This Week in History


The Stone Fort Treaty

For the week of Monday July 30, 2001

On August 3, 1871, the first treaty in Western Canada was established between the Crown and seven Chiefs of the Ojibway and Swampy Cree First Nations at Lower Fort Garry. Indian Treaty No. 1 transferred the land that now comprises part of modern Manitoba.

Treaty No. 1 with the First Nations of Manitoba

Treaty No. 1 with the First Nations of Manitoba
© Glenbow Archives, Calgary, Canada / NA-47-41

In its simplest terms, the treaty's intent was to ensure the peaceful settlement of the prairies by European immigrants, while providing First Nations people with land, access to resources and other benefits needed for their survival as a people. But almost immediately after the treaty was established, the two parties disagreed on its meaning. In a report to the Canadian government soon after the signing, Molyneux St. John, Clerk of Manitoba's Legislative Assembly, candidly noted, "... so the Treaty was signed, the Commissioner meaning one thing, the Indians another..."

First Nations people have strong oral cultures. They rely on listening, speaking and remembering to maintain their understandings and traditional beliefs, and to define who they are. The First Nations considered the written document less relevant than the spoken promises heard and remembered from the Crown commissioners during the negotiations themselves.

In addition, the negotiations were carried out through translators. It was necessary to attempt to translate critical concepts not just into words, but in ways that were meaningful to the two great traditions— two drastically different cultures with two radically different world views. This left both the Crown and the First Nations with different, often conflicting, understandings of their resolutions.

Lower Fort Garry National Historic Site

Lower Fort Garry National Historic Site
© Parks Canada / W. Lynch 

The Crown insisted that all First Nations' rights to the land had been extinguished in exchange for reserve lands. First Nations were granted continued access to lands not needed by the Crown for hunting, fishing and other traditional activities and were provided with other government benefits such as health care and education. But the First Nations insisted that, in exchange for the treaty benefits that they were granted, they only gave up conditional access to their land for the sole purposes of agriculture. The differences of opinion on the actual spirit and intent of the treaty remain to this day.

Indian Treaty No. 1, the precedent for the 10 subsequent numbered treaties in Western Canada, is commemorated by a plaque at Lower Fort Garry national historic site of Canada, near Winnipeg, Manitoba. The fort, dubbed the Stone Fort by local First Nations peoples, was commemorated for its association with treaty negotiations and as an important Hudson's Bay Company post.

For more information, please examine the full text of Treaties No. 1 and No. 2.

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