The Royal Proclamation of 1763
In Canada, the Proclamation is considered to be one of the strongest guarantees of First Nations’ land rights. Pre-existing land ownership was acknowledged and is a very important legal concept today. The Royal Proclamation describes the basis for the historical and modern day Treaties. It defines Canada’s special relationship with First Nations people and sets out the basis in law for First Nations land title and other rights. And though it is not part of Canada’s current Constitution, the Proclamation is referred to specifically in Section 25 of the 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Proclamation was referred to by Justice Gwynne in St. Catharine’s Milling Case of 1888 as the “Indian Bill of Rights,” it is often referred to since then as an “Indian Magna Carta (Indian Charter),” and has been held by the courts to have “the force of a statute which has been never repealed”, which is to say, it is still in effect and it’s going to be part of our legal landscape for a long time to come.
The Royal Proclamation of 1763 recognized that:
The Royal Proclamation along with the subsequent Treaty of Niagara, provide for an argument that “discredits the claims of the Crown to exercise sovereignty over First Nations” and affirms Indigenous “powers of self-determination in, among other things, allocating lands through treaties.” Further so, the Royal Proclamation outlined a policy in which to protect Indigenous rights and in doing so, recognized these rights existed.
In Canada, the Proclamation is the basis of our understanding of legal nature of Indian title and is the historical root of the treaty process and the building foundations of Canada.
“The Royal Proclamation,” writes historian Colin Calloway, “reflected the notion that segregation not interaction [French] should [now] characterize Indian-white relations.”
It was at the height of the Pontiac Rebellion that British Lord, General Jeffrey Amherst secured his place in history with the deliberate introduction of the first act of modern biological warfare (infected smallpox blankets, etc.) in North America on First Nation peoples, including against his allies, “You will do well to inoculate the Indians by means of blankets, as well as every other method that can serve to extirpate this execrable race.” An officer, stationed at Fort Pitt, presented to Native leaders with a “gift” of blankets and handkerchiefs taken from a smallpox hospital which triggered an epidemic