Noun: (1) A formally concluded and ratified agreement between countries; (2) A treaty is an agreement in written form between nation-states that is intended to establish a relationship governed by International Law; and (3) A treaty is a negotiated agreement that clearly spells out the rights, responsibilities and relationships of First Nations and the federal and provincial governments.

Synonyms:  agreement – pact – contract – covenant – compact.


Treaties have been negotiated in Canada between First Nations and the British Crown in both the pre- and post-Confederation eras. The Canadian government acknowledges 70 historic and 24 modern day Treaties entered into between the Crown and First Nations.

Pre-Confederation historic Treaties include: 8 Maritime Peace and Friendship Treaties (1725-1779); 3 Peace & Neutrality Treaties (1701-1760); 30 Upper Canada Treaties (1781-1862); 2 Robinson Treaties (1850); and 14 Douglas Treaties (1850-1854).

Post-Confederation historic Treaties include: 11 Numbered Treaties (1871-1921) and 2 Williams Treaties (1923).

Modern Day Treaties include: James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (1975); Northeastern Quebec Agreement (1978); Inuvialuit Final Agreement (1984); Gwich’in Comprehensive Land Claim Agreement (1992); Nunavut Land Claims Agreement (1993); 11 Yukon First Nations Final Agreements (1993-2005); Sahtu Dene and Metis Comprehensive Land Claim Agreement (1993); Nisga’a Final Agreement (2000); Tlicho Land Claims and Self Government Agreement (2003); Labrador Inuit Land Claims Agreement (2005); Nunavik Inuit Land Claims Agreement (2008); Tsawwassen First Nation Final Agreement (2009); Eeyou Marine Region Land Claims Agreement (2010); and Maa-nulth Final Agreement (2011).


The negotiations of the Numbered Treaties followed the precedent started with the Hudson Bay Company – formality and protocol established over 200 years of extended contact.  The formality and protocol established between First Nations and the Hudson Bay Company was one of mutual recognition, intercultural negotiation, mutual respect, sharing, and mutual responsibility. In addition, The First Nations held ceremonies for guidance, purification, and solemnizing the negotiations.  These protocols and ceremonies provided the framework for Treaty negotiations.

Treaty Commissioners and Lieutenant Governors used language filled with First Nation metaphor (“as long as the sun shines, the grass grows, and rivers flow”) and colloquial kinship speech (“our great mother” or “here to be a brother to you”).  Reciprocity, in addition to the formality and protocol, was another integral aspect of the Treaty negotiations, “…in the native political and legal system the concept and practice of reciprocity is of fundamental importance…the character of gift-giving and exchange – exchange which can have magical, social, religious, political, judicial, and moral aspects.  Reciprocity, mutual obligation, governed interpersonal and kinship relations….”

However, these were not only issues the First Nations desired to address at the negotiations, “a first approach was to raise past grievances and thus expand the context of the negotiations.” The grievances varied by each Treaty: compensation for land used without Treaty; compensation for timber and fish taken without First Nation approval; removal of the Hudson Bay Company from their territories; and release of First Nation prisoners.

The First Nations were fully aware of the severity of the situation and understood the ‘upper hand’ they collectively held, “The Indians knew that in their land they had much that the white man desired…The only price which could balance the loss of such property was the assurance of full economic security.”


A Treaty Right is a collective entitlement derived from a Treaty. For example, Treaty First Nations have certain entitlements that flow from the Treaties such as, but not limited to, annuities, land and continued traditional livelihood. Canadians also have rights that come from the Crown entering into Treaties, such as the right to settle and make a living on the land.


The Crown wanted to establish a relationship with First Nations because they desired access to the land and resources of western and northern Canada. The western prairies were a large part of Prime Minister John A. Macdonald’s national policy, which envisioned the west as an agricultural producing region. The Crown also needed to complete a railway from Ontario to British Columbia in order to ensure that B.C. would remain within Confederation. The Crown was also afraid of the expansionist tendencies of the United States, who was looking northwards to expand its borders.

First Nations had differing reasons for wanting a Treaty relationship with the Crown. During the 1870s, First Nations were going through a period of transition. New Diseases introduced by the Europeans coupled with the decline of the buffalo was creating harsh living conditions for First Nations. In addition, the decline of the fur trade was also affecting the livelihood of First Nations. First Nations saw the Treaties as a bridge to the future and a way to provide for their future generations.


Adhesions were entered into with First Nations throughout the areas dealt with in the initial Treaty negotiations and often continued for several years, sometimes decades, following the negotiations. Treaty adhesions were entered into because some bands were not present at the original Treaty negotiations. First Nations who adhered to existing Treaties are subject to the same conditions as the original signatories. Likewise, the Crown is also subject to the same conditions and obligations.

From the First Nations’ perspective, Treaty adhesions are just as significant as the Treaties themselves. Treaty adhesions are sacred agreements that created an ongoing relationship with the Crown, just as the original Treaties. The most recent Treaty Adhesion was in 2006 when O-Pipon-Na-Piwin entered into an Adhesion to Treaty No. 5 in Manitoba.


Treaties benefit all Canadians but the Treaties also have responsibilities and obligations for both Canadians and First Nations.


Treaties are the fundamental building blocks of Canada by ensuring the wellbeing of both parties to the agreements through economic and political means. The Treaties also established the long standing peaceful coexistence between First Nations and the Crown.