Library and Archives Canada

Library and Archives Canada

September 24, 2007 13:32 ET

Library and Archives Canada/Spirit and Intent: Understanding Aboriginal Treaties Exhibition Opening at Library and Archives Canada Sept. 24, 2007

TO ALL EDITORS Theme: Values, Voices and Visions

OTTAWA, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - Sept. 24, 207) - Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is proud to present the official opening of the exhibition Spirit and Intent: Understanding Aboriginal Treaties on September 24, 2007. This unique exhibition will showcase a wide selection of treaty documents dating from the 1600s to the 1990s. The documents originate from LAC's collection, as well as fascinating items from other Canadian cultural institutions.

Spirit and Intent: Understanding Aboriginal Treaties will feature a wide collection of documents by providing an insight into the voices, values and visions behind Canada's Aboriginal treaties. These living documents and artifacts are among our most precious of Canadian heritage records as they illustrate decisions that have shaped all Canadians.

Among the many highlights is the original Treaty no.9 from 1906, otherwise known as the James Bay Treaty. This treaty was the first time that a provincial government took an active role in negotiations. There is also a map of New France from the 17th century drawn by Jesuit priest Francesco Giuseppe Bressani. It is recognized as one of the most significant maps of the time. A real treaty jacket will also be on display in the exhibition. Upon treaty agreements, the royal authorities generally offered Aboriginal Chiefs jackets decorated with brass buttons to demonstrate their status.

Other documents and artifacts include publications, paintings, wampum belts, trade items, totems, diaries, land claim negotiations, and modern agreements.

"This exhibition is a significant expression of our continuing dedication to preserve and make the history of Canada's First Peoples known," said Ian. E Wilson, Librarian and Archivist of Canada. "It contains treasures of our shared past that are extremely rare, priceless and of immense historical and cultural significance."

Spirit and Intent: Understanding Aboriginal Treaties will showcase the visions and values of the parties involved and the scope of the treaty-terms. While the framework of the exhibition is chronological, the treaties are organized into five thematic periods: pre-contact traditions, commercial compacts, peace and friendship accords, territorial and modern treaties. Each treaty and artifact will reveal the very human motivations and ideals that guided them.

The exhibition's two renowned curators are Dr. John Borrows, Professor and Law Foundation Chair of Aboriginal Justice and Governance of the University of Victoria and Dr. Jim Miller, Professor of History and Canada Research Chair in Native-Newcomer Relations from the University of Saskatchewan.

"Values, Voices, and Visions explores the assumptions and motives behind agreements between Aboriginal peoples and Crown," said Dr. Jim Miller. "This process has been an important building block for modern Canada."

Curator Dr. John Borrows, who is Anishinabe and a member of the Chippewa of the Nawash First Nations, says the aboriginal treaties exhibition provides evidence that peace, friendship and respect are at the foundation of Canada's creation. "My great-great grandfather signed a treaty in Southern Ontario in the 1850s on behalf of my First Nation," said Dr. John Borrows. "It is a good feeling to know that five generations later we are still remembering their importance to our collective future."

Over 100 objects in this exhibition have been drawn from LAC holdings, many of which have been conserved and are now being protected and stored for the future use of Canadians.

A companion exhibit entitled Survey, Examination and Analysis of Treaty Documents will illustrate a few of these techniques used to evaluate the state of preservation of these treaty documents. This collaborative project is between LAC, the Canadian Conservation Institute (Canadian Heritage) and the Centre for Scientific and Curatorial Analysis of Painting Elements.

LAC serves as the continuing memory of the Government of Canada. It preserves and makes all public and private records of national significant accessible to the public. LAC is also dedicated to celebrate, promote and provide access to a full variety of Aboriginal resources within Canada, both through LAC's collections and services and in partnership with First Nations, Metis and Inuit communities.

Working in partnership with First Nations, Metis and Inuit communities and associations, LAC has efficiently fostered a strong relationship to promote cultural understanding among each other. LAC thanks the Reading Advisory Committee, whose members, representing the First Nations, Metis and Inuit communities, provided advice and input on the exhibition texts.

LAC will also like to thank the institutions that have contributed to this exhibition by loaning materials. They include: Canadian Museum of Civilization, Canadian War Museum, Currency Museum, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg and the Office of the Treaty Commissioner for Saskatchewan.

Spirit and Intent: Understanding Aboriginal Treaties takes place from September 24, 2007 to March 24, 2008 in Exhibition Room C at the Library and Archives Canada, 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa. For more information, please


Spirit and Intent: Understanding Aboriginal Treaties

Aboriginal treaties are living documents that hold a great importance in our country. The exhibition "Spirit and Intent: Understanding Aboriginal Treaties" will showcase a selection of Aboriginal treaties and other items from Library and Archives Canada's collection and other Canadian institutions dating from the 17th century to the 2000s. This selection of documents will present different perspectives deriving from individuals or communities with historical ties to these treaties. As well, it will provide a reflection of the values and visions embedded within these documents. The documents and items in the exhibition were specially chosen to showcase the visions and values of the parties involved in the creation of the treaties.

The history of Aboriginal treaties can generally be organized into the following five thematic periods. These periods can be thematically classified in the following order: pre-contact, commercial, peace and friendship, territorial and modern.

Here are some interesting features that one can admire at the exhibition at the Library and Archives Canada.

Please note that this list provides only a sample of items and documents in the exhibition. The exhibition will provide the opportunity to see over a hundred unique documents and artifacts.

1. Pre-contact

Documents on Display:

i) Terrestrial Globe dating around 1695 :

Inspired by the works of Matthaus Greuter (c. 1566-1638), this globe was a production from Domenico de Rossi (fl. c. 1691 - c. 1720). The globe itself is a living monument to the aboriginal people's land as it was perceived by the Europeans in the 17th century. It is quite exceptional to see this globe, as it is Library and Archives Canada's earliest globe.

ii) Map of New France from 1657:

By Jesuit priest Francesco Giuseppe Bressani: One can find on the map an inset of Huronia depicting the activities, homes and objects of the Aboriginal people's daily life including men's, women's and children's winter and summer clothing. There are only three copies of this map, which is recognized as one of the most significant maps of its time.

2. Commercial

During the 17th and 18th centuries' intensive commercial period, the treaties simultaneously appeared with a variety of rituals, which functioned as a social seal for new alliances. Many symbolic items were associated with these traditions.

Artifacts on display:

i) Pipes and Trade Beads

Once a treaty was negotiated and speeches were delivered, Aboriginal Chiefs would invite their European counterparts to participate in the ceremonial smoking of the peace pipe. These customs were quite common among Aboriginals, as well as the newly arrived Europeans, who were quite open to these practices.

Additionally, the exhibition explores the historical context of commercial treaties with the help of magnificent paintings and illustrations. They brilliantly demonstrate the ambiance surrounding the agreements.

Documents on display:

ii) Two lithographs by painter Peter Rindisbacher

The Chief of Red Lake addresses the Governor of Red River at Fort Douglas in 1825.

The Chief of Red Lake and some of his subjects arrive at Red River to meet the governor.

3. Peace and Friendship

3.1 Period of 1603-1701

Artifacts on Display:

i) Wampum Belts:

According to oral tradition, some peace and friendship treaties were simply verbal agreements. During diplomatic context, other treaties, both verbal and written, were recorded on wampum belts and offered to the nations that were in involved in the negotiations.

Today, we estimate that there are between 300 and 400 objects where we can find genuine wampum beads since these artifacts are extremely rare and desired for their beauty.

ii) Six Nations Iroquois Chiefs reading wampum belts.

In this photograph, Iroquois Chiefs from the Six Nations reserves are rereading the wampum belts in 1871. This photograph provides an insight in the way which important events were commemorated among the Iroquois. In support of keeping oral traditions, wampum belts had to be revised and reinterpreted periodically in front of the group members so that one remembers the engagements taken by them. Thus their message could be transmitted from generation to another.

3.2 1701-1764 Period

Document on Display:

Aboriginal Totems:

These symbols represent the signatures of many Aboriginal communities on the treaty known as the Great Peace of Montreal, which was signed on August 4, 1701. Each Chief signed by drawing the totemic animal of his tribe. This demonstrated that Europeans as well as Aboriginals already possessed their own methods in formulating treaties.

Before the Great Peace of Montreal agreement, Aboriginal warfare between the First Nations, allies of the French, and the Iroquois Five Nations had long been disrupting the fur trade.

4. Territorial

4.1 Royal Proclamation and Upper Canadian Treaties

Document on Display:

Royal Proclamation of 1763

In the Proclamation of 1763, King George III of England declared a British system of governing in the areas that had been surrendered by France, and pronounced that the Indians and their lands would be treated with respect. In practice, the British Crown negotiated with the Indians and arrived at mutually agreeable treaties. In consequence, the Proclamation of 1763 clearly marked a new beginning for these Indians, but also established the foundation for future Indian/government relations.

4.2. Upper Canadian Treaties:

Artifact on display:

ii)Treaty jacket

Upon ratification of the treaties, the royal authorities offered Aboriginal Chiefs red jackets decorated with brass buttons to demonstrate their status. Once they were clothed with their European-styled jackets, the Aboriginal leaders distinctively contrasted with their followers. A real Treaty jacket will be on display in the exhibition and it will be possible to see paintings, which illustrate the Aboriginal Chiefs proudly wearing these jackets.

4.3 Numbered Treaties of Western Canada:

Documents on Display:

i) Metis Scrip Records

A complex series of legislation, beginning with the Manitoba Act of 1870, provided for the settlement of claims arising from Aboriginal rights to land in western Canada. The scrip was a financial compensation for the relinquishment of any title the Metis had to the former Rupert's Land due to their Native ancestry.

ii) Diary from James Bay by Duncan Campbell Scott:

This is the personal journal of Duncan Campbell Scott's trips to James Bay, which he wrote from June 30 to September 6, 1905 and May 22 to August 16, 1906. Scott's interpretation of the events, which led to the James Bay Treaty, is essential in understanding the Canadian government's position in this file. Scott was one of the two federal government commissioners, who were appointed to negotiate Treaty 9.

iii) James Bay Treaty

This is a full-size parchment, which details the terms of the James Bay Treaty. Treaty 9 is very unique because while most post-confederation treaties in Ontario involved only the Government of Canada and First Nations, it was the first of a few that involved the Government of Ontario as a third party.

4.4 Numbered Treaties from the North-Canada

Documents on Display:

i) Treaty 8: Great Seal

First negotiated in late June 1899, Treaty 8 embraced an area in northwestern Canada of some 840,000 square kilometers, more than three and a half times the size of Great Britain. At the time, it was not only the largest land settlement undertaken by the Canadian government with First Nations, but also the first to recognize that the "aboriginal title" of Indians and Metis are co-existent.

ii) Indian Chiefs Medal, Presented to commemorate Treaties Number 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 (Queen Victoria)

All the Aboriginal Chiefs who signed Treaty 3 to Treaty 7 received a silver medal, where one side was engraved with the effigy of Queen Victoria wearing her diadem and veil. On the other side, one could find a Staff Officer and Native leader shaking hands. A few examples of medals will be on display.

5. Modern

Document on Display:

i) Confidential Document of 1968: regarding the establishment of the Indian Claims Commission.

The Indian Claims Commission is a tribunal that allows Aboriginal groups to meet federal officials and judges in order to take decisions on the rights of Aboriginal peoples.

ii) Map of treaties

This is a detailed map of all the treaties that were in effect by 2004. Among others, the territory of Nunavut is clearly distinguishable on this map. In addition, this map establishes the marine zones associated with different treaties.

Contact Information

  • Library and Archives Canada
    Louisa Coates
    Senior Media Relations Officer