A reality of life in Canada in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries has been controversy about land claims and agreements between different levels of government and Aboriginal bands from diverse regions throughout Canada. Many of the current disputes centre on historical events and treaty negotiations that took place well over a century ago—a reality that adds to the complexity of the debates.
In this critical thinking lesson students evaluate two sets of treaties to understand the transfer of land ownership negotiated between Aboriginal leaders and government officials. The Numbered Treaties signed between 1871-1877 include seven treaties (Treaty Number One to Treaty Number Seven) concerned with land that covered most of the southern Prairie Provinces and Northwestern Ontario. The Douglas Treaties signed between 1850 and 1854 include fourteen treaties concerned with land on Vancouver Island.
Historians, government officials and aboriginal groups have raised many questions about these two sets of treaties including: Did both sides have a choice to negotiate the treaties? Were the purposes, terms, clauses and implications of the treaty clear to both sides? It is these questions that students consider as they work in teams to analyze various primary and secondary sources about the Douglas Treaties and the Numbered Treaties, to identify key events and conditions surrounding the negotiation of these treaties. After sharing their findings with others, their final task is to assess the fairness of these negotiations in light of agreed-upon criteria.