Colonial Canada: Canadian history in the early modern era

Module 5: Indigenous-Settler Treaties


This week's topic is very important - perhaps in our day and age the most important of all.

One of the things I hope you'll all take from this course is that the colonial world is not just something you might interesting, but that much it still has great practical importance in our world. In the late 17th century, and especially in the period after 1713, Britain signed a series of treaties with different Indigenous nations across what we today call Canada. There's no simple general rule as to what these meant, or what they were intended to do. In some, for example, it was intended to regulate hunting grounds, while in others land surrender was the explicit aim - in some it was explicitly a peace treaty ending a war, and others were broad agreements on "peace and friendship". They were signed in different places, by different people, at different times, and under different circumstances. That's what we'll be exploring in this module. Because there's no simple general rule as to what these meant, there's no simple general rule as to what they continue to mean. We can, however, see some common patterns and some common principles. Most importantly, however, they're all still in force. And so our question then is, what does that mean? 

Watch the video below 

Belshaw doesn't offer much on treaties, so there's no further background reading from his text.


Primary Sources:

Four treaties and the Royal Proclamation 

Secondary sources:

J. R. Miller, Compact, Contract, Covenant: Canada's Treaty-Making Heritage (Saskatoon, 2007), chapter 3.


This week I want you to practice something for your final papers: making connections between the primary and secondary sources. Thus, you you should first read Miller's chapter on the Royal Proclamation and the Upper Canadian treaties. Then read the primary sources. As you read the primary sources, look for examples/evidence that relates to Miller's discussion. This can be evidence that supports, or contradicts, what Miller is telling us

And, as you're reading the primary sources, ask yourself some questions:

What do these treaties say? What are the terms? Are they military (i.e. do they end a war)? Are they economic (i.e. do they outline terms for trade)? What do the two sides promise to do in these treaties? 

What are the historical circumstances under which this document is being produced? That is, what events led to this moment? What context should we bring to our understanding of any of these documents?

Consider the framework I offered you in the video lecture. What types of treaty are these? Is their meaning clear? Are their purposes clear? Do you see certainties? Ambiguities?

As with all primary documents, you should consider the author's position. Who was the author of these documents? Obviously, you can't know who is the individual person, but you can see from which side they come. What does it mean that these treaties were written by settlers/colonisers? Can we see Indigenous positions in these texts?

These treaties are now the subject of numerous court cases. Many of these have turned on whether the treaties were restrictive (limiting what people could do) or positive (enabling activities). Where do you see restrictive or positive language?

In the video lecture, I suggested that some people argue that the treaties surrendered land, but not rights to resources. Can you see that possibility in any of these texts?

Can we see change over time? Do the later treaties look different than the earlier treaties? How can we explain that change?


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