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The Royal Proclamation

The Royal Proclamation of 1763 was a declaration issued by King George III of England to officially and legally establish the British Empire’s claim to land in North America following the Seven Years War. The Proclamation aimed to address the intricacies of the transfer of French and Spanish colonies to Britain after the war, establishing that the newly acquired land would fall under a British judicial system and outlining who was meant to govern and who had jurisdiction over various territories.

The Royal Proclamation is a critical document in terms of Indigenous rights and title in Canada, and has formed the basis of the recognition of Indigenous rights in Canadian law. The division of land following the Seven Years War recognized the ongoing sovereignty of some Indigeous peoples over the territories in which they lived.

In a lecture at Queen’s University entitled “Canada’s Oldest Controversy: The Pretense of Reconciliation,” Anishinaabe scholar and Executive Director of the Yellowhead Institute Dr. Hayden King writes:

By the end of the Seven Years War, it was clear that most examples of good relations that existed between the English and Indigenous peoples were under tremendous strain. In fact, when the English won that war and expected Indigenous peoples to concede, Minavavana famously said, “Though you have conquered the French, you have not conquered us…” (Slattery, 1984). With the realization that the Anishinaabek, among others, would continue the war, the English embarked on the first era of reconciliation by creating the Royal Proclamation in 1763, followed by the Treaty of Fort Niagara in 1764. These efforts came after the peace negotiations with the French that would create a French region in North America (over time, becoming the province of Quebec). For Indigenous people, there was a similar demarcation, with King George drawing a line on the map west of the Thirteen Colonies and pledging to negotiate treaties before crossing the line (Parmenter, 1997).

The Royal Proclamation of 1763 via Wikimedia and Library and Archives Canada.

A critical part of the Royal Proclamation and its recognition of Indigenous sovereignty is that Indigenous people were entitled to their land unless the land was either ceded by Treaty to the Crown or purchased from them, again by the Crown in a nation-to nation relationship.

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Contributors: Spencer Thorne and other contributors.