Peace and Friendship

Today, the Government of Canada refers to the Treaties between the Wabanaki nations and the Crown as “Peace and Friendship Treaties,” and states: “unlike later treaties signed in other parts of Canada, the Peace and Friendship Treaties did not involve First Nations surrendering rights to the lands and resources they had traditionally used and occupied.” 1

The 1725 Treaty, taken as a whole, was not a surrender of land or rights: it was a sharing. The reaffirmations in 1749, 1752, 1760 and 1779 contain no surrender language. Across Canada, Indigenous elders explain that their ancestors, in making treaties with the Crown, had no concept of selling land: they believed they were clarifying how people would live together and share the land. The English words used in these treaties did not exist in either a legal or a societal vacuum. In the 18th century, the term “Peace and Friendship” was meaningful in political and legal terms, beyond the ways those words are generally used today.

A peace treaty, in the 18th century, was an act of the unfettered Royal prerogative. That is, the Crown could make peace treaties without having to take them to Parliament to have them ratified. In contrast, other kinds of treaties needed approval by Parliament to come into force. That is why, for example, the promises of border crossing rights in the 1794 Jay Treaty are not recognized by Canadian law: that treaty, made eleven years after the Treaty of Paris, the peace treaty that ended the American Revolutionary War, was a “Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Navigation,” and the laws implementing it were allowed to lapse in 1822 and 1823 in Upper and Lower Canada.

“Friendship” in the 18th century meant more than just goodwill. That is why, for example, in the 1749 renewal, the Governor referred to “amity and friendship.” Friendship implied, in many contexts, family relations. That would have been consistent with the way the Peskotomuhkati Chiefs would have understood it. The word also implied an alliance, and that, too, would have been welcomed.