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Contact - Making the West Canadian

Aboriginal Claims

Following a precedent first established in 1763 by a royal proclamation of King George III, the Canadian government began to enter into treaty with the First Nations of the Prairie West within a year of the annexation of Rupert's Land. The federal government started the treaty process, not to give First Nations a homeland, but to pave the way for commercial agriculture. To distinguish the post-Confederation treaties from earlier ones in the east, the western treaties were given numbers (rather than names) and were referred to as the "numbered treaties."

The treaty ceremony was an elaborate affair in which representatives of the Crown passed out small gifts of food, tobacco, and cash, along with treaty medals, uniforms, and flags to the chiefs and headmen. Although the ceremonies and regalia varied from one treaty to the next, they had one philosophical constant. In return for giving up their "Indian title" to the landscape, bands received reserve lands which would be held by the Crown for their exclusive use.

For the Métis, the process by which the Crown extinguished their "Indian title" was very different. Rather than receive reserve lands, Métis heads of family and their children were awarded one-time grants of land or money scrip. The scrip was the equivalent to a certificate or voucher and theoretically could be used only to acquire lands listed in a Dominion Lands Office as open for homestead entry. In practice, a market for scrip grew up across the West  -  a black market in which many western financial institutions actively participated. It saw Métis scrip sold at considerably less than its face value (as little as 20 percent) to agents who resold the same scrip at a profit to immigrant homesteaders. The result of the scrip process left the Métis landless and without a community base.

One of the basic responsibilities assumed by federal officials in their administration of Indian affairs was education. In some instances, the First Nations requested provisions for schools in their treaties. The first Indian schools were established on the Prairies in 1883. From this basis, the federal government and Christian churches developed a system of residential schools in which Canadian ideals and Christianity were delivered to young minds without interference from their families and communities. As agents of social integration, the schools were a failure; as agents of learning, they were not much better; as agents of cultural genocide, they were phenomenally successful.

Further Readings

See also

Hard Bargains  --  The Making of Treaty 8

> Next Theme: Federal Administration



Indian treaty medal, Treaties 1 and 2, 1871
Indian treaty medal,
Treaties 1 and 2, 1871

Indian treaty replacement medal, 1872, by Robert Hendry
Indian treaty replacement
medal, 1872

Students of St. Paul's Indian Industrial School, Middlechurch, Manitoba, 1901
Students of St. Paul's
Indian Industrial School,
Middlechurch, Manitoba, 1901


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