alain beaulieu on indigenous dispossession and the law in british-ruled quebec


Alain Beaulieu, ‘“An equitable right to be compensated”: The Dispossession of the Aboriginal Peoples of Quebec and the Emergence of a New Legal Rationale (1760–1860)’, Canadian Historical Review 94, 1 (2013).

At the conquest of New France, the British had already built a long tradition of purchasing Aboriginal land. This policy, made official in the Royal Proclamation of 1763, was implemented in an extensive portion of the Canadian territory, but not in the Saint Lawrence Valley, heart of the former French empire in America, and what is now the province of Quebec. The British, followed by the Canadian government, adopted a policy of unilateral land appropriation in that area, dispossessing the Aboriginals without reliance on a treaty system. This particularity of the Indian land policy in Quebec has given rise to divergent interpretations that rest on the same implicit premise that a structuring legal framework existed, which, when reconstituted, gives meaning to history, either by legitimizing the unilateral dispossession process or by stigmatizing it. This article attempts to locate the process of dispossessing Aboriginal land outside the normative framework imposed by the law. The objective is not to identify a standard to explain why the British did not conclude treaties, but rather to follow a process of legal standardization, in which colonial practice is inscribed, through trial and error, detours, shifts in meaning, and improvisations into a legitimizing framework.

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