Today’s guest blogger is John S. Long. Prof Long's award-winning book,Treaty No. 9, uncovers early twentieth-century approaches to negotiating land claims, focusing in particular on the 41 First Nation Nishnawbe Aski Nation/treaty affiliations in Northern Ontario, covering the land south of Hudson Bay and James Bay, and extending from the Lake of the Woods on the Manitoba border to the town of Kirkland Lake near the Quebec border. Prof David McNab describes the book as “a piece that will forever change our understanding of Treaty No. 9.” Prof Long’s expertise in this area provides both a context for Chief Theresa Spence’s demand to meet with PM Harper and the Governor General, and a counter argument to those who dismiss native claims to constitutional priority.
Treaties are not just Constitutionally-protected and backed by the United Nations. They are how indigenous peoples and their territories became part of Canada. The indigenous peoples inhabiting the vast watershed draining into James Bay in far northern Ontario arguably agreed to join Confederation through Treaty No. 9. What were the terms of union?
Three treaty commissioners appointed by the Crown travelled through far northern Ontario in the summer of 1905. Treaty No. 9: Making the Agreement to Share the Land in Far Northern Ontario in 1905 reproduces historical sources and lets the reader decide what happened. There are two scenarios.
Commissioner Samuel Stewart wrote in his journal that “full explanations” were given and the original peoples agreed to the terms of a complex written document whereby they “cede, release, surrender and yield up to the Government of the Dominion of Canada for His Majesty the King and his Successors forever, all their rights, titles and privileges whatsoever, to the lands.”
Commissioner Daniel George MacMartin, a miner nominated by Ontario, said in his diary that Treaty No. 9 was explained orally this way: the commissioners had been sent by the King, the monarch wished his people to be happy and prosperous, and - as soon as they signed their names - everyone would receive gifts in perpetuity.
Commissioner Duncan Campbell Scott (like Stewart, a career Indian Affairs employee) seemed to confirm MacMartin’s account when he later wrote: “They were to make certain promises and we were to make certain promises, but our purpose and our reasons were alike unknowable … So there was no basis for argument. The simple facts had to be stated, and the parental idea developed that the King is the great father of the Indians, watchful over their interests, and ever compassionate.”
The written version goes on to say that indigenous peoples may continue to hunt, trap and fish – subject to government regulation, and not on lands which may be “taken up” for mining, forestry, settlement and so on – and they must obey the law.
MacMartin wrote that two issues were always raised by the original peoples. What about our hunting and fishing? You can hunt and fish as you always have. Do we have to live on a reserve? You don’t have to live there until you choose. There is no regulation of hunting, trapping and fishing, and no mention of government regulations or laws or lands being “taken up,” in the oral version.
Either way, treaties are nation-to-nation agreements that can only be changed only through negotiation. Governments who attempt to make changes without indigenous consent arguably put Confederation at risk.
- John S. Long, Nipissing University
John Long is featured in the CBC Ideas program George MacMartin's Big Canoe Trip, which reairs on CBC Radio 1 tonight @ 9 pm, eastern.