In the 1870s, after the Dominion of Canada had purchased territorial rights to the Northwest from the Hudson's Bay Company, the Canadian government made treaties with the First Nations people of their new territory. With an eye towards settling the Northwest, the government needed to not only secure the land it wanted to develop, but to ensure that there was no danger of repeating the Indian wars that the Americans experienced. Indeed, there was already unrest among the Métis at Red River, who were not consulted in the transfer of power from the tribe to the Dominion of Canada. The Red River Rebellion and later, the Northwest Rebellion, were perfect examples of the sort of uprising the government was trying to prevent.
The new government decided to extend its colonial approach to the First Nations people, a way of approaching the First Nations people with an alliance that would soothe them while the government got the land it so desired. For Canada to establish control over its western territories, and for the establishment of railways and the like to accommodate the growing influx of settlers from the American
west, the First Nations people knew their buffalo-hunting way of life was coming to an end. Canadian expansion seemed to symbolize future dominance by the Euro-Canadian settlers, yet the First Nations people knew they needed federal assistance to help them shift to a new way of life.
To a people who had little experience with the European concept of land ownership, there is no way the First Nations people could
understand exactly what they were getting and what they were giving up in the treaties. The language used in the treaties was official in nature and Euro-Canadian in origin, obviously a language that basically these people would find difficult to understand. Even if the terms of the treaties had been clearly translated (which they often were not), the First Nations people were not economically or culturally prepared to understand the politics behind the treaties. They believed the treaties guaranteed them freedom to continue their traditional lifestyle while protecting their future. The two parties negotiating the early treaties rarely completely understood each other. For example, in some areas, First Nations people were under the impression that the land rights they were giving up meant they would share resources with the Euro-Canadians and allow the land to be farmed.
When non-natives began digging below the surface to the rich mineral beds below, it was seen by the First Nations people as an unfulfilled promise of the treaties. [continue]
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Treaties Overview, Part One
Summary: Find out what historians think treaties meant to the
government and the First Nations who negotiated them. Begin your study of
treaty making here!
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Treaty 8 Part Seven: Treaty Commission of 1899 and 1900
Summary: Commissioners were sent out to meet with the natives who couldn't make it to the negotiations. What happened next?
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Reprinted from Vision Quest: "Oti nekan,"
Treaty 8 Centennial Commemorative Magazine, with permission from Tanner
Young Marketing Ltd.