Friday, February 10, 2012

Day One Hundred and Nine: Saskatchewan's Deputy Minister of First Nations and Metis Relations Drops By

The dishes are climbing from my kitchen sink onto the counter to the left, a pig-pile of muffin tins, pots, plates, mugs, glasses, utensils, bowls, wooden spoons. I'm awake a little earlier than I have been all week, but it's Friday and I'm pretty much planned for school, so I drain the goopy water, squeeze blue dish soap, and pour hot water in the sink.

I'm leaving the house late. As I put my gloves on, I see "Ron" written in black marker on my left palm. Right. Right. I remember. Ron called last night. He said that the boys called him earlier in the week regarding their interview, but they hadn't left a return number, so he was wondering if he should drop by the school at 9:00am because he's in town for meetings. "Sure," I'd told him, "we'll make it work."

Ron Crowe is Saskatchewan's Deputy Minister of First Nations and Metis Relations. He's also Dad to Ciara and Tia who are my daughters -- Victoria and Arwen's -- buddies. Not to mention Bev, his partner, is my buddy! Three of my students have prepared to interview him for our First Nations and Metis Leadership and Literacy Project.

No pictures today, I think as I walk down the lane without my safety vest because the sky is already growing pale rather than dark. I need to hurry, but as I turn left at the bottom of the coulee, the sky is growing pink, so I snap a few pictures, and as I get closer to the ski hill I see the moon, white, almost perfectly round, hanging just above the hills. Snap. Snap. Try another angle. Snap. Walk past the ski hill, snapping.

Michael pulls up. "It's a little nippy, hey?"

"Ya, I'm frosting up; what's the temperature?"

"Minus 28."

"No way!" I had no idea. So now I snap some more pictures, this time of myself. Look at the great frost on my parka fur. I've got to pick up my pace, but as I pass the governance centre, the sun shoots over the hills. Snap. Snap. Snap across the Treaty Four grounds.

When the office calls to say, "Ron Crowe is here," we have just barely pulled the boys from history class; they have just set up their audio recording and a camera in Miss Strickland's class across from my room; they have their folder and question line ready. The boys ask me if I can get Mr. Crowe a drink because they both have coffees in their hands.

I walk into the office. "Good morning, Mr. Crowe." I reach forward.

"Good morning, Mrs. Koops." Ron shakes my hand.

I walk Ron to the classroom, introduce the boys, and they take over, seating Ron, explaining the plan.

I pop in and out, bringing Ron a little breakfast from the servery, taking my own pictures, listening in as much as I can. I'm so proud of the boys who have asked about Ron's current job and where he gets his inspiration. My class across the hallway really is silent -- during silent reading -- under the watchful eye of my excellent Educational Assistant.

The interview is almost over. The young interviewer has even thanked Ron for coming in, but then my student adds, "What we're doing this project for is that our teachers want us to write a magazine type of deal on Metis and First Nations Leadership who carry huge responsibility and leadership."

"We're doing a little book on it," says the other boy.

"With that in mind, I think I'd be remiss if I didn't recognize the years I spent with the File Hills Qu'Appelle Tribal Council and Treaty Four. Fort Qu'Appelle enjoys a strong relationship with Treaty Four. This is where Treaty Four was initially signed back in 1874 on September 15th.

"And through the years the awareness of treaty has ebbed and flowed. Shortly after treaty, things started to happen that weren't beneficial to First Nation people. Being made to stay within their communities. Having lands inappropriately extracted or taken away, there was a lack of respect for treaty, but that's on a different path right now, and I won't take you through the whole century, but I will take you through recent history.

"Back in the 80's it became apparent that Fort Qu'Appelle was nestled on what was an Indian reserve that was inappropriately taken away. We uncovered surveys and maps and orders in council to determine that there was in fact a reserve here that was inappropriately taken away, things that we'd heard about.  After some research, negotiation, involvement with the legal system, Treaty 4 First Nation Leadership resolved the land claim and today we have in Fort Qu'Appelle lands that are reserved for First Nations people, the Treaty Four Ground Reserve, the Treaty Four Governance Centre to provide inspiration and hope, that there will be a form of a better understanding of the treaty relationship, and some of those lands also host the hospital. Those were all done not so much just by First Nations but in partnership with Non First Nations governments.

"Fort Qu'Appelle is on the rise, of understanding what the treaty relationship is all about. More and more treaty is being taught in schools, in the school curriculum. It is more than just promises, it is about a relationship. It is about a significant act in time, a place in time, which defined the relationship between First Nations and Non First Nations governments.

"Mrs. Brooks, please come to the office," says the secretary on the intercom.

"Never fails," says one of the boys.

"I believe," continues Mr. Crowe, "that there is a better understanding of treaty and treaty four in particular, and I also believe that it's incumbent upon, not only on myself as a leader, as an individual, but incumbent on young people such as yourself to have that understanding and to desire that understanding.

"I'm going to share a story that Premier Brad Wall shared with me. When he became a Member of the Legislative Assembly, he sat in the back benches as a rookie MLA. He attended what was a cross cultural training session so that he would have a better understanding of First Nations and Metis people, because he had never had a strong interaction with First Nation or Metis people, having grown up in the city of Swift Current and surrounding area, so he attended, and this was hosted by the Office of the Treaty Commissioner, which has the responsibility for providing awareness about the treaty relationship.

"One of the first questions that was asked by the facilitator was, 'Who are Treaty People in here?' and he could see a few people's hands going up, and he noticed a couple of his colleagues, including a woman by the name of Arlene Jule, who had a history of working with First Nations people, and was a member of the Sask Party caucus, and he didn't quite understand why she'd put up her hand, he was a little perplexed.

"The session went on, and then it was explained to him that because treaty encompassed so much, and it dealt with lands, and it's not just First Nations who are treaty people, but it is all people who are residents of Saskatchewan that are able to take up lands and property and derive an income from whatever method that you choose to, because we are residents of Saskatchewan, because Saskatchewan was formed in large part  because of treaty, and what treaty allowed; we are all treaty people.

"He had a completely different understanding about what treaties were all about before that, and I won't guess what that was, but what he came to realize was that he spent a lot of time in high school and university learning about other treaties, like the Treaty of Versailles and other European type of treaties, and he didn't understand why we didn't have our own treaties in the classroom.

"And he eventually became leader of the party, and part of the policy discussion that they had was to make sure treaties were taught in the classroom, and it became part of their platform. September 15th, 2008, incidentally the anniversary date of Treaty Four, the government of the day introduced that treaties be taught in the classroom and it happened to be at a school that I went to when I was being bused in from Piapot, so it came full circle, that the curriculum would be unveiled in a school that I went to in Regina when I was living on the reserve in Piapot.

"I would be remiss if I didn't speak to that because it plays such a large part of my life; not just in the sense that I work in organizations that advocate treaty, but in the sense that treaty is the fabric that makes up Saskatchewan that people don't understand yet. It's something that needs better awareness and better understanding.

"People of Fort Qu'Appelle should be honoured and impressed that the history that this town has and it's relationship with First Nations people, particularly this being one of the original signing places, the birth of a major treaty in Canada. We should celebrate that knowledge more. We should learn to understand.

"There is nothing more proud that I like to see, even though I've been removed from it for the last eight or nine years, is the Treaty Four Gathering. That's an event every September, coinciding with the anniversary date of Treaty Four, that allows for the First Nations community to express themselves, to celebrate the fact that there is a treaty, but to remember that that relationship still has to be built. That week of activity includes everything from children's activities, cultural training, cultural understandings, to social events, to a pow wow, and in between that is a political forum called the Treaty Four Chiefs' Forum, where they come to meet and discuss issues of the day.

"I would be remiss if I didn't mention this in an interview that asks of my history because it's played such an important part of my life, in my career, but also as an individual going forward, and I hope that it's the foundation for more discussion in this particular community and in surrounding communities.

"I think you should consider yourself quite fortunate (to be from Fort Qu'Appelle), not to make light of people who come from other areas where there are no First Nations people, no First Nations history. But it makes us appreciate what we have in this community, so I thought I would share that as well. It was a little bit of a lecture."

"Yah," says the young interviewer.

"But I think it was important to capture a little of that in your interview."

"Thank you very much for coming out here. It was a pleasure interviewing you," says the boy who asked all the questions.

"Thank you. Thank you guys. And now I'm going to work on those sausages Mrs. Koops provided."

"What, no pancakes?" says the other boy.

I only hear this last half of the conversation later, on the audio recording. I'd returned to my classroom, filling in a three circle Venn diagram on my ELA A10 course. On the inside, reading, writing, listening, speaking, viewing, and representing. On the outsides, the themes: Canadian Identity, Challenges, the Unknown. We'd listed our First Nations and Métis Leadership Literacy Project in between Canadian Identity and Challenges. The kids thought my Treaty Walks would also fit in there, but I add that they have been very much about The Unknown.

I pass the office at break and the secretaries call me in. Mr. Crowe had told them he had to leave and he'd missed saying goodbye. Darn, I think, he never did get his coffee. I'd forgotten to push the on button.

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