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Why treaty rights are worth fighting for

It's a battle over the land and its resources. The fight has taken place on the land, in the courts and in the media. When government and native groups signed treaty agreements over a century ago, neither side imagined the repercussions. Canada's native people say treaties have been ignored and their rights — from logging trees to fishing eels — have been limited. In the 1980s, frustration grew and failed negotiations turned into roadblocks and deadly confrontation.

Most nations consider the notion of land to be an important one. But to Canada's aboriginal people, it is also a strong cultural symbol. Native identity is drawn from the land: It has been a form of subsistence, and an intregal part of creation myths.

For this reason, it is only with recognition of treaty rights that Canada's native people can expect to survive culturally, says Norman Slotkin, lawyer for the Union of Ontario Indians.

In 1971, Slotkin is featured in a CBC Radio Ideas exploring what it means to be a nation.

The program also touches on the fact that early settlers lumped together Canada's "Indians" - whether from Newfoundland or British Columbia - when they are really a number of distinct nations. 
• A treaty is a formal agreement between two parties or states that may or may not include the exchange of land. A land claim, as defined by The Canadian Oxford Dictionary, is a legal claim by an aboriginal group concerning the use of an area of land.

• When the federal government entered into treaties with Canada's aboriginal groups, the signing over of land and resources was interpreted differently by both parties.

• The treaties date from 1871 to 1921, and are numbered from Treaty One to Treaty 11, except for the Willams and Robinson Treaties.

• In most cases, native people considered the treaties to be peace agreements. Traditionally, aboriginal nations did not see land as an owned commodity. When they signed ancient treaties, the notion was that aboriginal peoples and the colonists would share the land and its resources.

• On the other hand, the new European occupants saw treaties as a full trade of land ownership for compensation, such as money, farming equipment and a school on each reserve.

• The Union of Ontario Indians was formed in 1949 to promote recognition for treaty rights and facilitate aboriginal representation in Parliament. Its roots date back to an 1890 council held for discussions on the Indian Act, and for getting a representative into Parliament.

• Today the union's members include the Algonquin, Ojibway, Ottawa and Potowatomi.

• According to the Canadian Press, aboriginal people prefer to be identified by their band, such as Cree or Blackfoot.

• CP also says the terms "aboriginal peoples" and "First Nations" are preferred over "natives" and "Indians." Aboriginal Peoples is a blanket term for all Indians, Inuit and Métis. "First Nations" doesn't include the Inuit and Métis.

• Status Indians, who under the Indian Act are tax exempt and labelled as Indians, prefer the term "Indian." Others resent the term because its original use was by European settlers who thought they had landed in India.

• Across Canada, there are 612 bands. In 2002, there were 2,600 reserves in a combined area nearly the size of Vancouver Island.

• There are 53 aboriginal languages spoken in Canada. The three most prevalent (in order) are: Cree, Inuktitut and Ojibwa.
Medium: Radio
Program: IDEAS
Broadcast Date: April 19, 1971
Guest(s): Norman Slotkin
Host: Lamont Tilden
Duration: 2:30

Last updated: June 12, 2013

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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