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Canada’s First Peoples. Treaties, Land Claims, Status & Issues of Justice. NB Guest Lecturer, Friday Mar. 7, 2003 Claudette Commanda-Côté LLB. Aboriginal Language Families. Inuktitut. Cree, Ojibway, Algonquin, Montagnais, Mi’kMaq. Mohawk Huron Oneida Seneca.

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canada s first peoples

Canada’s First Peoples

Treaties, Land Claims, Status & Issues of Justice

NBGuest Lecturer, Friday Mar. 7, 2003

Claudette Commanda-Côté LLB


Aboriginal Language Families


Cree, Ojibway, Algonquin,

Montagnais, Mi’kMaq






The Constitution of Canada places the jurisdictional responsibility

  • for the status and care of native peoples under the Federal
  • Government. This is managed by the Dept. of Indian Affairs
  • and Northern Development under the articles of the Indian Act.
  • “Status” or “registered” Indians is defined by rules established
  • in 1985 under the revised Indian Act. This gives Status Indians
  • certain rightsunder the Act:
  • tax exemption for income generated on the reserve,
  • housing and education provided by the state,and
  • a guaranteed minimum income.
  • “Non-status”refers to people of Indian descent who are
  • NOT registered as Indians and do NOT share these “rights”
  • as such under the Indian Act.
  • Treaty Indians means “status” Indians who can prove they are descended from a band that had signed a treaty. They have legal rights that allow them to live on reserves and participate in band affairs.
  • In 1991- 70% of persons who claim to be Indians were “status” indians. There are 600,000 status Indians by 1996.

Innu youth- Davis Inlet


Aboriginal Rights

  • Land rights is the most fundamental right. Aboriginals began tonegotiate for land rightswith the Crown Agency for the establishment of“Treaties”even before Confederation (1867)
  • Reasons for Treaties varied enormously
  • to secure allies against the French, English or the USA
  • to prevent the outbreak of wars in Canada as had occurred in the US
  • to ensure protection of aboriginal lands and rights
  • to ensure hunting and fishing rights on Crown Land
  • Perspectivesin the signing partiesvaried enormously (or clashed)
  • The Crown often viewed them as agreements to allow the Crown to legally obtain land from Indians
  • the bands often viewed them as agreements between sovereign equals to share lands and resources.
  • The Terms of Treaties varied enormously.
  • Generally they involved cash gratuities, annual payments in perpetuity, and the promise of agricultural and educational privileges in return for natives ceding title to their land.
  • Early Treaties had numbers. Ex. Treaty 6, assigned a certain amount of land to a band based on its population size (particularly after the population had been decimated by disease, war and exile. While bands collectively “own” reserve lands, they are held in trust for them by the Crown.

The legal meaning of “title” to land has changed and evolved over time. While “status” rights included hunting and fishing rights on Crown lands, the Crown could sell or lease these lands to companies to exploit the resources on them. This was the case with Irving, MacMillan-Bloedel, INCO, etc. for forests, and oil, mineral, and hydro rights as well. Thus, the Crown was not always motivated to settle treaties and lose their power to decide on landuse rights.

Consequently, Atlantic Canada, Québec, the territorial North and British Columbia still have HUGE tracts of land for which no treaty has been settled. The Nisga’a Treaty in northern BC is one of those cases. In the “Calder” case, the Supreme Court of Canada voted against the aboriginal claims that the bands still had a land claim to territory they once occupied. The decision was so close, however, that negotiators havethus concluded that Aboriginal title to this and other landsDID, in fact, EXIST at the time of Confederation. This decision has changed the course of land claims negotiations since that time.

Another decision that changed the direction of treaty negotiations was the Berger Commission in 1974-77 as an Inquiry into the wishto build a pipeline from Arctic oil sites to the US along the Mackenzie River basin or Valley, one of Canada’s largest, least polluted rivers in territory occupied by First Nations bands. Chief Justice Berger convened with elders for the first time in such an EIA process. The ruling decided against the pipeline for environmental reasons, but also because native groups were now prepared ro take action to defend for their land claims which they perceived as rights.


Voiseys Bay (2003)

Impacts and

Benefits Agreements

- the Inuvialuit Final Agreement (1984)

- the Gwich’in Final Agreement (1992)

- the Sahtu Final Agreement (1993)

- the Nunavut Final Agreement (1993) and the

- Nisga’a Final Agreement (2000)


Newfoundland Withdraws Voisey's Bay from Land Rights Negotiations

  • Larry Innes, Environmental Advisor, Innu Nation (January, 1997)
  • Billions of dollars have changed hands for the Voisey's Bay nickel discovery,
  • and the Aboriginal people who have lived there for hundreds and thousands
  • of years haven't seen a cent of it! John Gray (Globe and Mail) reports:
    • The Newfoundland government told the province's Innu & Inuit that: -it was unilaterally withdrawing the Voisey's Bay area from land rights negotiations;
    • -the native people will be given no guarantee of sharing in the wealth from the multibillion-dollar Voisey's Bay mine development on native land in northern Labrador
    • -they must negotiate on their own with the giant Nickel company

The Innu Nation claims are:

-under the Constitution Act (1982), the original inhabitants of this land have priority rights to lands and resources

-the Innu people continue to depend on land for foods, well-being, and spiritual and cultural values.

-Innu harvesting activities take precedence over other uses of Nitassinan

-because the potential impacts of exploration activities may have negative effects on the Innu people and the land, water, wildlife, and plants that they depend on, companies must adopt strict environmental protection practices acceptable to the Innu Nation to avoid or prevent such impacts.


People at medium or under the poverty line spend most or all funds on housing and food. The poverty line is believed to fluctuate with increases and decreases depending on the current economic activity. It is also often thought that the poverty line will always be there and is ultimately inevitable. Well this would be true if perhaps you relate it to a ladder of 100 people and their respective incomes, having the 100th person at the bottom and having the least amount of income, the 100th person will not be able to reach past the 75th step even if more money was available in the economy, therefore the people will not be less poor but simply an adjustment of where the poverty line is. The problem is therefore not of insufficient funds but the unequal distribution of funds.

The misconception of Canada not having enough funds or economic activity to operate such social programs continues the existence of the poverty line. According to the Department of Finance, we have enough Gross Domestic Product and more funds than all of Europe*, however Canada spends less of our GDP on UI and Welfare combined than any other European nation**. Nations such as France, Germany and the Netherlands do not allow families to live in poverty***. The same excuse is often heard in Nunavut.

Sharon Angnakak, a first year Sociologystudent, Nunatta College,

Iqaluit, Nunavut 2002


In very recent years (approx. 10 years), many more aboriginal people have received education and training allowing them to be employed in jobs allowing them responsibilities and a voicein managing the social and administrative affairs of their people. Some of them see the possibility of “self-government” as a positive step away from a dependency relationship within Canada. People who live in dependency relationships know that this is not the best relationship for healthy social and economic conditions in which to live and raise families.

  • How this dependency relationship began is exemplified in the case of the Mi’kMaq and Mailseet of the Maritimes. These nations occupied much of Atlantic Canada, the Upper Appalachian physiographic region for hundreds or thousands of years. But, four major events diminished their independent status and reduced them to strangers in their own land.
  • the defeat (1713) of their European ally, the French, left them vulnerable
  • the expulsion of their Acadian allies (1755)
  • the founding of Halifax (1749) (British “rangers” were unleashed to burn Mi’kMaq villages, harass and drive them far from British settlements)
  • -the arrival of and allocating of prime hunting/fishing areas to Loyalists (1783)
  • Their traditional lifestyle collapsed. Denied a place in the new economy, they were forced into a state of dependence as outcasts (Bone 2002: 440).
  • Photo: Anaktalak Bay from Old Joe, Voisey’s Bay, Labrador courtesy, the (Feb. 25, 2003)

  • Map: Total Aboriginal Identity Population, Statcan Website, Census 2001 (
  • Treaty Maps, Fig. 3.9 and 3.10, from Bone, Robert. 2002. The Regional Geography of Canada (2nd Edition). Don Mills, ON: Oxford University Press
  • Term Paper by Sharon Angnakak, a first year Sociology student, Nunatta College, Iqaluit, Nunavut 2002
  • Photo: Innu children, Davis Inlet, Labrador