The Royal Proclamation of 1763



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The Royal Proclamation of 1763

The Royal Proclamation of 1763 has been referred to as the Natives’ Magna Carta. In 1763, King George III, following the Treaty of Paris, which concluded the Seven Years War with France, issued his Royal Proclamation. This dealt with a number of issues, including those pertaining to Natives. It stated that any lands within the territorial confines of the new governments (which included present-day Quebec, Florida, West Florida, Granada) that had not been ceded by the Indians "... are reserved to them, or any of them as their Hunting Grounds."

The reason cited for this was:

wheras it is just and reasonable, and essential to our Interest, and the Security of our Colonies that the Several Nations or Tribes of Indians with who We are connected, and who live under our Protection, should not be molested or disturbed...

Also, the proclamation dealt with land not within the limits of the new government. It reserved "... for the use of said Indians, all Land Territories not included within the limits of our Said ... governments, or within the Limits of the Territory granted to the Hudson’s Bay Company."

Regarding that last point, in 1670, the Hudson’s Bay Company, a business run by English traders, received its charter from the British Crown. Charles II gave the company monopoly of trade in the lands drained by the waters that flow into the Hudson Bay. It was given the rights to land as well, calling it Rupert’s Land after the prince who helped set up the company.

No one at the time had any idea of the size of what had been give to the company. In essence, it amounted to most of Quebec, a good piece of Ontario, all of Manitoba and Saskatchewan, and major part of Alberta.

In order to prevent fraud, the proclamation provided a way in which lands could be acquired for settlement. Indian lands "shall be purchased only for Us, in our Name, at some public Meeting of Assembly of the said Indians." This implied that all lands that had not been surrendered by the Indians to the Crown belonged to the Indians. It reserved all unsettled land for the use of the Indians as their hunting grounds. It provided that lands required for settlement had to be bought from the Indians and could only be bought by the Crown at a public meeting.

The Royal Proclamation, therefore, set the stage for land surrender treaties signed by the Indians and the Crown. The reason for this is that under the Canadian legal system, English laws became a part of the law of Canada on the dates when various colonial governments were formed. Under this rule, the Royal Proclamation became part of Canadian law. Without the passing of specific law overruling such a law (which hasn’t taken place), the Royal Proclamation is still valid.

However, this leaves us with several questions that have been and are being disputed in the courts. Despite its apparent clarity, there are several questions that arise. Did the proclamation provide the source of Native title to the land or did it merely recognize the pre-existing reality that the lands belonged to the Indians? Not surprisingly, Native activists and leaders, as well as anthropologists and other scholars, take the position that the land did in fact belong to Aboriginal people and George III’s proclamation simply affirmed this recognition.



Other questions need asking. Did the proclamation apply to all of what is now Canada (as Native people contend) or did it apply to simply lands that had been discovered by the British to that date? The province of British Columbia had long operated on the basis of the latter argument maintaining therefore that the proclamation does not apply to them.

 

(Steckley, John L. and Bryan D. Cummins, 2001, pp. 119-120. Reprinted with permission from Prentice Hall.)

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