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Treaty Rights and Scrip Process

Treaty Rights in Canada are promises that were made during the signing of Treaties with First Nations from across the territory that would become Canada. These agreements were made on a Nation to Nation basis because of the implications of the Royal Proclamation of 1763, which established that the First Nations possess legal title to the land and that the only provision available to extinguish that title was through Treaties. The British government could buy this Land through a formal agreement. Native groups could only sell their land to the Crown. The government of the day proceeded to establish treaties that took land in exchange for a nominal annual payment, a piece of land for a reserve and rights to hunt and fish. Most of the treaties were signed between the 1800s and the 1900s.

The initial victories of the Red River Resistance were setting a new tone for relations between European settlers, the government, and Aboriginal groups including First Nations and Métis. The government’s plan for the expanding Canadian Pacific Railway required land and eventually the desire for more land in the west for the burgeoning European settler population was also needed. In addition, this period saw the depleting of the furs and buffalo. First Nations and Métis groups were beginning to feel the great lack of animal resources.

Many First Nations people contested the splitting up of land. Chief Poundmaker stated that it was improper to split up the land. "The governor mentions how much land is to be given to us. He says 640 acres, one mile square for each family, he will give us. This is our land! It isn’t a piece of pemmican to be cut off and given in little pieces back to us" (Ray, 1996: p. 210).

There were many promises made under the treaties. Education is a major Treaty right. The Treaties called for a promise to have schools on reserves and to pay teachers. However, schools could be contracted out to churches or to the provincial government. Another area of Treaty right is taxation. "Personal property on a reserve, including income, is not subject to taxation, either federal or provincial. This is an affirmation of oral promises made at the signing of the Treaties that the reserves shall be tax-free" (Brizinski, 1993: p. 188). The promises that were made in the Treaties consist of written promises contained in the legal documents and oral promises that are contained in oral tradition.

In addition to Treaty rights there was another process that was occurring with the Métis. This was called the Scrip Process. The beginning of this process is founded in the Manitoba Act of 1870. The Métis were given many provisions that they demanded in their new government, but they did not receive their promise of land. The Prime Minister agreed to provincial status, but for an area about one hundred miles square. He agreed to grant security of tenure within the accustomed plots of land and reserved 1.4 million acres to be allotted to the unmarried children. But he would not let the land be granted in big block. He did not want a second reserve-based system; he wanted a means of accomplishing an ultimate assimilation.

The amount of land set aside was based on a crude census of the province in 1870, in which the Métis population of Manitoba, at the time of the transfer, was thought not to exceed 10,000. It was not until the spring of 1875 that the federal government had even decided upon the process it would use when identifying those individuals who would be eligible for a claim under section 31 of the Manitoba Act.

This opened the way for Half-breed scrip commissions that occurred across Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. The system was rife with problems. The commissioners were unfamiliar with seasonal work such as fishing and freighting that removed the men from the community. Not everyone who was entitled was counted. Applying for scrip involved going before the commissioners and filling out a form in English, swearing as to one’s parentage, place of birth and place of residence, and then having two other individuals sign as to one’s identity. Cousins with similar names were confused. The amounts did vary depending on if the individual was a dependent child or head of household. It was usually $160 or 160 acres of land.

Evidence has been found that a large proportion of bad dealings and mishandling of the process occurred. Land agents and other commercial gentlemen accompanied the Commissioners from community to community, offering to buy the scrip. "Few Métis took up land, most of them chose cash certificates or they sold their land scrip at steep discounts to speculators" (Ray, 1996: p. 263). In addition, misrepresentation occurred, where the wrong individual showed up to claim the scrip. Scrip did assist some Métis families. However, they were usually literate and English-speaking.

Together, the treaty process and the scrip process worked to usher in a new relationship between the Canadian government and Aboriginal nations.

Ray, Arthur J., I Have Lived Here Since the World Began. Toronto: Lester Publishing and Key Porter Books, 1996.

Brizinski, Peggy. Knots in a String: An Introduction to Native Studies in Canada. Saskatoon: University Extension Press, 1993.

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