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By Michael Asch
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Additional resources for Aboriginal and Treaty Rights in Canada: Essays on Law, Equity, and Respect for Difference
For Aboriginal people, the catastrophic decline of buffalo stock during this decade analogous in many ways to the recent disastrous decline of cod stocks on the East Coast and surprising to almost everybody - and the contentious relationships between the Metis and the Indians created a new sense of urgency, and a frustration and fear on the Indian side to match that of the settlers. For the Canadian government, the menace of conflict was everywhere. By the early 1870s, events such as the Battle of Oldman River (1870) and the so-called Cypress Hills Massacre (1873) had underlined the anxieties of those who looked to the West as the new frontier for settlement, and who looked to the south at the United States for a model of what not to let happen.
In what way were the treaties about culture and anarchy? Well, first and last by being storylines. They were, again on both sides, attempts to provide what one of Arnold's contemporaries, John Henry Newman, used to call a 'grammar of assent/ a way of saying yes. This is where I think we often get bound up - on both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal sides - by our biases, and by recent historical methodologies that encourage us to interpret the treaties in purely instrumental terms. There were such terms, to be sure, and they undoubtedly provided a meeting ground.
They had been expressed in statements and exemplified in statecraft with Aboriginal peoples during the long period of imperial authority and British settlement in North America. (Exactly the same is true, in many respects, of Aboriginal statements and statecraft during the treaty process, which reflected in both structural and substantive terms long-standing principles and practices refined over centuries of dealings with other Aboriginal peoples. ) From the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries, the British government developed a policy to regulate transactions with Indian people in North America.