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Virtual Museum of Canada The Making of Treaty #8 in Canada's Northwest
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1899 and After

Treaty Rights: Some Background Information

Treaties between Native people and the Crown and the rights within them are part of a legal contract written by government and seen as sacred agreements by Aboriginal people.

Treaty rights can be exercised on the basis that the agreements are legally binding contracts.

The Queen and her representatives assured the Treaty 8 signers that: "...my Government of Canada recognizes the importance of full compliance with the spirit and terms of your Treaties".

The rights outlined in Treaty 8 were strictly stated as being effective for "As long as the sun shines and the rivers flow ".

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. When treaties were negotiated and signed  it represented two worlds, value systems, and philosophies trying to agree over where they fit on common ground. There is no doubt that with regards to land, family and lifestyle there were profound differences between the two peoples. These differences were reflected in the desired goals of each nation when the treaty was signed and are reflected in the debates over Treaty Rights and issues today. 

There is still a debate over exactly what was promised to Aboriginal people in Treaty 8. Many promises and assurances are remembered by First Nations 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.

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