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We Are Treaty People | Jean Koning

Collective member Jean Koning, who has been walking with First Nations for almost fifty years, has allowed us to share a piece she wrote last year. You can find the original post on Jean's blog, Koning's Komments.

Recently, the Pine Tree speakers at the Peterborough Library told us of the importance of “Mnoomin”, wild rice growing in the traditional waters of their homeland, known as the Mississauga Territory of the Ojibwe Nation. This is also the area that we think of as our home, Peterborough and the Kawarthas.

When someone asked, “what can we do to help you?” - I thought I heard Elder Doug Williams say that it was time for us to start figuring that out for ourselves. He said it much more diplomatically, but I think that was his challenge to us.

The background:

For generations past, most Canadians have lived contentedly in the country we call Canada with no thought of the price we have demanded of the First Peoples, as our governments, in our name, followed policies that tried to assimilate them into our society, committing horrendous acts named “genocidal” by the Truth & Reconciliation Commission (TRC), and pushing them onto small parcels of land to eke out a meagre existence while we flourished through the resource development on their lands.

As the work of the TRC comes to an end, we have suddenly begun to realize that the relationship between the First Peoples and The Rest of us is badly out of kilter, and we are now beginning to wonder what we can to do to make changes.

How to make changes:

The first thing to understand is that changes have already been happening. The First Peoples, in particular, have been making tremendous changes; they have begun to reclaim their own languages, histories, traditions and spiritual teachings, and are taking charge of their own lives and their own territories. Locally, that is what the Anishinabe speakers were telling us about “wild rice”.

And they don’t really need our help to make that happen, because the mechanisms are already in place – have, in fact, always been in place from the time of first contact, when we began to come to this land and were received by the First Peoples who lived here and were prepared to share their homeland with us.

But we came with the belief that we were superior, and had the right to subjugate the First Peoples, which we did over several hundred years of colonization policies, with tragic results.

But we have not been able to conquer the First Peoples, as they are now showing us. In those intervening years, there were times when, as some of us began to understand the horror of the past, we tried to help, and friendships were established, and church teachings were accepted, but now we are entering a new era. The First Peoples are reclaiming their sovereign nationhood; however they understand that in their particular territory and within their own tribal affiliation.

So it’s time for us to recognize that, and to find new ways of working together with First Peoples, in a nation-to-nation relationship in accordance with the Two-Row Wampum teachings

Back to the wild rice issue:

With regard to mnoomin, the chief players are, on one side of the Two-Row Wampum, the Williams Treaties First Nations:

Alderville First Nation

Beausoleil First Nation

Curve Lake First Nation

Georgina Island First Nnation

Hiawatha First Nation

Rama First Nation

Scugog First Nation

with Karry Sandy McKenzie as Process Co-ordinator.

On the other side is The Crown, which includes:

For the Federal government:

Parks Canada and the Trent-Severn Waterway

For the Provincial government:

Ministry of Natural Resources and Kawartha Conservation

For the Municipal government (re part of Pigeon Lake)

Selwyn, and possibly Peterborough County.

What is “The Crown”? Check your history:

The First Peoples know that their treaties were made, and negotiations took place, between the sovereign nation of whichever First Peoples were engaged, and the representatives of the British Crown, which in 1763 was King George III.

Over the years, the country we call Canada has evolved into a national entity through subsequent legislation: The British North America Act 1867, the Indian Act 1876, various amendments to Indian Act legislation in intervening years, and the Canada Constitution Act 1982, which includes the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as well as Part II, 35 (1) and (2).

More recently, the Canadian government has signed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, whereby we agree to uphold the principle of the “duty to consult” for the “free, prior and informed consent” of the First Peoples, although Canada, in its agreement to sign, referred to the “aspirational” nature of the right, (meaning, I presume, we understand the First Peoples “hopes” but do not yet recognize the First Peoples “right” in this regard. This did not impress the First Peoples.)

As our Canadian governance has evolved, many of the federal government’s fiduciary and other legal responsibilities under all that legislation has been devolved to the provincial governments, and then to municipal governments, so that today, we must see THE CROWN as composed of federal, provincial and municipal legislative leaders; hence, the listing above.

And all those government entities together represent us, the citizens of Canada.

Thus, we have a responsibility:

Our responsibility, as Canadians citizens, is to monitor the actions of our federal, provincial and municipal elected leaders to ensure that they, as ministers of The Crown, meet the requirements of negotiating with the First Peoples, on a nation-to-nation basis.

Back to the Mnoomin issue:

During this past summer, an error was made when one segment of The Crown (Trent-Severn Waterway and Parks Canada) issued a permit to allow non-First Peoples to destroy the wild rice in Pigeon Lake, without undertaking the “duty to consult” for “free, prior and informed consent”. In other words, we acted without consulting the First Peoples, and that is now a “no-no” in our current relationship with First Peoples.

It took some spirited action on the part of First Peoples to point out this fact, but when The Crown component of Parks Canada realized what had happened, it agreed with the request of Karry Sandy McKenzie to attend a meeting with the Williams Treaties First Nations representatives to begin the correct negotiating process.

So far, one meeting has been held, but I understand a second meeting is to take place very soon.

So where does that leave us – the local cottager-owners and the local First Peoples supporters in this area?

It leaves us waiting – perhaps praying if one is so inclined – that those representing us in those negotiations (representatives of The Crown) will accept the necessity of honouring the “duty to consult” for “free, prior and informed consent” by listening to the representatives of the First Nations as they sit together around a table.

That means careful listening, compassionate comprehension and respectful dialogue while the two sides try to think of ways to move forward in partnership to a reasonable conclusion.

My humble conclusion:

Perhaps one role we can play in this situation at this time is to keep trying to educate our fellow Canadian citizens about these historic facts as listed here.

And I make no claim to any special knowledge about all this. I am just sharing with you the sort of understanding I have reached in my own heart and mind as I have listened to the First Peoples over the past half-century. And I humbly ask that you begin to learn the true history of our country and of our relationship with the First Peoples as it has been evolving since the time of first contact.

This is not an easy path to take, but it is the journey I believe the First Peoples are now asking us to undertake. And I would further suggest that the time has come for us to ask of the First Peoples not “how can we help you?” but “how can you help us?”

The First Peoples may reply in different ways: some are already very busy working at various levels of this part of our journey together, and won’t have time to talk with us; but others will be willing to undertake that role. That’s what I think the Pine Tree Lecture of Trent’s Indigenous Studies Dept. was offering us earlier this week.

I would dare to think that the Pine Tree lecturers would feel well supported if we could show them that we are indeed beginning to learn the truth of our shared history.

And as we engage one another in that journey, I believe we will become better human beings, and we all know how badly our world needs that.

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