Did You Know? Ontario Observes Treaties Recognition Week
Native Child and Family Services of Toronto, Mental Health Worker
Have you heard the phrase, “we are all treaty people”? How we understand ourselves as treaty people influences how we live as treaty people. The Government of Ontario has declared that the first week of November is Treaties Recognition Week. The week calls attention to the long history of treaty-making in this place that we now call Ontario, despite the many other names for this place that pre-date colonial contact.
Did you know that Ontario is covered by 46 treaties and other agreements, including land purchases by the Crown signed between 1781 and 1930? There are even modern treaties that are currently under negotiation.
Treaties are legally binding agreements that set out the rights, responsibilities and relationships of First Nations and the federal and provincial governments. Moreover, treaties are not contracts that are written, signed, and archived. Rather, they are living documents.
At the launch of Treaties Recognition Week, Anishinabek Nation Grand Council Chief Patrick Madahbee explained, “Treaties are about friendship. Treaties are about relationships.”
In Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s apology to Indigenous peoples for the failure of non-Indigenous settlers to uphold treaty obligations, she explains:
“Our shared history begins around 400 years ago. When Europeans first arrived, the generous partnership of Indigenous Peoples helped them establish profitable enterprises and settlements. In 1763, the Royal Proclamation confirmed the original occupancy of Indigenous Peoples and paved the way for nation-to-nation treaties between the British Crown and Indigenous Peoples. Treaties were negotiated and signed with the intent of delivering mutual benefits.”
We know, however, that treaties have been broken and many are contested. Despite the intent of delivering mutual benefit, this hasn’t been that case. Settlers have benefited more than Indigenous peoples.
“Reconciliation should open that door to say, ‘Now is your opportunity to learn everything there is to know about us, so that your people understand.’ You don’t have to believe what we believe in. We’re not looking to take over. We’re simply looking to try to bring ourselves into some kind of balance because we’re not in balance.”
– Iehnhotonkwas Bonnie Jane Maracle, educator and strategist, Wolf Clan, Mohawk Nation at Tyendinaga Territory
Ontario is developing a Treaty Strategy that will revitalize treaty relations.
To revitalize treaty relations, settlers especially, must listen and learn about the “histories, cultures, and perspectives” of Indigenous peoples in Canada”, says Mitzi Hunter, Ontario Minister of Education.
At YouthREX, we have been asking Indigenous knowledge keepers for insight and advice. We take seriously the Calls to Action in the Truth and Reconciliation Final Report, which have implications for the youth sector.
At our recent Knowledge to Action Provincial Exchange we invited young Indigenous knowledge keepers to open and close our main event, to lead workshops, to offer key note and panel presentations, and to guide a Post-Exchange Idea Lab that provided a space for considering how work within the youth sector might support the aims of Truth and Reconciliation.
Throughout this process of engaging with Indigenous knowledge keepers, a recurring theme that we heard was to start with relationships. For example, Melissa Compton, a Youth Mental Health Worker at Native Child and Family Services of Toronto, who co-facilitated a full-day Pre-Exchange Workshop as well as a conference stream workshop with her colleague Robbyn Zwaigenbaum, responded to a request for additional “resources” to support our ongoing learning as follows:
“It’s about capacity building, relationships and community partners where staff are willing to take the extra step to build and maintain relationships and partnerships. This means going for coffee with an Elder or Traditional person and starting with conversation and building the small partnership first [building the relationship] before asking or rather requesting and hoping they will do what is needed for [ your organization] on a whim.
The common understanding within the Aboriginal community is that if there is a plan for partnership, the relationship is built first and then the work needs to be put in to maintain that relationship even before the work is started. Some ways to do that is to continue inviting people to events, invite agencies, have staff come in and share what your agency does; basically, create a reciprocal relationship and express intentions before moving forward in planning and work.
In our communities the answers are never just given to us. If we have a question or rather, questions, it is up to us to find our teaching in that and seek the answers ourselves. It is part of our higher learning process. We need to respect this teaching from our communities and also going with what we spoke about in our workshops, the education and understanding needs to happen first and foremost even before these partnerships or relationships are created; and even before the ‘action plan’ is discussed. This is why often times agencies are met with reluctance when calling upon Aboriginal people from agencies or Elders; asking something of these individuals before actually building relationship and coming to a level of understanding on the history and educating oneself on the current challenges, is a form of disrespect and it creates a space where that person feels like “the token Indian” even if the agency did not intend to do that.
My words are coming from of place of my own understanding and from the teachings that I have been given, as well as what I carry. Many people could potentially have a different perspective, however from the teaching I have received and from the path I walk, this is my way of sharing.”
During this first Treaty Recognition Week, we encourage youth sector stakeholders to work to understand the history between Indigenous and settler peoples here in Canada and ask how we can learn more about the current situation and challenges. The Anishinabek Nation has created a toolkit, Gdoo-sastamoo kii mi: Understanding Our Nation to Nation Relationship, which can help guide our reflections and discussion.
We hope that across the youth sector we can create and support opportunities to revitalize our treaty relations through shared learning and action about our responsibilities and obligations as treaty people.