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Aboriginals: Treaties & Relations
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Photo: Smallpox Quarantine Station, Dawson, Yukon - NAC/ANC PA-022500
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1871 - 1875: First Five Numbered Treaties

While many Aboriginal nations were skeptical of dealing with the new federal government, they had little choice. Declining buffalo herds and disease put many nations on the verge of extinction. They also risked the loss of their culture and way of life in the face of European settlement. To survive, many Aboriginals negotiated the surrender of land for very little in return: cash and supplies. They were left with small reserves that the government hoped they would farm.

Meanwhile, smaller treaties were signed in central and eastern Canada throughout this period as well, which saw the Aboriginals give up parts of their reserve land for white settlement, lighthouses and shooting ranges.

Topics in this section:

Numbered Treaties One to Five, 1871 - 1875
Revision of Treaties One and Two, 1875
Other Treaties
Other interesting or Important Documents

Numbered Treaties One to Five
Numbered Treaties One to Five

Numbered Treaties One to Five, 1871 - 1875
The first five Numbered Treaties, which are also called the Land Cession or Post-Confederation Treaties, covered areas in what was then part of the new province of Manitoba and the Northwest Territories. These are now parts of northwestern Ontario and southern Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.

The purpose of these treaties was to secure land from the Aboriginals for European 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."

Typically, the government would provide farm supplies and new clothes to help transform Aboriginal society from what Europeans viewed as a simple hunting and gathering basis, into independent pioneer farmers like their European counterparts.

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

  • 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 Aboriginal 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, and keep liquor off reserves. Europeans viewed liquor as a corrupting influence on aboriginal peoples. In addition, there was a strong prohibitionist sentiment in the last half of the nineteenth century and the first part of the twentieth century.

Did you know?

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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The Revision of Treaties One and Two, 1875
Despite the fact the Aboriginals were to surrender their right to the land "forever," the first and second Numbered Treaties were renegotiated and changed in 1875. The Chipewans who had signed these early treaties were, by this time, upset that oral promises made by government representatives in 1871 had not been included in the written treaties. They began to approach other Aboriginals in the region in an attempt to discourage them from singing similar treaties.

In the end, the federal government reluctantly gave more money, clothes and farm supplies to the Aboriginals who signed the first two Numbered Treaties. The Chipewans, in return, had to drop all of their claims to all so-called "outside" or oral promises.

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Memorandum, 27th April, 1875

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Privy Council Report on the Memorandum, 30th April, 1875

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For more information on the Numbered Treaties, visit:

Other Treaties

Painting: One of the boys - NAC/ANC C-114490
Copyright/Source

There were other treaties signed in central and eastern Canada during the late 1860s and 1870s as well. These treaties are minor in comparison to the Numbered Treaties, but they are, nevertheless, interesting.

For example, in the early 1870s the Mi'kmaq of New Brunswick gave up land on a reserve to the province for white settlement. Other examples include treaties allowing for the construction of lighthouses and shooting ranges on Aboriginal land.

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Micmac yield land on Bouctouche reserve, NB, Sept. 3, 1870

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Micmac yield land on Bouctouche reserve, NB, May 4, 1871

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Aboriginal land ceded for lighthouse on Lake Simcoe, Ont., Mar. 24, 1874

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Aboriginal land ceded for shooting range on Walpole Island, Ont., 1875

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Maps of Bouctouche Micmac reserve land

 
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Other Interesting or Important Documents

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