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Aboriginals: Treaties & Relations
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1492 - 1779
1763 - 1791
1764 - 1836
1811 - 1867
1867 - 1870
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Pionniers et Immigrants
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Painting: Death of Tecumseh / National Archive of Canada / C-040894
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1811 - 1867: Pre-Confederation Treaties II

This was a turbulent period with far-ranging effects for Aboriginal peoples. First, the War of 1812 splintered the First Nations in Upper Canada and the U.S. Then Aboriginals gave up their land rights in the North-west - without the involving the Métis who also lived on this land.

Later, during the 1830s, Upper Canada started to rethink the necessity of giving presents to the Aboriginals as promised in the Niagara Treaty. Sir Francis Bond Head, the province's lieutenant-governor, attempted to remove Aboriginals from their land and settle them onto a new reserve in Manitoulin Island on Lake Huron.

Topics in this section:

War of 1812
The Selkirk Treaty, 1817
Rescinding the Niagara Treaty, 1836
Bond Head Treaties, 1836
Province of Canada Treaties, 1850 - 1862
The Douglas Treaties, 1850 - 1854
Other Interesting or Important Documents

War of 1812

Many Aboriginals sided with the British during the War of 1812, partially out of a sense of obligation through the Niagara Treaty but also because they thought the British would allow them to preserve enough land for their way of life. The British had appeared to support the creation of a buffer state between settlers and the Aboriginals in the past, particularly prior to the Jay Treaty.

Some Aboriginals had their reservations with siding with the British. However, the Americans were moving deeper into Indian territory, and they appeared willing to wipe out the Aboriginals by any means possible.

Aboriginals nations played a vital role in British victories during the War, including the taking of Detroit, although it came at a considerable cost. In 1813, a popular leader, Tecumseh, was killed in the Battle of Thames. This loss seriously damaged Aboriginal unity and confidence, causing much of their political clout in Upper Canada and the U.S. to vanish.

Following the War of 1812, the Americans would largely remove any Aboriginals living east of the Mississippi River and force them into Indian land now known as Oklahoma. Many Aboriginals chose to migrate north into land around the Great Lakes in Upper Canada instead.

Painting: Selkirk Settlement, Manitoba / National Archive of Canada / C-008714
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The Selkirk Treaty, 1817

In 1811, British aristocrat Thomas Selkirk wished to create a new colony in a region owned by the Hudson's Bay Company. Selkirk purchased land, mostly located in what is now lower Manitoba, from the fur trading company. This led to the creation of the Red River Settlement in 1812.

This settlement only lasted for three years. Métis who had called the area home were angered that they were not consulted, which partially led to much conflict in the region. In June 1816, the Métis killed the governor-in-chief of Rupert's Land and 20 of his men in the Seven Oaks Incident. Two months later, Selkirk and a mercenary force attacked and captured Fort William from the Métis.

In 1817, Selkirk decided to sign a treaty with Cree and Chippewa nations, among others, to extinguish their claims to a tract of land on his domain stretching along the Red River. He distributed this land to new settlers. When he died in 1820, the executors of his estate sought to control spiraling costs by ending new European settlement on the land. Only those who had settled during the late 1810s, plus some retired Métis fur traders, remained on the land.

In 1836, land covered by this treaty reverted back to the Hudson's Bay Company. This land changed hands once again in 1869 and became the property of the new Dominion of Canada. This angered many Métis and Aboriginals, who felt that new European settlers coming into the region were violating their land rights and disrupting their way of life. This was a leading cause of the Red River Rebellion in 1870.

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The Selkirk Treaty, 1817

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Indenture of Sale from the Hudson's Bay Company to the Earl of Selkirk, 1811

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Image of Aboriginal Signatures on the Selkirk Treaty, 1817

 
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Rescinding the Niagara Treaty, 1836

By the 1830s, the British government began to reconsider its promises to give annual presents to the Aboriginal nations that had signed the Niagara Treaty. At this point, European settlers in North America far outnumbered Aboriginal peoples, and the United States and the British colonies in North America were relatively stable and at peace. The government hoped to save monies needed to assist European settlers coming to North America by cutting back on these presents.

In 1836, Sir Francis Bond Head, the lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada, issued a statement at the annual present-giving ceremony on Manitoulin Island (where the original Niagara Treaty wampum belts now resided). He announced that the number of presents given would be reduced. First to be eliminated were gifts to "half-breeds", followed by those to "non-British" Aboriginals who had lived in the United States for two years or more. Eventually, only the most "deserving" Aboriginals would receive these presents.

Bond Head Treaties, 1836

By 1836, Sir Francis Bond Head believed that attempts to remake the Aboriginal peoples living in his province into independent pioneer farmers were failing. He felt the Aboriginals were hunters and gatherers by tradition, unused to working and living in an agricultural society. He also felt that the increase in European settlers had created problems for Aboriginal peoples - not least of which was alcohol.

Bond Head wanted to separate the Aboriginals in the province from the white population, and move them to Manitoulin Island and smaller nearby islands in Lake Huron so they could pursue their regular lifestyle of hunting and fishing.

Ultimately, Bond Head failed to convince most Aboriginals to move to the much less-arable Manitoulin Island. Instead what they really wanted was Crown protection from white settlers on their ancestral lands.

While the colonial office more or less approved Bond Head's policy - it never revoked the Bond Head Treaties - it also met with substantial resistance in Britain, particularly from the Aborigines' Protection Society - a Protestant group with links to the anti-slavery movement.

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Bond Head Treaties, Aug. 9, 1836
(Numbers 45 and 45 ½)

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Letter from Sir Francis Bond Head to Lord Glenelg, Toronto, 20 August 1836

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Correspondence between Lord Glenelg and Bond Head, London, 5 October 1836; Toronto, 20 November 1836

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Lord Glenelg to Bond Head, London, 20 January 1837

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Memorial from the Aborignes' Protection Society to Lord Glenelg, 1837

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Province of Canada Treaties, 1850 - 1862

Province of Canada Treaties
Province of Canada Treaties

The discovery of minerals on the shores of Lake Huron and Lake Superior led the government of the Province of Canada to take measures to extinguish Aboriginal titles to the land in 1850. Two treaties, known as the Robinson Treaties, were signed in 1850 between the Crown and Aboriginals. The latter gave up mining lands - including 'land' directly below the earth's surface - in exchange for money and the creation of reserves. They were also given the right to hunt and fish on these ceded lands.

In 1862, the Manitoulin Island Treaty was negotiated, allowing European settlement on this island in Lake Huron.

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The Robinson Superior Treaty, 1850

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The Robinson Huron Treaty, 1850

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The Manitoulin Island Treaty, 1862

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Report of Robinson to the Honourable Colonel Bruce, Superintendent of Indian Affairs - Toronto, 24th September, 1850

 
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William McDougall's Report, Manitoulin Island, Nov. 3, 1862

 
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The Douglas Treaties, 1850 - 1854

The Douglas Treaties
Province of Canada Treaties

Treaty negotiation was not limited to the Province of Canada in the 1850s. When the colony of Vancouver Island was established in 1849, British administrators sought to acquire Aboriginal land for settlement and industrial use in the colony. When the colony was established, it was dependant on the fur trade. Then, following the California gold rush of 1848, prospectors pushed further and further north, hoping to find gold.

During a period of four years, 14 treaties were signed between the Aboriginals on the island and the colonial government. Governor James Douglas, chief factor for the Hudson's Bay Company in the area, led this effort. These agreements were known variously as the Douglas Treaties, the Vancouver Island Treaties or the Fort Victoria Treaties. Douglas never used the word treaty in any of his negotiations - he used words like 'sale' or 'deed of conveyance' - but the Supreme Court of Canada would later rule that they were treaties because he was negotiating on behalf of the British monarchy.

Painting: Fort Vancouver / National Archive of Canada / C-001628
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The Aboriginals gave up nearly 570 square kilometers of land in exchange for cash, clothing and blankets. They were able to retain existing village lands and fields for their use, and also were allowed to hunt and fish on the surrendered lands.

Treaty-making on Vancouver Island came to an end in 1854 when the colony began to run out of money for further expansion. New settlement and the development of industry on the island had also been slower than anticipated.

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Douglas Treaty Documents

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For more information on the Douglas Treaties, visit:


For more information on the Aboriginal Treaties, visit:

Other Interesting or Important Documents

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