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Throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s, Aboriginals
gradually began to feel that the federal government was not negotiating treaties
with them on good faith. Promises that were being made orally that were not honored,
and promises made in earlier treaties were revoked in later treaties - such as
the right for Aboriginals to hunt and fish anywhere on Crown land.
eventually led to Aboriginal protest movements, starting around 1910, when groups
of Aboriginals marched to Parliament Hill in Ottawa hoping to spur political change.
New political organizations and alliances were forged. However, some Aboriginals
felt that the only way the government would listen to them was through civil unrest
and violent protest.
Great peace of 1701
A Legacy of Betrayal
More Broken Promises
Interesting or Important Documents
The Covenant Chain was among one of the first political
affiliations that the Aboriginals had with the white man.
In the early 1600s,
a series of treaties were negotiated between the Thirteen
Colonies, which would eventually make up the United States, and the six-nation
Iroquois Confederacy. These
agreements likely originated between the Mohawk
nation and the colony of New York, and were iron or silver chains that symbolized
the binding of a promise. These agreements would often be re-negotiated as more
financial aid to the Aboriginals was needed, and these chains would be symbolically
polished to show that revisions had taken place. Other colonies, including Connecticut,
Massachusetts, Maryland and Rhode Island, would later join the chain - as would
the Tuscarora tribe.
these treaties fell out of favour by the early nineteenth century, particularly
after the War of 1812. While
the British and Americans had maintained strong links with their Aboriginals allies
in case of war, it became apparent that such links were no longer needed as things
were relatively peaceful after the War of 1812.
More and more settlers
were coming into North America, and even more land was needed in the Indian Territory
that the Royal Proclamation
of 1763 set aside for the Aboriginals. In fact, white settlers had been
trickling into Aboriginal territories since the 1760s and 1770s anyway, and Indian
Territory kept being redrawn throughout the late 1700s). Many American Aboriginals
began to migrate north to British North America in response.
Great Peace of 1701
Another example of early treaty making between
Europeans and Aboriginal peoples was the Great Peace of 1701. Over 1300 delegates
of more than 40 First Nations
converged on Montreal. The treaty that followed the negotiations ended almost
100 years of war between the Iroquois Confederacy and New France and its allies.
The significance of the treaty lasts to this day, as it set a precedent
the use of negotiation to settle disputes between First Nations peoples and European
colonial representatives in what is now Canada. It also set the foundation for
the expansion of the "empire" of New France to the south and west, and
ensured the neutrality of the Iroquois Confederacy in case of war between the
French and English in North America. At the outbreak of the Seven
Years War between British and French forces in 1756, the Iroquois Confederacy
In August 1760, the Seven Nations of Canada - comprised of
Aboriginal bands that had been domiciled in Québec - also joined the Covenant
Chain to declare their neutrality after fighting alongside the French during the
early part of the Seven Years War.
Legacy of Betrayal
There are various moments in North American
history in which the rights of Aboriginal peoples were ignored. These include,
but are not limited to:
As a result, Aboriginals and Métis
in Western Canada were skeptical of the motives of the federal government by the
1870s. They began to block settlers and surveyors from entering the Prairies.
This led directly to the first Riel
Rebellion in 1869 when a band of Métis would not allow William
McDougall, who was to the first lieutenant governor of Manitoba, to enter
Aboriginals felt that oral promises would
not be kept during the Numbered Treaties - and had their worst feelings confirmed
in Numbered Treaties One and Two when government agents told chiefs that they
would receive extra money and farm animals/tools that never materialized.
these treaties had their advantages, some native bands
had had enough of the broken promises by the mid-1870s. They began to talk to
other nations about the injustices of these early Numbered Treaties. This forced
the federal government and the Privy Council to reconsider and renegotiate parts
of these treaties with certain bands by 1875.
the preceding section shows, during the period between 1867 and 1875, Aboriginals
learned the following two courses of action worked when it came to getting the
federal government to listen to their concerns:
- Take up arms
and form blockades, as seen during the Red River Rebellion of 1870. While this
course of action came with its share of tragedies and legal repercussions, the
federal government was forced to offer concessions to the Aboriginals and Métis
to ensure peaceful relations.
- Make peaceful political alliances
with other Aboriginal nations to make their voices and their grievances heard
For most of the twentieth century, the Aboriginals
would, more often than not, pursue the second course of action.
By the early 1900s, the federal government
- Negotiating other treaties with foreign governments without consulting
the Aboriginals, such as the case of the 1916 Land Migration Act signed between
Canada, U.S. and Mexico to preserve wildlife. (This act severely curtailed Native
- Breaking more and more treaty promises. For
instance, the 1923 Williams
Treaties in Ontario no longer allowed Aboriginals to hunt and fish on Crown
land in segments of that province, despite allowing these activities in all of
the Numbered Treaties made with Aboriginals on the Prairies and in the Canadian
In response to threats real and perceived, Aboriginals:
to march on Ottawa during the 1910s (and beyond), and ask the Canadian government
to seriously look into its grievances regarding broken treaty promises.
- Formed a national political association in 1919 with the League of Indians
of Canada to make their concerns better heard. This was based on another organization,
The Grand General Indian Council of Ontario, which existed from the 1870s to 1938.
The federal government's response to the preceding two events was
For instance, in 1922, an Aboriginal delegation asked the federal
government to abolish Indian
Act amendments and follow Treaty Number Six, which offered a provision
for free health care to every Aboriginal, as closely as possible during future
The government's official response was:
"Too vague. What [Indian Act] amendments are to be abolished? They have
all been carefully thought out [by the government]."
the Aboriginals would not be deterred from such setbacks, and other new political
associations would form, such as:
- The Native Brotherhood of British
- The Indian Association of Alberta (1939).
- The Federation of Saskatchewan Indians (1944).
Aboriginal political associations would become
crucial during presentations between 1946 and 1948 to a joint Senate-House
of Commons committee studying change to the Indian
Act. This is in order to comply with the new United Nations Universal Declaration
of Human Rights.
A new generation of Aboriginal leaders, who were more
educated and vocal than many of their forefathers, emerged during the 1960s -
especially in the North where big business and government was looking to exploit
newly found natural resources. These Aboriginals often stepped in to force the
federal government to look more closely at their environmental and land rights
concerns before allowing the North to be opened for business purposes. This led
to the Berger Commission in
the mid-'70s and also land claim court challenges, such as the 1973 Calder
Additionally, some Aboriginals started being named or elected
to Canadian federal or provincial parliaments or the Senate starting in the 1950s.
These included James Gladstone,
Arthur Calder and Elijah
Harper. They would play crucial roles in bringing Aboriginal issues to the
table, as Harper did during the Meech Lake Accord debate in Manitoba in 1990.
also mobilized in 1970 to oppose the federal government's White
Paper on Indian Policy, which would have reduced Aboriginal land claims and
rights significantly if any of its recommendations had been enacted.
At the same time, though, there has been a rise in
militant behavior based upon the principle of civil disobedience since 1990. Some
Aboriginals fear there is no other means of recourse and are afraid that they
will lose various treaty, cultural and land rights to the federal and provincial
governments if they do not make a stand.
These incidents include:
In 1990, municipal leaders in the village of Oka, Québec,
decided to allow construction of a golf course on sacred grounds at a nearby Mohawk
reserve. This offended and
angered the Mohawk people, who immediately blocked off all roads leading into
their land. A Québec police officer was killed during an effort to storm
the barricades. The Canadian Armed Forces were mobilized to remove the barricades
and quell the dispute by force.
This crisis helped to increase the awareness
of the Canadian public to the plight of the Aboriginal peoples, and led to a Royal
Commission on this issue. The Commission finally released a lengthy report on
its findings in 1996.
This standoff made it easier for Aboriginal militants
to use non-peaceful means as they now generally found some sympathies with the
Gustafsen Lake, B.C.:
The Royal Canadian Mountain Police surrounded and arrested 18 Aboriginal
traditionalists who wished to take part in a Sundance ceremony during the summer
of 1995. These traditionalists were camping illegally on Crown
land that had been leased to an American rancher. (Some Aboriginal leaders have
called the existence of this lease into dispute.) During a tense standoff that
lasted a month, at least 400 RCMP officers were called in with assault rifles,
attack dogs and other weapons to secure the area.
Two RCMP officers were
hit with stray bullets probably fired from the Aboriginal encampment during the
standoff. However, the Aboriginals activists voluntarily surrendered when it became
obvious that tensions would escalate into violence.
A group of 30 Native protesters erected barricades in Ipperwash
Provincial Park, near Grand Bend, Ontario, in September 1995. They were upset
that the federal government had obtained and destroyed Aboriginal land - including
a burial ground - for the building of a military training base under the War
Measures Act in 1942.
The Ontario Provincial Police moved in to disperse
the protestors. An Aboriginal leader named Dudley George was killed in an ensuing
The land claim was settled in 1998 with a $26 million agreement.
Each member of the Kettle and Stoney Point First Nation received between $150,000
and $400,000. The land was cleaned up and returned to these Aboriginals.
Native groups wanted an official government inquiry called into Dudley George's
death. The Progressive Conservative
government in Ontario refused to call one throughout its entire tenure between
1995 and 2003, however. It claimed it was not responsible for police actions during
Aboriginal Mi'kmaq warriors
and non-Aboriginal fishermen have been at odds since 1999 over the Aboriginal
right to fish for lobster out of season during the fall. The non-Natives feel
that if this is allowed, lobster stocks will vanish along with their livelihoods.
The situation began in September 1999 when the Supreme
Court of Canada ruled that Donald Marshall, a Native fisherman, could fish
out of season. He argued that treaties from the 1760s gave him the right to do
so - and the Court agreed.
However, this infuriated non-Aboriginals. They
vandalized or destroyed Native fishing traps in the weeks to come, and the Aboriginals
retaliated by destroying white fishing boats and buildings.
leaders then came together and proposed that the federal government be given time
to come to a decision. All but two of the 34 bands involved agreed. Later, the
government ordered the Aboriginals to cut the number of lobster traps used on
the ocean. Some of the Mi'kmaq resisted this, claiming that they already have
conservation methods in place to ensure the lobster stock would not be depleted
off the Atlantic coast.
In 2000, there were a series of standoffs between
police and Aboriginals. Arrests were made. The federal government offered the
concession of a $2 million fishing wharf and five new modernized boats to the
Natives. The Mi'kmaq rejected this, for they believed that any compromise made
to the government would be a surrender of their treaty fishing rights.
in April 2002, a federal committee released a report aimed at preventing more
violence. It recommended that:
- Charges stemming from one major police-Aboriginal
confrontation in August 2001 be dropped.
- The federal government
should compensate fishermen for their lost traps and boats.
also recommended that Aboriginals should have the same season as non-Native fishermen,
which meant two things:
- Aboriginals would be banned from fishing during
- Aboriginal bands would be issued fishing licenses
like everyone else.
Interesting or Important Documents