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