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Originally, people of Indian origin held title to all of what is now Canada. Their right to the use and possession of the land was recognized by the Royal Proclamation of 1763. The proclamation was also the basis for subsequent treaties and other attempts to end Aboriginal land title. This process was not accomplished entirely without conflict, but the conflict in Canada was minimal compared to the costly wars of extermination that were fought in the United States. In Canada the government called its actions “Treaties of Peace and Amity.”

Some Canadians may think that the treaties are relics of a distant past, only used in the surrender of lands, an issue that no longer seems relevant. However, the treaties are deemed to be like any court document. The original treaties, those that pre-dated Confederation, were clearly international agreements. This precedent establishes that all subsequent treaty processes are also international agreements. The international character of the treaty agreements has never been denied or defeated.

The Assembly of First Nations identifies 21 large treaty areas across Canada, within which there are normally a number of separate treaties for distinct regions. The First Nations made sacred commitments to abide by these agreements, the terms of which – from their perspective – were based on the instructions of traditional spirituality around sharing, respect and honesty. 2

Any rights not surrendered in the treaties are retained as Aboriginal inherent rights. That means the rights Aboriginal Peoples had prior to the invasion of European peoples. Inherent rights include the right to the use of the land and natural resources, as well as the rights to establish and maintain their own languages, cultures, social systems and governments.

Under Treaty #3, the Métis living on reserves are covered by treaty, but most Métis, non-status Indians and Inuit are entirely disconnected from the treaty process. The Indian Act invented new categories of Aboriginal persons – “Non-Status Indians.” Because these individuals have had their “status” as members of a reserve taken from them, or are not attached to a reserve for other reasons, the treaties do not apply to them. Nonetheless, Non-Status, Métis and Inuit peoples continue to have Aboriginal inherent rights.

SOURCE: Aboriginal Rights Coalition; Métis National Council, http://vcn.bc.ca/michif/mlife.html