The Treaty Promises

Moose Tracks In Snow

Moose Tracks in Snow in Traditional Mushkegowuk Territory

In 1905, representatives of the Canadian and Ontario governments (called “Treaty Commissioners”) travelled through Northern Ontario by canoe, and met with First Nations groups who had gathered at a series of Hudson’s Bay Company trading posts to negotiate Treaty 9.  The Treaty commissioners came to these meetings with a pre-made written Treaty document.  This document was only written in English, which the First Nations representatives could not read.  The Commissioners made a simple presentation through interpreters.

Fishing in Mushkegowuk Territory

Fishing in Mushkegowuk Territory

The Treaty 9 Commissioners repeatedly made and recorded several key promises regarding First Nations hunting and fishing rights, which were recorded in their diaries.  For example, the Commissioners made clear and unqualified promises to the First Nations that:

1.  The government would not limit the geographical area in which the First Nations could exercise their hunting and fishing rights, and that they would continue to be able to hunt and fish anywhere on their traditional lands and waters as they wished;

2.  The First Nations would be allowed to continue to hunt and fish as they and their forefathers had done, and that the Treaty would preserve this continuity, which was central to their way of life; and

3.  The government would not interfere with First Nations traditional livelihoods.

Smoking Geese

Smoking Geese

The government representatives made these solemn Treaty promises to the First Nations to ensure that the First Nations would agree to the Treaty.  Indeed, before they agreed to a treaty, many of the First Nations representatives during the Treaty negotiations expressed serious concerns about the effect the Treaty might have on their hunting and fishing rights.  They asked the Treaty commissioners for full information on this point.  In every instance, the Treaty commissioners strongly and unequivocally promised that the Treaty would not limit or undermine these rights in any way.

Oral Treaty Promises on Hunting and Harvesting Rights At Various Treaty 9 Signing Locations as Described By Treaty Commissioners & Secretary

Treaty Promise Location Date Source
“their present manner of making their livelihood would in no way be interfered with”“they were assured that they were not expected to give up their hunting-grounds, that they might hunt and fish throughout all the country”“informed that they could continue to live as they and their forefathers had done Osnaburgh July 12, 1905 Official report
D.C. Scott, magazine article
S. Stewart, personal diary
“hunting and fishing, in which occupations they were not to be interfered with Fort Hope July 19, 1905 Official report
“it was explained to them that they could hunt and fish as of old and they were not restricted as to territory ”“again it was put forcibly before them … that they could hunt wherever they pleased, [upon which] they signified their assent …” Marten Falls July 25, 1905 D. MacMartin, personal diary
“The explanations that had been given at the other points were repeated here” Fort Albany Aug. 3, 1905 Official report
“they could follow their custom of hunting where they pleased” …“Fred Mark replied that they … concurred in all that had be said …” Moose Factory Aug. 9, 1905 D. MacMartin, personal diary
“As usual, the point on which the Indians desired full information was as to the effect the treaty would have on their hunting and fishing rights.  On being assured that these would not be taken from them, they expressed much pleasure and their willingness to sign the treaty …”“[the band] had terms of treaty explained to them … that they were also allowed as of yore to hunt and fish where they pleased…”“Angus Weenusk replied that they accepted the terms as stated …” New Post Aug. 21, 1905 S. Stewart, personal diary
D. MacMartin, personal diary
“Ontario … has conceded the Indians all the hunting and trading privileges which they have ever possessed.” Abitibi June 7, 1906 Pelham Edgar, magazine article
Matachewan June 20, 1906
Mattagami July 7, 1906
Flying Post July 16, 1906
New Brunswick House July 25, 1906
Long Lake Aug. 9, 1906

The Written Treaty Document

Treaty 9 Document

The Written Treaty 9 Document

The written Treaty document is far less clear about the scope of First Nations hunting and fishing rights.  The government claims that the written Treaty document gives it the right to limit or extinguish First Nations hunting and fishing rights at any time and in any location, just by taking that land and putting it to some other use. There are 22 words in the written Treaty document that, to this day, the government claims gives it this right (in bold):

And His Majesty the King hereby agrees with the said Indians that they shall have the right to pursue their usual vocations of hunting, trapping and fishing throughout the tract surrendered as heretofore described, subject to such regulations as may from time to time be made by the government of the country, acting under the authority of His Majesty, and saving and excepting such tracts as may be required or taken up from time to time for settlement, mining, lumbering, trading or other purposes.

The government representatives never discussed these words with the First Nations representatives.  The First Nations never agreed to a term that would allow the government to limit their hunting and fishing rights in the future without their consent.