Treaty Making in Canada

Indigenous peoples had organized themselves in federations and confederations through the development of treaties with one another long before the arrival of the Europeans. Treaties were considered sacred and given the highest respect; failure to honour them would result in economic difficulties, political instability, and war (Borrows, 1996). The creation of treaties was not a new concept for Indigenous peoples.

The earliest forms of treaties that have occurred between the settlers and Indigenous peoples in Canada took the form of diplomatic relationships in establishing economic and military alliances. Since that time, treaty making has evolved from creation of alliances to peace and friendship treaties, to land transfer agreements, and finally to the comprehensive land claim agreements that currently take place between the Crown and Indigenous peoples. The wide-ranging, long-standing impacts of these treaties are still affecting the relationships between Canada and Indigenous peoples today.

The Two-Row Wampum Belt (Guswentah) has become known as one of the earliest peace and friendship treaties. The terms of this treaty, made with the Dutch in 1613, signify agreement to live in peace and an understanding that neither would interfere with the internal government of the other.  Another peace and friendship treaty was negotiated between the Mi’kmaq and Maliseet peoples of the east coast. Under this treaty, the Mi’kmaq and Maliseet were assured that their religious practices would be undisturbed in return for the promise of peaceful relations. There have been three major treaty making eras since the 16th century, each marked by a specific type of treaty and each having a significant impact on the relationship between Indigenous peoples and the government of Canada. The first form of treaties that were negotiated between Indigenous peoples and the federal government were the Peace and Friendship treaties (1725-1752). These first treaties were negotiated between European nations and First Nations people in order to establish peace and cooperation.  There were no land cessions until the 1752 and 1760-61 treaties were signed where a specific trade clause was included. The purpose of these treaties were to re-establish normal relations between the parties after military conflicts.

The second major form of treaties were the Land Transfer treaties. This era began with the Proclamation of 1763, which opened the way to enter into negotiations focused on land transfers. Initially the land transfer treaties were negotiated with the intent of peaceful establishment of an agricultural colony as well as to compensate the allies of First Nations for their losses incurred during the war with the Americans. Later, the nature of the land transfer treaties changed in response to an expanding settler population and the need for more farming land, as well as natural resources such as forestry and mining. Land transfer treaties in Ontario were enacted between 1764-1930 with the intent of encouraging more farming and mining.

The third period of treaty making began in 1973 with the Calder Case, a Supreme Court decision which affirmed Indigenous land rights. This lead to the development of land claims agreements. The purpose of these agreements was to settle outstanding land claims. These agreements also recognize Indigenous rights to self-government.

Geographical Setting and Sources of Information

The interactive timeline below presents some maps that show the various treaty areas of the historical treaties of Canada, pre-1975:

Click on the following link to access the timeline in a new window:

Treaties of Canada Timeline