My Grandmothers, Laura and Lavine, were both born in 1911 in Minnesota to Norwegian immigrants who then applied for homesteads in Southern Saskatchewan: the Johnsons, my dad's grandparents, moving to Ongre; the Jelsings', my mother's grandparents, moving to Blooming in the Lake Alma area. Grandma Lavine's relatives found us after Grandma and Grandpa made two trips to Norway looking for them. Since then, the cousins have visitied us in Canada, and Mom, Dad, Ian and Andrea have been to Norway a few times.
My Grandpa Pete Muirhead, Dad's dad, his mother was a Macdonald. She was the first white baby born down in the Estevan area, I'm thinking in the late 1800's because Grandpa was born in 1909. For sure there is Scottish in this lineage, but I'm not sure when they entered Canada. I remember Uncle Jack saying something about Pennsylvania Dutch from the States, but I'm not always good at remembering the facts. Grandpa Pete's father was straight from Ireland, and again, I'm thinking he came to Canada in the late 1800's. I visited our County Antrim Moorehead relatives in 1988 and saw the 1600 and 1700 graveyards with the original spelling, Muirhead, which our Canadian relatives have kept.
My Grandpa Cecil Bailey, his people have been in Canada, specifically Ontario, for at least six generations. We have County Antrim, Ireland connections on the Bailey side. We have Southern England on the Cann side. One of Grandpa's grandfathers -- Reynolds, I think -- was an Anglican minister and highly educated; he was also black. I don't know his story.
So here's my evidence that I am a treaty person. Grandmas Laura and Lavine and Grandpa Pete all entered Canada under the rights of Treaty Four (1874). From some quick internet research, it looks like Grandpa Cecil's people, whose farm bordered Thessalon First Nation, were part of the Robinson Huron Treaty (1850). Our identity as Canadians is rooted, deep like wheat roots, in treaty.
Just this morning, I've read through Jim Sinclair's speech on the "Current State of Treaty Implementation in Saskatchewan". His words, especially in the following quote, have touched me deeply. "The Treaty should be like an old family bible whose pages are worn and hard to read because we should look at it on a daily basis and consider how to build a future on our Treaties." I think about my Grandparents, four strong. Each of them were students of the bible. Each of them were blessed by treaty. As a devoted Granddaughter, how do I walk my treaty road?
Current State of Treaty Implementation in Saskatchewan
Jim Sinclair: Treaty 4 Elders Council
What happens if we don’t have a bureaucracy to carry on the good things that the Chiefs bring forward? We become less than governments and become regimes. Every time you bring in a new regime, especially if you have elections every 2 years, they could throw out everything the last Chief and Council did and start brand new. I always wondered why we do that because every Chief that comes into power has something good to say and something good to do. As we move on to the next administration, we should carry on and build on those good things.
We have had enough of consultants and advisors. Our consultants are our people on the reserves and in the urban centres. That’s who we need to engage and to talk to for advice. That will make or break our future. That’s who we have to talk to in order to rebuild, not lawyers and consultants.
I’ll tell you why we have to rebuild. When you look at the Indian Act that was passed shortly after Treaty was made, you will see that it was meant to destroy First Nations people. That was never the spirit and intent of the Treaties. We were meant to continue our way of life, which included self-government. That was taken away by the Indian Act, the Indian Agents and the North West Mounted Police. We must reclaim that right of self-government.
What we are really here to talk about today is how the Treaty terms respect rights and our sovereignty. Treaty was never about real estate and selling land. It was a about sharing our lands and resources, but never giving them up.
And then they turned this into a prison system. Those of you out there who believe we are not living in a prison system should take a look at what the Indian Act has done to us. They took our traditional lands and put us on small reservations and those reservations became like prison camps. Those that didn’t sign Treaty were literally thrown out from the land. It was people like me and my great grandparents who had to live in the road allowances. Those were the half breeds and they said: “You didn’t sign Treaty, we don’t know you, you’re nobody, you’ll never be anybody, we don’t recognize you, you’re not in existence.” Of course a war came and all of a sudden we became a people who they could depend on and we went to war beside the Treaty Indians.
So the Indian Act became a set of prison regulations. It allowed the Agent, the priest and the Northwest Mounted Police to take our children away and force them into the boarding schools. They did not educate them. They brainwashed them to work in the barns and the gardens or wherever they needed them, but did not provide an education. The Northwest Mounted Police/RCMP picked up the children who were crying and hanging on to their mothers. The Indian Agent was there with the Farm Instructor, forcing them to school. Many children died trying to run away from the school. Many others died from sickness in an overcrowded, unhealthy institution.
That was the worst prison system in Canada. The worst part of it was the fact that they took our economy away from us. They killed all the buffalo first and took our economy away from us. They said you can hunt and gather anywhere you want, and then they took our land away from us. Then we had to live on welfare. Welfare created dependency and is one of the worst thing that happened to us. How do we get out of that prison system when they took away all our resources? That’s the struggle we have today. How we going to gain our liberation and freedom?
Our people have been floundering for many years because our Leaders sort of put our Treaties aside. People told us the Treaties are of no value and that the Indian Act is going to look after us. We pushed the Treaties aside and had to live under the Indian Act. They started to feed us and you know what happens when someone starts to feed you. You become dependent on someone else. So we recognize our problems and now know that we have to build our own governance structures, regain whatever we can, including the use of our lands and resources.
Canada has no right to go internationally and brag about how well they treat our people. They go and talk about human rights in other countries but they don’t practice them here. They took away our economic rights, which is the worst kind of racism. Canada should be brought before the International Court for violation of our rights. They should be the ones answering about crimes against humanity because they have committed those crimes and we let them get away with it.
So we have a lot of building to do. We have to build an economy. In order to build an economy we have to have control of our resources. People talk about wealth distribution. That’s what we hear from governments. Wealth distribution for us today seems to be the prison system and the welfare system. Other people are getting wealthy on the misery of our people. We want to get to where we have wealth creation, based on building our own wealth from our own resources and our own economy. We have to do that to look after our own people, to build our own institutions and to do the things Sol is talking about.
I have great concerns about the federal budget when there is a lot more money allocated to building more prisons to support a new crime Bill that experts from around the world have said will not work. They tried it in Texas and California. Those people wrote to Harper and said that “getting tough on crime” Bill is a costly failure. There is precious little money for education, training and economic development but there is money to build more prisons.
We have a job to do and the only people that are ever going to do it are us. The problem I have is that many of us don’t trust our own people and without trust in our people, the people in turn will never trust our organizations. The people we want to talk to are the Chiefs that are around here, but also those people at the back of the room who we need to get involved. This is a small meeting but the people that are here today are very, very important because these are the people that are going to build a road to the future.
When we first met Trudeau he gave us the finger. In the end he said go home and make your own laws, don’t come crying to me. Do you know why he said that? He said that because we educated him. He wouldn’t have said that if we didn’t go bang on his door, stand on his doorstep and speak to him. We educated him through meeting after meeting with him, his ministers and other Prime Ministers after him.
That door was always open for us because we had power from our own people. Now we need that power back from our people sitting back there. How are we going to get it? We’re going to get that power by opening the door and taking this meeting and broadening it out to a bigger room where every one of our First Nations people from Saskatoon and other communities can come in this room, talk to us and tell us how and why we should be supporting them in bettering their lives. We must give them reason to support us. That’s what we have to do. The people sitting back there – Jake Pete, the Treaty 4 Elders Council, George Munro, Marian Meadmore – have great experience and are willing to help. Somebody has to open that door and bring them around these tables.
We’ve had several meetings over the last 10 years where we talked about Treaty implementation. The Treaty 4 Chiefs Council and Elders Council talked about our own governance model. The Treaty 4 Governance Center should be a place where we debate the issues, where we make laws, where we put those laws in place and where we live by those laws. Then we’ll become the Nation we’re supposed to be. The Treaty was never meant to be hidden away somewhere after it was made. The Treaty should be like an old family bible whose pages are worn and hard to read because we should look at it on a daily basis and consider how to build a future on our Treaties. We have to do that with our young people and with our members.
I was on an Advisory Council with Denton George, Irvin Starblanket, Richard Poorman and Isadore Day from Ontario. We had guys like Lawrence Tobacco and Sidney Buffalo sitting back there who spoke up. Many of our Elders are gone, but their words and thoughts still guide us in our work. We also had some meetings in the west where we talked about Treaties 1 to 11. There was a round table in the east where they talked about the Peace and Friendship Treaties. The AFN organized those forums. Then we had As Long As The Sun Shines conference in 2008 in Saskatoon. That’s the first conference we had based entirely on Treaty. The Minister of Indian Affairs came here to Saskatoon and for the first time had to speak on Treaty. That was set up by Chief Lawrence Joseph and all the Chiefs of the province and Chiefs from across the Nation were invited. That put us on the road to the next step – our Treaty Principles.
We wrote these 10 Treaty principles – Dr. Dave Ahenakew, Rodney Soonias, Sid Fiddler and I. We still have these discussions today when I get up and speak about Treaty implementation. Somebody says that’s the wrong word. If I speak about Treaty protection – I don’t like that word either. But if you notice in this book of the 10 principles, whenever someone couldn’t understand, it was put into Cree words. Rodney reminded us at that time that if you build on this in the future, it has to be more than one language so that we clearly understand the principles and our people understand them. This is our vision and we can build on that.
Then comes the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I know people that have worked on this for 30 years. I worked on this. I went to Geneva and saw people camped out and demonstrating. They included members of the old AIM movement but also some of your neighbours, grandfathers and uncles. Those people worked hard to make our Treaties international again and to keep them alive.
After the As Long as the Sun Shines conference, we began sitting down with the AFN and having serious discussions on Treaty implementation. The FSIN became holder of the Treaty file at the national level so that is now passed on to Vice Chief Watson, who is in charge of that file. That was part of the Crown-First Nations gathering. Our ideas from that conference went into the presentations to the Prime Minister and into Ovide’s presentation to the country on behalf of Treaties 1 to 11.
We had a very important meeting in Edmonton a few years back. There were 500 Elders there to speak. The Elders told the Chiefs to work with the AFN because we don’t need fighting at this time. If we fight each other, we’re committing suicide on the way to the gallows. We want to stay alive and we want to support our Leaders. We want to be sharp. We don’t want to be running down each other. We want to debate the issues in a good way.
So we decided to go to the AFN to work out a solution so that Treaty 1 to 11 could be recognized. Ovide made it very clear to Shawn Atleo that the AFN cannot speak for the Treaty people, but that Treaty chiefs have to speak for themselves. Atleo sat back, thought about it for a while, and said, “You’re right, the AFN is not a holder of Treaties.”
I thought, well, we got a truce, let’s move on. Shawn said, “I will open the doors for you wherever I can but I will not speak for you.” Ovide and I felt that was fair. So when the Crown-First Nation gathering was held, our spokespeople did very well. Matthew Coon Come talked about the economy and how it should be Treaty controlled and how it’s ours through our sovereignty. Jody Wilson from BC told us how to put things together from the perspective of self-determination. Ovide spoke about Treaty 1 to 11 and why we have to move on Treaty implementation, to take control of our future for our own good and to benefit all of Canada.
I listened to APTN after the meeting. I heard we’re going to come back next year and have another meeting. I thought, that wasn’t what we said. We said we want a process where we will continue to talk about how we exercise our sovereignty, how we will put the economy into place, how we will have regional tables on health, education and justice. Chiefs and everybody will build those tables over the next year so that when we all go to Ottawa and meet with the Prime Minister and his Cabinet, we’re not going to go there and fight with each other about who’s going to be the spokesperson because everyone will have input all this summer at various meetings and tables throughout this country. That will include minsters from Ottawa, from Saskatchewan, wherever we need them. It may include the Governor General, hopefully, when we meet in Manitoba at the next Treaty 1 to 11 meeting in September.
We need that system to keep the Treaty alive. We have to do that and if we don’t do it we’re dead. You can’t get from point A to point B without a process. And if we have to argue about something it should be the process not the principles. The process must be about how we’re going to make our rights happen from that Treaty and how we’re going to put them into action.
We need to keep unity now. To be a leader you need to get support from the people. You have to give them reason to support you. Youth will present ideas. In the past, it was the college students that put pressure on the establishment when they had the opportunity to speak up.
There’s no way out of our poverty and out of our misery unless we build an economy. The First Nations can help each other build an economy by sharing experiences, resources, and best practices and by making agreements with each other. We must build the economic institutions, whether they are training centers or investment funds. We have to get out and begin making laws. Every year we need to have a progress report. We have to listen to the people. We have to sit down with our learning institutions and the corporations that have the jobs must come and talk to us. They must put their money in our training institutions to train our people for the jobs.
Obama wants the corporations to come in and train the people. What the hell is the premier of Saskatchewan going to Ireland for? Premier Wall spoke a few months ago and said very clearly, “I recognize the First Nations as sovereign Nations.” No one acted on that. He said FSIN is not a party to Treaty. Ok, so what? They’re still spokespeople for the First Nation Leaders, delegated that responsibility by the Chiefs-in-Assembly.
We have a lot of work to do. Before we leave, we must at least have a framework for where we’re going and how we’re going to get there. The Prime Minister opened the door on January 24. We have 8 years to educate this Prime Minister so we can advance our rights. The other suggestion that I hear people saying is to bypass this Prime Minister and this government and go straight to the international arena. If we do that we’re bypassing our Treaty partner and we can’t do that either. We have to deal with the state. We have to deal with Canada. Let’s deal with them from a position of strength based on unity and planning. We can’t call direct action by the term “civil disobedience” because that means we are subjects of Canada. Direct action means developing our laws and asserting our jurisdiction and sovereignty. We can get support from the corporations.
page 32-36, excerpt from
Chiefs' Forum on Treaty Implementation
Dakota Dunes Casino and Conference Center
March 29 & 30, 2012
shared as public document with permission from
Dan Bellegarde, Executive Director, Treaty Governance Office
CD of Chiefs' Forum on treaty Implementation available for $5.00
or free transcript is available
by contacting Dan Bellegarde at Dan.Bellegarde@fsin.com