The negotiation of treaties between the First Nations and the Crown dates back to the 18th century. The Royal Proclamation, 1763, established rules for negotiating the treaties and prevented individual settlers themselves from negotiating land deals with Aboriginal people. The Royal Proclamation affirmed that Aboriginal title existed. Canada negotiated the treaties to build a national railway and make the land available for settlement by non-Aboriginal people. The signing of the treaties took place over a span of 50 years from 1871 to 1921, with eleven numbered treaties signed in total.  These treaties covered most of Canadian lands and delineated whom the government recognized as a "Treaty Indian" or a "Status Indian".

The term treaty rights refers to those guarantees explicitly and implicitly agreed upon in the treaties. Under the terms of treaties, First Nations people agreed to share the land in return for specific rights. Those leaders who provided signatures on the actual treaty document noted that they were not signing the treaty for themselves, but rather for the children of future generations.  This is why these historic treaties are so important today, because they were continuous agreements that would affect the descendents of Aboriginal people and the first Canadians.  

Some Rights contained in Treaties include:  

  • The right to education
  • The right to health care
  • Hunting and fishing rights
  • The right to tax exemption
  • Five dollars annually for every man, woman and child

View the text of the Treaties

While existing Aboriginal and treaty rights are protected under Canada's Constitution, they are subject to government regulation. It is significant to note that there are fundamental disagreements between Aboriginal peoples and various levels of government as to what Aboriginal and treaty rights include and to what extent they may be realized. The Treaties were supposed to ensure the economic and cultural survival of Aboriginal people, “as long as the sun shines, the waters flow, and the grass grows.”  This assured continuance was agreed to by representatives of the Crown (her Majesty the Queen).

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