Treaties and agreements
Learn about historic and modern treaties in Canada, treaty rights and the treaty relationship.
Honouring the treaty relationship
Indigenous peoples have lived on the land we now call Canada for thousands of years, with their own unique cultures, identities, traditions, languages and institutions.
Early partnerships between Indigenous nations and colonial governments were forged through treaties as well as trade and military alliances and were based on mutual respect and co-operation. Over many centuries these relationships were eroded by colonial and paternalistic policies that were enacted into laws.
Canada has embarked on a journey of reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. It is a necessary journey to address a long history of colonialism and the scars it has left.
Treaties provide a framework for living together and sharing the land Indigenous peoples traditionally occupied. These agreements provide foundations for ongoing co-operation and partnership as we move forward together to advance reconciliation.
Honouring the treaty relationship and negotiating new treaties based on the recognition of rights, respect, co-operation and partnership, is key to achieving lasting reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.
"Canada is a test case for a grand notion - the notion that dissimilar peoples can share lands, resources, power and dreams while respecting and sustaining their differences. The story of Canada is the story of many such peoples, trying and failing and trying again, to live together in peace and harmony."
What are treaties with Indigenous peoples?
Treaties are agreements made between the Government of Canada, Indigenous groups and often provinces and territories that define ongoing rights and obligations on all sides.
These agreements set out continuing treaty rights and benefits for each group. Treaty rights and Aboriginal rights (commonly referred to as Indigenous rights) are recognized and affirmed in Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 and are also a key part of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which the Government of Canada has committed to adopt.
Treaties with Indigenous peoples include both:
- historic treaties with First Nations
- modern treaties (also called comprehensive land claim agreements) with Indigenous groups
Starting in 1701 in the British colonies of North America (these would later become parts of Canada), the British Crown entered into treaties with Indigenous groups to support peaceful economic and military relations. The Crown is the legal name for the British and later Canadian governments: federal, provincial and territorial.
Over the next two hundred years, the Crown signed treaties that defined the respective rights of Indigenous peoples and European newcomers to use the North American lands that Indigenous peoples traditionally occupied. The historic treaties signed after 1763 provided large areas of land, occupied by First Nations, to the Crown (transferring their Aboriginal title to the Crown) in exchange for reserve lands and other benefits.
The treaty-making process was formally established by the Royal Proclamation of 1763.
Consult the Historic Treaties and Treaty First Nations in Canada Infographic.
The Government of Canada recognizes 70 historic treaties in Canada signed between 1701 and 1923. These treaties include:
- Treaties of Peace and Neutrality (1701-1760)
- Peace and Friendship Treaties (1725-1779)
- Upper Canada Land Surrenders and the Williams Treaties (1764-1862/1923)
- Robinson Treaties and Douglas Treaties (1850-1854)
- The Numbered Treaties (1871-1921)
These treaties form the basis of the relationship between the Crown and 364 First Nations, representing over 600,000 First Nation peoples in Canada.
Canada and First Nations often have differing views with respect to the implementation of historic treaties; these issues are complex and are not easily resolved. Through vehicles such as Recognition of Indigenous Rights and Self-Determination discussion tables, Canada and Treaty First Nations are exploring ways to advance treaty rights and interests.
Independent treaty commissions in Manitoba and Saskatchewan were created in partnership with First Nation organizations to conduct a number of activities in relation to historic treaties. This includes public education, research and facilitating discussions on treaty issues.
The Specific Claims process provides an avenue for addressing past grievances in relation to the management of land and other First Nation assets and to the fulfillment of historic treaties. Resolving First Nation specific claims through negotiated settlements helps address past wrongs and honours treaty obligations.
Historic treaties have only addressed a portion of Aboriginal rights to land across Canada. Land and resource-related negotiations are still underway in parts of the country where treaties were never signed.
The modern treaty era began in 1973 after the Supreme Court of Canada decision (Calder et al. v. Attorney-General of British Columbia), which recognized Aboriginal rights for the first time. This decision led to the development of the Comprehensive Land Claims Policy and the first modern treaty, the James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement signed in 1975.
Since 1975, Canada has signed 25 additional treaties (called modern treaties or comprehensive land claim agreements) with Indigenous groups in Canada. Some of these treaties include self-government.
These treaties are the basis of the relationship between 97 Indigenous communities (representing about 89,000 Indigenous peoples) and the provincial or territorial and federal governments.
These treaties have provided:
- Indigenous ownership over 600,000 km² of land (almost the size of Manitoba)
- capital transfers of over $3.2 billion
- protection of traditional ways of life
- access to resource development opportunities
- participation in land and resources management decisions
- certainty with respect to land rights in round 40% of Canada's land mass
- associated self-government rights and political recognition
As part of modern treaty negotiations, joint work is done to lay the groundwork for moving forward together after a final agreement has been signed (implementation of the agreement).
Historically, very few treaties were signed in British Columbia. A special independent body called the British Columbia Treaty Commission was established in 1992 by agreement among Canada, British Columbia and the First Nations Summit to be "the keeper of the process" of treaty negotiations in the province.
Over the past four decades, Canada's approach to treaty negotiations has evolved as a result of developments in Indigenous law, joint innovations at negotiating tables and past engagement with Indigenous groups and key stakeholders.
The process of treaty-making in Canada is continuing to evolve through ongoing engagement and dialogue with Indigenous groups. The Government of Canada believes that co-operative negotiations and respectful dialogue are the best way to resolve outstanding issues. Innovative solutions are being developed with partners through treaty negotiations and Recognition of Indigenous Rights and Self-Determination discussion tables across the country. For an overview of progress in implementing modern treaties and self-government agreements, consult the Implementation of Modern Treaties and Self-Government Agreement report.
Consult the Modern treaties – Comprehensive Land Claims and Self-Government agreements map to learn about the modern treaties in effect to date across Canada and search the Aboriginal and Treaty Rights Information System to find out more about each agreement, including the full text of the agreement and summary information. Use the name of the Indigenous group, agreement name or other term as a "key word" search word and then click on the heading Treaties and Agreements above the search box to find the related records.
What are Aboriginal rights?
Aboriginal rights (commonly referred to as Indigenous rights) are collective rights of distinctive Indigenous societies flowing from their status as the original peoples of Canada. These rights are recognized and affirmed by Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.
The Constitution does not define Indigenous rights under Section 35, but they can include:
- Aboriginal title (ownership rights to land)
- rights to occupy and use lands and resources, such as hunting and fishing rights
- self-government rights
- cultural and social rights
Indigenous rights under Section 35 vary from group to group depending on the customs, practices and traditions that have formed part of their distinctive cultures.
The Government of Canada has a duty to consult, and where appropriate, accommodate Indigenous groups when it considers conduct that might adversely impact potential or established Aboriginal or treaty rights. Learn more about the Government of Canada's duty to consult with Indigenous peoples.
What are treaty rights?
Treaty rights are rights set out in either a historic or modern treaty agreement. These rights are recognized and affirmed by Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.
Treaties define specific rights, benefits and obligations for the signatories that vary from treaty to treaty. Treaties and treaty rights also vary depending on the time and circumstances in which they were negotiated.
For example, in historic treaties (signed before 1975), treaty rights and benefits often, but not always, include:
- land to be set aside for First Nation use only (known as reserves)
- money to be paid to a First Nation every year (known as annuities)
- hunting and fishing rights on unoccupied Crown land
- schools and teachers on reserves to be paid for by the government
- one-time benefits (such as farm equipment and animals, ammunition and clothing).
Modern treaties negotiated with Indigenous groups (after 1975) may include (among other things):
- consultation and participation requirements
- ownership of lands
- wildlife harvesting rights
- financial settlements
- participation in land use and management in specific areas
- resource revenue sharing and measures to participate in the Canadian economy
- preparations for when the agreement takes effect (such as implementation planning)
Consult the treaty texts to learn about the specific treaty rights and benefits set out in each treaty:
- Historic treaties: Treaty texts
- Modern treaties: Final agreements and related implementation matters
- Aboriginal and Treaty Rights Information System
- Federal contracting in Comprehensive Land Claim areas
- Cabinet Directive on the Federal Approach to Modern Treaty Implementation
- Statement of Principles on the Federal Approach to Modern Treaty Implementation
- Government of Canada and the duty to consult
- Additional Resources