The Importance of Oral and Extrinsic Historical Evidence in Understanding Indian Treaties

  • John F. Leslie


In recent years, the Courts have instructed Canadians about the importance of oral testimony and other extrinsic historical evidence in providing context and insight into the meaning and interpretation of Indian treaties. The author reviews three books that explore how this genre of historical information assists both Native peoples and non-Natives in gaining a better understanding of Treaty No. 7 in southern Alberta, as well as the importance of the six numbered Indian treaties in Saskatchewan. This article also examines the courtroom role of historians and the creative use of extrinsic documentation in the Supreme Court of Canada trial of Donald Marshall Jr. in which senior justices breathed new life and substance into the Maritime Peace and Friendship Treaties. The author advises archivists and historians of an increased burden on their activities, as oral testimony and other types of extrinsic evidence will be used increasingly by adjudicative bodies to provide a modern interpretation to provisions of Indian treaties. This judicial activism has had, and will continue to have, a significant impact on the Canadian polity.

Author Biography

John F. Leslie

John F. Leslie, former Manager of the Claims and Historical Research Centre of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, retired from the federal government in 2001. He received his M.A. in Canadian Studies from Carleton University in 1984. His research paper, "Commissions of Inquiry into Indian Affairs in the Canadas, 1828-1858: Evolving a Corporate Memory for the Indian Department," was published in 1985. He received a Ph.D. in Canadian History from Carleton University in 1999. In 2000, he co-authored (with Dr. Kerry Abel) the article, "Native Policy since 1945," which was included in the Chinook Multimedia CD-ROM entitled, "Canada: Confederation to Present". In March 2001, he appeared before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs to testify on the historical origins of the Indian Act. His testimony has been published as "The Indian Act: An Historical Perspective" in the Canadian Parliamentary Review (Volume 25, No. 2 [Summer 2002]). Mr. Leslie, who resides in Ottawa, is a research consultant on Aboriginal rights and land claims.

How to Cite
Leslie, John F. 2002. “The Importance of Oral and Extrinsic Historical Evidence in Understanding Indian Treaties”. Archivaria 53 (May), 122-29.
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