THE COVENANT CHAIN OF TREATIES My Land is Not Thine, Either by Right or by Conquest

The Covenant Chain of Treaties

By Joe B. Marshall, Cape Breton University

Prior to the European arrival, Mi’kmaq dealt with neighbouring nations in trade alliances as well as friendship alliances. They based their dealings on mutual respect and treaty processes. To the Mi’kmaq, treaties are sacred and spiritual. They are more than vehicles of politics or convenience. Each treaty represents an addition to the Mi’kmaq family.

Once Europeans settlement of North America began in earnest, relations between the Mi’kmaq and the British were affected by events in places like New England. There were increases in the number of settlers and the expansion of settlements into Wabenaki and Mi’kmaq territories. These disrupted tribal land use patterns, as well as the way of life of our people and as a result, hostilities broke out. To provide assurances for the protection of tribal rights, the Crown began negotiating treaties of peace and friendship and by 1717, at least eleven treaties were concluded within the southeastern Wabanaki Tribes. These agreements did not bind the Mi’kmaq or respond to their concerns about their territories in Mi’kmakik [the homeland of the Mi’kmaq, including New Brunswick].

Then in 1725, the Wabanaki Confederacy, represented by leaders of the Penobscot, Maliseet and Passamaquoddy, signed a peace treaty with the British at Boston, accepting only nominal British sovereignty and only agreeing not to molest existing settlements. The 1725 Treaty included all the terms of the treaties since 1693, was modeled after the Treaty of Utrecht and was slowly ratified by the tribal allies. In 1726 at Annapolis Royal, after negotiating at length and after several versions of the 1725 Treaty, the Mi’qmaq agreed to sign a ratification to it. The “Cape Sable” (Mi’kmaq) and their District Chief, along with about a hundred others, among them Chiefs of the Annapolis Royal, Chignecto, Minas, Shubenacadie, La Have, Shediac, Richibucto, Cape Breton and Newfoundland, or Winanogig, as well as Penobscot and Passamoquoddy were all there. And 1728, there were some chiefs who in 1726 couldn’t make the signing of Annapolis Royal, they decided to ratify and signed the 1725 Compact in that year.

The colonial authorities had a distorted view of Mi’kmaq government and society. Colonial activities for example, which were assented to on one Mi’kmaq district, were rejected in others. And our archival records show how colonial authorities very often confronted Mi’kmaq inhabitants in one district when supposed offences were committed against them by another Mi’kmaq in another district and accused them of violating the treaties they have signed.

In 1749 we have the renewal and ratification of the 1725 and 1726 terms by the St. John’s (Maliseet) and Chignecto, as well as the Passamaquoddy with Colonel Edward Cornwallis. Then in 1752 there was another renewal of the 1725 Treaty, which was signed between John Baptiste Cope and Thomas Hobson at Halifax. Added to this treaty was a truckhouse clause, as well as an affirmation of Mi’kmaq hunting and fishing rights. In 1760, negotiations were held once again to promote better relations with the British and a treaty was signed with the Passamaquoddy and St. John River (Maliseet) tribes as well as the La Have, Richibucto, Shubenacadie, and Musquodoboit Mi’kmaq. Then in 1761, this same treaty was signed between Governor Jonathon Belcher of the colony of Nova Scotia and the remaining Mi’kmaq chiefs. This treaty was also based on the 1725 terms along with clauses concerning trade and commerce. There were also clauses relating to hostages and hostage exchanges and the burying of a hatchet concluded the whole event.

Then in 1778, a treaty was signed at Fort Howe on the St. John Harbour between Michael Franklin and Maliseets of St. John, as well as the Mi’kmaq of Richibucto, Miramichi, Chignecto, Poukamouche and Minas Basin.

Treaties like these have been negotiated and concluded with many indigenous Nations in North America in order to consolidate a covenant chain of confederation with the British Crown. This chain was described in 1775 by Sir William Johnson, who was Britain’s superintendent of indigenous affairs, as a silver chain fixed to moveable mounts. So, as disturbing as the Marshall Decision seems to have been to Canada, it really is only the tip of an iceberg! If we related that to a chain of treaties and again the 1760-61 Treaty, its just one link in that chain. The Supreme Court justices in Marshall, in their recognition of the Mi’kmaq right to hunt, fish and to gather have also uncovered the tip of an iceberg. That iceberg is the concept called in Mi’kmaq “Netukulimk”. Providing for yourself and your family is “Netukulimk”. It’s a way of life; it’s a culture. The Mi’kmaq negotiators of the treaties intended to preserve a way of life, not just a moderate standard of living.

– “Looking Forward: Treaty Implementations” – A paper delivered at a Conference co-hosted by Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs and Assembly of First Nations, St. John’s, Newfoundland, 2000.

Joe B. Marshall
18th Century


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