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The Making of Treaty 6

Treaty Medal Following France’s surrender of its North American lands to England in the Treaty of Paris, King George III needed to strengthen England’s control over its new territory. He therefore decreed in the Royal Proclamation of 1763: "And We do hereby strictly forbid, on Pain of our Displeasure, all our loving Subjects from making any Purchases or Settlements whatever, or taking Possession of any of the Lands reserved without our especial leave and License for that Purpose first obtained." In other words, for settlers to move onto Aboriginal lands, an agreement — in the form of a treaty — would have to "first [be] obtained" from the First Peoples of that land. This proclamation set the stage for relations between European newcomers and the First Peoples of the land now known as Canada.

By the time Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario, and Quebec formed the Dominion of Canada at Confederation in 1867, the Robinson Treaties, Upper Canada Land Surrenders, and Peace and Friendship Treaties were already in place. After Confederation, the terms and responsibilities outlined in the Royal Proclamation were passed from the British Crown to the newly formed Dominion of Canada.

The young Dominion was well aware that American interests were expanding north, looking towards the vast, largely unclaimed Northwest Territories. British controlled settlement of northwest land was vital to ensure control of the region. The first post-Confederation treaties were signed during the 1870s, when, as part of the terms of bringing the province of British Columbia into the Dominion, the Canadian government promised to build a transcontinental railway within ten years. Huge land concessions were needed by the railway company, and the railway line would also encourage large-scale immigration of settlers to the prairies. However, such a line would have to traverse land previously recognized as belonging to the Aboriginal Peoples.

In the case of the Treaty 6 territories, the slow pace adopted by the government to negotiate a treaty was inadequate in keeping up with the swift changes taking place in the Saskatchewan River country. The need for negotiation between the government and the Aboriginals was painfully obvious to the bands, government officials, merchants, and missionaries in the area, all of whom pressed for treaty-making long before the Dominion Government gave its consent in 1876.

For the leaders of those bands living within the boundaries of what would become Treaty 6, signing the treaty represented the terms of the relationship between the Government of Canada and the First Nations. It set out the rights and responsibilities for both the bands and the government. Today the contents of Treaty 6, and all of the Numbered Treaties, are the basis of much large scale, and ongoing litigation.


Sources:
Treaty 7 website
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