] With these agreements, not only could the Dominion of Canada expand west and northward, but also First Nations could make the transition into a new economy.[35] No longer would First Nations be dependent on a nomadic lifestyle, but rather begin to adapt and integrate into a western settlement society through farming and other entrepreneurial means. To treaty makers, the treaties were essentially a beneficial commercial exchange of both land and identity.

First Nations[edit]

Originally, First Nations people felt the treaties had the potential to satisfy the needs of their communities and foster mutual respect and understanding between themselves, the Crown, and all people of Canada.[36] Throughout the signing of the treaties, First Nations believed that their agreement was everlasting, and had many reasons for believing so. For example, during the signing of Treaty 6, a pipe ceremony was conducted before the signing stipulating that nothing but the truth was to be spoken during negotiations.[37]

Effects and violations of the treaties[edit]

Many First Nations groups felt the numbered treaties signed by the Dominion Government and their First Nations chiefs between 1877 and 1921 were rushed and disorganized, limiting to the Aboriginal way of life and ultimately had poor results due to unfulfilled promises.[38] Because of the treaties, Canada was seen as an oppressive colonizer at this time, most prominently because the government was more concerned with changing the various First Nations groups, rather than negotiating and collaborating with them.[39] Some of the most prominent effects of the numbered treaties for First Nations groups included limited funds for education, supplies (such as fishing net twine) and minimal allocation of land as First Nations reserves. Upon signing the treaties, Canada obtained control of most aspects of society, especially in schooling, resource extraction, land use and implementation of laws for various social issues (such as alcohol policies).

The Dominion Government also violated many of the treaty terms; in restructuring and mandating education through the creation of residential schools, the government breached the treaty agreements around the question of education.[40] Also, First Nations felt the agreements from the numbered treaties were dishonoured when their traditional forms of governance were removed and they became "wards of the state", and when Indian agents began to control the sale of their seeds and livestock.[28] Further restrictions and policies were put in place that controlled First Nations' way of life beyond the original stipulations that were outlined in the numbered treaties.

The American Indian Movement of the 1960s interpreted the treaties as being invalid because:

  • coerced, accordingly not an agreement between equal partners[41]
  • breached many times in their history by the government,[42] notably by the residential school system and resource extraction
  • not reached by agreement with the lawful hereditary chiefs, and especially without the involvement of women who by tradition often had final authority


In 1981, all provinces other than Quebec agreed to a constitutional amendment.

Subsequent attempts (Meech Lake Accord, Charlottetown Accord) to try to appease the government of Quebec failed in part due to First Nations opposition. It has never been in dispute that First Nations would have to voluntarily agree with their formal treaty partner, the Canadian Crown, to modify the treaties.[citation needed]

In 2010, Canada signed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In 2011 and again in 2012 the United Nations criticized the federal government over Attawapiskat.[43] In 2012 in Daniels v. Canada the Federal Court of Canada ruled that 200,000 off-reserve First Nations people and 400,000 Métis were also "Indians" under S. 91(24) of the Constitution Act, 1867.[44] These however had no formal representation at the Assembly of First Nations, which had hitherto been assumed by the federal government to speak authoritatively on all matters involving "Indians".

In 2012 the Idle No More movement and subsequent hunger strike by Attawapiskat First Nation Chief Theresa Spence brought the fact that the treaties provided for direct Crown recourse back to public attention. Chief Spence demanded direct Crown attention to the Cabinet's attempt to remove federal government oversight of lands and waters and environmental issues that duplicated provincial oversight of the same. After an agreement by opposition parties was struck to end Chief Spence's hunger strike, the legal analysis that supported the principle of direct Crown recourse was adamantly supported by interim Liberal Party of Canada leader Bob Rae[45] and others. Idle No More itself presented its legal analysis via Pam Palmater.[46] Her analysis resembles that of Matthew Coon Come, who summarized the Grand Council of the Cree position in a scholarly analysis of the Quebec sovereignty movement and its authority to withdraw from Confederation taking First Nations territory with it. Both his analysis and Palmater's emphasize the need for voluntary renegotiation of treaties between equal partners, and the impossibility of cutting off any avenue of appeal to the Crown.

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  1. ^ "Numbered Treaty Overview". (Formerly Canadian Institute for Historical Microreproductions). Canada in the Making. Retrieved 2009-11-16. The Numbered Treaties - also called the Land Cession or Post-Confederation Treaties - were signed between 1871 and 1921, and granted the federal government large tracts of land throughout the Prairies, Canadian North and Northwestern Ontario for white settlement and industrial use. In exchange for the land, Canada promised to give the Aboriginal peoples various items, such as cash, blankets, tools, farming supplies, and so on. The impact of these treaties can be still felt in modern times. 
  2. ^ "PART II: RIGHTS OF THE ABORIGINAL PEOPLES OF CANADA". Justice Laws Website. Government of Canada. March 9, 2015. Retrieved March 10, 2015. 
  3. ^ Del Papa, Eugene (1975). "The Royal Proclamation of 1763: Its Effect upon Virginia Land Companies". The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography. 83 (4): 406. JSTOR 4247979. 
  4. ^ Government of Canada. "History of the Royal Proclamation". 250th Anniversary of the Royal Proclamation of 1763. Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. Retrieved 17 March 2015. 
  5. ^ Pasternak, Shiri (2014). "Jurisdiction and Settler Colonialism: Where Do Laws Meet?". Canadian Journal of Law and Society. 29 (2): 156. Retrieved 17 March 2015. 
  6. ^ Beaulieu, Alain (2013). "An equitable right to be compensated: The Dispossession of the Aboriginal Peoples of Quebec and the Emergennnce of a New Legal Rationale (1760–1860)". Canadian Historical Review. 94 (1): 5. doi:10.3138/chr.1060. Retrieved 17 March 2015. 
  7. ^ Stewart, Sheila C. (2006). "First Nations Education: Financial Accountability and Educational Attainment". Canadian Journal of Education. 29 (4): 1001. JSTOR 20054208. 
  8. ^ Milloy, John S. (1999). A National Crime: The Canadian Government and the Residential School System, 1879 to 1986. Manitoba: University of Manitoba Press. p. 20. ISBN 0-88755-166-1. 
  9. ^ Whitehouse, Derek (1994). "The Numbered Treaties: Similar Means to Dichotomous Ends". Past Imperfect. 3: 30. Retrieved 17 March 2015. 
  10. ^ Craft, Aimée (2014). "Living Treaties, Breathing Research". Canadian Journal of Women and the Law/Revue Femmes et Droit. doi:10.3138/cjwl.26.1.1. Retrieved March 31, 2015. 
  11. ^ Daschuck, James (May 13, 2013). Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Life. Regina: University of Regina Press. p. 79. ISBN 0889772967. 
  12. ^ Friesen, Gerald (1987). The Canadian Prairies: A History. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. p. 162. ISBN 0802066488. 
  13. ^ Owran, Doug (2007). The Promise of the West as Settlement Frontier. Calgary: University of Calgary Press. pp. 3–4. ISBN 1552382303. 
  14. ^ Copy Or Extracts of Correspondence Between the Colonial Office, the Government of the Canadian Dominion and the Hudson's Bay Company Relating to the Surrender of Rupert's Land by the Hudson's Bay Company : and for the Admission Thereof Into the Dominion of Canada. Great Britain. 1869. 
  15. ^ Government of Canada (2013). "The Numbered Treaties (1871–1921)". Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. Government of Canada. Retrieved March 31, 2015. 
  16. ^ Friesen, Gerald (1987). The Canadian Prairies: A History. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. pp. 171–173. ISBN 0802066488. 
  17. ^ Miller, J. R. (May 17, 2000). Skyscrapers Hide the Heavens: A History of Indian-White Relations in Canada (3rd ed.). Toronto: University of Toronto Press, Scholarly Publishing Division. p. 276. ISBN 0802081533. 
  18. ^ Miller, J. R. (May 2000). Skyscrapers Hide the Heavens: A History of Indian-White Relations in Canada (3rd ed.). Toronto: University of Toronto Press, Scholarly Publishing Division. p. 277. ISBN 0802081533. 
  19. ^ Miller, J.R. (May 17, 2000). Skyscrapers Hide the Heavens: A History of Indian-White Relations in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, Scholarly Publishing Division; 3rd ed edition. p. 276. ISBN 0802081533. 
  20. ^ "Aboriginal Victimization in Canada: A Summary of the Literature". Victims of Crime Research Digest No. 3. Canada Department of Justice. 2013-04-30. Retrieved 2014-12-13. 
  21. ^ Daschuk, James (2013). Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Life. Regina: University of Regina Press. p. 96. ISBN 0889772967. 
  22. ^ Daschuk, James (2013). Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation and the Loss of Aboriginal Life. Regina: University of Regina Press. p. 82. ISBN 0889772967. 
  23. ^ Miller, J. R. (2009). Compact, Contract, Covenant: Aboriginal Treaty-Making in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. p. 152. ISBN 9780802095152. 
  24. ^ Stewart, Sheila (2001). "A Treaty Right to Education". Canadian Society for the Study of Education. JSTOR 1602197. 
  25. ^ Whitehouse, Derek (1994). "The Numbered Treaties: Similar Means to Dichotomous Ends". Past Imperfect. Retrieved March 31, 2015. 
  26. ^ Miller, J. R. (2000). Skyscrapers Hide the Heavens: A History of Indian-White Relations in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. p. 276. ISBN 0802081533. 
  27. ^ Titley, Brian (1986). A Narrow Vision: Duncan Campbell Scott and the Administration of Indian Affairs in Canada. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press. pp. 68–69. ISBN 0774804203. 
  28. ^ a b Krasowski, Sheldon Kirk (2011). Mediating the Numbered Treaties: Eyewitness Accounts of Treaties Between the Crown and Indigenous Peoples. Regina: University of Regina Press. p. 33. 
  29. ^ Powassom, Chief. "Paypom Treaty" (PDF). Grand Council of Treaty #3. Government of the Anishinaabe Nation. Retrieved March 31, 2015. 
  30. ^ a b Krasowski, Sheldon Kirk (2011). Mediating the Numbered Treaties: Eyewitness Accounts of Treaties Between the Crown and Indigenous Peoples. Regina: University of Regina Press. p. 29. 
  31. ^ McLeod, Neal (2009). Cree Narrative Memory: From Treaties to Contemporary Times. Saskatoon: Purich Pub. p. 72. ISBN 1895830311. 
  32. ^ "Treaty Texts". Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. Government of Canada. 2013-08-29. Retrieved 2015-03-03. 
  33. ^ "Canada in the Making: Treaty Overview". Canadiana. Archived from the original on 7 April 2015. Retrieved 3 March 2015. 
  34. ^ a b Ray, Arthur J.; Miller, Jim; Tough, Frank. Bounty and Benevolence: A History of Saskatchewan Treaties. Montreal-Kingston: McGill-Queens University Press. p. 59. ISBN 0773520600. 
  35. ^ Ray, Arthur J.; Miller, Jim; Tough, Frank. Bounty and Benevolence: A History of Saskatchewan Treaties. Montreal-Kingston: McGill-Queens University Press. p. 5. ISBN 0773520600. 
  36. ^ Otc Office of the Treaty Commissioner (Corporate Author) (2007). Treaty Implementation: Fulfilling the Covenant. Saskatoon: Purich Pub. p. 5. ISBN 0978268504. 
  37. ^ Krasowski, Sheldon (2011). Mediating the Numbered Treaties: Eyewitness Accounts of Treaties Between the Crown and Indigenous Peoples, 1871-1876. Regina: University of Regina. p. 32. 
  38. ^ Miller, J.R. (2009). Compact, Contract, Covenant: Aboriginal Treaty-Making in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. p. 296. ISBN 0802097413. 
  39. ^ Miller, J.R. (2009). Compact, Contract, Covenant: Aboriginal Treaty-making in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. pp. 2221:297. ISBN 0802097413. 
  40. ^ Carr-Steward, Sheila (2001). "A Treaty Right to Education" (PDF). Canadian Journal of Education. 
  41. ^ Pithouse, Kathleen; Mitchell, Claudia; Moletsane, Relebohile (2009). Making Connections: Self-Study & Social Action. Peter Lang. pp. 208–209. ISBN 1433105012. 
  42. ^ Knight, David B.; Joseph, Alun E. (1999). Restructuring Societies: Insights from the Social Sciences. McGill-Queen's Press. pp. 140–142. ISBN 0886293502. 
  43. ^ "UN envoy criticizes government over Attawapiskat". CTV News. 20 December 2011. Retrieved 29 January 2013. 
  44. ^ "Federal Court grants rights to Métis, non-status Indians". CBC. 8 January 2013. Retrieved 29 January 2013. 
  45. ^ "Struggle will continue: Spence Spokesman". CBC. 24 January 2013. Retrieved 29 January 2013. 
  46. ^ Bambury, Brent (4 January 2013). "Pam Palmater: Treaty Rights, Bill C-45 and Idle No More". CBC Radio. Retrieved 29 January 2013. 

External links[edit]