Treaty Rights

… a core concept in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100

ourrightsourtreatiesConcept description

Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC, reference below) defines treaty rights as Aboriginal rights set out in a treaty.

INAC notes that:

“Starting in 1701, in what was to eventually become Canada, the British Crown entered into treaties to encourage peaceful relations with First Nations. Some early treaties, like the Peace and Friendship Treaties in the Atlantic region, were strategic alliances. Other later treaties, such as the Numbered Treaties in Ontario, Prairies, as well as parts of the Northwest Territories (1871 to 1921), involved First Nations ceding or surrendering rights to the land in exchange for treaty rights. While no two treaties are identical, examples of treaty rights across Canada included such things as reserve lands, farming equipment and animals, annual payments, ammunition, clothing and certain rights to hunt & fish, Treaty rights are protected under S.35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.”

Anthony Hall and Gretchen Albers (reference below) write:

“Aboriginal treaties in Canada are constitutionally recognized agreements between the Crown and Aboriginal peoples. Most of these agreements describe exchanges where Aboriginal groups agree to share some of their interests in their ancestral lands in return for various payments and promises. On a deeper level, treaties are sometimes understood, particularly on the Aboriginal side, as sacred covenants between peoples that establish the relationship linking those for whom Canada is an ancient homeland with those whose family roots lie in other countries. Thus, treaties form the constitutional and moral basis of alliance between Aboriginal peoples and Canada.

“On the Aboriginal side, the sacredness and binding character of treaties is not found primarily in the documents’ legalistic language. Instead, the true force of treaties is rooted in what was actually said, often in Aboriginal languages, at the time of the negotiations when treaty deliberations were frequently accompanied by ceremonial conventions such as the smoking of sacred pipes (calumet) or an exchange of symbolically significant presents (e.g., wampum belts). Accordingly, many contemporary Aboriginal peoples look to their elders who are schooled in the oral histories as the highest authorities on the spirit and intent of the treaties.

“On the Crown side, the principles for treaty making with Aboriginal peoples were articulated by King George III in the Royal Proclamation of 1763, which established the constitutional foundations of Canada after the government of France withdrew its claims to North America. The constitutional character of past and future treaties between Aboriginal peoples and the Crown was renewed in the Constitution Act of 1982, which describes itself as “the supreme law of Canada.” Section 35 of that document both recognizes and affirms “existing Aboriginal and treaty rights.”


Aboriginal and Treaty Rights Information System (ATRIS), a web-based, geographic information system that locates Aboriginal communities and displays information relating to their potential or established Aboriginal or treaty rights, at, accessed 2 October 2016.


Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (2010), Treaty Rights, at, accessed 2 October 2016.

Anthony Hall and Gretchen Albers (2015), Aboriginal Treaties, Canadian Encyclopedia, at, accessed 2 October 2016.

Topic, subject and Atlas course

Indigenous Governance in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified 2 October 2016.

Image: TML Daily, 27 March 2013 – No. 41, at accessed 2 October 2016.