Treaty 3 | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Treaty 3

On 3 October 1873, some Saulteaux peoples (an Ojibwe people) and the Government of Canada signed Treaty 3, also known as the North-West Angle Treaty. This agreement provided the federal government access to Saulteaux lands in present-day northwestern Ontario and eastern  Manitoba in exchange for various goods and Indigenous rights to hunting, fishing and natural resources on reserve lands. The terms and text of Treaty 3 set precedents for the eight Numbered Treaties that followed. (See also Treaties with Indigenous Peoples in Canada.)

Treaty 3 lands.
(courtesy Native Land Digital /

Historical Context

In 1869, the Government of Canada began making a road and waterway system from Lower Fort Garry in Manitoba, east to Lake of the Woods and from Thunder Bay to the Shebandowan Lakes in northwestern Ontario. The primary objective was to provide access to the Canadian interior.

This road-waterway system was planned to cut through Saulteaux (see also Ojibwe) territory. Engineer and overseer of the project Simon J. Dawson knew that the success of the project depended on maintaining friendly relations with the Saulteaux people. As a means of keeping goodwill, Dawson suggested that the federal government send former Hudson’s Bay Company worker Robert Pither to the Saulteaux to explain the project. Pither had worked among the Saulteaux in the past and knew the community well. Dawson also suggested that the government consider negotiating a treaty with the Saulteaux the next summer.

Following only the first of Dawson’s two recommendations, the federal government appointed Pither as Indian agent in 1870. He was subsequently sent to Fort Frances in the Rainy River district of northwestern Ontario, where he was to “establish and keep up … friendly relations” with the Indigenous peoples there. The government was not yet willing to make definite plans to move forward with a treaty because it did not think it necessary at this point.

During this time, the rebellion in Manitoba’s Red River colony had attracted the government’s full attention (see also Red River Rebellion). A military expedition was to be sent there to establish Canadian sovereignty. In order to get to the Red River from Ontario, however, troops would have to travel through Saulteaux territory. (See also Indigenous Territory.) Once again, the federal government thought it wise to send an official to notify the Saulteaux of the expedition, thereby maintaining good relations and ensuring the safety of the troops. In June 1870, Member of Parliament Wemyss M. Simpson joined Pither at Fort Frances.

Upon his arrival, Simpson addressed a gathering of approximately 1,500 Saulteaux. He informed them that a military expedition would be travelling through their lands in order to get to the Red River. Simpson stressed that the troops meant them no harm and should therefore not be hindered in their travel. He also offered to hire some Saulteaux as workers and guides for the expedition.

The Saulteaux refused this work offer but agreed not to interfere with the troops’ movement. They also made it clear that they expected to be paid for the construction of any roads or waterways through their territory. They requested $10 per man, woman and child annually for “as long as the sun shines.” The Saulteaux also wanted rations of pork, tea, tobacco and flour to be used in celebrations conducted when the government distributed the annual payments. (See also Treaty Day.)

Although the Saulteaux were ready to negotiate a treaty, they made it clear to Simpson that they had no intention of permitting “farmers to settle” on their land. This indicates that they did not intend to cede their rights to the land; they wanted compensation in exchange for allowing the development of specific government projects on their territory.

Simpson found these requests excessive and informed the Saulteaux that the government would not agree to them. When the lieutenant-governor of Manitoba and the North-West Territories, Sir Adams George Archibald, heard about this, he stated that the Saulteaux’s demands were “out of the question.” The annual $10 fee, Archibald argued, would only be worth paying if the Saulteaux “were relinquishing their rights to the whole Territory.”

In December 1870, the Saulteaux told Dawson that they were still interested in a treaty. Though they would be willing to negotiate the terms, the Saulteaux still expected some form of compensation for the use of their lands.

The following year, the Government of Canada revealed its intention to negotiate the surrender of Saulteaux territory. Simpson was appointed Indian commissioner in May 1871 and was instructed to negotiate a treaty with the Saulteaux. Dawson and Pither — also appointed commissioners for this treaty — served as his assistants.

Treaty Negotiations, 1871

The federal government established limitations on the monies that the three commissioners could offer to the Saulteaux (Ojibwe) in exchange for the surrender of their land. Secretary of State Joseph Howe stated: “the maximum amount which you are authorized to give, is twelve dollars per annum for a family of five, with a discretionary power to add small sums in addition when the families exceed that number.”

In late July 1871, Simpson, Dawson and Pither met with the Saulteaux at Fort Frances and the Shebandowan Lakes. The commissioners explained the government’s plan to purchase the Saulteaux’s rights to the territory. However, the Saulteaux were not interested in this deal; they still wanted payments for the “right of way” through their territory. The commissioners left Fort Frances and the Shebandowan Lakes without making a treaty, but they agreed to return early next summer with “presents,” such as clothing and yet-to-be-determined cash payments.

Treaty Negotiations, 1872

In June 1872, the three commissioners resumed talks with the Saulteaux (Ojibwe). Once more, Simpson, Dawson and Pither were denied the deal they wanted to make. Simpson also informed the federal government that the Saulteaux were now making “new and more extravagant demands,” including an increase in the annual payments. This may have been prompted by the discovery of silver and gold on their lands, which increased the value of the property. Simpson also believed that Saulteaux bands in the United States were influencing their Canadian counterparts. Saulteaux bands in the United States had already signed a treaty that offered their people more than the commissioners in Canada had promised.

The federal government told Simpson to try again at negotiating a treaty in the fall at Fort William, Ontario. In order to improve his bargaining position, Simpson was allowed to offer the chiefs annual salaries of $25 and band leaders (headmen), $15. The government hoped that this would persuade Saulteaux leaders to accept their offer.

In October 1872, Simpson went to Fort William, but found only a few Saulteaux there. Most had returned to their homes after the hunting season. He was therefore unable to hold a general council and propose the new offers. Treaty negotiations were put on hold until the following summer.

Treaty Negotiations, 1873

George McPherson and his family, Northwest Angle, Lake of the Woods (present-day Ontario)
George McPherson (seated) worked for the Hudson's Bay Company in the Temiscamingue district in the 1830s and later served as an interpreter during the 1873 Treaty 3 negotiations.

In June 1873, the commissioners tried again to negotiate a treaty with the Saulteaux (Ojibwe). A new project — the expansion of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) from Lake Superior to the Red River — depended on the commissioners’ success; the CPR would have to pass through Saulteaux territory.

Dawson knew that the only way the commissioners would be successful was if the government permitted them to make more generous offers. He recommended matching the American offer of $14 per person for the cession of their territory, in addition to granting an annual payment of $6 to $10. Dawson also suggested that the new lieutenant-governor of Manitoba and the North-West Territories, Alexander Morris, attend the next negotiation with troop companies at his side, so as to make the Saulteaux “feel and know that the treaty is a matter of the greatest importance” to the government.

The government agreed to give Simpson, Dawson and Pither the ability to offer $15 per head per year, but stressed that these were “maximum figures,” and that the commissioners were “to secure a treaty on more favourable terms.”

During this time, Deputy Superintendent-General of Indian Affairs William Spragge (see also Federal Departments of Indigenous and Northern Affairs) discovered information that he believed would further increase the bargaining power of the commissioners. Spragge found that the amount per person offered to the Saulteaux by the United States was not more advantageous than that offered by Canada. While the Government of Canada offered an ongoing yearly payment, the United States government only offered payment for up to 15 or 20 years.

With this new information, Morris arrived at the North-West Angle (the area where the borders of present-day Manitoba, Ontario and Minnesota intersect) in September 1873, accompanied by a military escort and ready to negotiate a treaty. The Saulteaux delayed the meeting, initially asking for a change in location, which was denied. They then stated that they needed more time to discuss treaty terms. This request was granted.

By 1 October, treaty talks resumed. Morris outlined the government’s terms:

I will give you lands for farms, and also reserves for your own use. … It may be a long time before the other lands are wanted, and in the meantime you will be permitted to fish and hunt over them. I will also establish schools whenever any band asks for them, so that your children may have the learning of the white man. … I will give you ten dollars per head of the population, and for every other year five dollars a-head. But to the chief men, not exceeding two to each band, we will give twenty dollars a year for ever. I will give to each of you this year a present of goods and provisions to take you home, and I am sure you will be satisfied.

After contemplating Morris’s offer for one day, the main spokesperson for the Saulteaux, Chief Ma-We-Do-Pe-Nais, presented his people’s terms. They demanded $50 a year for each chief, $20 for each council member and $10 for each band member. They also asked for a one-time cash payment of $15 for each band member. In addition, the Saulteaux requested clothing, fishing and farming tools and equipment, household items, food items and farm animals. Chief Ma-We-Do-Pe-Nais emphasized, however, that these goods and monies served as compensation for use of their land, not ownership. He told Morris and the commissioners, “All this is our property where you have come.”

Morris refused these demands, arguing that his initial offer was fair. The Saulteaux also remained unmoved. Chief Ma-We-Do-Pe-Nais stated: “I lay before you our opinions. Our hands are poor but our heads are rich, and it is riches that we ask so that we may be able to support our families as long as the sun rises and the water runs.” Chief Ma-We-Do-Pe-Nais was aware of how other Indigenous nations had had their land taken away from them by colonials for few concessions, and was therefore defensive.  ( See also Treaties 1 and 2.)

Negotiations stalled until Chief Sah-katch-eway of the Lac Seul and English River bands told the commissioners that his people were ready to sign a treaty. By doing this, Chief Sah-katch-eway broke ranks with the other chiefs. Morris knew that there was dissension among different Saulteaux bands and he was willing to use this to his advantage. He strongly encouraged the Saulteaux to reconvene and reconsider the government’s offer. If they didn’t, he told them he would have to negotiate with individual bands.

Saulteaux leaders left the negotiating table to regroup. They were joined by four Métis: the Honourable James McKay, Pierre Leveillée, Charles Nolin and Mr. Genton. It is uncertain whether these men were invited by the Saulteaux or whether Morris had requested their presence in order to persuade the Saulteaux to accept his offer. It is also uncertain how much influence these four men had on the Saulteaux’s council.

While the Saulteaux convened, the commissioners also met and decided that if the Saulteaux signed the treaty, they would increase the one-time cash payment from $10 to $12 per family of five. They would also provide for some of their other demands, including funding for certain farming tools and weapons.

On 3 October, when negotiations resumed, Morris noted that the Saulteaux seemed pleased by the revised deal, but they continued to press for more goods, some of which Morris accepted, including provisions of tools and clothing. The Saulteaux were also guaranteed other rights and privileges, including exclusion from conscription, permission to hunt and fish on reserve lands, and the ability to allow relatives who had moved to the United States to be included in this treaty if they relocated to Canada within two years of its signing.

The Saulteaux asked whether the Métis could be recognized in the treaty as well. Morris denied this request but promised to bring the issue to the attention of the federal government.

After a few more negotiations took place about the allocation of certain goods and services, the Saulteaux accepted the treaty terms. Treaty 3 was signed on 3 October 1873, and confirmed by an order-in-council on the last day of that month.

Adhesions, 1874–75

Not all Saulteaux (Ojibwe) bands were able to make it to the negotiations at the North-West Angle in 1873. However, they agreed in advance to accept whatever terms their relatives had accepted. After the treaty was signed, Dawson travelled to the Shebandowan Lakes to explain the treaty to two bands that lived there and included them in the treaty. The adhesion was signed on 13 October 1873 and confirmed by an order-in-council on 5 January 1874.

The following spring, Pither travelled to Lac Seul to obtain the adhesion of the Saulteaux living there. The adhesion was signed on 9 June 1874 and confirmed by an order-in-council on 18 July 1874.

Beginning in 1874, the Métis living in the lands around Treaty 3, namely Rainy Lake and Rainy River, expressed a desire to join the treaty. The only caveat was that they requested an annual payment for the purchase of ammunition and twine for fishing nets. In return, the Métis would surrender their claim to the land. The adhesion was signed in 1875.

After four years of negotiations, Treaty 3 was now completed.

Written Terms

Treaty Medals
Both sides of a commemorative coin, Indian Chiefs Medal, presented to commemorate Treaty Numbers 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7.

Under the terms of the treaty, the Government of Canada promised to set aside reserves for the Saulteaux (Ojibwe) and to provide them with various monetary awards, including a one-time cash payment of $12 per family of five and a yearly payment of $5 per person. They also agreed to provide funds for the purchase of farming equipment and other tools.

In exchange, the Saulteaux would “cede, release, surrender and yield” all rights and title to their land to the Government of Canada. This included an area measuring 14,245,000 hectares (ha). The Saulteaux would still be permitted to hunt and fish on this land until the government required it for other purposes, including settlement, public works and resource extraction. Many Treaty 3 peoples maintain, however, that the signatories only intended to share their land with the government, rather than to surrender it completely.

Verbal Promises

Although the treaty was drawn up with careful attention, there were some instances where the Saulteaux (Ojibwe) did not see in writing the offers that they were verbally promised. For example, there was no mention of a conscription exemption or of government provisions of food for celebrations at the annual payments. The written terms of the treaty also did not guarantee the Saulteaux’s right to mineral extraction on their reserves, nor did it stipulate that relatives in the US could be added to the treaty if they moved back to Canada within two years of its signing. These verbal promises remain contested and unresolved issues.

Paypom Treaty

As a result of the inconsistences between the verbal and written treaty terms, the Saulteaux (Ojibwe) maintain that the government’s version of Treaty 3 is not the original. The true version, which they refer to as the Paypom Treaty, was obtained by a Saulteaux man, Allan Paypom, in 1906 from Chief Powasson.

Historians contend that the Paypom Treaty is a copy of the notes taken by Joseph Nolin, a note taker for Chief Powasson, at the treaty proceedings. Nolin’s record differs from Treaty 3 in a few ways. First, the Paypom Treaty includes two signatures that the original does not — those of Joseph Nolin and August Nolin. Second, it includes the four verbal promises excluded from the written text of Treaty 3. Interestingly, however, it does not make any mention of fishing rights on unoccupied crown land, which is included in the written terms of Treaty 3.

Although not known for certain, some historians attribute these inconsistences to an error on the part of hasty treaty commissioners. It is possible that the commissioners, eager to finalize the treaty, sent to Ottawa a draft copy of the treaty drawn up the year prior to its signing.

Administration of Treaty 3

The officials charged with administrating the treaty included Indian Commissioner Joseph-Albert-Norbert Provencher, Lieutenant-Governor Alexander Morris and Department of Indian Affairs official Lindsay Russell.

Provencher was entrusted to distribute previously agreed-upon monies and goods, as well as to gather agricultural tools and materials required by the Saulteaux (Ojibwe) to farm. However, financial constraints and timing delays prevented the distribution of many of the promised goods to the Saulteaux population. The Saulteaux also made complaints about the sub-par quality of some of the goods and livestock they were delivered. Although the government made efforts to resolve these issues, the results were not immediate. By 1888, Saulteaux bands still had not received their full allotment of livestock. Nineteen years later, the federal government completed the purchasing of farming equipment, animals and other goods for Treaty 3, totalling $77,745.

Reserves and Land Claims

In July 1874, Dawson and Pither were appointed to select Treaty 3 reserve lands. They were told to select reserves far from possible settlement areas and exclude lands with known mineral deposits. Despite some initial disputes with the Rainy River and Lake of the Woods bands, all of the Treaty 3 reserves were confirmed by the end of 1914.

During the reserve selection process, a dispute arose between the governments of Ontario and Canada over the western boundary of Treaty 3. The Canada (Ontario Boundary) Act (1889) resolved boundary issues and placed the majority of Treaty 3 lands inside the Province of Ontario. The ruling in the case of St. Catherine’s Milling and Lumber Company v The Queen (1888) also declared that, while the Government of Canada had legislative jurisdiction over Indigenous affairs, the Government of Ontario still owned the treaty land. As a result, the province had a right to be involved in the reserve selection process.

The ruling on the Milling case continues to frustrate modern-day Treaty 3 peoples, who argue that their ancestors were never consulted during the proceedings and, consequently, their rights to the land in question were never considered. A similar issue over disputed rights to the land arose in 2002, when the Ontario government issued forestry licenses that the Grassy Narrows First Nation argued violated Treaty 3 harvesting rights. The dispute resulted in a blockade of Grassy Narrows by Treaty 3 peoples as well as a legal case: Grassy Narrows First Nation v. Ontario (Natural Resources). In 2014, the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously ruled in favour of the Ontario government’s right to “take up lands” in Grassy Narrows. According to the people of Treaty 3, the Grassy Narrows case does not protect or even acknowledge their rights to the land.

Despite these setbacks, the people of Treaty 3 continue to defend their rights to the land. They have filed a variety of claims with the Ontario government regarding the quality and quantity of reserve lands: Lac La Croix (claim submitted in 2002); Mitaanjigamiing/Stanjikoming (negotiations began in 2007); Rainy Lake First Nations (in negotiations since 2009); Seine River (claim accepted for negotiation in March 2011); and the Northwest Angle No. 37 (Ontario accepted the claim for negotiation in May 2013).

Impacts and Influences

Treaty 3 was precedent setting in a couple of ways. It re-ignited debate over the unfulfilled verbal promises — also known as “outside promises”— of Treaties 1 and 2. Although the Indigenous signatories of Treaties 1 and 2 were verbally guaranteed provisions of agricultural implements, clothing and animals, they did not find these promises in the written terms of their treaties. Once the federal government included these terms in the written version of Treaty 3, the Indigenous signatories of Treaties 1 and 2 asked for the same. In April 1875, the government passed an order-in-council that resolved these outstanding issues. The government also raised the annual payments given to the Indigenous peoples of Treaties 1 and 2 so as to better reflect those of Treaty 3. After its signing, Treaty 3 became the standard by which the rest of the Numbered Treaties were modeled.

Treaty 3 is also unique for its inclusion of the Métis. Although the Métis were involved in negotiations for other Numbered Treaties (such as Treaties 8, 10 and 11) and were admitted into treaties, Treaty 3 is the only Numbered Treaty where the Métis collectively signed an adhesion. The adhesion of 1875 acknowledged the Métis as a distinct Indigenous group. Some Métis claim that this was an important recognition of their rights by the federal government. However, questions about Métis identity, land claims and Indigenous rights are still debated by various Métis groups, government officials and legislators. (See also Métis Are a People, Not a Historical Process and  The “Other” Métis.)

Interpretations and Activism

Although Treaty 3 is precedent setting, many of the signatories’ descendants argue that their ancestors did not fully understand the terms of the treaty. Whether due to errors in translation, different cultural worldviews and ideas about land ownership, or other factors, the terms of the treaty remain contested. The people of Treaty 3 maintain that, while they consented to share their land and the natural resources thereupon, they did not intend to cede their land to the federal government entirely, nor did they give up their sovereignty as an independent nation.

Many treaty peoples also argue that the terms should be re-envisioned to fit a modern context. For example, while Treaty 3 peoples still receive annual payments at Treaty Day celebrations, these payments have not been adjusted over time to reflect inflation — a problem that many contest should be rectified by the federal government. Similarly, promises for education and economic supports should be interpreted in a way that makes sense in the present day.

Treaty 3 Today

Grand Council Treaty #3 is the political and administrative body that represents the 28 signatories to the treaty, including 26 First Nations in northwestern Ontario and two First Nations in southeastern Manitoba. Its administrative reach spans approximately 14,244,935 ha of land. The Grand Council Treaty #3 also represents about 25,000 Indigenous people, almost half of whom live on reserve. The council aims to protect and preserve Indigenous rights to the land, while also continuing to pursue goals of self-government.

In April 2003, Treaty 3 gained its own police force: the Treaty Three Police Service (TTPS). Funded by the federal and provincial governments, TTPS services 23 Treaty 3 First Nations.

Treaties: Key Terms

Cede (Cession)

To cede land (the act of cession) is to give up or surrender the authority to control and own that land.


By signing an adhesion to a treaty, Indigenous peoples who could not attend or were not initially included in treaty negotiations were able to enter into the terms of that treaty.

Land Title

Land title refers to specific rights to a territory. In Canada, Aboriginal title describes the rights of Indigenous peoples to land based on long-standing land use and occupancy. It is the unique collective right to use of, and jurisdiction over, ancestral territory and is separate from the rights of non-Aboriginal Canadian citizens under common law.


The treaty annuities are annual cash payments distributed by the Government of Canada to the descendants of the Indigenous peoples who signed the Robinson–Superior and Robinson–Huron treaties and the Numbered Treaties.

Indigenous Peoples Collection

Indigenous Perspectives Education Guide

Further Reading

External Links

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