Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A primer on treaties coming soon

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At the risk of sounding like a blatant pitchman, I'd really like you to read something this weekend. It's a special publication in Saturday's Winnipeg Free Press and it's called Our Past -- Our Future.

During yet another week when First Nations issues continued to be in the news, there's one thing that's becoming abundantly clear, and that's just how much more Manitobans all need to learn about each other and the history most of us share.

Treaties are a fundamental part of that shared history, yet, despite best efforts, they continue to be badly misunderstood.

The point of Our Past -- Our Future is to help bridge this gap with stories of the struggles and successes Manitobans have faced together during the 141 years since the names of our ancestors -- First Nations and non-aboriginals -- were affixed to Treaty 1.

Not all of the stories are pretty, nor the opinions expressed universally agreed upon. But everyone deserves a voice and the right to make it heard, which guarantees the content and the long overdue conversations flowing from this special publication will be lively ones.

I'm an educator and a strong believer in the power of conversation as the pathway to bringing people together. Not only do I believe it, I've experienced it first-hand and have seen racism and mistrust melt away simply because two people took the time, and the leap of faith, to get to know and better understand each other.

Over the section's many pages, you will experience stories shared by individuals and communities who have battled rampant racism and, together, made huge strides to overcome their racially charged histories.

You will learn a lot more about current issues such as urban reserves and the potential for the Kapyong land to be transformed into a thriving area for economic development, if that decision moves ahead. You will also hear about the successes in Saskatchewan, which is 20 years ahead of Manitoba when it comes to building these kinds of business partnerships.

We also invite you to learn more about Idle No More and the growing frustration that gave rise to this movement and to take a look back in time for a primer on the historical treaties, signed over the last 100 years, and how they are celebrated on Treaty Day each summer.

As we look to a stronger future together, you'll discover it resting in the hands of our children in stories that introduce the Treaty Education Initiative -- a school-based program that, we hope, will one day be integrated in K-12 classes, just as it already is in Saskatchewan.

These are only a few snippets of what you will find in this publication and we encourage you to take the time to read them.

Of course, it goes without saying that it took a partnership to make this publication possible and you might be surprised at the mixture of voices who stepped up to the plate, including from our educational community: Brandon University, Canadian Mennonite College, Red River College, St. Mary's Academy, University College of the North, University of Manitoba, University of Winnipeg, and Yellowquill College. Without question, they see education as the epicentre of this way forward.

As I travel about Manitoba as the treaty commissioner, the question I am most often asked is, "What do treaties that were signed so long ago have to do with any of us today?"

The short answer is -- everything.

Back when Treaty 1 was first signed, the chiefs of the day saw the changing world in front of them -- a world of decimated buffalo populations, increasing railroads and settlement -- so they negotiated and secured terms they felt would help them survive.

They secured the right to hunt, fish and trap on their traditional lands in order to preserve their way of life, but they also asked for assistance in being able to grow into agricultural and capitalists economies. Importantly, they also secured access to teachers and schools so that future generations could benefit from an education system that would allow them to successfully make their way in the new world.

In return, they granted future Manitobans many things, including access to the land and the right to own it. This Treaty right alone has allowed our province to flourish, creating a great deal of the economic wealth that is collectively enjoyed today.

Ours is a partnership that is 14 decades old and, like any relationship, it has not been without its hurdles. My ultimate hope, however, is we can all find a way to return to our original vow of working together, as equal partners, in order to do what is best for our entire province and for generations yet to come.

There's a discussion underway in Manitoba and we hope you'll become a part of it.


James Wilson is commissioner of the Treaty Relations Commission of Manitoba, a neutral body mandated to encourage discussion, facilitate public understanding, and enhance mutual respect between all peoples in Manitoba.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 28, 2013 A14

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