Are you a treaty person?
“We are all treaty people”… is a phrase that’s been going around a lot in Saskatchewan, during the last decade or so, to educate the non-Aboriginal public about treaties.
Although treaties were signed more than a hundred years ago in Canada, they still define our lives in this day and age. Whether or not you’re First Nations status, First Nations non-status, Metis, non-First Nations, or a newcomer to Canada… if you live in Canada and have opportunities to survive and simply live in this society—and as long as treaties exist and are honoured— you are enjoying your treaty rights as a treaty person.
Treaties are clearly important to know about in our province and all across our country. Unfortunately, with all the problems happening in our society and the world, it’s sometimes difficult to turn everyone’s attention to the treaties.
With lack of information come misunderstandings and stereotypes about what actually are given to First Nations as part of treaty rights. These stereotypes have a long history that continues to create unequal and poor treatment of—and even between—First Nations and other groups.
Stereotypes you hear are “oh, they don’t pay taxes”, “they’re lazy and expect everything for free”, “they’re uneducated and stupid”, “they are a bunch of drunks”, “thieves”, “criminals”, and “they’re unable to adapt and change with the times”. These stereotypes have a lot more power than you may think because they shape the treatment First Nations people face in Canada and the way our rights are honoured.
On a positive note, some measures have been taken to address the need for change but we still have a long ways to go, as our own children sometimes do not have proper education about the treaties. One positive measure was the treaty education kit created by the Office of the Treaty Commissioner given to schools across the province to help educate all students in the K-12 schools about treaties.
What is a treaty? A treaty is a solemn agreement with promises, obligations, and benefits for both parties. The treaty’s purpose is to encourage peaceful relations between people. Namely, the treaties signed between First Nations bands and the Crown, as recognized by the Government of Canada, were to encourage peaceful relations between First Nations and non-First Nations in Canada. It was an agreement signed between two nations in a nation-to-nation relationship. In other words, First Nations are a separate nation of people living alongside Canadians.
Prior to the treaties, First Nations people moved freely across the continent because our survival depended on it. We moved where we would be best protected from the weather, where hunting and gathering would be easiest, and where we could most easily survive.
There is a wide misconception that First Nations gave up the land with signing of the treaties; the First Nations perspective is that by signing treaty, they were agreeing to share the use of the land.
Unfortunately after the treaties were signed, government missteps were taken, such as their creation of the 1876 Indian Act.
To make a long story short, the Indian Act made way for the imposition of Indian residential schools, ceremonial bans, externally controlled governments, using reserves to confine First Nations people, the outlawing of spiritual and cultural practices, out-of-culture adoptions, introduction of alcohol into First Nations communities, the pass and permit system, and the removal and destruction of sacred objects and sites.
Generations today continue to experience traumatic effects and behaviour patterns associated specifically with Indian residential schools. These effects and patterns include parenting practices, a high incidence of life stress, exposure to violence, low self-esteem, and resorting to brittle or destructive coping strategies when faced with subsequent adversity.
Parenting practices believed to play a significant role in child development include negativity (hostile, harsh parenting), no warmth (nurturing, supportive, positive, affectionate, involved parenting), and laxness (inconsistent, permissive parenting.
The 2011 National Household Survey taken in Canada identified a total population of 1, 836,035 Aboriginal peoples in Canada. Treaty relationships continue to be important today. Seven years ago, Aboriginal people made up around 5.3% of the total Canadian population and it is expected that Aboriginal youth will make up a large portion of Canada in the coming years.
The treaty relationship matters today when it comes to the economy, cultural, social, and racial relationships, and Canadian politics.
First Nations and non-First Nations continue to share the land and spaces in Canada including employment settings and education. None of us are going anywhere, and our survival going into the future depends on a positive relationship.
For non-First Nations people, stereotypes need to stop. Misconceptions and misunderstandings need to stop. Racism needs to stop. The treaty relationship needs to be honoured. Within our own First Nations people, we need to stop the conflicts and blaming and start to work together. Treaties need to put in the modern context to remedy current problems created by missteps in this relationship. The Indian Act is still being used and we need to look at that situation.
We can reaffirm the treaties if we work together so that we can finally move ahead towards equality and the well being of all people in this country.
Most importantly, we all need more adequate education and knowledge about the treaties because today, we are all treaty people.