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Aboriginals: Treaties & Relations
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Painting: Hunting the Buffalo in Herds NAC/ANC C-000429
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Numbered Treaty Overview

The Numbered Treaties - also called the Land Cession or Post-Confederation Treaties - were signed between 1871 and 1921, and granted the federal government large tracts of land throughout the Prairies, Canadian North and Northwestern Ontario for white settlement and industrial use. In exchange for the land, Canada promised to give the Aboriginal peoples various items: cash, blankets, tools, farming supplies, and so on.

The impact of these treaties can be still felt in modern times. For instance, in March 2002, an Alberta court judge ruled that all Aboriginals covered under Treaty Eight do not have to pay federal taxes, regardless if they live on a reserve or not. By that point, the treaty had been 103 years old!

Numbered Treaties One to Five, 1871 - 1875
Revision of Treaties One and Two, 1875
Treaty Number Six, 1876

Treaty Number Seven, 1877
Numbered Treaties Eight to Eleven, 1899 - 1921
Other Interesting and Important Documents


Numbered Treaties One to Five, 1871 - 1875

Numbered Treaties One to Five
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The first five Numbered Treaties covered areas in what was then part of the new province of Manitoba and the Northwest Territories - now parts of northwestern Ontario and southern Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.

The purpose of these treaties was to secure land from the Aboriginals for settlement and agricultural and industrial development. In the wording of these treaty documents, the Aboriginals were to give up their rights to the land "forever."

Notably, the government provided farm supplies and new clothes to help transform Aboriginal society from nations hunters and gatherers into civilized farmers like their European counterparts.

In return for giving up their land rights, the Aboriginals received:

  • Reserve lands to live on. Usually, just 600 square meters were provided to each family of five. However, in Treaties Three and Four only, the Aboriginals were able to successfully negotiate 2.5 square kilometers for each family of five.

  • Cash, the amount of which differed between each treaty. However, the amount usually grew with each subsequent treaty as the Aboriginals' demands grew.

  • An allowance for blankets and hunting/fishing tools.

  • Farming assistance.

  • Schools on reserve land, whenever desired by the Aboriginals.

  • A census to keep track of how many Aboriginals there were in each band, mainly for financial compensation purposes.

  • The right to hunt and fish on all ceded land not used for settlement, lumbering or mining. However, this was only promised in writing from Treaty Number Three onward.

  • The right for the government to build public buildings, roads and other crucial pieces of infrastructure

In return for the aforementioned items, the Aboriginals had to:

  • Promise they would keep the peace and maintain law and order.

  • Never possess any liquor on their reserves. (The introduction of alcohol to the Aboriginals had led to instances of disorder.)

Note: Some Aboriginal nations would not sign these treaties at first, but would wish to be added on at a later date. This is called an adhesion.

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Treaty Number One, 1871

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Treaty Number Two, 1871

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Treaty Number Three, 1873

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Adhesion of Lac Seul Indians, 9th June 1874
(Treaty Number Three)

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Treaty Number Four, 1874

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Adhesion of the Fort Ellice Saulteaux Indians
(Treaty Number Four)

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Adhesion of Saulteaux and Assiniboine Indians
(Treaty Number Four)

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Adhesion of Cree, Saulteaux and Assiniboine Indians
(Treaty Number Four)

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Treaty Number Five, 1875

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See also Other Interesting and Important Documents at the bottom of this page for more letters and other primary source documents on this topic.

Numbered Treaties Six and Seven
Numbered Treaties Six and Seven

Treaty Number Six, 1876
At a first glance, Treaty Number Six, signed by the Plains and Woods Cree Aboriginals, is very similar to the first five.

This time, however, the government faced more resistance as the Aboriginals had some very serious concerns.

  • More European settlers were moving onto the Prairies at an alarming rate, and, as they moved westward, they displaced Aboriginals from their land.

  • The buffalo had virtually disappeared from this region as well, and other big game animals like deer were not as plentiful. Therefore, more and more Aboriginals were now facing starvation.

  • Diseases like smallpox were effectively wiping out Aboriginal nations.

Photo: Smallpox Quarantine Station, Dawson, Yukon  - NAC/ANC PA-022500
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Poundmaker, a famous Cree chief, refused to sign the treaty and felt that the government was trying to grab land from his nation unfairly. However, by December 1882, he would be forced to sign the treaty because the buffalo had disappeared to the point where the Aboriginals in his nation would otherwise face starvation. By then, he felt that it was in the Cree's best interest to at least take as much money and resources from the government as possible.

Painting: Medicine Circles - NAC/ANC C-000416
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Additionally, Treaty Number Six is unique because it is the only treaty of its sort with a provision for health care. One clause allows a medicine chest to be kept in the home of an Indian agent for the use and benefit of the Aboriginals. Some Aboriginals have felt that this provision extends to everyone who signed the Numbered Treaties. Others even went so far to later interpret this provision as an eternal promise by the federal government to provide free health care to every Aboriginal person in Canada.

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Treaty Number Six

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Adhesions to Treaty Number Six

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Sharphead Indians give away Treaty Six reserve land, Sept. 11, 1897

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Dispatch of Alexander Morris, 4th December 1876
(On Treaty Number Six)

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Treaty Number Seven, 1877

Photo: Arriving to sign Treaty Seven - Glenbow Archives NA-1128-9
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This treaty was signed by a number of Aboriginal bands, including the Blackfoot and Stoney Indians, among others, in present-day southern Alberta. It is very similar to the ones the preceded it, with just a few notable exceptions:

 

  • There was no health care provision as there had been in Treaty Six.

  • These bands were more successful in negotiating for more money and supplies than previous Aboriginal negotiators.

This would be the last Numbered Treaty signed between the government and the Aboriginals until 1899.

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Treaty Number Seven

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Adhesion to Treaty Number Seven

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Letter from Rev. Constantine Scollen, Sept. 8, 1876
(On Treaty Number Seven)

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Dispatch of David Laird, Oct. 4, 1877
(On Treaty Number Seven)

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Numbered Treaties Eight to Eleven, 1899 - 1921

Numbered Treaties Eight to Eleven
Numbered Treaties Eight to Eleven

Photo: Crowd assembled for treaty payment, Fort Rae, Northwest Territories - Glenbow Archives NA-3844-58
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Treaties Eight to Eleven were signed over a period of two decades. The terms and conditions are very similar to the first seven, except there was no health care provision as there was in Treaty Six.

  • Treaty Eight was signed in 1899 so the federal government could obtain Aboriginal lands to the north of Treaty Six found in present-day northern British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and south-central Northwest Territories.

  • Treaty Nine was signed in 1905 and 1906, and dealt with lands in northern Ontario.

  • Treaty Ten was signed in 1906 and saw land cession deals struck in northern Alberta.

  • Treaty Eleven was signed in 1921 and dealt with land in the Northwest Territories and the Yukon.

These treaties are all very similar and most of the numbered treaties that preceded them. However, one concept new to Treaty Eight was the creation of small family reserves for individual families. This was to meet the needs of small band groupings like the Woodland Cree and Dene tribes that lived in this area.

Despite the fact that northern Aboriginals were not faring well, the government learned in 1898 that some bands were not interested in signing Treaty Number Eight. These bands did not want to live on reserves like their southern counterparts, and they feared signing the treaty would virtually destroy their way of life.

Treaty Number Seven, 1877

 Painting: One of the boys - NAC/ANC C-114490
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Some members of these tribes expressed concerns about the perpetual nature of these treaties, and virtually all remained suspicious of the government track record. For instance, northern Aboriginals looked closely at attempts to turn the Prairie Aboriginals into farmers, something that had, by 1899, shown signs of outright failure. Many Aboriginals on Prairie reserves were suffering from poverty and starvation.

Thus, there was now a growing belief that the government would eventually curtail Aboriginal fishing and hunting rights, since the land allowed for these activities shrunk considerably in these latter numbered treaties. The government refuted this during all numbered treaty negotiations, and, to allay this fear, provided more cash for fishing net twine and gun ammunition.

Also, previous treaties had called for the government to take a census of all Aboriginals living on reserves for the purposes of paying them a lump sum of cash every year. However, the government had by this point lost count of many Aboriginals living on reserves. Even today, we do not know precisely how many Aboriginals are in Canada because of the poor census taking in the late 1800s.

All of these things would weigh heavily on the minds of many Aboriginals who agreed to sign Treaties Eight to Eleven.

Did you know?

At the dawn of the twentieth century, the federal government was paying about three-quarters of its spending on Aboriginals on those living on the Prairies, even though they made up only about one quarter of the total Aboriginal population in Canada.


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Treaty Number Eight

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Treaty Number Nine

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Treaty Number Ten

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Treaty Number Eleven

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For more information on the Numbered Treaties, visit:

Other Interesting or Important Documents

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