It's clear this is a messy story. But it still has a single feature that gives the entire story a basic coherence. We, as a society, have a legal and a moral obligation to deal with our relationship with Indigenous peoples. It behoves us to use the treaties (and if there are none, then the principles we see in the existing treaties) to bring Indigenous peoples into a full and fair partnership on the benefits (and costs) of living in an advanced democratic society. And that's what we will explore in the next few weeks.
Following their defeat of France in the Seven Years War, Britain sought to clarify what it saw as the new arrangement of imperial power in North America. Most of the proclamation dealt with borders and forms of government. A substantial section described relations with Indigenous peoples and more particularly outlined the Crown's view of Indigenous territory and sovereignty. We'll discuss more in class, but a key feature of that was drawing a line down through the Appalachian Mountains and proclaiming all land west of that line to be "reserved for the Indians". In outlining rules premised on Indigenous sovereignty over this territory, the Crown also established guidelines for all future relationships with Indigenous peoples. The end of the Seven Years War not only saw the defeat of the French Empire and their removal from North America, but also a corresponding weakening of the position of the many Indigenous peoples across North America (from the Mi'kmaq in the northeast to the Mingo in the southeast). The Royal Proclamation (1763) and the subsequent Treaty of Niagara (1764) were attempts on the part of Great Britain to establish rules for future government of what Britain now saw as its domain.
The Royal Proclamation is about more than Indigenous policies. Do you see a general idea guiding British thinking? Why do the British appear to be protecting "Indian" land? Is it significant that that British acknowledge Indigenous title to land? In many ways, the Royal Proclamation and the Treaty of Niagara reflected the new power arrangements in North America with the defeat of France, but in some ways it reflects a long-standing continuity. Discuss. Do the treaties signed in 1764 and 1818 reflect the spirit of the Royal Proclamation? The Royal Proclamation implies Indigenous title to the land, and thus treats their surrender of land as a free choice (if the Indians "should be inclined to sell").
The Rice Lake treaty negotiations offer one of the few transcripts available of the actual negotiation process. Do the Rice Lake Anishinaabe appear "inclined to sell"? Why? Is this sale "just and reasonable"?
In all this we can see both a push by the imperial and colonial governments for more and greater economic development, but also a recognition that the principles of the Royal Proclamation needed to be adhered to. But we also see that it was adhered to differently and with different effects in different places.
The two maps above illustrate the peace and the impact of the Royal Proclamation: In October 1763, following the signing of the Treaty of Paris, the British government confirmed the new boundaries of North America in a proclamation - what we now call "the Royal Proclamation of 1763". New boundaries meant new maps and several cartographers set out to show Britons the outlines of their newly won territories. But the results were interestingly different. Compare the map below with Thomas Kitchin's "A New Map of the British Dominions in North America" (above). Both maps were produced in London within weeks of each other. Yet they show quite different versions of the new boundaries. These are not simply mistakes. They reflect very different understandings of the Proclamation. The differences continue to have very real consequences in our world today.
Recall the treaty negotiation you read in our Indigenous cultures week between the Haudenosaunee and Benjamin Fletcher in Pennsylvania. Many of the same protocols will have been in place in these negotiations. In both cases, we're trying to understand Indigenous peoples, but the people telling us the information were colonizers. Do we then have to ask how trustworthy are these sources? What does that mean for our understanding of these agreements?
The Royal Proclamation (1763)
Correspondence of Sir William Johnson, August and September 1764, including reports of negotiating the Treaty of Niagara.
Documents on the Rice Lake Treaty (Upper Canada, 1818), pp.89-96.
Susan Hill, The Clay We Are Made Of: Haudenosaunee Land Tenure on the Grand River (Winnipeg, University of Manitoba Press), 91-131.
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This page references:
- Map of Royal Proclamation Territory, 1763
- Thomas Kitchin "A New Map of the British Dominions in North America; with the Limits of the Governments annexted thereto by the late Treaty of Peace and settled by Proclamation of October 7th, 1763" (London, 1763)
- Map of the 1805 Treaty with Mississaugua, Toronto lands.