Indigenous 101: We are all treaty people

August 23, 2019

Indigenous 101: We are all treaty people


Between 1871 and 1921, eleven treaties were signed across Canada between Indigenous peoples and the reigning monarchs of the Dominion of Canada. These treaties expanded Canada with large tracts of land in exchange for promises made to the Indigenous people of the areas. The first wave of treaties (1871 to 1877) were key in advancing European settlement across the prairie regions and development of the Canadian Pacific Railway. In the second wave (1899 to 1921), resource extraction was the main motive for Canadian government officials. The numbered treaties were part of radical and profound change for Canada and everyone who called it home.

Today, these eleven treaties are upheld by the Government of Canada. Through more than a century of interaction, First Nations people view the treaties as sacred – and flawed. No two treaties were alike, as they were dependent upon specific geographic and social conditions within the territory being addressed. As a result, Indigenous people have been deciphering and debating Canadian treaties for more than 140 years.

Edmonton and NorQuest College lie on Treaty 6 traditional land, which encompasses central Alberta and Saskatchewan, ancestral home to numerous western Canadian First Nations and Métis people. Treaty 6 was first signed on August 23, 1876 at Fort Carleton, just north of Saskatoon.

Acknowledging Treaty 6

While the Treaty 6 acknowledgment is now part of every official NorQuest event, it is meant to be more than just a formality.

“The intent of the Treaty 6 acknowledgment is to provide a kind of mental space to reflect on our physical space,” says Elliott Young, Indigenous Community Engagement Advisor. “It’s recognizing that we all share this land, we are all a part of Treaty 6. The treaty is not something that happened in the past – it still informs the present. So any time there is an event at NorQuest, the acknowledgment gives us a moment to reflect on all of these concepts.”

“Now we’re seeing that we need to take it a step further. Once we acknowledge it, what are we going to do with it? How can we turn the acknowledgment into action? It’s not about merely remembering the treaty, it’s about upholding it. You have probably heard the phrase we are all treaty people. In one way or another, Most of us are descendants of the people who signed the treaties in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. So basically, anyone who is a Canadian citizen has an obligation to uphold the treaty and respect the peace and friendship that it outlines.”

Did you know?

  • The Government of Canada believes the terms of Treaty 6 are clear within the document, but there is a longstanding disagreement on treaty terms. Due to the oral traditions of Indigenous peoples, they have a different understanding of the terms. Although there were interpreters present at the negotiations, direct translation of certain words and concepts between English and Cree was not possible.
  • One of the selling points of Treaty 6 was that a medicine chest would be kept at the home of the Indian agent for use by the people. Today, Indigenous interpretation of the “Medicine Chest Clause” is this means health care and health benefits for Indigenous people. No other Canadian treaty contained the Medicine Chest Clause.
  • Under Treaty 6, all Indigenous people were eligible for a payment of $5 a year. This still happens at an annual ceremony attended by government officials with a large supply of $5 bills and an RCMP officer in full dress uniform to shake everyone’s hand.

Indigenous 101 is an ongoing series of articles that explore Indigenous culture at our college and beyond. Our Indigenous team will be sharing knowledge as we delve into ideas, concepts, myths, stereotypes, and more.