Royal Proclamation of 1763 - Robert Leavitt


by Robert Leavitt

In 1763, King George III issued a Royal Proclamation, which was to be a landmark statement of aboriginal rights in British North America. Under its terms…no one could buy land from the Indians, or occupy the land, except the Crown. There is still debate, on account of the wording of the Proclamation, about whether its provisions applied specifically to the colony of Nova Scotia at the time it was issued – and whether it still applies today. [In 1763 New Brunswick was still a part of the colony of Nova Scotia.]

Aboriginal rights were not lost through “conquest” in the Maritimes and no treaties specifically ceded lands to the Crown. No legislation specifically extinguishing aboriginal title on particular lands in the Maritimes has ever been passed.

Before 1763 the British had a consistent official policy regarding Indian lands in North America: a governor could grant land to settlers only after he had reached an agreement with the Indians. In 1761 the King, in a public letter, instructed the governors of the colonies – including Nova Scotia – to obey the law. In practice, however, they acted according to political expediency and necessity, rather than rights or justice – especially when resources such as farmland or fish and game were at stake. When, for instance, representatives of the Maliseets ratified a treaty at Annapolis Royal in 1725, promises by the British to recognize Native hunting and fishing rights in the colony of Nova Scotia (which was then Maliseet territory) were written into a separate document. Later, this part of the Treaty was suppressed; at least, it was not mentioned or reprinted in any later ratifications. Although the Maliseets have maintained an oral tradition that their hunting and fishing rights were guaranteed, it was not until the 1980s that the missing documents were rediscovered. Meanwhile, many Maliseets had been wrongly convicted of hunting and fishing violations.

The Proclamation required colonial governors to obtain surrender of Indian lands before granting them to settlers. By 1784, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island were separate colonies. All three passed legislation allowing the sale and leasing of Indian lands, but these lands were not specified, other than by reference to “Indian reservations.” Since colonial officials had previously ignored the Proclamation, this phrase is likely to have meant only the lands they had set aside as reserves under licences of occupation or grants to Indians.

- Robert M. Leavitt, Maliseet & Micmac: First Nations of the Maritimes, Fredericton: New Ireland Press, 1995. pp. 211 – 214.

Robert Leavitt
c. 1995
Prince Edward Island, CANADA
Nova Scotia, CANADA
New Brunswick, CANADA
© Robert M. Leavitt. All Rights Reserved.

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