It's been well over a century since the treaties were signed between the First Nations peoples and the Canadian government, but their legacy is still felt today. In some cases, disputes about the treaties continue to this day. And yet, despite the controversy that often surrounds them, they remain an important part of our country's history. This week on historical blog, we'll be taking a closer look at these treaties and what they mean for Canada. Stay tuned!
At the beginning of the 1870s, the government of Canada started the process of negotiating treaties with the people of the First Nations in order to make room for the construction of a transcontinental railway.
The government was entirely unfamiliar with the cultures and customs of the First Nations, and it showed no interest in learning about them. As a result, these conversations were frequently contentious. Promises were made, such as the assurance of humanitarian aid in times of disaster; however, these promises were subsequently proven to be unhelpful.
In 1876, just eighteen months after Treaty 6 was signed with the Cree on the Saskatchewan plains, bison began to vanish from the area. This took place on the prairies of Saskatchewan. For a very long time, the Cree had relied on bison for both their food and their clothes, but all of a sudden, they found themselves facing the prospect of hunger.
As a result of the tardy and ineffective response of the government, a great number of Cree people lost their lives. This episode brings to light the difficulties encountered by people of First Nations while interacting with the Canadian government as well as the frequently unmet promises made by that government.
The widely publicised event of the final spike being driven "signalled the end of freedom for First Nations people." The same year, the government of Canada implemented an extralegal and little-known policy of segregation known as the "pass system." This policy prevented First Nations people from leaving their reserves without written consent from government officials. This policy was in place from that same year until the middle of the 1930s.
Although the process was fraught with difficulty and took many years, by 1877 treaties had been signed with almost all of the First Nations in Canada. The railway was completed shortly thereafter, opening up the west to colonization and paving the way for generations of Canadians. If you’re interested in learning more about this period in Canadian history, be sure to check out our article on treaty-making. And if there’s a particular topic related to Indigenous history that you’d like us to explore, let us know! We love doing research and would be happy to write a post about it.