Original Treaty 11 document now on display in Yellowknife

For the first time since its signing 100 years ago, the original Treaty 11 document, the last numbered treaty to be signed in Canada, is back in the north and on display.

The document is on loan from Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa and is kept in a temperature and humidity controlled room.

Territorial archivist Erin Suliak says it took months of planning to get it here.

“In this case, Treaty 11 is an agreement between the Crown and Indigenous governments so as such it was the Crown who held the original copy and that’s generally the case for all treaties, that one of the originals is held with the Crown and there may be copies distributed in the communities.”

In the summer of 1921, more than a dozen Gwich’in, Sahtu Dene, Dehcho Dene and Tłı̨chǫ communities signed the document with the intent of peace and friendship.

But the federal government used treat as a colonization tool to gain access to oil in Normal Wells.

“Although we use the word negotiation it was really, it wasn’t really a negotiation because the terms of the treaty had already been decided in Ottawa prior to going north,” says Suliak. “But it was the negotiation of Indigenous Peoples to determine whether or not they would take the articles of the treaty.”

Because of its fragility, the public doesn’t have hands on access to the document.

But Suliak says that a mock re-creation booklet of Treaty 11 is available for guests to browse and see for themselves how 1921 marked the beginning of a challenging relationship.

“It’s reflected in there that strange disconnect between what actually is in the north and what Ottawa was looking to do,” he says. “Here ‘if any Indians being desiress of agricultural pursuits such Indians will receive such assistance for those purposes,’ you know because we’re all leaping into agriculture in 1921.”

The document will be on display until mid-October.

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