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Aboriginals: Treaties & Relations
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1492 - 1779
1763 - 1791
1764 - 1836
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Photo:  Iroquois Chiefs from the Six Nations Reserve reading Wampum belts / National Archive of Canada / C-085137
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1764 - 1836: Pre-Confederation Treaties I

During the half-century directly following the Royal Proclamation, the colonial governments of North America embarked on signing a number of peace and land treaties with Aboriginal peoples to retain them as allies, while purchasing land for settlement and resource development.

During this period, however, the balance of power began to shift as the British consolidated their control. The pragmatism that had prompted the British Crown to protect Aboriginal interests in the Royal Proclamation gave way to British paternalism, a policy of assimilation and the attitude that the Aboriginals were British subjects - and not equal, independent nations.

Topics in this section:

Niagara Treaty, 1764
Fort Stanwix Treaty, 1768
Treaty of Paris, 1783
Upper Canada Treaties, 1764 - 1836
The Jay Treaty, 1794
Other Interesting or Important Documents

Niagara Treaty, 1764

The Niagara Treaty created a new Covenant Chain between Britain and the Aboriginal nations of the western Great Lakes, including the Iroquois Confederacy, the Algonquin and the Huron nations. Britain had been at war with some of these nations since 1760.

Graphic:  Sir William Johnson / National Archive of Canada / C-083497
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The British were represented by Sir William Johnson, who reaffirmed the historic relations between the two groups and offered solutions to problems between them. This treaty grew out of the Royal Proclamation of 1763, which proposed fair and voluntary land dealings between the British and Aboriginals.

The Niagara Congress met in July 1764 and it included members from 24 Aboriginal nations and Crown officials. More than 2,000 people attended.

Promises made by Johnson during this congress were preserved on wampum belts that were woven with hundreds of coloured shell beads. These belts made up the Twenty Four Nations Belt that recorded the event.

The Annual Presents Belt shows twenty-four figures (representing the Aboriginal nations) holding hands between a ship (Britain) and a rock (North America). To the Aboriginals, the promise spoken to them was that the King would always give gifts each year to the 24 nations on the belt. If the British forgot this promise, the Aboriginals would link together to pull the 'ship' from Britain.

Johnson promised these presents for "as long as the sun shone and the grass grew, and the British wore red coats." These promises would, however, be gradually discontinued in Upper Canada starting in 1836.

These promises were recited every year for nearly a century during annual gift-giving ceremonies. The Aboriginals placed importance in the material goods given to them - blankets, pipes, pelts and various tools of much better quality than could be obtained through fur traders. However, they place as much importance on the symbolism of sharing and respect between the British and Aboriginal nations that took place during these ceremonies.

During the War of 1812, Aboriginals involved with this treaty would fight with the British, as they believed the treaty bound them to the British cause.

Fort Stanwix Treaty, 1768

Painting: Pontiac Meeting Governor Haldimand / National Archive of Canada / C-073700
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While this is a treaty that did not involve land in what is now Canada, it was important as it was the first major land transfer treaty signed after the Royal Proclamation. It was made between fur traders in Pennsylvania, one of the Thirteen Colonies, who sued the British government. The traders wanted compensation for damages incurred during Aboriginal rebellions against European settlers around the Great Lakes during the mid-1760s.

In 1768, the British Indian Department decided to compensate these companies with land. The ensuing treaty signed at Fort Stanwix, New York, pushed the border between Indian country and the colonies west to the banks of the Ohio River. About 3,400 Iroquois attended this signing.

British allies, such as the Iroquois, received land in western New York. Other tribes, such as the Shawnee, lost land. This led to bitterness between these Aboriginal nations for many years.

Some Aboriginals also believed this treaty was a promise by the British that no further land west of the Ohio River would ever be surrendered to settlers, and that the river would remain an international boundary between the European colonies and Aboriginal nations.

Instead, this treaty actually appeared to encourage English American settlement westward. In 1784, the Iroquois would be forced to sign a second treaty at Fort Stanwix to give up more land.

Treaty of Paris, 1783

The Treaty of Paris, 1783, created a new international border between the new United States and the British colony of Québec within the Great Lakes region. This treaty, however, ignored promises made to British allies - namely, the Iroquois Confederacy - in the Covenant Chain and the 1768 Fort Stanwix treaty on both sides of the Québec-U.S border. The Aboriginals were never invited to take part in the signing of this treaty, despite the fact that many Mohawks fought on the side of the British during the American Revolution. These Aboriginals had decided that the British were less likely to interfere with their land and way of life than the Americans.

The British government in London, however, had little interest in the Aboriginals' right to be a part of these negotiations, as it now hoped to pursue its own imperial worldview on its remaining North American colony and Aboriginal allies.

News of this betrayal shocked Loyalists in the Iroquois Confederacy. To appease this group, Québec governor Fredrick Haldimand decided to offer two parcels of land near Lake Ontario in 1784 to Iroquois who were still loyal to the Crown. An agreement was reached with the Mississauga Indians who owned this land, which would ultimately lead to the creation of the Six Nations Reserve near current-day Brantford, Ontario, nearly a decade later.

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The Treaty of Paris, 1783
(Borders drawn at end of American Revolution)

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Haldimand Land Grants to Loyalist Iroquois, Oct. 25, 1784
(Gives Loyalist Six Nations Indians the right to settle on land along Grand River in SW Ontario.)

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Creation of Grand River Six Nations Reserve, Jan. 14, 1793

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Upper Canada Treaties, 1764 - 1836

Upper Canada Treaties
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In the years immediately following the Royal Proclamation, numerous treaties were signed with the Aboriginals to surrender small parcels of land in the province of Québec (later Lower Canada) in exchange for a lump sum of money, gifts and the creation of smaller reserve lands specifically for the Aboriginals. Annual cash payments to the Aboriginals usually followed for some time after these deals were made. Many of these treaties were signed so the British could take land for settlements, roads, churches to help 'Christianize' the Aboriginals, and other uses.

In one particular abuse, blank treaties - where the Aboriginal chiefs signed their tribes' land rights away on a blank document - were often the order of the day.

Many of these treaties were hastily and carelessly put together, particularly during the 1780s and early 1790s when the British were faced with an influx of Loyalist settlers emigrating from the newly created United States to the northern shores of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. John Graves Simcoe, Upper Canada's first lieutenant-governor, was responsible for purchasing and assigning this land.

British representatives often made hasty oral promises to Aboriginals that were never written down, simply to rush things along in obtaining land for farming and settlement. Because the Aboriginals valued their oral tradition over written legal documents, they would later complain that the British made promises that were not kept.

While efforts were made after 1794 to ensure the treaty process was done with more fairness to the Aboriginals living in this region, outstanding land claims remained, particularly in regards to the blank treaties.

Did you know?

The so-called Gunshot Treaty gave the British land rights stretching along Lake Ontario from just west of present-day Toronto east to the Bay of Quinte. The Aboriginals gave up their land rights extending north of the Great Lake within the sound of a gunshot - almost 20 kilometers - in exchange for annual gifts.


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The Indenture made at Carrying Place, Ont.
(Also known as the Gunshot Treaty, 1787 and 1805)

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John Graves Simcoe purchases land from Mississauga Aboriginals
(Between Lakes Ontario and Erie, Dec. 7, 1792)

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Granting of land ceded from Mississauga Indians to Loyalist Six Nations Mohawks
(Bay of Quinte, Apr. 1, 1793)

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Mohawk War Chiefs and Principle Women give up reserve land to Nancy and Mary Margaret Kerr
(Grand River Six Nations Reserve, 1796)

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Aborignals give right to Capt. Thomas McKee to build road on reserve land
(Huron Church Reserve, Sept. 11, 1800)

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Mohawks give up land to Church of England for Protestant church building and burial ground
(Bay of Quinte, Jan. 20, 1836)

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Map of the Indenture at Carrying Place, Ont., with Aboriginal Signatures

 
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The Jay Treaty, 1794

The Jay Treaty is technically not an Aboriginal treaty as it was signed between the British government and the United States. However, it affected Aboriginals in Canada, particularly the Six Nations.

Following the American Revolution, Aboriginals in the newly created United States began to be pushed further west by white settlement. The British also continued to post soldiers in garrisons in the west. American cavalry expeditions into the Ohio Valley in the early 1790s were met with fierce resistance and fighting from Aboriginals, which culminated in 1794 in the Battle of Fallen Timbers. The latter side lost this battle near current-day Toledo, Ohio, which resulted in the opening of white settlement further west.

To prevent war with the U.S. over Aboriginal land rights and the creation of a 'buffer' state between setters and Aboriginals, Britain negotiated a peace agreement. They agreed to remove all Crown officials from their posts south of the Great Lakes by June 1796. In return, the British obtained permission for Aboriginals to freely cross the Canada-U.S. border.

This was done partly out of concern for Aboriginal allies, but also to ensure the continued success of the fur trade - as traders in Montréal relied on furs from Aboriginals in the upper Mississippi Valley.

In recent times, the U.S. government has seen the Jay Treaty as an agreement that gives status Indians the right to freely work and live across the border. However, the Canadian government does not. This difference in legal opinion has been frequently challenged in the courts by Six Nations tribes, whose ancestral lands have been cut in two by the U.S.-Canadian border.

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The Jay Treaty, 1794
English:    French:

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Did you know?

When the Jay Treaty was signed, it angered the French as it allowed the British to seize French goods off American ships. The French pulled their minister from the U.S. and began seizing American ships on the Atlantic.

Other Interesting or Important Documents

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