Treaty Recognition Week: Listen, Read, Watch & Reflect
by Yumi Numata
YouthREX eXchange Blog Contributor
“Treaties between our Nations are the foundation of this country. They are recognized and affirmed in the Canadian Constitution, so they are part of the supreme law of the land".
- Ogimaa Duke Peltier, Wikwemkoong Nation
This week, from November 06 - 10, 2017, marks the second annual Treaty Recognition Week in Ontario. The purpose of this week is to recognize the importance of treaties and to bring awareness to the treaty relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in the province of Ontario, which is covered by 46 treaties and other agreements. Though these treaties were signed years ago, they are living documents that affect all Ontarians and Canadians, not just Indigenous people. In order to learn more about why 'we are all treaty people,' please consider taking the time to check out some of the resources in this blog post:
"Land was never being ceded and was never on the table to be ceded. We weren't giving up land. We were welcoming visitors, agreeing to share what we had."
- Red Man Laughing Podcast; Miinikaag and the Bear Episode
The Red Man Laughing podcast is created and hosted by Anishinaabe/Metis comedian Ryan McMahon. The podcast explores a vast array of topics related to Indigeneity and features interviews with Indigenous leaders and artists. It is accessible, emotional and funny, and shares a wealth of information and perspectives in a way not often heard in mainstream media.
In the episode quoted above, Ryan questions how treaties are framed and contextualized currently, and asks how Indigenous Peoples can make a return back to their original ways of being that sustained them for thousands of years.
I once attended a conference on access to post-secondary and participated in a workshop focused on supporting Indigenous students in college and university settings. Someone asked the presenters to recommend some reading for non-Indigenous people to educate themselves on the history of colonization of Indigenous people and how it continues to play out, and the presenter recommended two, one of which I am listing here: The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America by Thomas King (the other, in case you are wondering, was The Orenda by Joseph Boyden). Thomas King tells the story of the colonization of Indigenous peoples in North America and the resulting relations between Nations in a brutally frank, witty and very accessible way. As Richard Wagamese states in his 2012 Globe and Mail review of the novel, "it is essential reading for everyone who cares about Canada and who seeks to understand native people, their issues and their dreams."
"When asked by non-Indigenous peoples, how to get past colonialism, Manuel would say the answer is simple: “Canada needs to fully recognize our Aboriginal and treaty rights and our absolute right to self-determination. At the same time, we will recognize the fundamental human right of Canadians, after hundreds of years of settlement, to live here.”"
- from Hayden King's review of The Reconciliation Manifesto
While a denser read than The Inconvenient Indian, The Reconciliation Manifesto: Recovering the Land and Rebuilding the Economy by Art Manuel is a recently published book that contextualizes and explains government legislative practices dating back to Confederation. In the book, Art Manuel deconstructs the systematic oppression of Indigenous peoples in Canada, and provides a step-by-step plan for reconciliation - considering the complexities of the present day, the diverse interests, many competing, of Canadians, and the danger of diluting the purpose and meaning behind 'reconciliation', when everything is painted with that term. Art Manuel was a highly respected Indigenous leader and activist from the Secwepemc Nation.
"Know the stories of people around you."
- Dr. Sean Lessard, YouthREX KtA2016 Keynote
Last year, Dr. Sean Lessard, Woodland Cree from Montreal Lake Cree Nation, Saskatchewan, Associate Professor, Teacher Education & Aboriginal Studies, University of Alberta shared a keynote at YouthREX's Knowledge to Action Exchange titled Red Worn Runners: Exploring the potential and possibilities within youth both in and outside school places. I have never sat in a conference keynote and heard as much laughter, noticed so many tears and felt so much collective gratitude and inspiration as I did that afternoon. Dr. Lessard started with his own story, including hilarious childhood anecdotes and segued into how those experiences led him to youth work, and the lessons he has learned and continues to learn from the youth and communities he works with. Identity, relationship, humility and storytelling all play key roles in this speech.
While weeks like Treaty Recognition Week or days like National Aboriginal Day (June 21, 2018) are important reminders and opportunities for education, we also need to ask ourselves, how are we going to carry this work forward in all the days in between? What intentions can we set for ourselves in our personal lives, our own learning journeys, or in the work we're engaged with? It might be easy to read out a land recognition at the start of an event or retweet a meaningful message with #TreatyON, but these actions don't mean anything if we don't make efforts to truly educate ourselves. We need to be able to go back to our work with youth, or creating policy or running a grassroots organization, and feel more comfortable and be more vocal in our roles as allies so that we can contribute meaningfully to the processes of reconciliation and decolonization.