On June 21, 1899, the eighth treaty between the Indians of North America and the Queen of England was signed. The signatories of Treaty 8 agreed to its terms for reasons of peace and friendship – ensuring what they thought would be a partnership. Treaty 8 was the most comprehensive treaty, encompassing a land mass of approximately 840,000 kilometers, and is home to 39 First Nation communities. Treaty territory covers the areas of Northern Alberta, Northwestern Saskatchewan, Northeastern British Columbia, and the Southwest portion of the Northwest Territories.
The Setting of Treaty #8
Centuries ago, the First Nations people of western Canada lived a life on the lands. Hunting, fishing and farming were the ways of their world, and while the First Nations people had clearly defined territories associated with regional bands, the concept of land “ownership” was a foreign one. Social organization consisted of interaction between bands for trading, with many bands related to one another through marriage and kinship.
Treaty 8 was the last and largest of the nineteenth century land agreements made between First Nations and the Government of Canada. At the end of it all, over 840,000 square kilometers of land was set aside by the agreement. From that point in time up to the present, the federal government has claimed that the Cree, Dene, Métis and other various First Nations peoples living within the Treaty 8 boundaries had surrendered any claim to title to all but the lands set aside as reserves. However, many Native leaders have challenged this view, claiming instead that their peoples signed a nation-to-nation treaty that not only recognized their rights to maintain a traditional way of life without restriction, but that also included rights to education, medical care, tax exemptions, immunity from military conscription and access to land, game and other resources for as long as the sun shone upon those lands.
Over 100 years since the signing of the treaty itself, the context and meaning of the treaty and the treaty process remains hotly debated. Here we would like to engage you in that debate by exploring some of the aspects of how treaty and scrip decisions made in 1899 and thereafter have affected life for the peoples of Treaty 8.