Wampum at Niagara: The Royal Proclamation, Canadian Legal History, and Self-Government


This article will show that the Royal Proclamation is part of a treaty between First Nations and the Crown which stands as a positive guarantee of First Nation self-government. The other part of the treaty is contained in an agreement ratified at Niagara in 1764. Within this treaty are found conditions that underpin the Proclamation and that lie outside of the bare language of the document's words. The portion of the treaty confirmed at Niagara has often been overlooked, with the result that the manuscript of the Proclamation has not been integrated with First Nation understandings of this document. A reconstruction of the events and promises of 1763-4, which takes account of the treaty of Niagara, transforms conventional interpretations of colonialism which allow the Crown to ignore First Nations participation. Through this re-evaluation of early Canadian legal history, one is led to the conclusion that the Proclamation cannot be interpreted to undermine First Nations rights. As will be illustrated, Proclamation/Treaty of Niagara rights persisted throughout the early colonization of Canada. These Aboriginal rights survived to form and sustain the foundations of the First Nations/Crown relationship, and to inform Canada's subsequent treaty-making history. The approach developed in this paper will provide an example of the partiality of conventional ethnocentric colonial interpretations of Canadian legal history.

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