FNT2T Life Long Learning: Indigenous History Month – Niswi

Treaty 2 Territory – Boozhoo! June is Indigenous History Month and June 21st is National Indigenous Peoples Day. June is Ode’imini’Giizis, which is Strawberry Moon. FNT2T Life Long Learning has been writing a weekly piece on our history for this reason. This is week Niswi. However, First Nations (Indigenous) peoples know that being First Nations (Indigenous) is not one day, one month, or one year. Nor is our history, or our present. We are not a token decoration to be brought out on occasion and placed on the shelf for the remainder of the year. Learning and unlearning is and must remain a constant journey.

Week Behzig of Indigenous History Month shared the great intellect and knowledge of our ancestors, which was transmitted to the next generation by oral history and tradition. Week Niish talked about the systems of our ancestors and the arrival of the newcomers (some use the term, settlers). In those early years of contact, newcomers needed and depended on the knowledge of our ancestors because they knew the land, waters, weather, climate, stars, animals, migration patterns, plants, ecosystems, and habitats. After all, the Creator placed each First Nation in their traditional territories. We also briefly discussed encroachment, renaming, colonization, terra nullius, doctrine of discovery, and manifest destiny.

The first treaties made between First Nations and the newcomers are called Peace and Friendship (and Trade) Treaties. Most were made in the early 1700’s along the east coast. One book to learn more about these early treaties is J.R. Miller’s Compact, Contact, Covenant: Aboriginal Treaty-Making in Canada (2009). It is said the relationship between First Nations and newcomers was good at that time. As time passed and more newcomers started to arrive here, the goal was land and resource acquisition thus the purpose of treaties started to change.

To learn more about how colonization has impacted First Nations (Indigenous) peoples, their lands, and ways watch History of Manawan by world renowned Abenaki filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin (1972, National Film Board). She also made the film, Trick or Treaty (2014). Manawan is about the oral history/tradition and traditional knowledge of Cézar Néwashish. He shares the story of his Nation and their experiences. Another valuable learning piece is Pauline Johnson’s (Mohawk) poem “Cattle Thief” in which she conveys the story of a Cree man who is fighting to survive on the land in the face of colonization.

In 1763, the Royal Proclamation was issued by England. This document was not completed in consultation with First Nations peoples. However, the Royal Proclamation has within it a part that refers to First Nations (“Indians”) and the lands reserved for them. The proclamation recognized First Nations’ title to land, but it is important to remember it did not grant it. The title already existed by means of the Creator placing First Nations in their territories. The Royal Proclamation served as a reference for treaty-making between the Queen (Crown) and First Nations peoples. Soon after, a Peace Conference was held at Fort Niagra because many First Nations leaders were not pleased that the Royal Proclamation was done without their consultation and consent. This meeting resulted in the Treaty of Niagra (1764) which was the Wampum Belt that signified a Nation-to-Nation relationship in which no party was to steer the other’s boat but travel alongside one another.

In 1867, the British North America (BNA) Act made Canada a country. It is also referred to as confederation. It was Canada’s first constitution; however, First Nations peoples know that Turtle Island was occupied with First peoples who had their own laws and constitutions as sovereign Nations. The BNA Act, again, did not involve consultation with First Nations (Indigenous) peoples. What the BNA Act did do was it established that First Nations were a federal responsibility. This is referred to as fiduciary duty. The federal government have a fiduciary duty to First Nations peoples. Having said that, this relationship was supposed to be a partnership, an equal relationship, between sovereign Nations but over time it turned into a more paternalistic (ie. parent-like) relationship in which the government viewed First Nations as wards of the state.

In 1869, the Hudson’s Bay Company “sold” Rupert’s Land to Canada for the amount of about 1.5 million dollars. Many First Nations (Indigenous) leaders were upset about this transaction because they didn’t believe the land was Hudson Bay’s to sell. This caused a great upset and resistance by First Nations and Métis peoples. To understand the vast amount of land that was “sold” to Canada look up a map of Rupert’s Land. When Treaty 1 and Treaty 2 were signed in 1871, many First Nations leaders expressed upset that their territories were “sold” by the Hudson Bay Company without their consultation and consent. Alexander Morris mentions this is his book that recorded treaty negotiations from his perspective, Treaties of Canada with the Indians of Manitoba and the North-West Territories (1880). After the sale of Rupert’s Land to Canada and Manitoba becoming a province (1870), the government wanted more access to lands and resources (and the railway was being built across what is now Canada). Treaty negotiations would commence. These would be the Numbered Treaties. There are 11 Numbered Treaties (1871-1921).

Treaty 2 is a Numbered Treaty and it was made with the Crown (Queen) in 1871. Treaty was made the same year as Treaty 1. Treaty 2 was made at Manitoba Post near the Anishinaabe First Nations of Lake Manitoba and Ebb and Flow, around the area known as the Narrows. It is often called the Manitoba Post Treaty. The leaders who made this treaty include Francois (Broken Fingers) of Waterhen, Crane River and neighboring areas; Kee-Wee-Tah-Quun-Na-Yash (He Who Flies Around the Feathers, Richard Woodhouse) of PInaymootang and neighboring areas; Ma-Sah-Kee-Yash (He Who Flies to the Bottom) of Pinaymootang and neighboring areas; Mekis (the Eagle) of the Riding Mountains and Dauphin Lake; and Sou-Sonse of Lake Manitoba and Swan Creek area. After the making of these treaties, First Nations leaders learned that the government did not include the oral (outside) promises in the written treaty. There were some leaders who refused to accept the year’s annual treaty payment because they wanted the government to honour the oral promises. For this reason, a memorandum was attached to Treaty 1 and Treaty 2 in 1875. It wrote out the outside (oral) promises that were made by the government in 1871 at treaty negotiations. Most treaty negotiations involved sacred ceremony with First Nations and government officials who represented the Queen. This was the smoking of the pipe which is used to seal agreements of Truth and Respect. It is believed by many First Nations that the Creator was part of the agreements; therefore, the treaties are sacred.

Shortly after the making of these treaties, John. A. MacDonald implemented the residential school system, “Indian agents” who controlled and policed the Pass System, banned the Potlatch and Sundance (among other spiritual practices by First Nations peoples), created the North West Mounted Police (later the RCMP), and the Indian Act of 1876 (which was the Gradual Civilization Act 1857). These were all based on the racist belief and ideology that First Nations peoples needed to be “civilized” and “saved” from themselves. This is colonization. 

When making those Treaties, our ancestors did not know these other policies would be later implemented. 

The Indian Act replaced the governance systems of many First Nations peoples that had existed since time immemorial. First Nations governance systems like the Anishinaabe Clan System was replaced with Western systems of government. The Anishinaabe Clan System had served as a governance system. Everyone had a role in a Nation and everyone was equal (egalitarianism).

One leader we don’t often hear about in history books and classrooms is Big Bear, Mistahi-Maskwa. When he is mentioned, Big Bear is often referred to as violent but that is not true. Big Bear did not want to make treaty. In 1885, Big Bear and Poundmaker (Pihtokahanapiwiyin) hosted a Sundance that brought together over 2000 First Nations (Indigenous) peoples. The government response to that gathering was to ban the Sundance. Soon after, the pass system was also implemented by the government. Watch the film the pass system (2015) by Alex Williams to learn more. And to learn more about the banning of ceremonies read Katherine Pettipas’s Severing the Ties That Bind: Government Repression of Indigenous Religious Ceremonies on the Prairies(1994).

In 1969, Harold Cardinal wrote The Unjust Society. He tells the story of an elderly “Indian” who walks in to the Indian agent’s office at 9 A.M. to obtain permission to trap. With only a few minutes before 5 P.M., the agent finally sees the man after making him wait all day. Cardinal writes: “He knows that the agent kept him waiting just to show him who was boss, but he also knows there was no other way he could get the traps [the pass system] he needed to go to work again. The agent holds dictatorial powers over him and they both knew it” (pp. 96-97). Cardinal wrote this book at the same time that the White Paper of 1969 was proposed, which most First Nations leaders were against.

There are said to be three eras of treaty relationships: Peace and Friendship Treaties, Numbered Treaties (land and resource acquisition); and today, Modern Treaties (those still being negotiated today).

In 1982, Aboriginal Rights and Treaty Rights were entrenched into the Canadian Constitution of 1982 in Section 35(1). It recognized and affirmed these rights; it did not give them. A huge factor in this transpiring was the Constitution Express. Over time, there have been many legal cases for First Nations (Indigenous) peoples standing for their rights including Calder (1973), Guerin (1984), Simon (1985), Sparrow (1990), Van Der Peet (1996), Delgamuukw (1997), Haida (2004), and Tsilhqot’in (2014). Many feel that the Western justice/legal system cannot “define” or “dictate” rights that are inherent (given by Creator). It is important to understand these cases as part of our history—and present.

We also must know the vast contributions that First Nations and Indigenous veterans made to and for Canada. It is said that over 7000+ First Nations and Indigenous peoples volunteered in World War I, World War II, and the Korean War. They offered and brought astounding skills to battle because of their traditional knowledge and languages.

This is only but a small fragment of our history. An important question to ask would be: “Was I taught this?” and if the answer is no; then, the next question would be “why?”

Miigwetch. Renew and revitalize.

Image source: the pass system (film) by Alex Williams (2016), http://thepasssystem.ca/home-2/, retrieved on June 16/21