Saturday, November 14, 2015

Open Letter to Thessalon First Nation: I am a Treaty Person of the Robinson Huron Treaty of 1850

I sent the following letter to Thessalon First Nation in 2013. I would like to send as an Open Letter to the citizens of the Thessalon First Nation as I remember that I am a Treaty Person of the Robinson Hurron Treaty of 1850.

March 31, 2013

Dear Chief Alfred Bisaillon of the Thessalon First Nation:

I am from Saskatchewan of Norwegian and Irish, Scotts, English decent. I am also a school teacher, and through my professional development, I have begun learning long-overdue lessons from Canadian history. Foremost, I've been learning about treaties foundational to Canadian identity, and how many of these treaties have been broken, unbalanced, or unimplemented.

In the fall of 2011, I began a blog called Treaty Walks with the purpose of sharing my learnings with others who may not be aware of Canada's treaty history. I have received encouragement that I am on the right path from both First Nations and Non First Nations friends, although we all know I have many, many miles to go.

I was born in southern Saskatchewan and currently live in the Qu'Appelle Valley; therefore, I have been focusing my learning on Treaty Four; however, while writing (and researching) a blog post this past fall about my family's immigration stories, I had an epiphany. I am also a treaty person of the Robinson Huron Treaty of 1850. I can only imagine how silly that must sound in the ears of someone whose people have known they are treaty people for over 150 years. For my awkwardness, I ask your patience. For my ignorance, I ask your forgiveness.

My late grandfather, Cecil Thomas Bailey, was the middle child of Tom and Edith Bailey of Thesslon. At the last family reunion in 2003, my mother, Mary, took Grandpa to your band office. He was very proud when the person at the desk called to the back offices that "there is an elder here to see you." I am not sure who he visited with that day, but I thank you for making a 90 year old man feel honoured, welcomed, and most specially, valued. On the Monday, after the family weekend was over, my grandmother, Cecil's wife of 68 years, passed away. She had remained home in Saskatchewan after suffering a stroke. My grandpa often said that he didn't remember anything from the reunion weekend, but that he did remember visiting the band office.

I have something else to thank you for. On many occasions, Grandpa shared this story with me. When he was a little boy, about ten years old, so that must have been around 1923, he had ringworm in his eye and his bottom. One day, Frank Bamageizik was passing by the farm, and he called to my great grandfather, "Tom, that boy has ringworm. Why aren't you treating it." Grandpa said that his dad answered, "The doctors can't do anything because of where it is." Then, Mr. Bamageizic said he would return. He came back shortly with a tin (Grandpa always mentioned the type of tin, a brand name, but I forget). The tin was filled with a poultice. Mr. Bamageizic wrapped Grandpa's eyes and bottom with the medicine and left. In three days he returned, removed the bandages, and Grandpa was free from the worms. My Great Grandfather said, "Frank, why don't you share this cure with the doctors? They couldn't do anything." Grandpa would often tear up when he told us Mr. Bamageizik's reply. "Tom, they've taken our land and our livelihood. I'm not giving them our medicine, too."

I share that story to honour my grandfather and to also express my thankfulness that despite Mr. Bamageizik's clear understanding of what the newcomers had taken from his people, he shared his medicine with a little newcomer boy, my grandfather. As I learn more about Canada's history of colonialism, broken treaty, residential schools, Indian Agents, and racism, I am even more humbled by Grandpa's story, specifically Mr. Bamageizic's generosity, kindness and friendship.

While doing my limited research on the Robinson Huron Treaty of 1850 a few months ago, I was sad to see that your application to commemorate the War of 1812 had been denied. The news story named two individuals from Thesslon First Nation who gave their lives in that war, and it made me realize that they sacrificed for my family's forefathers.

"Chief Shingwaukonse (Little Pine) led 700 Warriors in defence of Ojibway homelands and to protect British interests from the Americans," writes staff. "Shingwaukonse’s warriors spilled much blood to save the British Colonial forces and what we know as Canada today. According to an 1819 Indian Affairs letter, Chief Wabechchake of the Crane Clan was killed in the 1813 battle at Fort George."

My Bailey relations lived side-by-side Thesslon First Nations for generations, and I know that they benefitted from your sacrifice in the War of 1812 and the Robinson Huron Treaty of 1850 as they farmed the land, raised families, and enjoyed their freedom. I am new to this history, and I have not researched my family's involvement in treaty, but I fear that the Thesslon First Nation did not benefit from treaty as my people did; this is the story I hear over and over as I learn more of Canada's treaty history.

When I heard of your application being refused, it made me want to do something, as a proud and loyal granddaughter to Cecil Baiely. So, I called my mom and told her what I'd learned. Then, I talked to my daughters. They were all supportive of me writing this letter, thanking you for this old story of Mr. Bamageizik's kindness as well as offering our friendship and advocacy in honouring your people's contributions to the War of 1812.

I am a writer and an educator. Although my mother was raised in Saskatchewan, she has maintained strong relationships within her extended Bailey relations (numbering in the hundreds), as has my sister, Andrea. As well, my daughters, 18, 15, and 10, all loved Great Grandpa Cecil. They each have a heart for social justice as does my husband.

We would like to do something to express our thankfulness and hope for an equitable future. Would we be able to help with the project that did not go ahead last spring? Would we be able to work with you on any current project or concern in which outside friendship and advocacy could be helpful? Would we be able to organize a meeting or a ceremony in the future in which we could acknowledge your sacrifice, generosity, long-suffering, and friendship?

Thank you for listening.


Sheena Koops
Fort Qu'Appelle, Saskatchewan
Treaty Four Territory

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