Not only was the signing of Treaty Eight in 1899 a crucial event for the people of Canada's far northwest, it was also a landmark in treaty-making with Aboriginal peoples, covering as it did by far the largest area in a single agreement up to that time. Treaties have a venerable history in both European and Amerindian diplomacy, and this continued during the period of first contacts in the New World. Although international law clearly maintained that the first occupants of land were its rightful owners, Europeans were soon challenging Amerindian rights, marshalling a whole series of arguments, legal and otherwise, to prove their point. While the issue was fought on a number of theoretical points, legal and otherwise, the political reality was that European colonization continued anyway, with the Spanish proceeding for the most part by
conquest. In Canada, the focus at first was on peace and friendship as trade was the primary goal; however, Europeans were soon seeking to set the stage for colonization. The Proclamation of 1763 reserved to the British Crown the right to acquire Amerindian lands. Land transfers, which previously had been individually negotiated, now required treaties. In the case of the Canadian northwest, Amerindians entered into treaty in order to protect as much of their way of life as possible. But the cultural gap between the negotiators was wide, and the influence of special interest groups was strong, giving rise to misunderstandings that continue to this day.
For more information on Treaty 8 Revisited: Selected Papers
on the 1999 Centennial Conference, visit the Lobstick
Reprinted from with permission from Lobstick:
An Interdisciplinary Journal.