Over the last two days I have had the pleasure of participating in a treaty education seminar. When I heard that we were going to participate in this seminar I was expecting the worst. Based on previous experience, I was expecting two days full of boring lecture that would communicate the same things I have learned throughout high school and university. I am willing to admit that I was incredibly wrong.
We had four different elders come and speak to us and we learned some historical information. We had the honour of listening to Noel Starblanket who has been an activist, fighting for the entitled rights of Saskatchewan First Nations people. I was blown away by his passion and diligence to fight the government for his rights after suffering abuse at the hands of residential schools and oppression from the government thereafter.
The treaties were not handouts. First Nations people do not receive free healthcare. They do not receive free education. I was completely ignorant in my thinking that the government was somehow “supporting” this nation because they needed help.
This is what I learned today. I am a treaty person. I have rights because of the treaties that were signed. I am currently sitting on land that was traded for healthcare, education and tax exemption. If I wish to keep the land that I stand on in my hands, then my taxes will go to providing health care and education to the First Nations treaty people. It was a trade off, and I believe that Canada is not doing very well at keeping their end of the bargain. It really doesn’t matter how long ago it was, this was a covenant that was made, it never ends. I would expect that we as Canadians, who are known for peace keeping, would realize that there could have been much blood shed in the colonization of Canada, if it weren’t for the treaties. First Nations people, as well as our white forefathers were willing to negotiate a trade to ensure better future for all of us, and we need to honour it. Can you imagine if we had to go back to day one because we weren’t able to handle our side of the deal? We would have no land and no resources.
I have realized that if I wasn’t aware how treaties actually worked, then most of the people around me probably were not either. It is this complete lack of true understanding that leads to misconceptions that ultimately lead to racism. I look at how poorly the First Nations people have been treated on what was their land and how peaceful they have acted. I can only imagine what would happen if someone would have done that to us. I doubt that it would be as peaceful.
The “idle no more” movement inspires me. I am glad that they are causing some people to turn their heads. It saddens me that they have to fight so hard for what they are entitled to, because I don’t have to fight for anything that I am entitled to. That is what I would call privilege. I am excited to see today that not only my perspective was changed but most of the people around me walked out of that room as much more compassionate people. When attitudes begin to change, problems will start to be solved. That’s encouraging.
What can white Canadians learn from First Nations? Compromise. Negotiation. Peace. Respect. Care. Knowledge. First Nations people can learn a lot form us as well, that is the beauty of the treaties.
Thanks so much to Office of the Treaty Commissioner for opening our eyes. We are behind you.