Centuries before Europeans arrived on the shores of Gespe’gewa’gi
, we had our own long-standing tradition of treaty-making with other Indigenous nations. This practice continued after the Europeans came. Treaties
were then, and remain today, a way to recognize, affirm and strengthen our alliances with others.
Over time, we organized ourselves around our national territory of Mi’gma’gi. The Sante Mawiomi
("Grand Council") was the governing body of the Mi’gmaq. In times past, members of the Sante Mawiomi spoke about the importance of understanding and respecting treaties as spiritual
as well political
agreements that bind the signers to mutual obligations and responsibilities.
Mi’gmaq society was organized around an extensive kinship-based system that united everyone in a network of rights and responsibilities. From our oral teachings, we know that peace and friendship were maintained by alliances and negotiations among the various Mi’gmaq extended kinship families within and between districts.
To achieve peace and friendship, Mi’gmaq would gather in a mawiomi
("council gathering"). At this time, our ancestors assembled to reaffirm laws and regulations for managing the land and its resources (for example, who hunted where and when).
The agreements reached in the mawiomi ~ known as gisiagnutmatimgewe’l
("what we have agreed upon in the treaty process") ~ clarified what the parties together agreed were the binding outcomes of the collective process. Our oral teachings affirm that these agreements regulated and allocated hunting grounds according to the needs of individual families and groups. The well-being of the entire group was always of greater value than individual wealth.
During the treaty process, Mi’gmaq leadership selected delegates to speak on behalf of their group and its leaders and to carry messages to and from other mawiomi’l. At treaty ceremonies, a witness was present who would record the events through oral tradition and later recount the events in stories for future generations. In Mi’gmaq, this responsibility for witnessing is called nujo’teket
. When the delegates returned, they met with their saqamawg
("chiefs") and gisigumimajunu’g
("Elders") to share what had been discussed, deliberated and decided.
Today, we thank these witnessing Elders from the past for conserving their treaty stories and passing them on to us.
TREATIES WITH THE CROWN
Following the arrival of Europeans, the Mi’gmaq signed a series of treaties with British officials. These treaties are referred to as the Covenant Chain of Peace and Friendship Treaties
because that is exactly what the parties were seeking~ agreement to live in peace and to maintain friendly relations.
The best-known of these treaties were signed in 1725/26, 1752, 1760/61, and 1779.
MI’GMAQ MOTIVATION FOR ENTERING INTO TREATY RELATIONSHIPS
Due to the tradition of kinship-based treaty making within their families and districts, and with other Indigenous nations, the Mi’gmaq were eager to be involved in treaty making with the British in the 1700’s. We know this from historical documents describing Mi’gmaq attendance and representation at every treaty meeting.
One of the most valuable Mi’gmaq contributions to the treaty process was, and still is, our belief that treaties are entered into in order to extend, strengthen and incorporate new members
(that is, new treaty-makers) into our existing kinship system. In Mi’gmaq, Elders refer to treaties as angugamgwe’l
which means "adding to our relations."
BRITISH MOTIVATION FOR ENTERING INTO TREATY RELATIONSHIPS
Britain was motivated to negotiate "pease and friendship" treaties for two reasons:
- to gain the military allegiance (or at least neutrality) of nations like the Mi’gmaq in case war with the French were to breakout again,
- to re-establish the past good relations with the Mi’gmaq to avoid further confrontations with these original inhabitants of the land.
Thus, the Covenant Chain of Peace and Friendship Treaties is a group of fundamental agreements that were intended to enable the Mi’gmaq and British to co-exist in Mi’gma’gi in peace and friendship.
DISPUTES IN SPITE OF THE PEACE AND FRIENDSHIP TREATIES
Although treaties were signed, there were still disputes between Mi’gmaq and local British farmers and traders. Numbers of such events are well-documented.
Here is an example:
- In summer 1779, British settlers were trespassing on Mi’gmaq hunting and fishing grounds along the Miramichi River. This caused violent conflicts between British families and the Mi’gmaq whose previous treaty agreements with the Crown were obviously being violated. Clearly, peace and friendship were at stake.
- Mi’gmaq prisoners were captured. Finally, delegates from Mi’gmaq communities in the seventh district met at Pokemouche (in what is now northeastern New Brunswick) to review their written and signed copy of the 1760 treaty with the British. Then, they selected and sent delegates to meet with British Commander Hervey to negotiate renewed peace. During negotiations, they also brought about the release of several Mi’gmaq prisoners.
- Later that summer, Governor-General of Québec Haldiman released other prisoners and sent home with them a peace-making letter and a string of black wampum.
- This peaceful gesture clearly confirmed the Crown’s view of the ongoing nature of the formal relationship between these two co-equal parties, based on the various treaties that already existed.
THE TREATY OF 1779
The capture of the prisoners on the Miramichi, described above, naturally caused a major concern among the Mi’gmaq. In September 1779, they sent a delegation of chiefs to seek renewed peace by meeting with the Crown’s representative, Superintendent of Indian Affairs Michael Francklin, in Windsor, Nova Scotia. Written testimonies from the meetings prove that there were Mi’gmaq delegates from all regions of the seventh district.
This important meeting resulted in a treaty, known as Francklin’s Treaty of 1779. Its two basic purposes were:
- to reaffirm Mi’gmaq neutrality in subsequent wars under the long- standing and sacred relationship of peace and friendship,
- to ensure continued peace with British civilian settlers and traders.
During the colonization of North America, the British Crown acknowledged Indigenous nations as sovereign nations through the special treaty-making process they shared over many years. The long tradition of treaty negotiation between these equal parties can be proven through oral traditions as well as historical documents.