Critically Evaluating Treaty Relationships

In Chapter 2 of this open textbook, we learned about the history of treaty making in Canada and that there were two different, distinct views on what the treaties meant. Indigenous peoples viewed treaties as solemn pacts that laid the foundation for future relationships between nations, whereas the government viewed treaties as a means to legally acquire lands for settlement, mining and railways (Goldi Productions Ltd., 2007).

How is it that there are two different, opposing views on the intent of the treaties? This can be related to differences in worldview. For example, Indigenous people have a special relationship to the land, Mother Earth. Indigenous spirituality is centered around that relationship with all of Creation and understanding their place within the world. The land is not something that can be owned; rather it is something that must be cared for so that it can continue to sustain humanity. Indigenous people understand that life is a gift, therefore it makes no sense for anyone to claim ownership over any part of Creation (McKay cited in Engelstad & Bird, 1992). Non-Indigenous people view land as something that can be owned and controlled. The land is there to be farmed, mined, and exploited for its resources. There is no thought given to the need to care for the earth so that it can provide for future generations.

There remains to this day much controversy over the treaties especially with respect to the obligations of each treaty partner. In 2017-2018, hearings were held in Sudbury, Ontario, over the annuity payments with respect to the Robinson-Huron Treaty. Each year on “Treaty Day,” descendants of the original signatories to the Robinson-Huron Treaty line-up to receive their treaty payments of $4.00 (the same amount of money that was issued in 1850) (Toulouse, 2018). The amount of treaty payments has not increased in 167 years, however the revenue generated through resource extraction in mining alone is much greater. This raises the concern that if Indigenous communities were properly compensated for allowing the government to use the resources that come from the land, then there would be funds that could be allocated towards health, social, and economic services that could help alleviate the poor conditions in existence in their communities.

In November 2016, schools across Ontario celebrated the first Treaties Recognition Week with the purpose of promoting public education and awareness about the history and importance of treaties and treaty relationships. At this inaugural Treaties Recognition Week, a teacher’s resource guide and kit called the Gdo-Sastamoo Kii Mi (“helping you to understand”): Understanding our Nation to Nation Relationship was launched. A key message is that treaties with Indigenous peoples are living documents and must be honoured. This is one step forward in ‘righting’ the history of treaty making in Canada. It should be noted that this movement towards education about the treaties is likely in response to the Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that calls for age-appropriate curriculum on the history of treaties for students in Kindergarten to Grade 12 (Truth and Reconciliation Commission, 2015).

Learning Activities

  1. The Robinson-Huron Treaty hearings took place in the Sudbury area in the fall of 2017 and winter of 2018. Do a search about the treaty hearings and list some of the concerns that were raised in these hearings. What is your stance on some of these concerns?
  2. The annuity payments that Indigenous people receive from the Robinson-Huron Treaty have not increased over the past 167 years. Build a case for why there should be a increase in payments. How can you educate others about this?
  3. How can treaties be used as a source of reconciliation by Indigenous people?

Expanding Your Knowledge

  1. Look at the different wampum belts and identify the significance of the belts within an Indigenous context. (Consider symbolism, spiritual significance, and political significance.)
    Drumming, wampum belts help launch Treaties Recognition Week in Ontario schools
  2. Consult with a local community to understand their experiences and stories surrounding the treaties made in their area. Do they have any stories about wampum belts that are significant to their community? Do surrounding communities share similar stories about wampum belts? Are there any differences in the stories from one community to the next?


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