Agreement under duress

2017-06-04

in Canada, History, Law, Politics

These land cession treaties were flawed by the fundamental inequality of the parties. The Indians no longer had the option of walking away from the negotiations and threatening to resume military hostilities. Their bargaining position was further weakened by their desperate material circumstances and their lack of knowledge of the white man’s legal culture. No longer in receipt of the Crown’s largesse, with greatly diminished resources from their hunting grounds inundated by the incoming flood of settlers, and continuing to experience the devastating and bewildering impact of disease, many native communities were poor and hungry. The promise of an annual payment of cash or goods and a reserve of land where they could make a fresh start free of settler encroachments was difficult to resist. It is clear that the Indians did not understand that the off-reserve lands, always by far the lion’s share of their lands according to the white man’s understanding of the treaties, were being sold to the Crown and forever alientated from them. The rhetoric of the Crown’s negotiator employed phrases such as “as long as the rivers flow and the sun rises” to assure the Indians that they would be able to pursue their traditional economic pursuits on the lands they were agreeing to share with the white man. As native communities quickly discovered, these vast tracts of their traditional country that they were deemed to have “surrendered” would be turned into settlers’ farms and towns from which they would be excluded.

Russell, Peter. Canada’s Odyssey: A Country Based on Incomplete Conquests. University of Toronto Press, 2017. p. 83-4

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