The PLEA: Treaties and the Law

The PLEA: Treaties and the Law

What are Treaties?

A Treaty is a negotiated agreement between two or more nations. Nations all over the world have a long history of using treaties, often for land disputes or settlements and sometimes to end or avoid wars. For example, in 1763 the Kings of Britain, France, and Spain entered into the Treaty of Paris to end the Seven Years’ War over land in North America.

This led to the Royal Proclamation, a document that sets out guidelines for European settlement of Indigenous territories in what is now North America. The Royal Proclamation was issued by King George III in 1763 to officially claim British territory in North America after Britain won the Seven Years’ War.

As Europeans explored and settled what is now known as the Americas, Treaties were used to promote and make peace, and secure military alliances with the First Nations. However, this was not the first time that the First Nations of what is now Canada entered into Treaties. Long before, the First Nations entered into Treaties with each other. One of the earliest recordings of such Treaties is the Great Law of Peace of the People of Longhouse. Negotiated before 1450, it created a code of law and a form of government.

Another Treaty that is told through oral history is the Story of the Iron Nations Treaty Alliance as told, verbatim, by Danny Musqua in 2010:

“I heard this story long time ago from Elder Solomon Mosquito, I also heard of this from my Mosom Lawrence Tompson, when I was young. About 100 years prior to the first newcomers to this land, the Assiniboine, the Cree and the Saulteaux made a treaty and alliance. This treaty and alliance purpose was to maintain peace and good order among the nations. The treaty and alliance also provided agreement to share the hunting territory, share the resources such as trapping, hunting, fishing, etc. It also agreed that there would be free trade among the people. The territory of the treaty alliance encompassed the ‘Red Rock Country’ (Montana) to the Northern Tree Line.”

Although Canada is party to many treaties, the Treaties made between First Nations and the representatives of the head-of-state of first Britain and later Canada (often referred to as the Crown) are unique and have a distinct place in Canadian law.