Looking back on treaty history


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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/05/2021 (743 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Happy (belated) anniversary Manitoba.

Forgive yourselves if you forgot to mark it on your calendars, but our dear province quietly turned 151 years old last week. You understandably had other things on your mind. Besides, even if we could have celebrated together, it is more typical of us to mark major anniversaries like a sesquicentennial (for 150 years), which in Manitoba’s case was last May.

But the Manitoba Act, which formally received royal assent on May 12th, 1870, led to the negotiations that shaped this country  as we know it today.

Those negotiations began on July 27, 1871, and were finalized eight complicated and tense days later when Treaty 1 was signed. It represents the first “legal” agreement between Indigenous peoples, the British Crown, and the Dominion of Canada.

Aug. 3 will mark exactly 150 years since that fateful day — a sesquicentennial not necessarily worthy of celebration, but one undeniably worthy of note.

When Treaty 1 was signed, the process of establishing the Province of Manitoba — which had at times been a violent one — was still fresh in the minds of everyone involved, and Canadian officials were looking for a way to annex more land with less resistance. Our forebears may not have framed it in the same way as those of our neighbour to the south — who considered it their “manifest destiny” — but the goal was rapid expansion to the west, seen as vital to Canada’s economic future.

Treaty 1 was, by design, a one-sided agreement; the people who had occupied this land for thousands of years were told that Queen Victoria — or their “Great Mother,” as Manitoba’s then-Lieutenant-Governor Adams G. Archibald referred to her — would grant them the freedom to “hunt over them, and make all the use of them which you have made in the past. But when lands are needed to be tilled or occupied, you must not go on them any more.”

Manitoba’s population soon exploded, particularly in Winnipeg, and places like “Railway Town” — today known as Lord Roberts — became such lands.

In total, 11 numbered treaties were signed in this period, each of them apparently in good faith. Many of the provisions in those agreements have gone unmet, and any more were breached by the implementation of the Indian Act in 1876.

One-hundred fifty years after that first treaty was signed, we continue to wrestle with a legacy as complicated and tense as the negotiations that bore it.

That legacy shows itself in the lack of access to clean drinking water for many Indigenous peoples (for which national class-action lawsuits have recently been launched), in debates surround Bill C-15 (An Act Respecting the Implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the rights of Indigenous Peoples), and in the lingering effects of the residential school system.

Particularly on the last note, Murray Sinclair, chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, stated that “education got us into this mess and education will get us out”.

Andrew Braga is a community correspondent for South Osborne.

Andrew Braga

Andrew Braga
South Osborne community correspondent

Andrew Braga is a community correspondent for South Osborne.

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