The Canadian Crown and Indigenous peoples of Canada

The association between the Canadian Crown and Indigenous peoples of Canada stretches back to the first decisions between North American Indigenous peoples and European colonialists and, over centuries of interface, treaties were established concerning the monarch and Indigenous tribes. Canada's First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples now have a unique relationship with the reigning monarch and, like the Māori and the Treaty of Waitangi in New Zealand,[1] generally view the affiliation as being not between them and the ever-changing Cabinet, but instead with the continuous Crown of Canada, as embodied in the reigning sovereign.[2] These agreements with the Crown are administered by Canadian Aboriginal law and overseen by the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs.[3][4]


Prince Arthur with the Chiefs of the Six Nations at the Mohawk Chapel, Brantford, 1869

The association between Canada's Indigenous peoples and the Canadian Crown is both statutory and traditional, the treaties being seen by the first peoples both as legal contracts and as perpetual and personal promises by successive reigning kings and queens to protect Aboriginal welfare, define their rights, and reconcile their sovereignty with that of the monarch in Canada. The agreements are formed with the Crown because the monarchy is thought to have inherent stability and continuity, as opposed to the transitory nature of populist whims that rule the political government,[5][6][7][8] meaning the link between monarch and Aboriginals will theoretically last for "as long as the sun shines, grass grows and rivers flow."[9][10]

The relationship has thus been described as mutual—"cooperation will be a cornerstone for partnership between Canada and First Nations, wherein Canada is the short-form reference to Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada"[9]—and "special,"[11] having a strong sense of "kinship" and possessing familial aspects.[12] Constitutional scholars have observed that First Nations are "strongly supportive of the monarchy,"[13][14][15] even if not necessarily regarding the monarch as supreme.[n 1] The nature of the legal interaction between Canadian sovereign and First Nations has similarly not always been supported.[n 2]


The Office that I hold represents the Canadian Crown. As we are all aware the Crown has a fiduciary responsibility for the ongoing well being of Canada's First Citizens.[18]

Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia Iona Campagnolo, 2005

While treaties were signed between European monarchs and First Nations in North America as far back as 1676, the only ones that survived the American Revolution are those in Canada, which date to the beginning of the 18th century. Today, the main guide for relations between the monarchy and Canadian First Nations is King George III's Royal Proclamation of 1763;[17][19] while not a treaty, it is regarded by First Nations as their Magna Carta or "Indian Bill of Rights",[19][20] binding on not only the British Crown but the Canadian one as well,[21] as the document remains a part of the Canadian constitution.[19] The proclamation set parts of the King's North American realm aside for colonists and reserved others for the First Nations, thereby affirming native title to their lands and making clear that, though under the sovereignty of the Crown, the Aboriginal bands were autonomous political units in a "nation-to-nation" association with non-native governments,[22][23] with the monarch as the intermediary.[24] This created not only a "constitutional and moral basis of alliance" between indigenous Canadians and the Canadian state as personified in the monarch,[17] but also a fiduciary affiliation in which the Crown is constitutionally charged with providing certain guarantees to the First Nations,[17][22][25] as affirmed in Sparrow v. The Queen,[26] meaning that the "honour of the Crown" is at stake in dealings between it and First Nations leaders.[9][27]

Given the "divided" nature of the Crown, the sovereign may be party to relations with Aboriginal Canadians distinctly within a provincial jurisdiction.[n 3] This has at times led to a lack of clarity regarding which of the monarch's jurisdictions should administer his or her duties towards indigenous peoples.[n 4]


This stone was taken from the grounds of Balmoral Castle in the Highlands of Scotland—a place dear to my great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria. It symbolises the foundation of the rights of First Nations peoples reflected in treaties signed with the Crown during her reign. Bearing the cypher of Queen Victoria as well as my own, this stone is presented to the First Nations University of Canada in the hope that it will serve as a reminder of the special relationship between the sovereign and all First Nations peoples.[30]

Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, 2005

From time to time, the link between the Crown and Aboriginal peoples will be symbolically expressed, through pow-wows or other types of ceremony held to mark the anniversary of a particular treaty — sometimes with the participation of the monarch, another member of the Canadian Royal Family, or one of the Sovereign's representatives[n 5]—or simply an occasion mounted to coincide with the presence of a member of the Royal Family on a royal tour,[33] Aboriginals having always been a part of such tours of Canada.[34] Gifts have been frequently exchanged[n 6] and Aboriginal titles have been bestowed upon royal and viceregal figures since the early days of indigenous contact with the Crown: The Ojibwa referred to King George III as the Great Father and Queen Victoria was later dubbed as the Great White Mother.[10][16] Queen Elizabeth II was named Mother of all People by the Salish nation in 1959 and her son,[36] Prince Charles, was in 1976 given by the Inuit the title of Attaniout Ikeneego, meaning Son of the Big Boss.[37] Charles was further honoured in 1986, when Cree and Ojibwa students in Winnipeg named Charles Leading Star,[38] and again in 2001, during the Prince's first visit to Saskatchewan, when he was named Pisimwa Kamiwohkitahpamikohk, or The Sun Looks at Him in a Good Way, by an elder in a ceremony at Wanuskewin Heritage Park.

Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, in Halifax, 2014. He was named Attaniout Ikeneego by the Inuit of Nunavut, Leading Star by the Ojibwa of Winnipeg, and Pisimwa Kamiwohkitahpamikohk by the Cree of Saskatchewan.

Since as early as 1710, Aboriginal leaders have met to discuss treaty business with Royal Family members or viceroys in private audience and many continue to use their connection to the Crown to further their political aims.[39] The above-mentioned pageants and celebrations have, for instance, been employed as a public platform on which to present complaints to the Monarch or other members of the Royal Family. It has been said that Aboriginal people in Canada appreciate their ability to do this witnessed by both national and international cameras.[n 7][40][41]

Other Languages