Robinson Superior Treaty

Robinson Superior Treaty Text

The written text of a treaty tells only a small part of the story. One must also consider the oral promises made around the agreement, the historical context, and the preexisting and ongoing relationship between the parties, as well as other factors. With this in mind, you can find a copy of the text of the Robinson-Superior Treaty here.


Territory Covered

The Robinson-Superior Treaty covers the area of land that drains into Lake Superior, from Batchewana Bay to Pigeon River. When the agreement was signed the Crown had a very incomplete idea of how many First Nations lived in this area and relied on information from the Hudson's Bay Company. The Crown was forced to revise the treaty several times to include other First Nations in the area who were not part of the original negotiations. The community at Pic River refused to participate in the treaty talks and were not involved in the treaty in any way. They currently are negotiating with the government of Canada outside of the treaty, including through the courts. Other First Nations who have not been included on the treaty are still looking to have their status recognized by the government.


Terms of the Treaty

The Treaty allowed settlers to share the territory with First Nations. Of particular interest to the settler population were the mineral resources along the north shore of Lake Superior. The treaty guaranteed continued hunting and fishing rights for all First Nations people over the whole territory, promised to set aside reserve lands for each community, and provided for annuity payments. All three of these provisions have played out in interesting ways that we will explore in the coming days.



The original annuity payment was about $2 per band member. It was understood that the amount would increase as the Crown received revenue from its use of the land, and indeed in 1874 the annuity was increased to $4. However then the increases stopped, and citizens of Robinson Superior First Nations still receive an annual annuity of $4. Simply keeping up with inflation this amount would be well over $1000 today (note that it is difficult to do this calculation exactly). When you consider how much wealth the Crown has extracted from the land they share you realize it could be argued that the annuity should be much higher than that. Despite the paltry amount, many First Nations people continue to go through the trouble of collecting their annuity in order to show that the Treaty document is still in force.



The Treaty also sets out the boundaries of a reserve for each First Nations signatory. The ignorance of the Crown negotiators as to the numbers and locations of the First Nations residents in the area led to problems in this area. Only three First Nations got reserves in the first 1850 treaty, although more would be gradually added (right up to the current day). There was also problems concerning the unit of measurement. First Nations people at the time general used "leagues" to measure land, and Crown negotiatiors thought they were referring to "miles". This difference led to reserves being smaller than the First Nations agreed to, and this discrepency forms the basis for some active land claims.


Hunting and Fishing Rights

The Robinson treaties were the first Canadian treaties to explicitly protect the hunting and fishing rights of the Indigenous signatories (although continued use of the land in this way was implied in previous treaties). The treaty states that the First Nations citizens would be allowed to hunt and fish in the territory "as they have heretofore been in the habit of doing." This has been interpreted to mean that First Nations have a right to be consulted about any settler activity that may have an impact on their hunting and fishing opportunities. It also means that First Nations may grant harvesting rights to other indigenous people passing through their territory, as they have done for generations. However, members of Robinson Superior First Nations sometimes experience harrasment from authorities such as conservation officers for exercising even their most basic treaty rights.



Another important feature of the treaty is that nowhere in the document do the First Nations give up their soverignty or right to govern themselves. It is simply an agreement to share land with the new arrivals. Treaties are documents between nations. Settlers continue to share the land with the Anishinabek under the terms of the treaty, and by doing so they contstantly reinforce the teachings about sovereignty that are embedded throughout it.


If you are looking for a good resource for information on the Robinson Superior Treaty and other treaties in Canada we recommend "Nation to Nation: A resource on treaties in Ontario" which was produced by the Union of Ontario Indians in 2013.

nation to nation cover


There is also this essay commisioned by the Treaties and Historical Research Centre and INAC in 1986.

Fort William First Nation details some of the history of their community, including the treaty here.



Note: Nokiiwin Tribal Council is providing this information as a service. Nothing written on this page should be considered the official policy of Nokiiwin Tribal Council or any of its member First Nations.