Some people think Canada’s boreal forest is boring. Nothing but rocks and trees some of them say. I think only boring people find this country boring. In Particular I love the small islands on tiny outcroppings. I think that is the essential boreal forest. This is the country I love.
I wasn’t really thinking about treaties and indigenous settler relations all the time as I drove though eastern Manitoba and North-west Ontario. But I was always at the back of my mind.
The process of treaty making began shortly after 1867 with the negotiation of what came to be called numbered treaties. The first treaty successfully negotiated was right in the area I travelled through on my jaunt. This was Treaty One Land. It is beautiful land. It is valuable land. It should be cherished. I also drove through a substantial portion of Treaty 3 land where I happen to have a cottage on land the Buffalo Point First Nation has developed and offered to people like me with a long-term lease. Thanks to the Royal Proclamation of 1763 declared by the British King George no one could purchase land from First Nations, but one could acquire a leasehold interest like we did.
Treaty negotiations were a means for Canada and the First Nations to work out trade relations between them in a peaceful manner. First Nations though did not see what they had done as “ceding” land to the settlers. They saw it as a means of agreeing to share the land and thought each party would learn from the other. Neither would dominate. They would be partners on the land.
The Royal Proclamation was issued by King George III after concluding the 7 Years War with France. As a result, he wanted to establish rules for how the land England had acquired would be governed.
As Pam Palmater, a brilliant Canadian indigenous lawyer has said,
“All of our rights are inherent. That means they were here before anyone else came. And we had those rights because we were nations. And we had our own laws and our own territories. These things all belonged to us before anyone else came here. All the Royal Proclamation did was recognize that. If you read the Proclamation they say why they had to recognize those rights. It was the only way their colony could be secure, or have any justice, is if they recognized and protected those rights because we weren’t giving them up.”
Some people think Canada should just walk away from its obligations under those treaties. But those are contracts made between sovereign nations. How can the government which is presumably law-abiding walk away from its own legal obligations? How can we even have the rule of law in this country if we did that? Would people who live here respect the law if the government didn’t? Those obligations and those rights Canada received as part of the bargains with First Nations were to exist “as long as the sun shines and the rivers flow.” Canada still has those obligations to this day pursuant to those treaties. Many people think Canada is always “giving” money to First Nations people but to pay money Canada has promised to pay in return for substantial benefits which Canada continues to enjoy is not a gift. It is the fulfilment of an obligation.
Does Canada want to give the right to share the land back? I doubt that too many Canadian would be in favour of that.
I know i am very happy the first nations of this wonderful country agreed to share it with Europeans.