What Are Treaties and How Do They Apply to You?

The first week of November marks Treaties Recognition Week which honours the importance of treaty rights and relationships. All settlers in Canada have a responsibility to learn more about treaty rights and relationships, because treaty obligations not only apply to the past, but also to the present and the future.

What Are Treaties?

Treaties are agreements between Indigenous Nations and the Crown on the responsibilities and rights of both parties. There are 46 treaties in Ontario and 70 treaties across Canada which outline the sharing of the Land and resources between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

What Treaties Are Not

We often understand treaties as documents with the colonial justice system and ideas of ownership in mind. However, this understanding erases Indigenous treaty rights. To better understand treaties, it is important to remember that:

  • Treaties ARE NOT historical documents - While most treaties were signed from 1701-1923, they are not historical documents. Treaties are ongoing living agreements that continue to change and be renegotiated. Each treaty was meant to endure “as long as the sun shines.” 
  • Treaties ARE NOT for Indigenous Nations and the Canadian government only - Treaty obligations apply to ancestors of settlers and anyone who has recently made Canada their home. So if you live on treaty land, many of the responsibilities apply to you as well.
  • Treaties DO NOT cover all of Canada - Many Indigenous Nations never signed treaties, meaning that settlers currently live on unceded Indigenous Land. For example, almost all of British Columbia is currently on unceded Indigenous territories.
  • Benefits enjoyed by treaties ARE NOT equal - Many treaty obligations have never been maintained by the government. Some members of Indigenous Nations receive only $5 in treaty payments every two years, while settlers enjoy the countless benefits of living in Canada.

Treaties Covering Markham

The Southwest of Markham is covered by Treaty 13 (1895), while the rest of Markham is covered by the Williams Treaties which were signed in 1923. Although the treaties covering Markham were signed only 100 years ago, European settlements on Indigenous Lands were established as early as 1792. Indigenous Nations represented by the Williams Treaties include: Mississaugas of Alderville, Curve Lake First Nation, Hiawatha First Nation, Scugog Island First Nation, Chippewas of Beausoleil First Nation, Georgina Island First Nation, and the Rama First Nation.

When the Williams Treaties were first signed, Indigenous Nations did not receive proper compensation and their harvesting rights were unjustly denied. In 2018, federal and provincial governments issued an apology for the negative impacts of the treaties, reinstating pre-Confederation harvesting rights and additional reserve lands. Learn more about the Williams Treaties here.

Did You Know that You Have a Responsibility?

The Canadian Citizenship Oath now includes Indigenous Treaty Rights:

“I swear (or affirm) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canadaincluding the Constitution, which recognizes and affirms the Aboriginal and treaty rights of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples, and fulfil my duties as a Canadian citizen.”

If you live in Canada, you have a responsibility to learn more about treaties. To get started, ask yourself: How have I benefited from treaties? Which treaties cover the Land I live on? How have treaty relationships been broken? Here’s how you can continue your learning journey:

  1. To find out whose Land you are on and to learn more about the specific treaties, visit Native Land or Whose Land.
  2. Unlearn colonial definitions of treaties by listening to Indigenous Voices on Treaties.
  3. Attend upcoming Living Library Events.
  4. Take University of Toronto’s Understanding Indigenous Perspectives: We Are All Treaty People
  5. Read books about treaties
Treaties Recognition Week

List created by mradzevich

Treaties Recognition Week first began in 2016 and takes place from November 1-7. It is meant to show the continued relevance of treaties in our lives. Want to learn more about our collective treaty rights and obligations? Check out the book suggestions below.




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Teaching Children the Importance of Treaties

List created by mradzevich

Treaties are agreements between Indigenous Nations and the Canadian government (the Crown). Treaties include responsibilities of both parties to share the Land. This list will help you talk to your children about the importance of Treaties and how they affect us today.




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