1763 The Royal Proclamation

King George III’s Royal Proclamation of 1763 is the legal foundation upon which all treaties and land claim agreements with Canada’s indigenous people is based. The Proclamation “claimed sovereignty over territory previously occupied by the French, reserving territory and hunting grounds lying west of rivers draining into the Atlantic to ‘Indian Nations’.” It established policy for acquiring lands occupied by these indigenous peoples stating that they “could sell their aboriginal interests in the land at a public meeting convened for that purpose…[but]…only the Crown could purchase land from Indians, a provision preventing land sales to private individuals, or purchases by other governments.”

Rupert’s Land, the future western and northern Canada, was owned by the Hudson’s Bay Company, and therefore not part of the land included in the Royal Proclamation. However the Government of Canada, when they purchased the territory in 1867, adopted the broad policies established by this Proclamation.

As Canada expanded into the newly acquired Rupert’s Land the government’s duty was to compensate Aboriginal people for the interest they had in the newly obtained territory through a treaty and scrip process. This process was designed to extinguish ‘aboriginal title’ to these lands allowing for unimpeded access to settlement and resource development.

Treaty 8 (1899) and Treaty 11 (1921) covered much of what today is the Northwest Territories. It became obvious not long after these treaties were negotiated and signed that there were numerous unresolved issues including whether or not Aboriginal people had given up legal title to the land; what their rights to hunting, fishing and trapping; and, unfulfilled treaty obligations such as the creation of reservations.

This led to the modern-day land claim process that, in the Northwest Territories, began in 1976. This is when the Government of Canada, the Dene Nation, and the Métis Association of the Northwest Territories agreed to enter into negotiations to settle unresolved treaty problems.

Over a nine-year period (1981 to 1988) the Dene, Métis and Government of Canada negotiated terms of a Dene/Métis Comprehensive Land Claim. An Agreement-in-Principle (AIP) was reached August 22, 1988 but for many Dene and Métis this AIP was flawed because it required surrender of Aboriginal Title to the land. When the agreement was presented for final approval at the 1990 Dene/Métis Annual General Assembly it was rejected by a majority of the Dene and Métis delegates.

With the failure of this land claim, which would have covered most of the present-day Northwest Territories, the Government of Canada then agreed to negotiate regional settlements “on the basis of the April 1990 [Dene/Métis Comprehensive Land Claim] with any of the five Dene/Métis regions that might request one. The process of negotiating land claims is still ongoing in the Dehcho. (see map).