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Treaties, Surrenders and Agreements

By John Leslie


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Completeness of the Collection

The principal collection of treaties, surrenders, and agreements is not complete. The document series was originally collected, organized and numbered by Indian Affairs as a distinct departmental collection. Only an estimated 10 percent of the ITS collection consists of treaties known to have been negotiated. These treaties are sometimes originals, often copies and duplicates. (9) Additional treaties can be found in other record group collections, such as RG 10 Indian Affairs Records. The vast majority of documents in the ITS collection are surrenders from First Nations reserves, attachments and other land-related agreements.

So what treaties are absent? The 14 treaties negotiated on Vancouver Island between 1850 and 1854 by James Douglas, Chief Factor of the Hudson's Bay Company at Fort Victoria (1849-1858) and Governor of Vancouver Island (1851-1864), are not included. These treaties are located in the Public Archives of British Columbia. An edited version of the treaties was published in Papers Connected with the Indian Land Question, 1850-1875 (Victoria: R. Wolfenden, 1875). As well, a number of treaties in the chain of Peace and Friendship treaties, negotiated in the Maritimes in the years 1725 to 1779, are absent, including treaties of 1752, 1760, 1761 and 1779; these treaties, whether originals or copies, are housed in the Public Archives of Nova Scotia.

The Great Peace of Montreal treaty of 1701, a seminal document in French-Aboriginal diplomacy with many totemic signatures, is another missing piece. This historic document is located in Library and Archives Canada's (LAC) Archives nationales de France series C 11 A 19, folio 41-44. A facsimile version is in MG 18.

What constitutes a treaty? These treaties are a form of contract between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people, and come in a variety of formats. According to oral tradition, some treaties were simply verbal agreements. Other treaties, both verbal and written, were recorded on wampum belts. (10) The 18th century "Two Row" Iroquois wampum belt treaty (one of six belts representing the Six-Nation Confederacy of Iroquois), is perhaps the most famous. (11) European custom and law took the view that treaties with Aboriginal peoples should be in writing in order to ensure certainty for the parties involved. The Canadian treaty system is largely based on written documents. (12)

In recent years, Canadian courts have recognized additional historic treaties such as the Murray Treaty of 1760. In order to understand how a particular treaty was understood by the parties at the time the agreement was made, the courts have instructed Aboriginal peoples and government officials to look beyond the strict terms of a treaty and examine extrinsic historical evidence such as commissioners' reports, treaty council minutes, orders-in-council, maps and Aboriginal oral history accounts. (13) This means that researchers investigating treaty-related issues must be prepared to search many archival collections and document repositories.

Reserve land surrenders and other contractual agreements form the bulk of the ITS collection. Reserve land surrenders are not considered to be treaties. They are records of land transactions whereby First Nations people sold portions of their existing reserves, thus altering the boundaries, size and location of the reserve. The reserves were created by authority of the provisions contained in the historic treaties such as the 1850 Robinson Treaties and the post-Confederation numbered western treaties.

The land-related agreements are a mixture of original contractual documents and copies -- grants of land to Aboriginal peoples, deeds of conveyance of reserve land to non-Aboriginal people, and certificates of ownership, to name a few. In many instances, related orders-in-council, minutes of meetings, maps and plans are attached.

Archivists have not compiled a comprehensive list, index or guide to identify all the treaties, surrenders and agreements located in RG 10, or elsewhere in LAC holdings. It is important to consult relevant LAC finding aids.

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