Covid-19, the Numbered Treaties
& the Politics of Life



“…the implementation of treaties requires a commitment to envisioning a fundamentally alternate form of relationship, one which evidently lies outside of Canada’s current political imaginary.”

IN MANY CROWN-FIRST NATION TREATIES, and specifically the Numbered Treaties, there is reference to health care provisions. Referred to as a medicine chest in some cases or aid in others, this provision appears in written and oral versions of treaties.

Why then, is it absent in the conversations around the COVID-19 pandemic and First Nations, when it is needed most? This contemporary moment in Canadian time reveals much about the interpretation of treaties and how that interpretation (or mal-interpretation) matters in material ways to First Nations.

In this Yellowhead Special Report, Gina Starblanket and Dallas Hunt consider how healthcare is represented in the Numbered Treaty discussions at the time of treaty-making and into the present, illustrating contrasting visions of our collective relationship and the consequences. But in this study there is also guidance for the future of that relationship, one rooted in mutual support and a politics of life.


Sweetgrass Store – Sweetgrass First Nation | Here On Future Earth, 2009 by Joi T. Arcand

THERE ARE A NUMBER of critically important questions treaty First Nations have been asking for a very long time. When those treaties are needed more than anytime in recent memory, it is worth asking them again:

What does the current federal government think about their treaty obligations in the midst of a public health crisis, or treaties generally? How does a history of “belevolence” and discretionary funding harm First Nations material circumstances? What will it take to shift the treaty paradigm towards one of mutual aid, support and and care? And finally, what could that shift mean for our future as treaty partners on Indigenous lands?

These questions are explored in the following four sections of the report:


The Contemporary Terrain of the Numbered Treaties


On ‘The Benevolence of the Queen’


Treaty and the Politics of Life


Treaty and the Expansion of Political Horizons

“By invoking the sun, water, rivers, grass, and even in some contexts, the rocks and mountains, Indigenous peoples emphasized an understanding of human relations as ever-lasting, growing, and flourishing…”


Northern Pawn, South Vietnam – North Battleford, Saskatchewan | Here On Future Earth, 2009 by Joi T. Arcand

“At such an important time in our shared history, treaty can help us re-imagine new and healthy forms of relationships, new possibilities.”

THIS MOMENT in our shared history might demonstrate better than any time in our recent past why treaties are so critically needed. For more context on treaties, Yellowhead Institute has created an annotated version of a Numbered Treaty that reveals the difference in expectations between settlers and First Nations, and the violences that have accompanied the enforcement of a very narrow interpretation of treaties.

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