Unit One: Treaty Historic Context

Describe the unique relationship between the Canadian government and First Nations people during the treaty-making era.

Before the British government “purchased” Rupert’s Land from the Hudson Bay Company (HSC), The First Nations and the HBC were already trading with each other as business partners. Unlike the HBC, the British government recognized the nationhood of the First Nations. The British government and First Nations made the treaties on a nation to nation base.

The British wanted land to settle, while the First Nations wanted European goods such as medicine. As more people settled in Canada, the First Nations livelihoods were threatened for example the decreasing buffalo population due to excessive hunting by the European settlers. The First Nations realized that they needed to find a new livelihood. In the treaties “First Nations were promised the choice of continuing their hunter-gatherer economy or adopting the settlers’ agriculture economy and receiving the necessary training and implements (David Arnot p. 4) Unfortunately that promise was kept by the Canadian government.

What were the differences between First Nations and Non-First Nations perspectives of the treaty-making processes?

The First Nations view that the treaty-making process as sacred. A treaty was a covenant between them and the Crown with the Creator as a witness. The Creator was not only a witness but the third party in the treaty. The First Nations and the Crown were not only making a promise to each other but made a promise to the Creator that they will keep the treaty.  Saulteaux Elder, Danny Musqua, describes the treaties as “a covenant is not just a relationship between people; it’s a relationship between three parties, you (the Crown) and me (First Nations) and the Creator.” (David Arnot p. 2)

In contrast, the European settlers viewed the treaty-making process as making a contract between two nations’ trading resources. Unlike the First Nations where a treaty lasts of eternity, the European settlers viewed treaties as having an expiration.

But with the numbered treaties both parties understood that the treaties were to be kept “as long as the sun shines,  the river flows, and the grass grows” – forever.

What is the relevance of the principles of the Proclamation of 1763?

In the Proclamation of 1763, the British government recognized the nationhood of the First Nations. It recognized the ancestral land rights of the First Nations. It also states that only the British government could acquire land from the First Nations and that no private business or individual settlers could buy land unless through the British government. These principles of the Proclamation of 1763 are relevant today because it acknowledges this land is the First Nations land and that it has not been conquered by another nation.


Arnot, D. (2011). The Honour of First Nations: The Honour of the Crown The Unique Relationship of First Nations with the Crown. Queen’s University. Retrieved May 5, 2020, from https://www.queensu.ca/iigr/sites/webpublish.queensu.ca.iigrwww/files/files/conf/Arch/2010/ConferenceOnTheCrown/CrownConferencePapers/The_Crown_and_the_First_Nations.pdf


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