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Education (6-12)

Whose treaty is it anyway? The Secret Life of Canada takes a closer look

June 21, 2024

Leah and Falen join guest Kyle Muzyka for a closer look at Treaty 6 in this special episode

CBC Podcasts 

Chief Big Bear
Mistahimaskwa (Big Bear) is a Plains Cree chief born near Fort Carlton, Saskatchewan. Mistahimaskwa is best known for his refusal to sign Treaty 6 in 1876. (Library and Archives Canada C1873)

Of the 11 numbered treaties in Canada that were forged between 1871 and 1921, Treaty 6 is one of the most well documented treaty signings in Canadian history.  This treaty signing, which covers the central area of what is now called Saskatchewan and Alberta, established Crown obligations and rights for members of 17 First Nations. But despite all that documentation, it still resulted in broken promises and what would become Canada’s largest mass hanging. 

What did it take to get there and why does it matter today? 

This was a question Secret Life of Canada co-host Falen Johnson had been ruminating on for some time. 

“I wanted to know what happens when agreements between the Crown and the government land on top of one another,” said Johnson, adding that this agreement-making between nations necessarily had to take place across language, cultural and power differences. 

“[For one side], what was being agreed to wasn’t on the paper, it was what was being spoken,” Johnson said, illustrating one dimension of the friction between Indigenous agreement-making and settler-agreement making.

Earlier this month, Johnson and co-host Leah-Simone Bowen explored the basis of these treaty-making processes with a closer look at the Royal Proclamation — what some dub the Indigenous Magna Carta and the Indigenous Bill of Rights. 

Learn more about the importance of wampum belts in agreement making here:

In this special June 21 episode, they continue the conversation with special guest host Kyle Muzyka. They do a deep dive into the actual process of how Treaty 6 came to be between 1871 and 1877. 

Watch this documentary on the history of Treaty 6:

The treaty signing was marked by deception, backdoor dealings, and unfulfilled promises. Eventually, dissatisfaction with the treaty relationship and a rebellion to secure what was owed to the First Nation signatories led to a violent crackdown, and what became Canada’s largest mass hanging.

Listen to the Treaty 6 episode  here, and get transcripts of our series here.

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