The Treaties impact Canada Forever…

Canada has the reputation of being one of the finest countries in the world. The landscape stretching across Canada from the Pacific to the Atlantic oceans, to the northern tundra, and south to the American border are all home to Canadians. Many Canadians do not understand the impact of Treaties in Canada nor are they aware of the First Nations perspective on treaties. The British had a long standing tradition of making Treaties with First Nations, The Royal Proclamation of 1763, being the most notable Treaty recognized First Nations as sovereign holding title to the lands they inhabited for thousands of years. It was a common practice for First Nations to make treaties with one another for various reasons but the most common were for hunting, trading, friendship, and to end wars. Consequently, treaties were not foreign to First Nations, although the cultural and language differences are notable difficulties that played a major role during the era of the numbered treaties between 1871 and 1921.

In looking at Treaty 6 through this website, we have explored the process and the issues that have arisen through the Treaty. Canada has a continuing obligation to the First Nations from the Treaties. However, First Nations argue that fulfillment of the obligations have not been honoured in the `spirit and intent` of which was the understanding of the First Nations at that time. They also argue that they fulfilled their end of the Treaties by surrendering the lands to the government so that Canada would become the country it is today. First Nations gave up a lot in order for the government to move ahead, but the First Nations remain to benefit fully from the Treaties. The First Nations were at a disadvantage from the beginning, facing starvation and disease, and the westward expansion of settlers and developments on their lands posed major challenges of maintaining the First Nations way of life.

From the beginning, the government had control of the Treaty process, with very little acknowledgment if at all of the First Nations wishes and input. Yet First Nations leaders did negotiate the inclusion of the medicine chest and relief in times of calamity and pestilence within Treaty 6. The government set the agenda, where they would meet and sign Treaty, the terms of the Treaty, and what they would allow and not allow as part of the provisions of the Treaty. First Nations were at a major disadvantage from the beginning and leaders like Big Bear, Little Pine, Poundmaker, and Beardy`s knew that the Treaties would not sustain them and their people into the future. They knew that their survival was dependent on the Treaties, and leaders like Ahtahkakoop, Mistawasis, and Sweetgrass influenced the First Nations to sign Treaty as the best alternative.

As a result of the Treaties, First Nations contend that there are long standing grievances that remain to be addressed 135 years later. Major government policies like the Indian Act, The Natural Resources Transfer Agreement of 1930, residential schools, and so on have negatively affected the obligations of Treaty. Some of the more important grievances are outlined here.   


Indian Act

The Indian Act, 1876

The Indian Act of 1876, is the oldest legislation governing First Nations in Canada, however it remains to be seen as an archaic and patriarchal law the negatively affects the lives of First Nations people. The Act was enacted by the Canadian parliament putting an end to the manner in which First Nations governed themselves, it gave the government of Canada the authority under section 91(24) of the Constitution Act, 1867 to legislate matters concerning “Indians and Lands reserved for Indians (Roberts 115).” This abolished the British crown’s recognition of the autonomy of First Nations through the Royal Proclamation of 1763. The government subjectively passed the legislation without discussion and consultation with the First Nations.

First Nations view the Indian Act as a discriminatory tool that establishes the government’s perspective to “civilize” and “assimilate” First Nations into mainstream society. The Act’s influence of European values would dictate all aspects of First Nations lives devaluing their culture completely. The Act conflicts with the principles of the Treaty, First Nations never relinquished their land, culture, and autonomy in exchange for a government to impose foreign laws and way of life. The government seen First Nations as minors or wards of the state (Price 64) and took it upon themselves to place themselves in a position of authority over First Nations. The government modified the terms of the treaty through provisions of the Indian Act and used it to control the First Nations.

Some examples of outstanding issues from a First Nations perspective: 

First Nations never agreed with the terms of the Indian Act and see it as a hindrance to their autonomy and progression of Treaty rights. Since the Act has been enacted, there have been amendments; however First Nation leaders are asking the Federal government to replace the Act in consultation with them, it remains an outstanding issue. Some First Nations are taking control of their own jurisdiction and enacting laws within their own Nations.

Saskatchewan Indian Cultural Centre article on Indian Act:

Land Claims

Land Claims

There continues to be outstanding land claims with respect to the Treaties when reserves lands were being set aside. It is important to note that reserve lands are not owned by the First Nations bands, they are lands held in trust by the British Crown. Thus, Canada by signing treaty with the bands on behalf of the Crown; has a fiduciary relationship and obligation to the First Nations whom signed Treaty. This unique relationship between the government and First Nations has been a protracted one due to the land grievances still not settled with some First Nations. The treaties themselves are at the root of most land claims (Price 93). According to the government, there are two types of land claims in Canada: 

Specific Claims

These are claims based on treaties and the administration of Indian lands, assets, and fulfillment of treaties (Price 93). There are three areas of specific claims:

  1. Treaty Land Entitlement – Relates to the fulfillment of land owing to First Nations at the time reserves were being created. It was common to discount people and families, as many were not around at the time when populations were recorded to account for the land as per the Treaty provisions. 
  2. Land Surrender Claims – Illegal surrender of Indian reserve lands.
  3. First Nations Asset Claims – Refers to Indian assets or monies held in trust by the government and were not properly administered.  

Treaty Land Entitlement

Treaty Land Entitlement is a process where the federal and provincial governments are fulfilling Treaty commitments of land made to First Nations. In 1992, Saskatchewan, Canada, and 25 First Nations signed the Treaty Land Entitlement Framework Agreement While the Treaty relationship exists exclusively between the federal government and First Nations, Saskatchewan has a legal obligation in TLE through the 1930 Natural Resources Transfer Agreement (NRTA). Under the NRTA, Canada transferred to Saskatchewan all Crown lands, minerals and other natural resources within the Province, subject to a number of conditions. One such condition was that Saskatchewan would provide unoccupied Crown lands should Canada ever require land to fulfil its obligations under Treaties (Government of Saskatchewan).

Since 1992, a number of bands in Saskatchewan have received compensation through TLE, however, there are still many bands whom are in the process of TLE. While status Indians presently comprise around 9% of the people of Saskatchewan, reserve land comprised only about 1% of the provincial land base before the TLE process. Upon completion of the TLE, reserve land will account for just over 2% of the land base (Government of Saskatchewan).

For more information on Treaty Land Entitlement:

The Story of Treaty Land Entitlement

Article: Treaty Land Entitlement

Comprehensive Claims

These claims are based on aboriginal rights, title, and traditional use and occupancy of the land seen with bands that did not negotiate a Treaty and are often referred to as Modern day Treaties and are more likely to include provisions relating to self-government. They are negotiated between the federal, provincial governments and the Aboriginal Claimant group. These treaties usually address land ownership, compensation, wildlife and harvesting rights, participation in land, resource, water, wildlife and environmental management as well as promotion of economic development and protect Aboriginal culture (Indian and Northern Affairs Canada). 

For more information on bands who have Comprehensive Claims:

Political Organizations

Political Organizations

In Saskatchewan, the political body representing 74 First Nations is known as the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN). The federation is committed to honouring the spirit and intent of the treaties in the province. The federation consists of a Senate, Elder’s Council, Chief’s in Assembly, Executive, Executive Council, and an Indian Government Commission (Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations).   

The 1920’s is significant of the beginning of the formation of First Nations political organizations in Canada. In 1921, the Annual Congress of the Indian League of Canada was held at the Thunderchild First Nation in Saskatchewan. John Tootoosis of the Poundmaker First Nation was one of the delegates at this meeting and became involved in these political changes. In 1929, the Indian League of Canada was renewed in the Treaty 6 area and became known as the League of Indians of Western Canada. John Tootoosis became the first president of this regional organization. Other organizations formed in Saskatchewan, the Protective Association for Indians and their Treaties and the Association of Saskatchewan Indians (Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations).

In 1946, Tommy Douglas, Premier of Saskatchewan became involved in uniting the three First Nations organizations. Amalgamation of the three organizations formed under the Union of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, John Tootoosis was elected President. In 1958, the Saskatchewan First Nations organizations became the Federation of Saskatchewan Indians (FSI). In 1982, FSI, changed its name to the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN).   

Since the establishment, of the FSIN, they have accomplished band controlled schools, the Saskatchewan Indian Cultural Centre, the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College, Saskatchewan Indian Equity Foundation, and the Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies. The FSIN continues to work towards the protection and recognition of Treaty rights and progressing First Nations into the future (Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations).

Other Aborignal political organizations are the Metis Nation of Saskatchewan, Assembly of First Nations, the National Women’s Association of Canada, and the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples.

For more information on the FSIN see

For more information on Aboriginal and Treaty Rights in Saskatchewan:

Self Determinations

Socio-Economic Conditions of First Nations People

Residential Schools: The Legacy Continues

Residential Schools: The Legacy Continues

Residential Schools 

'' I want to get rid of the Indian problem....Our object is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic, and there is no Indian question, and no Indian department...'' Head of Department of Indian Affairs, Duncan Campbell Scott (1920) 

Treaty Right to Education

The First Nation Treaty Forefathers wanted formal education for their people that would benefit them and future generations to come. The First Nations understood that a school house would be provided to every reserve and that this education would complement their traditional system of education. It was stressed in the Treaties by the Crown that they would not interfere with First Nations culture, language, and traditional practices.

Soon after Treaty 6 was signed – the Government of Canada introduced the residential schools

Prime Minister John A. MacDonald commissioned Nicholas Flood Davin to write a report called the, “Report on Industrial Schools for Indians and Half-Breeds” (Davin Report, 1879). Davin visited the United States to see how they dealt with the “Indian Problem” and came back in his report that it would be cost effective for the government and the most helpful way to assimilate Indians through these industrial schools. Which became named as residential schools; the Anglican, Roman Catholic, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches assisted in the assimilation of First Nations children. Over 150,000 First Nations children were taken from the safety of their families and communities and forced to attend residential school. The schools were designed to exterminate all aspects of the First Nations culture to assimilate First Nations children into white society. The idea was that the schools would offer a European education and First Nations children would learn the skills necessary to survive in society away from the reserves. In doing this, the churches spent considerable time enforcing a religion alien to them by restricting First Nations beliefs and language. Many children were beaten, humiliated, degraded, suffered sexual abuse, neglected, and in some cases faced death. Children died at the hands of these schools, many of them not making it home to their families, leaving their families to wonder what happened to their children. This practice has been described as genocide by many people.    

The negative impacts of the residential schools have been detrimental to the First Nations communities. Still many years later, these intergenerational effects surface in society as social and economic dysfunctions like alcoholism, lack of education, lack of employment, high representation in the justice system, poverty, suicide, and displacement. These schools denied First Nations children the pride and dignity of their culture and as human beings.

For many years, First Nations people across Canada have been advocating for the recognition and truth of these schools to be known to the rest of society. In 1995, a First Nations Mik’maq activist, Nora Bernard started an organization to represent Shubenacadie residential school survivors. Being a survivor herself, Nora convinced a lawyer to represent them in a class action lawsuit against Canada for the abuses they suffered at the residential school. In 2005, this lawsuit spread across Canada and eventually became the largest class action lawsuit in Canada representing approximately 80,0000 survivors. These residential school claims are now being settled with Canada.

On June 11, 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper publicly apologized on behalf of Canada “to kill the Indian in the child” to former residential school students for the abuses and treatment they received while attending residential schools. For many survivors, it was a bittersweet moment to hear the apology as no amount of compensation could ever compensate for the abuses suffered at the residential schools.    


Did you know:      

The First Residential schools in Saskatchewan were opened in 1883, the Battleford’s Industrial School and Gordon’s Indian Residential School (in Treaty 4 territory). The St. Michael’s Indian Residential School in Duck Lake, Saskatchewan was the last school to close in 1996.  


For more information on Residential Schools:

Hidden From History: Canada’s Holocaust

Canada’s Residential School Settlement

Residential Schools: A Chronology

Our Legacy: Residential Schools

Brief History of Residential Schools

Aboriginal Residential Schools – Canada in the Making