The making of Treaty 9 from the perspective of historical witness George Spence, an 18-year-old Cree hunter from Albany, James Bay. The 83rd Heritage Minute in Historica Canada's collection.
Treaty 9, also known as the James Bay Treaty, was signed between the Government of Canada and Cree and Ojibwa nations in 1905. One of 11 numbered treaties signed in the post-Confederation era, it covers most of present-day Northern Ontario.
The process of ceding land to the government began in Upper Canada before Confederation, and many of these early treaty negotiations encompassed the hunting and fishing rights of Indigenous groups. After Confederation, Sir John A. Macdonald began implementing the numbered treaty system to open up the western provinces for settlement.
The Cree and Ojibwa of James Bay were concerned with the increasing encroachment of Hudson’s Bay Company traders and other non-Indigenous trappers. In the summer of 1901, they petitioned for a treaty that would protect their right to use their land. This led to the creation of Treaty 9.
The treaty-making process was inherently unequal. The terms of Treaty 9 were presented to the First Nations leaders as an executed agreement rather than a negotiation. The Province of Ontario made additional demands, including having commissioners and not the chiefs determine reserve locations. Any negotiating power on the part of the Cree and Ojibwa was subject to the government’s power of veto over treaty terms.
In the treaty preamble, the text reads that the purpose of the treaty is to create available land in Northern Ontario “for settlement, immigration, trade, travel, mining, lumbering and other such purposes.” The Cree and Ojibwa had to “cede, release, surrender and yield up … their rights, titles and privileges” to land and resources within the geographical area of the treaty. As for payment, a one-time lump sum of $8 was paid per person.
The treaty was signed on behalf of the Dominion of Canada by Duncan Campbell Scott and Samuel Stewart, both members of the Indian Affairs Department. Daniel G. MacMartin was the representative from the Government of Ontario. George Spence, an 18-year-old Cree hunter, made his mark on the treaty alongside members of the Cree and Ojibwa nations.
Today, many Indigenous people in Canada are still waiting for treaty promises to be honoured.
For more information on Treaty 9, visit The Canadian Encyclopedia