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Comprehensive Land Claims: Modern Treaties

Comprehensive land claims are modern-day treaties made between Indigenous peoples and the federal government. They are based on the traditional use and occupancy of land by Indigenous peoples who did not sign treaties and were not displaced from their lands by war or other means. These claims, which are settled by negotiation, follow a process established by the federal government to enable First Nations, Inuit and Métis to obtain full recognition as the original inhabitants of what is now Canada. Settlement of these claims comprises a variety of terms including money, land, forms of local government, rights to wildlife, rights protecting language and culture, and joint management of lands and resources. Treaties are constitutionally protected, mutually binding agreements. Those signed by Indigenous peoples between 1701 and 1923 are commonly referred to as historic treaties, and modern treaties refer to those agreements negotiated since then.

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Native People's Caravan

The Native People’s Caravan was a cross-country mobile protest that took place in 1974. Its main purpose was to raise awareness about the poor living conditions and discrimination experienced by Indigenous peoples in Canada. It travelled from Vancouver to Ottawa, where the subsequent occupation of a vacant warehouse on Victoria Island, near Parliament Hill, extended into 1975. The caravan brought various Indigenous groups together in protest of broken treaties, as well as a lack of government-supported education, housing and health care. As a result, meetings between Cabinet ministers and Indigenous leaders became more frequent. The protest is remembered as an important turning point in Indigenous activism in Canada.

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Treaty of Utrecht

Utrecht, Treaty of, an agreement between Britain and France concluded 11 Apr 1713 at Utrecht in the Netherlands as part of the series of treaties ending the WAR OF THE SPANISH SUCCESSION . The treaty recognized Queen Anne as the legitimate sovereign of England and officially ended French support for the claims of the Jacobite party to the British throne. 

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Treaty 4

Treaty 4 — also known as the Qu'Appelle Treaty — was signed on 15 September 1874 at Fort Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan. The Indigenous signatories include the Cree, Saulteaux bands of the Ojibwa peoples and the Assiniboine. In exchange for payments, provisions and rights to reserve lands, Treaty 4 ceded Indigenous territory to the federal government. The majority of Treaty 4 lands are in present-day southern Saskatchewan. Small portions are in western Manitoba and southern Alberta.

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Treaty 3

On 3 October 1873, some Saulteaux peoples (an Ojibwe people) and the Government of Canada signed Treaty 3, also known as the North-West Angle Treaty. This agreement provided the federal government access to Saulteaux lands in present-day northwestern Ontario and eastern  Manitobain exchange for various goods and Indigenous rights to hunting, fishing and natural resources on reserve lands. The terms and text of Treaty 3 set precedents for the eight Numbered Treaties that followed. (See also Treaties with Indigenous Peoples in Canada.)

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Marshall Case

The Marshall case is a landmark ruling in Indigenous treaty rights in Canada. The case centres on Donald Marshall Jr., a Mi’kmaq man from Membertou, Nova Scotia. In August 1993, Marshall caught and sold 210 kg of eel with an illegal net and without a licence during closed-season times. He was arrested after being charged under the federal Fisheries Act and the Maritime Provinces Fishery Regulations. In Marshall’s court case, R. v. Marshall, he was found guilty on all three charges in provincial court (1996) and appeals court (1997). The Supreme Court of Canada reversed Marshall’s convictions in September 1999. The Supreme Court recognized the hunting and fishing rights promised in the Peace and Friendship Treaties. These treaties were signed between the British and the Mi’kmaq, Wolastoqiyik and Peskotomuhkati in 1760–61.

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The Indian Act

The Indian Act is the principal law through which the federal government administers Indian status, local First Nations governments and the management of reserve land and communal monies. The Indian Act does not include Métis or Inuit peoples. The Act came into power on 12 April 1876. It consolidated a number of earlier colonial laws that sought to control and assimilate Indigenous peoples into Euro-Canadian culture. The Indian Act has been amended many times over the years to do away with restrictive and oppressive laws. However, the Act has had historic and ongoing impacts on First Nations cultures, economies, politics and communities. It has also caused inter-generational trauma, particularly with regards to residential schools.

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Treaties with Indigenous Peoples in Canada

Indigenous treaties in Canada are constitutionally recognized agreements between the Crown and Indigenous peoples. Most of these agreements describe exchanges where Indigenous nations agree to share some of their interests in their ancestral lands in return for various payments and promises. On a deeper level, treaties are sometimes understood, particularly by Indigenous people, as sacred covenants between nations that establish a relationship between those for whom Canada is an ancient homeland and those whose family roots lie in other countries. Treaties therefore form the constitutional and moral basis of alliance between Indigenous peoples and Canada.

(This is the full-length entry about Treaties with Indigenous Peoples In Canada. For a plain language summary, please see Treaties with Indigenous Peoples in Canada (Plain Language Summary).

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Williams Treaties

The Williams Treaties were signed in October and November 1923 by the governments of Canada and Ontario and by seven First Nations of the Chippewa of Lake Simcoe (Beausoleil, Georgina Island and Rama) and the Mississauga of the north shore of Lake Ontario (Alderville, Curve Lake, Hiawatha and Scugog Island). As the last historic land cession treaties in Canada, these agreements transferred over 20,000 km2 of land in south central Ontario to the Crown; in exchange, Indigenous signatories received one-time cash payments. While Chippewa and Mississauga peoples argue that the Williams Treaties also guaranteed their right to hunt and fish on the territory, the federal and provincial governments have interpreted the treaty differently, resulting in legal disputes and negotiations between the three parties about land rights. In 2018, the Williams Treaties First Nations and the Governments of Ontario and Canada came to a final agreement, settling litigation about land surrenders and harvesting rights.

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Treaty 9

Treaty 9 (also known as the James Bay Treaty) is one of the 11 post-Confederation Numbered Treaties negotiated with Indigenous peoples in Canada between 1871 and 1921. (See also Treaties with Indigenous Peoples in Canada.) Signed in 1905-6, Treaty 9 covers most of present-day Ontario north of the height of land dividing the Great Lakes watershed from the Hudson and James Bay drainage basins. The purpose of Treaty 9 was to purchase the interests of the resident Cree and Ojibwe peoples to lands and resources to make way for white settlement and resource development. Treaty 9, like other Numbered Treaties, contained provisions for cash treaty payments, the creation of reserves, education and hunting, fishing and trapping rights.

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Crawford Purchase

The Crawford Purchase of 1783 is one of the oldest land agreements between British authorities and Indigenous peoples in Upper Canada (later Ontario). It resulted in a large tract of territory along the north shore of the upper St. Lawrence River and the eastern end of Lake Ontario being opened for settlement by displaced Loyalists and Indigenous peoples who fought for and supported Britain during the American Revolution. The Crawford Purchase is one of many agreements made during the late 18th and 19th centuries, known collectively as the Upper Canada Land Surrenders. (See also Treaties with Indigenous Peoples in Canada.)

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Johnson-Butler Purchase

The Johnson-Butler Purchase of 1787–88 (also known as the “Gunshot Treaty,” referring to the distance a person could hear a gunshot from the lake’s edge) is one of the earliest land agreements between representatives of the Crown and the Indigenous peoples of Upper Canada (later Ontario). It resulted in a large tract of territory along the central north shore of Lake Ontario being opened for settlement. These lands became part of the Williams Treaties of 1923. (See also Upper Canada Land Surrenders and Treaties with Indigenous Peoples in Canada.)

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Covenant Chain

The Covenant Chain is the name given to the complex system of alliances between the Haudenosaunee (also known as the Six Nations and Iroquois League) and Anglo-American colonies originating in the early 17th century. The first alliances were most likely between New York and the Kanyen'kehà:ka (Mohawk). These early agreements were referred to figuratively as chains because they bound multiple parties together in alliance. Today the Covenant Chain represents the long tradition of diplomatic relations in North America, and is often invoked when discussing contemporary affairs between the state and Indigenous peoples. (See also Treaties with Indigenous Peoples in Canada.)

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Murray Treaty of Longueuil (1760)

On 5 September 1760, three days before the Capitulation of Montreal, the chief of the Huron-Wendat of Lorette, who had accompanied the retreating French army from Quebec to the Montreal region, approached General James Murray at Longueuil. A treaty of peace — known as the Murray Treaty of Longueuil or simply, the Murray Treaty — was concluded whereby the Huron-Wendat came under British protection. (See also Treaties with Indigenous Peoples in Canada.)

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Treaty 6

​Treaty 6 was signed by Crown representatives and Cree, Assiniboine and Ojibwa leaders on 23 August 1876 at Fort Carlton, Saskatchewan, and on 9 September 1876 at Fort Pitt, Saskatchewan. The treaty boundaries extend across central portions of present-day Alberta and Saskatchewan.