The Making of Treaty 7 - Perspectives
Is Treaty 7 a valid legal document? A travesty of justice? A simple agreement? A wide range of views and opinions exist concerning Treaty 7 and part of the reason for this are the diverse socio-political and cultural perspectives held by those who created, negotiated, and signed the treaty itself, and by those who have since studied the Treaty 7 process.
Through their oral histories and subsequent testimonies by First Nations Elders, the Treaty 7 First Nations have generally held that Treaty 7 was a peace treaty between the First Nations people and the government of Canada. It was meant to be a sacred and binding arrangement determining how the First Nations People were going to share the land with European settlers, or to make arrangements to stop the settlement if a suitable agreement could not be reached. Surrender of the land was not part of the First Nations’ agenda.
The treaty commission and the government it represented viewed the treaty as a means to an end, as an expedient and intentionally non-violent means of securing land for the building of the transcontinental railway and for future settlement and commercial development. Treaty 7 was also part of a larger overall agenda that the government had in mind for the First Nations Peoples: the systematic assimilation of First Nations Peoples into the Dominion as defined in the 1876 Indian Act.
The contemporary views of both government and First Nations reflect a continuing struggle to understand the nature of the agreement and of the two cultures that first sat down to discuss it. The official government stance is that the treaty is a signed contract that is legally binding. The First Nations contend that the document neither reflects the discussions nor the First Nations cultural and political understanding of Treaty 7. As the debate continues, it seems clear that there is much left to discuss concerning Treaty 7.
The making of Treaty 7 and the other numbered treaties involved a clash of cultural ideals and understandings between First Nations people and the Canadian government. As a result, there is still debate over the spirit and true meaning of treaties in Canada.