A Selectively Strict Interpretation

Under Treaty 11 Canada is required to distribute to those Indians signatory who continue to fish, trap, and hunt equipment to the value of three dollars. According to the CBC, the West Point First Nation in Hay River has returned the $216 cheque it received to Ottawa on the grounds that the payment is ridiculously low.

Linda Molner, a spokesperson from the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs says the amount cannot be negotiated because the treaties cannot be changed.

It’s funny that Indian Affairs should have such a selectively literal interpretation of the treaty. If one takes the treaty literally, Canada is not entitled to make a cash payment at all. The actual language of the treaty is:

…there shall be distributed annually among the Indians equipment, such as twine for nets, ammunition and trapping to the value of three dollars per head for each Indian who continues to follow the vocation of hunting, fishing and trapping.

Canada is clearly obligated to provide the equipment itself, and moreover, is responsible for transporting the equipment to Hay River. Furthermore, the treaty does not provide for a payment of $3 - it provides for the distribution of goods to the value of three dollars. The value is of course the buying power of $3 in 1921, which, according to the Bank of Canada Inflation Calculator, is now $31.97. It looks to me like a strict interpretation of the treaty is that Canada should be providing equipment worth $2,301.84, and that, should the band choose to accept cash rather than the goods themselves, they are entitled to the cost of carriage to Hay River as well.

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