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Implications and Contentions - "Treaty Indians"

Royal Canadian Mounted Police Officer giving Treaty money

A “Treaty Indian” refers to people who are registered under the Indian Act and are part of a First Nation or band that signed a treaty with the Crown. “Treaty Indians” have certain rights, which include the right to reserve lands, yearly annunities, as well as hunting and fishing rights. Furthermore, as outlined by Indian and Northern Affairs, “Treaty rights are collective rights that provide for payments to individual Treaty Indians. The payments depend on the precise terms and conditions of the treaty signed by her or his First Nation.”

Historically, Treaty 7 Elders and leaders have expressed mixed feelings about the idea of being labeled as Treaty Indians. While certain rights did come with the title, there were also certain restrictions. Being a Treaty or Status Indian was an unusual label to carry, for it restricted by law a First Nations person’s definition of themselves. It also restricted the activities of the person. For instance, one could not live off of a reserve and still maintain treaty rights. A woman could not marry someone who was not a status or treaty Indian, lest she lose her own status as such. From a government standpoint, there was a certain logic to it all, as the government did not want to pay annuities to those who were either not part of a First Nation that signed a treaty, or could not prove lineage to one. On the other hand, the degrading notion of having to officially register one’s cultural identity to receive certain rights draws strong feelings from those people who have lived under the system.

By linking cultural identity to legal and monetary rights, a very complicated system has arisen as a result. Continued dialogue between First Nations people and government agencies is the attempt on both sides to untangle this contentious issue.

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