Chapter 8

Current Treaty Issues

Interpretation of the Treaties

First Nations' primary argument is that the government is not living up to the 'spirit and intent' of the treaties. Rather, the government has chosen to adhere to a narrow and literal interpretation of the treaty texts. For example, in the treaties, First Nations were guaranteed a 'medicine chest.' At the time the treaties were negotiated, this meant that a medicine chest was kept by the Indian Agent to be administered as needed, which was the optimal health coverage available at the time. The contemporary government has interpreted that treaty agreement literally and has treated health care as social policy rather than a treaty obligation. As such, First Nations peoples' coverage is equivalent if not less than that of someone on social assistance. Instead, total health coverage should be available to First Nations peoples. Similarly, and as discussed in the Education module, interpretations around education have been taken literally, rather than according to the spirit and intent of the treaties.

Sharing of Resources 

Mineral rights are also a current treaty issue. In the original treaty agreements, the sharing of land was agreed to be to the 'depth of a plow.' According to this, the mining of minerals and other resources (well below the depth of a plow) are entitled to First Nations and not government or private industries. The government's position is that First Nations 'ceded, surrendered, and released' their rights to their lands and resources, but this is not what First Nations agreed to in treaty negotiations. Therefore, one of the current treaty issues is that of revenue resource sharing.

Jurisdiction of the Treaties

A fourth current treaty issue is the transportability of treaty rights. The Crown's position is that First Nations are only entitled to treaty rights when living on reserve and that once they leave the reserve they fall under provincial jurisdiction. The province has historically denied this, claiming that it is the federal government that is responsible for First Nations health, education, etc. In the past, tax exemption rights applied on and off reserve, but the province arbitrarily changed its mind and imposed provincial taxes off-reserve, thereby reneging on treaty agreements.

All of these issues are based on literal interpretations by the government of written treaty agreements, rather than adhering to the oral agreements negotiated with First Nations peoples.

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