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Nature's Law
Spiritual Life, Governance, Culture, Traditions, Resources, Context and Background
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Relation to the Land

Sacred Sites

Environmental Conservation 

Visual representation of nature's laws

"This is the original treaty signed by Chief Alexander Laviolette in 1899," he says, pointing to a signature. In exchange for vast Chipewyan hunting grounds, Alexander secured reserves, treaty money, education, health, and social welfare benefits for his people. Fred flicks a corner of the document with his forefinger and thumb, considering it worthless. Alexander hoped it would mean a better life for children to come and so he signed in trust, but land claims and battles for aboriginal and treaty rights indicate the obligations bound within the treaties have been disavowed.

Signing of Treaties
Interviewer - Earle Waugh, PhD.


"The government promised a lot of good things. There were a lot of promises made to the Indians. There was a record of them, but they didn't come out with what they said," he says wistfully. "We got free school, free health care, and things like that, but even today the government is cutting back on education."

Missionaries Negotiations: The Railway and Treaties

Series Coordinator - Dr. Earle Waugh
1980 Access

The Fort Chipewyan Band struggled as change swept over them. It was uncommon for government officials to ask for the Indians' input regarding matters which affected them, and they fought to be recognized.

"In the early sixties, the government told us we would be better off if our education was looked after by the Northlands School Division instead of by the Department of Indian Affairs. They went ahead and took down the crucifixes from the school and that was a big thing for the old people. They wanted the children to be taught religion. They came to me right away, and I went to see the Indian agent. We had a vote, and nobody wanted Northlands School Division here. We fought Indian Affairs, but they didn't want to take it back."

For example, both pre- and post-Confederation treaties recognize Aboriginal sovereignty (Prucha 1994, Wunder 1994). A treaty is a formal recognition between sovereign entities guided by the principle of consent. But consent is given under specific conditions. Consent arises between parties involved relationship based on equality and mutual respect. Unfortunately, the treaties have been textualized in the language of the dominant European culture. question the meaning of a treaty solely through some kind of textual analysis to ignore the fact that many treaties were negotiated in the oral tradition of Aboriginal peoples (Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples 1995).

The problems associated with attaching meaning to the treaties involve a complex set of overlapping philosophical, sociological, anthropological, legal and historical issues. This is because most Aboriginal cultures are politic and morally guided by an oral tradition; that is, complex and powerfully binding political agreements were made between Aboriginal nations by making an  agreement in a feast or ceremony. The "publicity" of the ceremony served sanctify the solemnity of the agreement. The oral tradition contrasts with Western European tradition of giving primacy of meaning to the written text.

This diversity of views on land and resource rights is not surprising, judging by the lack of attention given it during the negotiations. The archival evidence demonstrates that there was surprisingly little effort to explain the implications of the treaty phrase "the said Indians do hereby cede, release, surrender and yield up . . . all their rights, title and privileges whatsoever, to the lands," and so on. We can only speculate as to why this crucial issue of the control of land and resources was avoided, or passed over lightly, in the negotiations when it was obviously the intention of the government to extinguish aboriginal rights. It is likely that the commissioners felt that it was a mere formality from the government point of view. The government had already made some laws applicable in the area and fully intended to establish further control. From their point of view, they already owned the land; so the treaty was merely a means of extinguishing the vague aboriginal rights and placating the native people by offering the advantages of a treaty.

However, the Indian people undoubtedly held a very different view of the treaty and of land and resource tenure. Even if the commissioners had been fully aware of these different views, it is very doubtful that they could have cleared up the misunderstandings on their hurried trip through the North.

How could anybody put in the Athapaskan language through a Metis interpreter to monolingual Athapaskan hearers the concept of relinquishing ownership of land, I don't know, of people who have never conceived of a bounded property which can be transferred from one group to another. I don't know how they would be able to comprehend the import translated from English into a language which does not have those concepts, and certainly in any sense that Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence would understand. So this is an anthropological opinion and it has continued to puzzle me how any of them could possibly have understood this. I don't think they could have. That is my judgement. (Daniel 95).

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