Were the Douglas Treaties and the Numbered Treaties Fairly Negotiated?

Grades: 9-12

Courses Key Topics
Author: Lindsay Gibson
Editors: Roland Case, John Lutz and Jenny Clayton
Historical Researcher: Jenny Clayton, PhD, Department of History, University of Victoria
Developed by: The Critical Thinking Consortium (TC2)


A reality of life in Canada in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries has been controversy about land claims and agreements between different levels of government and Aboriginal bands from diverse regions throughout Canada. Many of the current disputes centre on historical events and treaty negotiations that took place well over a century ago—a reality that adds to the complexity of the debates.

In this critical thinking lesson students evaluate two sets of treaties to understand the transfer of land ownership negotiated between Aboriginal leaders and government officials. The Numbered Treaties signed between 1871-1877 include seven treaties (Treaty Number One to Treaty Number Seven) concerned with land that covered most of the southern Prairie Provinces and Northwestern Ontario. The Douglas Treaties signed between 1850 and 1854 include fourteen treaties concerned with land on Vancouver Island.

Historians, government officials and aboriginal groups have raised many questions about these two sets of treaties including: Did both sides have a choice to negotiate the treaties? Were the purposes, terms, clauses and implications of the treaty clear to both sides? It is these questions that students consider as they work in teams to analyze various primary and secondary sources about the Douglas Treaties and the Numbered Treaties, to identify key events and conditions surrounding the negotiation of these treaties. After sharing their findings with others, their final task is to assess the fairness of these negotiations in light of agreed-upon criteria.

Step 1: Discuss the idea of fair bargaining

Invite students to think of a time when they bargained to purchase something. What conditions are required in order for us to say that the bargaining process was fair? Prompt a class or small group discussion by asking students to consider each of the following scenarios:

Is it fair bargaining if you make the deal but you . . .

Based on these discussions, invite students to agree on, add to or modify the following criteria for a fairly negotiated agreement:

Step 2: Set the historical context

Before exploring primary and secondary documents about the treaties, use the ideas described above in the "Introduction to explain to students the focus of the lesson and outline the activities they will undertake.

Decide whether you wish all students to examine one set of treaties or half of the class to examine a different set. Distribute the appropriate briefing sheets to students: #1 Background to the Douglas Treaties or #2 Background to the Numbered Treaties. Explain that these secondary accounts provide basic background information about the treaties.

Encourage students to consult #4 Glossary of Aboriginal Treaty Terms for words in the documents that they do not understand.

Arrange for students to share their preliminary findings with the rest of the class (or only with students assigned to the particular set of treaties). Encourage other members of the class to offer alternative suggestions about the implications of this evidence.

Invite students to use the rubric, #5 Assessing the Collection of Evidence, to provide each other with feedback on their ability to accurately identify important evidence both for and against the fairness of the treaty negotiations.

Step 3: Assign the documents for investigation

Students are now ready to examine various primary and secondary documents found in #6 Sources on the Douglas Treaties and/or #7 Sources on the Numbered Treaties. Create eight teams and use the following chart to assign the documents to each team. If using only one set of treaties, assign two teams to each cluster of documents. Distribute a copy of each of the assigned documents to every member of the team.

Numbered Treaties Douglas Treaties
Documents # 1-4 Documents # 1-4
Documents # 5-7 Documents # 5-8
Documents # 8-11 Documents # 9 -11
Documents # 12-16 Documents #12-16

Step 4: Introduce reading around the document

Encourage each team to use the questions on the activity sheet, #8 Reading Around a Document, as a pre-reading guide to each document. Ask younger students to answer the questions orally. With older students, ask each team collectively to provide a written copy of this activity sheet for each assigned document. Model for students how they might use the six questions to develop an overall sense of a document before analyzing its contents. Read a sample document as a class and invite students to offer their response and evidence for each question. Explain the need to identify details from the text (find evidence) to support a response that may involve drawing inferences. Direct student’s attention to the introductory description of the author and the citation after the text as sources of information about the document. Discuss their answers as a class.

Use the rubric, #9 Assessing Observations and Inferences, to introduce the criteria to guide students as they identify evidence and draw inferences for each question on the activity sheet.

Step 5: Analyze the documents

Distribute three or four copies of the activity sheet, #3 Evidence of Fairness, to each member of each team. Encourage each team to collectively analyze their assigned documents, but to ensure that each team member keeps an individual record on the activity sheet of each analysis. Remind students to consider the criteria for fair bargaining discussed earlier when looking for evidence in their assigned documents about the fairness of the treaty negotiations.

Step 6: Share findings with other teams

When the teams have analyzed their assigned documents, reassemble all the teams for each treaty into three or four new groups by drawing one member from each team to form a group. (In some cases, because of odd numbers in the original teams, some new groups may have two students who have analysed the same documents.) Arrange for students to share their document analyses with their new group members using a placemat strategy. Provide each group with a large sheet of paper. Ask students to draw a circle in the centre with one wedge- shaped space for each group member.

Invite students to use their allotted space on the chart to record the key pieces of evidence from their documents for and against the fairness of the negotiations. Once all students have summarized their ideas, direct each group to write the four agreed-upon criteria for a fairly negotiated treaty in the centre of the circle. Invite the groups to discuss the most significant evidence from each member related to each of these criteria. Explain that students will shortly be asked to reach their own conclusions about the fairness of treaties, but for the time being they are simply to record in the centre of the circle key evidence that the group can agree on for each criterion.

Step 7: Assess the fairness of the treaties

When each group has reached general agreement on the key evidence from the documents, invite students individually to formulate their own conclusion about the fairness of their assigned treaty negotiations. Distribute a copy of the activity sheet, #10 Conclusions about Fairness, to each student. For each of the four criteria, invite students to rate the fairness of the treaty negotiations and to offer supporting reasons. Afterwards, ask students to decide on an overall rating, and record their reasons on the back of activity sheet #10.

Use the rubric, #11 Assessing the Final Judgement, to evaluate whether students have offered plausible ratings of the fairness of the treaty negotiations supported with accurate and convincing evidence.

Step 8: Compare conclusions

Arrange for students to share their overall conclusions with a partner, and then initiate a class- wide discussion. For both the Douglas Treaties and the Numbered Treaties, invite several students to share their conclusions with the rest of the class. Encourage students to discuss the evidence and to remain open to the possibility that there may be no conclusive answer for some of the issues surrounding the negotiations of these treaties.