Mi'kmaq history and people: Treaties

Compiled by Jasen Sylvester Benwah

je'sn penwa
Thunder Cloud

Mi’kmaq History and People: Treaties

Pjila'si (welcome). Every year First Nation communities celebrate Treaty Day on October 1st. Here in the Northeast corner of Turtle Island (North America), the Mi’kmaq Nation's first treaty with a European nation was an agreement with the Vatican in Rome. This treaty was symbolized by a wampum belt at whose center stood a black-robed priest, a cross, and a Mi'kmaq person holding a pouch, representing Mi'kmaq spirituality within Roman Catholic belief. In the eighteenth century, the Mi'kmaq established a number of treaties with the British Crown that gave the British an alliance with Mi'kma'ki and the Wabanaki Confederacy for security. It was during this time frame that the Mi'kmaq adopted the eight-pointed star as a symbol of their part of this alliance. Seven of the points represented the seven districts of Mi'kma'ki, with the eighth point standing for the British Crown. Taqamkuk (pronounced dah-um-gook and refers to Newfoundland) was part of the seven districts before becoming an eight and separate district more recently.

The first of the series of treaties between the British Empire and the Mi'kmaq Nation was signed in 1725. All were reaffirmed in 1752, and finalized in the Treaty and Royal Proclamation of 1763. The main reason of these treaties was an exchange of Mi'kmaq loyalty for a guarantee that Mi'kmaq people would be able to continue hunting and fishing in their territory. These treaties have been recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada as legal and binding through its decisions in cases, such as the Marshall case, that have extended well into the present century.

The Marshall Decision reinforced Mi'kmaq treaty rights for hunting, logging and fishing rights across Mi'kma'ki (the Mi'kmaq territories).But we the Mi'kmaq of Newfoundland are yet to see these rights and benefits include Newfoundland. Our oral history tells us that we were here since ancient times, interacted peacefully with the Beothuk and have always included this island as part of the hunting territory. Given the migratory nature of our people it is unfair to say that we only have claims here when we permanently settled here full time and that we have no treaty rights.

Compiled by Saqamaw Jasen S. Benwah

St. George's Bay, NL.



Spring 2005


Website Copyright © 2005 Jasen Sylvester Benwah