royal proclamation of 1763

Indigenous, Aboriginal & First Nations Peoples
American Revolution ~ Reasons for War

Little known fact:  The peace treaty that concluded the American Revolution (the Treaty of Paris 1783) allowed American settlers and governments to seize lands from and ignore (refuse to honour) British treaties with the majority of existing First Nations peoples.  Most importantly, by remaining silent on the issue of First Nations lands, the 1783 peace treaty had the effect of rescinding the 1763 Royal Proclamation that prevented the colonization of a significant amount of what is now American territory (the Proclamation continued to apply in Canada).  As can be imagined, this was very popular with American colonists, and fear of this eventuality is part of why so many First Nations bands chose to support the British during the revolutionary war.  

Historians have placed the blame for ignoring First Nations’ rights in the 1783 peace treaty on both American and British negotiators, noting that while the Americans were opportunistic in this respect, the British must take some blame for not trying to protect at least the First Nations who had fought for them and with whom they had treaties.  It is difficult to say whether such protections would have been agreed to or honoured in any event, given subsequent dealings between aboriginal peoples and the newly-independent American government.  

In contrast, while Canada took almost two centuries longer to become a separate nation from Great Britain (in 1867), independence was achieved entirely by way of diplomatic negotiation (all very Canadian, in fact).  This means that Canada still recognizes First Nations treaties going back to the 18th and 19th centuries. Unfortunately, while aboriginal peoples have more rights and protections on paper than in the US, this has not prevented widespread discrimination over the course of the last two-and-a-half centuries.  The best that can be said is that certain aboriginal peoples have the ability to make land claims, or to be compensated for lands wrongfully taken by the government.  They also have certain hunting and fishing rights, and other rights enshrined within the Canadian Constitution; however, getting access to these rights is not a simple process. [Also, none of this begins to touch upon issues of cultural damage.]

The movement within the US to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day is an interesting one.  Canada does not have an equivalent to Columbus Day (the Canadian Thanksgiving holiday takes place around that time).  A 1996 Royal Proclamation declared June 21st to be National Aboriginal Day and Canadians (”Our Loving Subjects”)

“are hereby required to take notice and to govern themselves accordingly.”

~ Musings about US Indigenous Peoples’ Day, by impracticaldemon

Note 1: This is intended as a very brief commentary only, and cannot possibly represent the enormous complexity of these issues in both Canada and the US.

Note 2:  I am not a scholar with respect to aboriginal and First Nations issues; merely, I have had reason to become familiar with the basics over the past several years.

Pontiac’s War (1763-1766)

In 1763 a coalition of tribes in what was then the northeast of colonial America rose up against the British presence there and fought a series of battles against colonists and settlers.

This would become known as Pontiac’s War because of a mid 19th century book titled The Conspiracy of Pontiac that was wildly popular, though the importance of the figure of Pontiac (who was a member of the Ottawa people) has been debated. 

The war lasted three years and resulted in the deaths of nearly 500 soldiers. Some 2000 colonists were killed or captured and another 4500 to 5000 were driven from their homes. Several forts and towns were burned. 

During the same time period a small pox epidemic was sweeping through the northeast territories, which would result in 400,000 to 500,000 dead First Nations peoples. 

The end result was a stalemate. The British government decided that colonists and the natives should be kept apart and in the Royal Proclamation of 1763 (already in the works before the beginning of Pontiac’s War) the government forbade settlement west of the Appalachian mountains.

Pontiac’s War wasn’t the cause of the Proclamation, but it certainly added impetus to stricter enforcement of the Proclamation after the war. This wasn’t a grievance that led to the American Revolution by itself, but it was certainly one of the things that added to the growing list of grievances that colonists felt they had against England.

The engraving is a 19th century engraving done  Alfred Bobet and depicts a council held on April 28, 1763 where Pontiac called for resistance. Quite clearly it’s not historically accurate given that the First Nation peoples involved are eastern or Great Lakes and not Western Plains peoples.