Treaty

James Bay Treaty No. 9.

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All of the nine Matawa member First Nations are beneficiaries of the James Bay Treaty, Treaty No. 9, with the exception of Long Lake #58, which lies within the boundaries of the Robinson Superior Treaty of 1850.  However, Long Lac was a signing location for the James Bay Treaty.

The Matawa First Nations are also members of the Provincial Territorial Organization, Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN), where the Matawa Chiefs come together with 41 other Northern and Northwestern Ontario First Nation Chiefs for political advocacy and to work on common issues.   The majority of NAN First Nations are beneficiaries to Treaty No. 9 as well.

The James Bay Treaty (Treaty No. 9) was one of the last numbered treaties to be signed in Canada.  It is the only treaty in Canada that was signed by a province. It was first signed in 1905 and 1906 by the Canadian Government, the Ontario Government, and the Cree, Ojibway and Algonquin Nations of what is now known as Northern and Northwestern Ontario.  The nations who signed in 1905-06 included those people occupying the area south of the Albany River. Adhesions with the remaining Cree and Ojibway nations north of the Albany River were signed in 1929 and 1930.

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Two Different Understandings of the Treaty

There is very little agreement between the treaty partners, (First Nations, Canada, and Ontario) as to what the Treaties mean today.

The Cree and Ojibway firmly believed that they signed treaties that afforded them protection and assistance from a benevolent king as well as a land sharing and resource sharing arrangement.  The First Nations assert that they never gave up their land or their right to govern themselves. Matawa leaders assert that the act of entering treaty represented recognition of their nationhood.  They state that they agreed to oral promises when they signed their treaties, many of which do not find expression in the Treaty text.  This treaty understanding is passed down through the Elders in the oral transmission and tradition.

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The Crown, on the other hand, saw the Treaty as a necessary step towards completely removing Indian title.  The Dominion of Canada wanted to fulfil an ambitious political vision to expand its transportation, settlement and industrial networks and needed to sign treaties with the remaining Aboriginal nations who had not yet entered into these arrangements. The crown governments (Ontario and Canada) rely solely on the textual version of the treaty terms, the main feature of which is the surrender of a landmass in Northern Ontario encompassing almost 250,000 square miles.

These and other disagreements on what the treaty means is the legacy that has endured and which has yet to be sorted out among the parties. Over a century later, the treaty partners are still struggling with the two polarized perspectives on the treaty. These two different understandings of the treaties is impacting First Nations and their treaty partners in many areas, but especially in the area of lands and resources.  The Crown believes that it has jurisdiction on the land, whereas First Nations believe that the creator made them stewards of the land, water animals and resources on their homelands and traditional territories and that they have shared jurisdiction with Ontario.