When is a Treaty not a Treaty?

David Garneau, Not to Confuse Politeness with Agreement (courtesy of the artist)

“We are all treaty people.” That statement has become commonplace, at least in western Canada, where much of the terriory is covered by numbered treaties signed in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The situation is more complex in parts of British Columbia, Quebec, and Newfoundland. Still, the intention behind that statement is important. It reminds us that Indigenous peoples in Canada were not defeated or subjugated by the newcomers to this place. Rather, we entered into treaty relationships by which we were supposed to share the land–even if, as David Garneau’s painting Not to Confuse Politeness with Agreement suggests, those relationships are replete with misunderstandings and misapprehensions which still need to be corrected. And, of course, the promises made by settlers in those treaties have not been kept.

What about the relationship between Canada and the Six Nations? What treaty defines that relationship? The Haldimand Proclamation is a leading contender, but if you look at this map (taken from the web site of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada), you won’t find any representation of the Haldimand Tract there. I searched that federal department’s web site and found no mention of the Haldimand Proclamation anywhere. It’s as if it doesn’t exist, as if Canada has no treaty relationship with the Haudenosaunee.

But the Six Nations do consider the Haldimand Proclamation to be a treaty. In fact, on the elected band council’s web site, it’s described as the Haldimand Treaty.

In a way, the confusion is understandable. The Haldimand Proclamation doesn’t look like a treaty. Representatives of both sides didn’t sign it, for example. And yet, what else could it be? It defines the territory reserved for the Haudenosaunee. It establishes their right to occupy that land. Besides, other documents that are recognized as treaties, like the Royal Proclamation of 1763, don’t look like numbered treaties, either. And yet they also help to define the relationship between the Crown and Indigenous peoples.

Prime Minister Trudeau has promised that the relationship between Canada and First Nations will from this point forward be on a nation-to-nation basis. But how will Canada develop such a relationship with the Six Nations if it doesn’t even recognize its treaty with them as a treaty?

Several months ago, I wrote to the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, the Honourable Carolyn Bennett, asking how it could be that Canada and the Six Nations could disagree about something so fundamental to their relationship. I haven’t heard back from her office yet. If you’d like to ask the same question, you can e-mail her through her official Parliamentary web site.

Don’t forget, you can also donate online to the Woodland Cultural Centre’s “Save the Evidence” campaign, using Paypal. Or, if you prefer, you can send a cheque to the Woodland Cultural Centre at PO Box 1506, Brantford Ontario N3T 5V6 Attention: Save the Evidence. We might not be able to get answers from our federal government about Canada’s treaty relationship with the Haudenosaunee, but we can support this important project: restoring the former residential school in Brantford and creating a museum there about the residential school experience. Please give generously!

The Mohawk Institute in the 1930s. Image courtesy of the Anglican Church of Canada.