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Treaty 8

It is important to remember that Treaty 8 was an agreement between two sovereign nations and the interpretations of that agreement come from two sides. There is still debate over exactly what was promised to Aboriginal peoples in Treaty 8. Many promises and assurances are remembered by Aboriginal Elders and have been passed down through generations since the Treaty was signed. Such verbal agreements and assurances made by treaty negotiators do not appear in the treaty wording. Some of these include; The amount of land agreed upon and future land base considerations, mineral and water rights, limitations on hunting trapping and fishing (traditional lifestyle), resource exploitation and leases to industry, types, methods and extent of education, to name but a few.

The Treaty

On 21 June 1899, the eighth treaty between the Indians of North America and the Queen of England was signed. The signatories of Treaty 8 agreed to its terms for reasons of peace and friendship - ensuring what they thought would be a partnership.

Treaty 8 was the most comprehensive treaty, encompassing a land mass of approximately 840,000 kilometers, and is home to 39 Aboriginal communities. Treaty territory covers the areas of Northern Alberta, Northwestern Saskatchewan, Northeastern British Columbia, and the Southwest portion of the Northwest Territories.

The Setting

Treaty 8 was the last and largest of the nineteenth century land agreements made between Aboriginal peoples and the Government of Canada. At the end of it all, over 840,000 square kilometres of land was set aside by the agreement. The federal government has claimed that the Cree, Dene, Métis and other various Aboriginal peoples living within the Treaty 8 boundaries had surrendered any claim to title to all but the lands set aside as reserves. However, many Native leaders have challenged this view, claiming instead that their peoples signed a nation-to-nation treaty that not only recognized their rights to maintain a traditional way of life without restriction, but that also included rights to education, medical care, tax exemptions, immunity from military conscription and access to land, game and other resources for as long as the sun shone upon those lands. The people in what became the Treaty 8 region led a relatively simple life, and were not as eager for a treaty as those in neighbouring areas.

Treaty 8

During the 1890s, it became clear that the northern region held the promise of prosperity. Peace River Country was rich with oil reserves, and the Klondike gold rush was drawing attention to the mass of mineral resources in the Yukon Territory. Aboriginal peoples seemed secure in their future, yet the mounting influence of the gold rush and its influx of miners, combined with the valuable mineral resources and agricultural wealth found throughout northern Alberta made a treaty more desirable for the government. The most pressing need for a treaty came from the trouble of the Klondike gold rush. As news of gold finds spread, many of them exaggerated, more and more miners made their way from Edmonton to Yukon on what was called the "All-Canadian Route." The routes varied, but undoubtedly the extensive trespassing by hopeful prospectors on native territory meant problems: Aboriginal peoples reported miners shooting their dogs and horses and driving away the animals they needed to hunt to survive. In short, the large influx of miners disrupted the Aboriginal way of life and, as the demand increased for an overland route through native lands to Yukon, some solution had to be reached. The Canadian government feared that the gold rush would lead to more settlement in the mineral-rich area of the Canadian Shield, and in the Peace River. To avoid a rush of "squatters" into the area, an area the government hoped to develop, treaty was absolutely necessary. As Aboriginal peoples grew more discontent with the prospectors encroaching upon their territory, the government realized it had the perfect reason to present treaty to the natives.

It took much influence by outside forces to convince Aboriginal peoples that Treaty 8 was in their best interests. The Catholic and Anglican missionaries, particularly Father Albert Lacombe, played an important role in appealing to the Aboriginal community to sign Treaty 8. Yet no one was sure what the outcome would be, or how the local residents would respond. Native resistance stemmed in part from a fear of losing their land and hunting, trapping and fishing rights, for the native people's livelihood was borne on the land. These fears were calmed slightly by reassurances from the government that the native way of life would not be restricted and that the native people would be exempt from taxation and conscription.

On 21 June 1899, at Grouard, Alberta, six Aboriginal leaders signed Treaty 8. It began a treaty process that by its completion in 1900 would cover the land between Athabasca Landing and the Great Slave Lake, from Lake Athabasca to the Rockies. It would become the largest treaty in Canada.

The Making of  Treaty 8 in Canada's Northwest


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