History of Treaties in B.C.

Treaties were promised through the Royal Proclamation of 1763.

When Europeans began to settle in the eastern part of North America, before Canada was a country, Britain recognized that those people who were already living here (First Nations people) had title to the land: the Royal Proclamation of 1763 declared that only the British Crown could take possession of lands from First Nations, and only by treaties.

In most parts of Canada, the British Crown established treaties with First Nations before Canada was formed. Canada continued this policy of making treaties before the west was opened up for settlement, but in B.C. this process was never completed. In 1991, the British Columbia Claims Task Force, which established the B.C. treaty process, recommended the creation of a British Columbia Treaty Commission to facilitate the negotiation process.

Indigenous title

When British Columbia joined Canada in 1871, the Province did not recognize Indigenous title and believed there was no need for treaties, apart from the already existing Douglas Treaties. However, the Province did accept the rights of Indigenous people as written in the Canadian Constitution and recognized the federal government’s authority to make laws for Indigenous people and their lands.

Historic treaties

James Douglas of the Hudson's Bay Company made 14 purchases of First Nations land between 1850 and 1854 at the request of the British Crown, These transactions are known as the Douglas Treaties.

The federal government also negotiated treaties with First Nations in northeastern British Columbia to help resolve problems related to the Klondike Gold Rush.  

 Treaty 8, which concluded with the June 21, 1899 signing by representatives of the Crown and various First Nations of the Lesser Slave Lake area, is one of the most comprehensive of the Numbered Treaties. It guarantees rights to several First Nations to maintain their Indigenous way of life and covers approximately 840,000 km2 across three provinces and the Northwest Territories.

Treaty 8 was later followed by adhesions in the northeastern portion of British Columbia. A total of 39 First Nations have signed or adhered to Treaty 8, including eight in British Columbia. The Treaty 8 Nations in B.C. are: Doig River, Fort Nelson, Halfway River, McLeod Lake, Prophet River, Saulteau, West Moberly and Blueberry River First Nations.

Nisga'a Treaty

Over the years, First Nations tried to engage in treaty negotiations with both the federal and provincial governments. It wasn’t until 1990 that Canada, British Columbia and the Nisga'a Tribal Council agreed to negotiate a treaty together. These negotiations resulted in the Nisga'a Treaty, implemented in 2000. Although not part of the current B.C. treaty process, the Nisga'a negotiations adopted a similar framework and created the first modern-day treaty in British Columbia.

Modern treaties

Treaties signed today are known as modern treaties. The modern treaties in B.C. refer to the four treaties (with eight Nations) that came into effect in the 21st century. Prior to the Nisga’a Treaty, which came into effect in May 2000, the last treaty was concluded in 1899.

These modern treaties address First Nations concerns where no historic treaties exist and can also deal with matters not addressed in historic treaties. Some major components integral to modern treaties include Indigenous rights, self-government, land and resources, fishing and forestry.

Modern treaties provide a framework for three parties – Canada, B.C., and First Nations – to work towards common goals and build relationships through constitutionally protected government-to-government-to-government understandings.

The modern treaties are as follows:

  • Nisga’a Final Agreement – Effective May 11, 2000
  • Tsawwassen First Nation Final Agreement – Effective April 3, 2009
  • Maa-nulth First Nations Final Agreement – Effective April 1, 2011
    • Includes five independent Indigenous governments: Huu-ay-aht First Nations, Toquaht Nation, Uchucklesaht Tribe Government, Ka:'yu:'k't'h'/Che:k'tles7et'h' First Nations and Yuułuʔiłʔath Government (Ucluelet First Nation), all from the West Coast of Vancouver Island
  • Tla’amin Final Agreement – Effective April 5, 2016

Alliance of BC Modern Treaty Nations

The Alliance of BC Modern Treaty Nations is a coalition of each of the eight Modern Treaty Nations in B.C. that work together to advance and advocate for areas of shared interest relating to the implementation of modern treaties in British Columbia.

While a Canada-wide coalition of modern treaty Indigenous governments and organizations (the Land Claims Agreement Coalition) already exists to advocate for improved treaty implementation at the federal level, modern treaty nations in B.C. needed an avenue to collectively engage at the provincial level.

The Alliance advocates for improved treaty implementation, including priorities such as revenue sharing and co-management of fisheries, lands and resources.

Tsawwassen, Tla’amin and Maa-nulth First Nations formed the Alliance of BC Modern Treaty Nations on July 24, 2018. Nisga’a Nation joined the Alliance in November 2019.

Shared Priorities Framework 

The Shared Priorities Framework, signed in March 2022 between British Columbia and the members of the Alliance of BC Modern Treaty Nations, renews a commitment to timely, effective and appropriately resourced implementation of modern treaties.

The framework addresses three broad outcomes:

  • Appropriate fiscal arrangements to fulfill treaty rights and obligations
  • Meaningful involvement of modern treaty nations in legislative and policy initiatives
  • Comprehensive organizational and policy changes in public service to advance a whole-of-government approach to treaty implementation