Nova Scotia·Q&A

What you should know about the Peace and Friendship Treaties

Oct. 1 is Treaty Day. But what are the Peace and Friendship Treaties, and what do they mean to us?

'They're the basis of our relationship to each other,' says Naiomi Metallic

Naiomi Metallic spoke to Portia Clark from CBC's Information Morning about what Nova Scotians should know about the Peace and Friendship Treaties. (Stephanie VanKampen)

October is Mi'kmaq History Month in Nova Scotia, and Oct. 1 is Treaty Day.

In January 2015, Nova Scotia committed to incorporating treaty education into public school curriculum programming at all grade levels.

Naiomi Metallic has been practising Aboriginal law for almost a decade. She's an assistant professor of law and holds the Chancellor's Chair of Aboriginal Law and Policy at Dalhousie University.

Metallic spoke with Portia Clark from CBC Nova Scotia's Information Morning about what the Peace and Friendship Treaties are, and how they affect all of us.

Their conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

In a nutshell, what are the Peace and Friendship Treaties?

They're the basis of our relationship to each other here in this part of the country. They set the terms of coexistence. They were signed in the 1700s between the British and representatives of Mi'kmaw nations and other nations in these parts. At the time, European powers were competing to be able to claim different parts of North America, and the British and the French were fighting over these parts.

The British were victorious over the French, but Mi'kmaw people and other Indigenous people here had been, for some time, supporting the French. When the competition between the British and French ended, the British wanted to ensure that the Mi'kmaq and other communities would live peaceably with the British. So these particular treaties are about ensuring the terms of peaceful coexistence, and how we live here together.

Metallic, who's been practising Aboriginal law for almost a decade, said the Peace and Friendship Treaties are fundamentally about peaceful coexistence and fostering long-term relationships. (Nic Meloney/CBC)

It often comes up at events that this is unceded Mi'kmaq territory. Is that something that's written into treaties or is that a separate concept?

It is related to treaties. There's different types of treaties signed in different parts of North America at different times. There were treaties signed primarily in Ontario and westward, closer to the time when Canada became a country. They are contentious. The document itself talks about the nations ceding their claim to territory.

There is nothing like that in the Peace and Friendship Treaties, they were not about ceding claims to land. That's why we say we're on unceded Mi'kmaw territory.

What should people know about treaties that they might not already know?

It's about rights and obligations, not just for Mi'kmaw people, and it's not just about hunting and fishing rights. It's about how we live together, a framework for how we coexist. So there's both obligations in it, not just for Mi'kmaq, but also for government and the people they represent.

That's encapsulated in the concept "we are all treaty people," which supports the idea that we all get certain rights and benefits from the treaties. But we also have obligations in terms of how we interact with each other, and how we treat each other. We want a basis for a long-term relationship.

What are some of the obligations that make for a successful long-term relationship?

If you think about good relationships that you have, and how people treat each other, there's respect, there's mutual assistance. One thing that treaties get overlooked for is the idea that British were trying to secure that the Mi'kmaq would continue to live here as they had. That entailed that [the British] wouldn't continue to have control over their life and their legal systems and laws.

I think we forget that sometimes, when we mostly look at treaties about hunting and fishing rights, which are also important. But it's also about recognizing that in this coexistence, the Indigenous people also have rights to control their day-to-day lives, which hasn't really been the case for the past 150 years of Confederation.

Copies and transcripts of the Peace and Friendship Treaties can be found online at archives.novascotia.ca (collectionscanada.gc.ca/aboriginal-heritage)

What do you think people, as we focus on treaties this month and today especially, need to keep in mind when we talk about treaties and about their role in reconciliation?

Reports like the Royal Commission Report on Aboriginal Peoples from 1996, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission from 2015, and now the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls report put a lot of emphasis on relationship. They say it's been a fairly one-sided relationship, and there hasn't been enough care given to that relationship and treating Indigenous people like mutual partners.

Those documents have executive summaries available online, looking to some of those to provide as frameworks about how to move forward. In the MMIWG inquiry, the call to justice Number 15 is actually about what you as an individual can do.

But there's things people can do in other collectives they're part of, book clubs, church groups, educational classes. The various groups you're in can also take action to try to create a better relationship, as well as government.

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With files from CBC's Information Morning