Treaties between the British Crown (government) and Indigenous peoples were negotiated and signed with the intent of delivering mutual benefits. They signed as independent, self-governing nations.
Treaty rights are the specific rights of First Nations embodied in the treaties they entered into with the British government and then, Canada.
These rights often address the creation of reserves for the exclusive use of First Nations, and their rights to hunt, fish and trap on provincial Crown lands. Treaty rights are protected by subsection 35(1) of the Constitution Act of 1982.
Understanding Land Claims
There are several kinds of land claims. The ones that Ontario deals with are about Indigenous communities’ rights to land and to the use of land.
In a land claim, an Indigenous community asks Ontario to address historic wrongs.
The community provides historical and legal documents to prove that the community:
- is legally entitled to reserve land and/or to financial compensation, or
- never surrendered to the Crown its original rights in lands and natural resources
Historical Overview of the Treaty of Paris, 1784
The signing of the Treaty of Paris officially ended the American Revolution. British North America was divided into the United States and British Canada, creating a new international border through some of the lands that had been set apart by the Crown for First Nations. Some Indigenous peoples felt betrayed by the King and felt that the promises made to them were not being honoured.
Historical Overview of the Jay Treaty, 1794
Signed between the United States and Britain, Article 3 of the Jay Treaty states:
“It is agreed that at all Times be free to His Majesty’s Subjects, and to the Citizens of the United States, and also to the Indians dwelling on either side of said Boundary Line freely to pass and re-pass by Land, or Inland Navigation, into the respective Territories and Countries of the Two Parties on the Continent of America.
…No Duty of Entry shall ever be levied by either Party on Peltries brought by Land, or Inland Navigation into the said Territories respectively, nor shall the Indians passing or re-passing with their own proper Goods and Effects of whatever nature, pay for the same any Import or Duty whatever. But Goods in Bales, or other large Packages unusual among the Indians shall not be considered as Goods belonging bona fide to Indians.”
The Treaty recognizes and acknowledges the existence and rights of certain long-established Indigenous systems and practices, including systems of trade, commerce and mobility between territories that existed long before Europeans arrived in North America.
The Akwesasne reserve is in a unique geographical location as the Canadian-American border intersects it. Members of the Mohawk band regularly pass across the border however, unfortunately, the terms established in the Jay Treaty are not being honoured. People are required to pass through customs every time they cross the border, dealing with armed customs agents.
Algonquins of Ontario Land Claim
One of the largest land claims being negotiated in Ontario. If successful, it will be the province’s first modern-day constitutionally protected treaty.
The claim covers a territory of 36,000 square kilometres in eastern Ontario that is populated by more than 1.2 million people.
If successful, the negotiations will produce the province’s first modern-day constitutionally protected treaty.
The Algonquins of Ontario assert that they have Aboriginal rights and title that have never been extinguished (the land is unceded) and have continuing ownership of the Ontario portions of the Ottawa and Mattawa River watersheds and their natural resources.
The boundaries of the claim are based largely on the watershed, which was historically used and occupied by the Algonquin people.
The negotiators for the Algonquins of Ontario, the Government of Canada and the Government of Ontario have agreed to recommend:
- the transfer of 117,500 acres of Crown Lands to Algonquin ownership
- $300 million as settlement capital provided by Canada and Ontario
- defined Algonquin rights related to lands and natural resources
The negotiators have also agreed that:
- no new reserves will be created
- Algonquin Park will be preserved for the enjoyment of all
- land will not be expropriated from private owners as a result of the settlement
Several years of work remain, including another stage of negotiations and consultations, before a Final Agreement can be reached. (source: https://www.ontario.ca/page/algonquin-land-claim)
Mohawk Council of Akwesasne Land Claim
The claim concerns territory of approximately 20 000 acres known as Tsikaristisere or “Dundee Lands” on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River opposite Cornwall, Ontario. Specifically, the claim relates to the alleged 1888 surrender of lands. From the early 1880s, the lands had been leased to non-Mohawk settlers. As the leases expired, the Mohawks demanded a return of the lands which they needed for themselves. In 1888, the Superintendent General of Indian Affairs proposed that the Mohawks surrender the Tsikaristisere lands for $50 000. Although a surrender was allegedly signed, the Mohawks maintain that they intended to reclaim the leased lands, not to surrender them. (source: http://www.akwesasne.ca/DundeeClaim)
The government has agreed that the sale was not valid and is currently trying to establish the status of the land. They have offered to rightfully purchase the land from the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne for $239 million which has not, as yet, been accepted by the Mohawks.